Christmas in England: Regional Customs
In past times people in some regions of England saluted their fruit trees with song and ale in honor of Christmas. This custom, known as wassailing the apple trees, still continues in a few places (see Wassailing the Fruit Trees). In the medieval era the well-to-do feasted on wild boar for Christmas. Today, an elaborate boar’s head dinner survives at Oxford’s Queen’s College. An old Christmas Eve custom called ringing the Devil’s knell, persists in the town of Dewsbury in Yorkshire. This practice sprang up around the folk belief that the Devil dies each year at the moment when Christ is born. The church bells still toll on Christmas Eve in Dewsbury, announcing the Devil’s demise. On New Year’s Eve many people in northern England welcome firstfooters. A firstfooter, the first person to cross one’s threshold after the start of the new year, sets the household’s luck for the coming year.