References to Whitsun date back to the fourteenth century, and over the following centuries what started as a religious celebration grew into the nationwide holiday which we all enjoy. Its essence and traditions resonate with many of the values held by crafters, so it is a fun one to explore and could be an excellent springboard for craft fairs.
Whitsun falls on the seventh Sunday after Easter, and up until 1972 Whit Monday was the holiday which followed on from it. Traditionally this has incorporated a glorious mix of fairs, pageants, Morris dancing, parades, processions, markets and a good number of eclectic regional customs. In the north of England, the cotton mills were often closed during Whit week with the twofold purpose of allowing time to clean the machines and giving the workers a week’s holiday. In rural Britain, Whitsun also was a time of holiday for land labourers and marked a pause in the agricultural year.
There are some wonderful and whacky regional traditions which have grown up over the years. These reflect the marvellous and delightful cultural uniqueness we find across our nation, which is in turn often echoed in local food and craft products. In the North West of England, parades and processions have been popular. These have often included clergy from the local churches, brass bands and a noisy throng of happy participants. Long distance Whit Walks were also popular during the last century. Indeed, the Bradford Whit Walk, began in 1903, boasted two Olympic gold medalists among its graduates.
Food is always central to any festivity, and Whitsun entertains some truly unusual and quirky customs. St Braeval’s in Gloucestershire is a picturesque village with a medieval castle at its centre. Each Whitsun Monday bread and cheese are thrown from a nearby wall, to be gathered by the villagers. In another Gloucestershire village three balls of Gloucester cheese are rolled around the church. One is then shared out amongst the parishioners and the other two are rolled down a hill. In a different part of the country, Cambridgeshire, a race of Stilton cheese rolling is held with the prize being a cheese and some port to accompany it.
Markets, fairs and festivals have always been integral to our bank holidays across the country, and Whitsun is no exception. Ale was the main drink at many a local gathering, so much so that the term a “Whit Ale” came about, meaning a party revolving around the jovial consumption of the local ale.
Whit Ales connect us with a humorous twist to the the origins of Whitsun. Some two thousand years ago Jews from all over the ancient world came to Jerusalem to celebrate the festival of Shavuot. On one particular year, following the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, a group of his followers were huddled in a small room when a wind came and shook the building, flames of fire landed on their heads and they started speaking in different languages…at which point they were accused of being drunk. However, this experience changed them so dramatically that Peter the fisherman gave his first sermon to the multitude of visitors to the city and several thousand of them became followers of Christ. This was fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus (hence the name ‘Pentecost’). Pentecost subsequently became known as Whitsun, maybe because it was the Sunday when believers were baptised and wore white (Whit) robes.
Sadly many of these wonderful and community enriching traditions have now come to an end. In 1972 the Whit Monday holiday, always seven weeks after Easter, was replaced by the Spring Bank holiday which falls on the last week end of May. Might this be a time to restart some regional celebrations and new traditions in the shape of craft fairs and markets?
Whitsun falls in the full bloom of spring, just as we are edging towards summer. The days are often warm enough to luxuriate in the feel of the sun on our faces, children run around bare footed and ice creams are consumed. People are looking outwards and are revelling in opportunities to be out and about enjoying the multitude of good things in life. There is often a sense of optimism, in tune with nature, which rises above any news items we are hearing. As we’ve seen over the past few years, our local communities are of increasing value in these times, so why not bring all these threads together and be a part of, or even organise a craft fair in your locality?
Previous posts have given good tips and advice for how to prepare for a fair, but one thing you will always need is public liability insurance for craft stall holders. This covers both you and your customers from those unexpected incidents you cannot possibly predict. Having public liability insurance for craft stall holdersunder your belt means you can focus on the exciting and creative aspects of preparing for a fair; designing your set up, devising any themes you will have and producing your stock.
There may be a craft fair or market near you which you can sign up for, but if not, maybe you could consider starting one up next year? This is a big undertaking, but if you are inspired to have a go, give us a ring and we can talk you through some of the nuts and bolts of insurance including public liability insurance for craft stall holders.
Many towns have craft events during this bank holiday, with crafters selling from town halls or creating craft trails around the community. Or, if there is already a fete or farmers’ market, maybe you and some fellow crafters could supplement this with a few stalls of your own products. Let’s make the most of the wonderful Whitsun weekend to celebrate our local crafting traditions and the glorious uniqueness of our regional communities.