Library & Archives Blog – Folklore, legends, customs, traditions…

Over the past month I have been researching Christmas customs and traditions for my outreach sessions. This has been made easy as the library is healthy in books about folklore and customs; a few dating back to the early 19th Century!

I’m sure the Whitby community and surrounding areas are very aware of the traditions during the festive season but I will share a few that I will be sharing in my sessions. The first one that the volunteers were keen to tell me about was the receiving of Yule Candle from the Green Grocer! This happened up until the early/mid 20th century…unless any Green Grocer wants to dispute this? The Yule Candle paired with the Yule Log seems to be an important factor in the Christmas Eve festivities and only when these have been lit and after a cheer of Christmas salutations can the feasting on Frummety begin…and yes there are many ways of spelling frumity! There is more depth to these customs but that I will leave for you to read when you visit our library and discover these fabulous books. Also, the Digital Whitby Gazette has been a useful tool for research; lots of personal articles with different thoughts, opinions and stories.

Another one is called ‘Luckybird’ or ‘First Footing’. This I have been told takes place on New Years Day, however, in ‘Whitby Lore and Legend’ it states:

“Here in the North Riding the first person who enters a house on Christmas morning is called a Luckybird. But if it be a women or a girl that first enters, the luck that comes with her will be ill and not good; and if it be a fair-headed man the result is almost as serious. The Luckybird must be of the male sex and must have dark hair and complexion, or something evil will befall the household…So a small boy of the village, black-haired and black-eyed, was fixed upon by the servants; and he, knowing how much depended on his wakefulness, appeared first of all living things at the back-door yesterday morning and received his promised shilling from the cook. Thus by this simple and obvious expedient are we secured against ill-luck until Christmas 1867.”  (Jeffrey 1923)

There are many more traditions about feasting, drinking and frolics but what I will leave you with is I do eat Christmas cake/Ginger Cake/Pepper Cake with a slab of cheddar cheese…but it might not be Wensleydale!

“I wish ye a merry Kessemass an’ a happy New Year,                                                                                   A pooakful o’ money an’ a cellar full o’ beer;                                                                                                 A good fat pig and a new-cawen coo,                                                                                                           Good maisther and misthress, hoo do ye do.”

By Claire Marris Archive Development Officer