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November 2019: A West Country Christmas – Dorset in December

Thomas Hardy’s celebration of Christmas in Dorset in his early novel Under the Greenwood Tree is perhaps second only to A Christmas Carol (a version ...More
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The Burry Man, Edinburgh and the Lothians

One of the most visually arresting of Britain’s folk customs, not to say one of the scariest to bump into, the Burry Man is a tradition known to have been going in 1687, though with enough touches of the pagan to make many believe it goes back much, much further.
South Queensferry has an annual fair in August, and the Burry Man is intrinsic to that celebration. A man who needs to be fit and well, and with a head able to take strong drink, dresses in flannel undergarments, and then these are covered from head to foot – leaving only two eyeholes – with burdock burrs collected by the volunteer himself. A few spots of colour are added to the green with flowers he has gathered too, some of them decorating the two staves he carries, one in each hand, and his hat. The effect is completed with a cummerbund around his middle.
Suitably dressed, the Burry Man then progresses very slowly through the settlement, taking in the Provost’s House and every pub in the place, where his two attendants help him sip a whisky through a straw. The procession lasts about nine hours, and the Burry Man accordingly needs both stamina and a disregard for his inevitable hangover.
Is this another version of the Green Man? Is it a scapegoat ridding the town of evil spirits (and quite a few drams of good ones)? Nobody is sure. If you see him though, be careful not to look into his eyes, or so locals say: some curse perhaps? Or just the effects of the malt?

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