Where: Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire
What is it?
The annual Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival takes place in Cambridgeshire from Friday 12th to Sunday 14th January with parades, dancing, music and storytelling.
In Whittlesey (originally spelt Whittlesea) this unusual custom featuring a ‘straw bear’ traditionally takes place on the Tuesday following Plough Monday.
During the festival a person is dressed up in straw and paraded around town. It is unknown exactly when this tradition first began, but local farmers would dress one of the men or boys up in straw. The farmers would then lead this ‘straw bear’ from house to house, where the bear would dance in exchange for food, beer, and other gifts. The custom died out in the early 1900s but was resurrected in the 1980s and has taken place ever since.
Today the procession with the straw bear contains over 250 dancers, musicians and performers from various parts of the British Isles. Every year there are traditional performances of Molly, Morris, Clog and Sword dancing, as well as American style Appalachian dancing, street performances, Mummers plays, and a decorated plough pulled by a local Morris side. The procession no longer goes from house to house but parades around the town with dances taking place along the route.
This year’s procession heads around the town on the Saturday beginning at 10.30am at Manor Leisure Centre. It will take in Market Street, Market Place, St Mary’s Street, High Causeway and London Road.
The finale takes place from 3pm, beginning at the Market Place and finishing back at Manor Leisure Centre at 3.30pm.
Dances will take place throughout the day across the town at venues including the Black Bull, Quinns, the Falcon, the Ivy Leaf Club, the New Crown, and the Boat. This is the best day to catch sight of the bear before the ‘Bear Burning’ on the Sunday.
The Sunday Burning, where the bear ends its journey, takes place at the Sir Harry Smith Community College. The final event takes place from 12pm and features music, dance, and a bar.
The weekend will also include a concert, storytelling sessions, a barn dance and acoustic music sessions. Some of these events are ticketed.
More info: www.strawbear.org.uk