The Folklore Year - January

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Many British folklore customs are of Celtic origin. The Celts divided their year by four great festivals, starting with Samhain, signifying the arrival of winter and the New Year, which fell on 1st November. Imbolc was next and occurred on 1st February, followed by Beltane on 1st May and Lugnasdh on 1st August.

Whilst these dates were all fixed within the Celtic year, the exact dates may not correspond precisely with those above, as dates were adjusted when first the Julian calendar was introduced, and later when England changed to the Gregorian calendar in 1751.

As with Christian festivals such as Easter, many Celtic celebrations do not have definite dates and are moveable or flexible.

Readers should always check with local Tourist Information Centres (TIC’s) that events or festivals are actually taking place before setting out to attend.

Permanent dates in January

1st January

Hogmanay New Year Celebrations


It is believed that many of the traditional Hogmanay celebrations were originally brought to Scotland by the invading Vikings in the early 8th and 9th centuries.

1st January

Andrew’s Dole

Bideford, Devon

Dates from 1605, when Mayor John Andrew provided a loaf of bread to each of the poor old folk within the town

1st January

Mummers’ Plays and sword dancing

Northumberland and Durham

Traditional masked mimes dating from the 15th century in which a character is killed and then brought back to life, so signifying the death of the Old Year and rebirth of the New Year.

1st January

Mummers’ Play

Symondsbury, Dorset


1st January

Needle and Thread Ceremony

Queens College, Oxford

In a ceremony dating back 600 years, each college member is given a needle and some coloured silk thread to mend their academic hoods and instructed to ‘Take this and be thrifty’.

5th January

Twelfth Night

Throughout the UK

Formerly the last day of Christmas and the time to remove all Christmas decorations, also the night for the traditional Wassailing celebrations.

6th January

Twelfth Day


The twelfth day after Christmas Day and the Old Calendar date for Christmas Day.

6th January

Baddeley Cake Ceremony

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London

In 1794 Robert Baddeley bequeathed a sum of £100, so that every year a Twelfth Night cake could be served to the cast performing at the theatre.

6th January

Haxey Hood Game

Haxey, Lincolnshire

A tradition which started in the 13th century when Lady de Mowbray was riding through the village. A gust of wind blew the Lady’s silken hood away and the villagers fought for the privilege of returning it to her.

6th January

Royal Epiphany Gifts

St James’s Palace, London

First started during the reign of George II, the monarch commemorates the Gifts of the Magi on the Feast of the Epiphany. Today money is donated to the poor of the parish.

7th January

St Distaff’s Day


Traditionally the day when people returned to work after the Christmas festivities.

11th January

Old Calendar Hogmanay



11th January

Burning the Clavie

Burghead, North East Scotland

Perhaps a little slow to change, the folk of Burhead ignore the fact that the calendar changed in 1752 and celebrate their New Year by burning the ‘clavie’, a half barrel nailed to long pole used for salmon fishing.

13th January

St Hilary’s Day


Traditionally known as the coldest day of the year.

17th January

Wassailing Orchards

Carhampton and Roadwater, Somerset

Takes place on the Old Twelfth Night, when the wassailing party enter the orchards with a goodly amount of cider with which toast the trees and thus encourage a fruitful season.

25th January

Burns Night

Scotland and now worldwide

Robert Burns is the best loved Scottish poet, admired not only for his verse and great love-songs, but also for his character and wit, his high spirits, 'kirk-defying', hard drinking and womanising!

30th January

Charles I’s Martyrdom

Windsor Castle and London

Commemoration of the first anointed king to be officially executed. A memorial service is held at Windsor Castle and choristers march from St. Martin-in-the-Fields to Trafalgar Square.

Straw Bear Day - Peterborough Advertiser

Straw Bear Day, Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire

Flexible dates in January

Various date throughout January - check here

Morris Dancing

Alvechurch, Birmingham, Bradford, Goathland, Horsham, Monkseaton, Turners Hill and West Chillington.

Regarded as an ancient tradition even in the reign of Elizabeth I, these ‘madde men’ with their ‘Devils dance’ were banned by the Puritans following the Civil War.

Saturday before Plough Monday

Straw Bear Day

Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire

The `straw-bear' being a man completely covered in straw, led by a string, and made to dance in front of people's houses, in return for money, beer or food.

Sunday nearest the 5th of the month

Plough Sunday

Chichester and Exeter Cathedrals and Hedenham Church, Norfolk

Traditionally the first Sunday after Epiphany, the time to celebrate the long hours of tilling and preparing the soil before the seed can be sown. A celebration of the mystery of land and human labour.

Tuesday after Plough Monday

Straw Bear Day


The Fens, aka the Fenland region of Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk.

See above.

First week of the month

Mari Lwyd Visits

Glamorgan, South Wales

A pagan practice is the wearing of animal disguises at the Winter festival. The custom lives on in the 'Mari Lwyd' Horse of Llangynwyd, with its snapping jaws and bottle-glass eyes. Mari Lwyd is believed to bring good luck and fertility to the houses they visit.

Last Tuesday in January

Fire Festival


Lerwick, Shetland, Scotland

Held every year to celebrate the end of Yule. Over 900 colourfully dressed "guisers" follow the Jarl's squad of Vikings and their longship through the darkened streets of the town to the burning site. Here the official ceremony ends in a spectacular blaze as 800 flaming torches are thrown into the galley.

Last Thursday of the month

Dicing for Maids’ Money

Guildford, Surrey

Dating from a 1674 legacy, two servant girls of the town throw a dice to win the prize of a year’s wage. The ceremony takes place at the Council Chamber.


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Related Links:

The Folklore Year - January

The Folklore Year - February

The Folklore Year - March

The Folklore Year - Easter

The Folklore Year - May

The Folklore Year - June

The Folklore Year - July

The Folklore Year - August

The Folklore Year - September

The Folklore Year - October

The Folklore Year - November

The Folklore Year - December

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