The Great British Traditionalist… just voted Turkey for Christmas…Again !

Well stuff ‘em . The turkeys that is. Like many traditions, or what many consider are British traditions, are not that traditional .

Turkeys were brought to England (from Mexico) in the sixteenth century but were not readily eaten at Christmas until the mid 19th Century. It was not until the mid 1950’s did they become common place at the British Christmas dining table. What was more traditional was Boars Head, Goose, Pheasant, Peacock and probably the odd lazy servant.

I think there are 4 types of traditionalists:

  1. Those that think: anything that happened in the past, and doesn’t happen anymore for good reason, was a good thing . Such as bear baiting, sticking kids up chimneys, flogging idle servants, and thinking women having an education was bad for them.
  2. Those that think: that stuff we do now, has been going on for hundreds of years. Turkeys (see above), Red Santa Suits (Coke Cola first dressed him in red to match their bottle labels), Fish and chips (sort of true but fried fish came from Sephardic Jews, in this case from Holland). It may come as a surprise to some that it was not until 1958 that the Presbyterian church in Scotland accepted December the 25th as a public holiday.
  3. Those that think: anything before the mid 1950’s was glorious and wonderful, despite big chunks of the population living in squalor, outside toilets, poor health , comparatively low wages, severe inequality, homosexuality a criminal offence,loads of wars and a stream of other really unpleasant circumstances .
  4. Those who think: of the real traditions , such Morris Dancing for the English (late 15th Century), Scottish tartans (even they have been discovered to be used pre-Roman). The bagpipe tradition goes long past those used in Scotland. Bog snorkelling, cheese rolling, Afternoon Tea and there is, of course , the English Breakfast which can be traced back to the 13th Century. Not least, of course is the Pub . Most of these have fared well overseas , especially Afternoon Tea, English Breakfasts and Pubs. All of which can be found in many towns and cities throughout the world. The one that does struggle is the Christmas Cracker. A British tradition which I know that for many years UK suppliers have struggled to export to the ungrateful world audiences .
Bear Baiting-er not a good thing
Victorian Chimney Sweep-No they weren’t happy !

“To eat well in England you should have breakfast three times a day.”-Great tradition, despite the look of The Lady of the House

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965)

I believe that these categories stand the test in most cultures albeit with rather different examples. The first three tend to be those that trump (accidental, but am happy with such an appropriate verb) loudest and have driven much political thought in recent times. Not that driving political thought is a crime but it is when misleading.

Not only is the word tradition , a misleading political concept , it is often used in very similar ways for marketing, especially in the UK during the Christmas period. Why are Boxing Days Sales a tradition ? No they are not.

a way of behaving or belief that has been established for a long time or the practice of following behaviour and beliefs that have been so established.

Cambridge Dictionary Definition of the word Tradition

Nor is Black Friday, Summer sales, Spring Sales, or referring back to Father Christmas in his jolly red suit. They were, or rather, are marketing ploys. Nothing wrong with them , but there is, if they are vicariously foistered upon an unsuspecting public, as traditions. Father’s day , was invented ( not completely true, but as with Mothers day) was hijacked and promoted in order to sell greetings cards and men’s underwear during the great depression. Nowt wrong with that , you may say. But there is, if it continues for another one hundred years with the main purpose of selling a load of old tat.

In my book, a tradition has to be underpinned by a historical narrative that has created a positive addition to the culture from which it originates .

“The less there is to justify a traditional custom, the harder it is to get rid of it”

Mark Twain

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