Christmas festivities at the Brighton Palace Pier are always a huge attraction in Brighton, not least of which are its illuminations. The pier has 67,000 lights lit every night (don’t worry, they’re long life and energy saving!). Compare that to Blackpool illuminations which has – oh, 1 million… Yeah, but theirs look rubbish compared to ours.
For those who don’t always live in the city and might not know of it, don’t miss Burning the Clocks! Bringing the whole city together to mark the shortest day of the year (this year, Sun 22 Dec), the annual event sees people make tissue and willow lanterns of all shapes and sizes (including clocks, obvs), and parade them through the city, down to a huge bonfire on Brighton beach. A moving and festive toodle-oo to the year gone by.
The Christmas Day Swim – members of Brighton Swimming Club (the oldest in the UK, founded in 1860) in an act of fifty-fifty bravery and insanity, take to the sea on Christmas morning, cheered on by a large crowd all cosy and warm in their dry clothes, and some even coiffing champagne, just to really rub it in! Some swimmers, just to make the event even more unpleasant for themselves, are in Christmas fancy dress! A tradition not to be missed.
A few miles north of Brighton, in Bolney, Haywards Heath, on the first Saturday of January, the tradition of Apple Howling takes place. Sounds strange? It’s even stranger. After dark, men with torches parade through the village to a carefully selected apple tree. A horn is sounded, the men chant the refrain “Here’s to thee, old apple tree; may’st thou bud, may’st thou bow,” and they shove a spiced wassail cake into the tree, before clubbing the trunk with sticks. This is followed by dancing, shouting and banging drums in something of a frenzy until a shotgun is fired. Humans are weird.
If you think of avalanches in the UK, you may picture the peaks of Snowdonia or the Cairngorms. Howeer, the deadliest avalanche in the UK actually occurred in Lewes. During one of the worst winters ever recorded, in 1836, a large overhang of snow built up on the sheer side of Cliffe Hill, hanging precariously over seven workers’ cottages known as Boulder Row. After a huge storm on Christmas
Eve residents were warned to move out, but refused. At 10:15 on 27 December the overhang fell with catastrophic results. It destroyed the cottages, trapping 15 residents, only seven of who were saved. In 1840 The Snowdrop Inn opened on the site of Boulder Row as a commemoration, and still stands there today.
The humble Christmas cracker was invented in 1847 by London confectioner Tom Smith, based on the design of Parisian bonbons having a twist at each end of the wrapper. Legend has it, whilst observing his crackling fire at home, he thought it would be nice if his sweets could open with a crack. Eventually, sweets were replaced with trinkets and treats (and dreadful jokes). Originally, they were called Bangs of Expectation (good luck getting that past the marketing department these days!), before assuming their vastly less misconstruable (definitely a word) sobriquet, Crackers.
There is an oft-quoted rumour that it is illegal to eat a mince pie on Christmas Day. So, truth or fiction? It begins in 1644 under the rule of funloving pranksters the Puritans, when chief of frivolity Oliver Cromwell, later to be Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland, and all-round great guy, saw the festival of Christmas as wasteful and utterly without biblical justification, so banned it. In continued determination to rid the nation of decadent excess, the feast of Christmas was itself banned in 1647.
However, it appears that the ban was lifted when Charles II came to the throne. So, if you were being kept up all night by whether or not to chance it this year and scoff a mince pie, rest easy old friend, and wrap your gums round one for me. That sounds wrong. I’ll go now.