The Croome Memorial Lecture 2016:
Traditional Festivals of England by Prof Ronald Hutton
on 24 February 2016
This annual free lecture was first held in 1969 and is jointly organised by Cirencester Archaeological & Historical Society and Cirencester Civic Society. This year the venue was Cirencester Parish Church and the event kindly sponsored by the Friends of the Parish Church. Once again it did not disappoint a fascinated audience.
Professor Ronald Hutton of the University of Bristol led us through a calendar of Traditional Festivals of England with eloquence and style, demonstrating his extensive research into folklore and the marking of significant events by pagan and then early Christian communities.
With him we were able to unravel some of the reasons behind modern celebrations, and observe the changes in emphasis as society and priorities changed through the millennia. He explained how the natural world was the focus of the earliest festivals, with themes that included summer cleansing with fire, autumnal fun and fear with its mocking of the coming dark and communing with spirits, midwinter lights against the dark and gift-giving to welcome the increasing daylight, and then the springtime blessing of produce and animals.
Prof Hutton observed that misrule and a long period of feasting and relaxation could only happen in the mud and dark of winter when communities felt safer from attack, and that romance and love were better celebrated in warmer weather, when more comfortable privacy could be found in the hedgerows and meadows!
Although modern customs retain many of the basics despite the influence of the Victorians and more recently American culture, the speaker concluded that humanity has replaced nature; we put ourselves and escaping the workplace at the heart of our celebrations. He pointed out as an example that the focus on family relationships at Christmas, and the New Year emphasis on adults and friends, can aggravate loneliness in many instead of bonding us in our communities alongside the natural world that sustains us.
This report by Anne Buffoni was published in Wilts & Glos Standard, 10 March 2016