Spinning Round and Round by the Blackheath Morris Men and Cutty Shark Ship in Greenwich London UK - by Anika Mikkelson - Miss Maps

An English Easter: Dancing Men, Jingle Bells, and Fertility Chairs

In the United Stated, Easter is celebrated with plastic grass, colorful wicker baskets and chocolate eggs. In Greece, dyed red eggs make their mark in shops all over the country, and festivities include a midnight fire fight between two neighboring towns . In Mexico, eggs are hollowed out and filled with colorful confetti so that when found by a child, the egg will be cracked over an unsuspecting adult’s head.

Traveling to England during Holy Week, curiosity as to what the historic city’s own practices may be led me to find and chase after several unique traditions. Four I found particularly enjoyable, three of which I was able to take part in. The fourth: the most surprising (so if nothing else, scroll down to watch the video and see what I’m talking about!)

Easter Traditions in Mexico (click on an image to view up-close):

For those of you more patient souls, let’s tackle the four in order:

On Maundy Thursday, the Queen hands out money to local pensioners at Westminster Abbey or other nearby cathedrals. The number of coins handed out corresponds directly to the Queen’s age. As she’ll be celebrating her 90th birthday in a few weeks, this year 89 men and 89 women were recipients of 89 specially minted Maundy coins; more than any year prior.
As luck may have it, I am not a pensioner, nor from the UK, nor on the Royal family’s official invitation list.

Red Eggs are Everywhere in Greece at Eastertime - by Anika Mikkelson - Miss Maps
Red Eggs are Everywhere in Greece at Eastertime – by Anika Mikkelson – Miss Maps


Alas, moving on to another celebration:
Hot cross buns are eaten during Lent, but special attention is given to the yeasty treats on Good Friday thanks to Queen Elizabeth I, way back in the 16th century. She outlawed the sale of all sweet breads through her kingdom save for a few days, one of which was the Friday before Easter, Good Friday.
Surprisingly difficult to find in bakeries throughout the city center, we were pointed toward the aisles of local grocers where we found hot cross buns at a reasonable price, though not one a penny nor two a penny. They were instead two pounds for four pre-packaged buns. We ate them cold while standing on a street corner outside of a chain-coffee shop. This is probably not the way they were intended to be enjoyed, but still these puffy lumps filled with spices and currants made us drool with desire. I was able to save one (okay, two) for Easter morning as well. One a penny two a penny, tasty tasty hot cross buns.

They even sell Hot Cross Toast at Starbucks in London - not quite the same, but delicious I'm sure! - by Anika Mikkelson - Miss Maps
They even sell Hot Cross Toast at Starbucks in London – not quite the same, but delicious I’m sure! – by Anika Mikkelson – Miss Maps


The third tradition is one I spoke of before, and that is for the Royal Family to participate in Sunday’s Easter service at Windsor Castle. The Queen takes up residence at Windsor Palace during April and May, and every year attends service at the Castle’s own Saint George’s Cathedral. Seeing the Queen and her beautiful family this Easter Sunday was a cherished moment, and will forever be my favorite of all Easter memories.

The young girl who waited for Queen Elizabeth was well rewardes as she handed over these flowers - Windsor, London, UK - by Anika Mikkelson - Miss Maps
A reminder of that magical moment: Seeing Queen Elizabeth on Easter Sunday – Windsor, London, UK – by Anika Mikkelson – Miss Maps

The fourth tradition is by far the most the most unique, most entertaining, and most difficult to track down (yes, even more difficult than finding the Queen!)

Picture this:
Grown men.
Dressed in white pants and shirt, red suspenders, embroidered vests and high socks.
Decked out in jingle bells.
Playing music.
And lifting women high above their heads as she sits in a flower-covered chair.

A group of men known as Morris Dancers make their way throughout villages in the UK. Nowadays their dancing season typically kicks off around Easter, and I found this entertainment a fascinating spectacle to chase after. Websites advertised shows on Easter weekend put on by various groups of Morris Dancers, and I nearly traveled to the seaside in order to catch a glimpse of them on Good Friday. Just before I was to set out for Alciston, a small town near the southern coast of England, I came across a post about a group performing on the outskirts of London.

Check out a video I captured here: 

Willingly extending my stay in the ever-giving city, I wound through town en route to Greenwich to find these fine fellows. Much like finding Queen Elizabeth the day prior, I wasn’t to believe my luck until it came to its fruition.

As if a child on Christmas morn, the moment I heard their jingle bell steps near Greenwich’s famous Cutty Shark boat, I quickened my steps. They had several performances throughout town on that Easter Monday, but were on a break between sets. Trying not an ounce to hide my enthusiasm for having found the Blackheath Morris Dancers, I approached a few and began babbling nonstop with questions of curiosity and wonder. The men, named John, Jonathan, Johnny, John the Baptist and the like, were thoroughly enjoying this sunny day of dance. Jon, a gentleman with a particular knack at sharing jokes so dull they make others laugh out of sympathy, told me everything he could manage in a few minutes and set off to start the party once again.

My excitement never subsided but I made myself sit down and watch the show begin. Most of the men danced while two others played the accordion. They had patterns, directions and rhythm (making this ex-synchronized swimmer very proud!). A minute into their routine, the men stopped and scanned the audience. They were looking for a woman to join them. Who did they pick first? Me! Eyes wide with a look of combination panic-delight, I joined them in front of the crowd gathered at Greenwich’s Cutty Shark.

Click on an image to view photos of England’s Morris Dancing up close:

Then came the real fun: with Morris Dancing, the thrill is not only in the chase but also in the chair. You see, these men carry with them a chair adorned in flowers of every color and texture. As they sing with deep voices and dance with nimble feet, they choose a woman from the crowd to sit in the chair and lift high above their heads. Thrice rotating in circles, they set her and the chair down after each rotation. The woman is said to become more fertile with each rotation, and some men in the group even have their own tales of, “Nine months after my wife sat in the chair….” as if the magical chair made the birth of their children more possible. Maybe it’s the flowers, or the energy… or the beer.

Whatever it is, it is a show not to miss. And apparently, now I am more fertile than ever before. (Well, this is an awkward end to an English Easter tale, but laugh and brush it off – then go on your own search for these dancing fellas!)

Click on an image to view photos of England’s Morris Dancing up close:


By the way:
You can read more about Morris Dancing at: The Morris Ring Website
And follow the Blackheath Morris Men on: Blackheath Morris Men FB Page

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