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Alan Cleaver "Christmas in Cumbria of Old" 15th Dec 21

Christmas Traditions in Cumbria Alan and Lesley Cleaver

For our final talk of 2021 we welcomed Alan and Lesley Cleaver who are well known to us having delivered some interesting talks in the past. Alan is a retired journalist and together with his wife Lesley, is now an author and publisher.

Alan introduced the talk by telling us that traditions change subtly over the years and as well as the long established traditions we are also introducing new ones. Christmas jumpers for instance are now becoming a tradition as are the “Christmas Eve Box” and the “Elf on the shelf” who reports back to Santa about behaviour of children and whether they are being naughty or nice! Most of these ideas have been imported from America; if we want to know what our next tradition will be, just see what America is doing now. We also have the “Black Eye Friday” which is not specific to Cumbria, where workers finishing for the Christmas holidays go out and celebrate; this invariably involves copious amounts of drink and merriment.

There are some traditions which are sadly in danger of dying out, these include the Mummers Plays. Mummers would perform each Christmas at local pubs or even on street corners. Their plays featuring a battle between a hero and a villain had their roots in medieval times. Frequent references to Jerusalem and the Holy Land suggest they originated during the Crusades. Fortunately here in West Cumbria we are still hanging on to this tradition with the St Bees Mummers. Hopefully this will continue and thrive in the future as they use the play as a fundraiser for the RNLI. All Mummers plays are variations on a theme; the Whitehaven Mummers play is “Alexander and the King of Egypt”

Lesley read some stories and amusing anecdotes from their book “A Lake District Christmas” including a piece from the Whitehaven News in 1978 reporting on a school Nativity Play. When the three kings made their appearance to give their gifts one child forgot his words; he eventually piped up with the immortal line “Oh aye, and Frank sent this”

No Christmas is complete without a good Christmas ghost story and there is a story local to West Cumbria about the tall ship “Betsey-Jane” who legend has it sails the Solway every Christmas. We also heard about the Boggle of Castlerigg and various other Cumbrian Yuletide hauntings.

This interesting and light hearted talk ended with the “Kissing Bush” and the memories of a 92 year old Whitehaven man. Kissing Bushes which hung from the ceiling and were covered with greenery often replaced Christmas trees during his childhood in the 1930s. None of the audience had ever heard of them; perhaps it’s time for us all to begin a new tradition by introducing the Kissing Bush into our decorations in the future.