With Christmas only a few short sleeps away and the anticipation for the big guys arrival circling the New Forest, let’s take a look back at some of our favourite New Forest Christmas traditions.
The first is holly gathering. Did you know, New Forest holly was once picked and transported to London to be used for Christmas wreaths in the big smoke? Not much has changed, as New Forest holly still continues to be the most popular choice for Christmas wreaths in the South of England, however instead of horses and carts, larger cars are now the most common modes of transport.
In times past traditional Mummers plays were performed during the festive season in the New Forest. The folk tradition of ‘Mumming’ sees Forest villages, roving players, local farmers and tradesmen, dressed in rag costumes called ‘tatters.’ They would play out folk dramas or morality plays often featuring Father Christmas or St George. Some believe this tradition led way for the Christmas pantomime a seasoned favourite amoung families around the festive season.
A tradition which dates back to 19th century and is believed to be the start of the popular ‘Christmas caroling,’ On St Thomas’ Day (21st December, the longest night of the year) the poor women of the community would ‘go gooding’ and sing carols to raise money to supplement their incomes. Whilst groups of boys would go ‘tipeering’ and visit the homes of the gentry, tradespeople and middle classes to sing for tips or they would perform outside the ‘publics’, which included Inns and hotels.
By far the most unusual and most riotous custom observed during the festive season in the New Forest was the traditional squirrel hunt, held annually on Boxing Day. Large groups of men and boys, armed with leaded sticks called ‘scales’, ‘squolyles’ or ‘snogs’, went out on the Forest to hunt for red squirrels which, in the 1800’s, were still in abundance. At the end of their hunt, the men always celebrated in an alehouse where they enjoyed great suppers of ‘squirrel pie’. This tradition is no longer is existence.
Today the traditional Boxing Day activity on the New Forest is the annual Point-to-Point. In most parts of the country a Point-to-Point is just a horse race but not in the New Forest. Here riders are allowed to choose their own course across the open heathland, between the start and finish point. The location of the finishing point is made public a fortnight before the race, but the starting point is kept closely guarded until the day of the race. It is the perfect event for demonstrating the capabilities of the New Forest Pony and commoners often use this as a social opportunity for catching up with friends.
The New Forest certainly has a broad and brilliant history. Have we missed any traditions? Let us know via social media @newforestcollection