On 9th July, Royal Mail released a new set of eight stamps called Curious Customs, celebrating local customs and festivals of Britain. The stamps were printed by lithography in sheets of 60 by International Security Printers in se-tenant pairs. They were designed by NB Studio while the illustrations were created by Jonny Hannah. Other philatelic items related to this release include a presentation pack, first-day covers and eight postcards.
One non-denominated second-class stamp represents a winter solstice festival of Brighton called Burning the Clocks. It was founded by an Art community called Same Sky in 1933 and is observed on 21st December to celebrate the shortest day of the year. People parade in the city holding handmade paper and willow lanterns, using kits presented by Same Sky. They eventually throw the lanterns into a bonfire on Brighton beach to mark the year-end. The stamp shows clocks in different shapes.
The second stamp in the pair celebrates a May Day festival of Padstow called ‘Obby ‘Oss. This event was documented for the first time in 1803 but no one knows about its origin. The stamp shows one of the two creatures called Osses from the festival. The town’s streets are decorated with flags, flowers and a maypole a night before. The next day, red and blue ‘osses’ come out of their stables and dance towards Padstow’s streets. A Teazer leads the dance with interesting moves while followers sing the traditional May Song.
A non-denominated first-class stamp is dedicated to a competition of making faces called the World Gurning Championships. This annual event is a part of one of the oldest fairs in the world, Egremont Crab Fair that was founded in 1267. People make deformed faces by putting their heads in a horse’s collar. The winner is decided based on the most number of claps received from the audience. The stamp shows a man’s head in a horse collar.
The second stamp in the pair is dedicated to a fire festival called Up Helly Aa that celebrates the Viking heritage of the Shetland Islands. The largest such festival is organised on the second Tuesday of January in Lerwick. People dress up like Vikings, hold torches and take part in a procession with a full-size wooden Viking longship. The longship is set ablaze at the end. The stamp depicts fire around a dragon ship.
One £1.55 stamp is dedicated to a cheese rolling competition that is held at Cooper’s Hill in Brockworth. It is believed that the competition was first held during the Roman era, centuries ago. People chase large wheels of cheese down Cooper’s Hill in this competition. Today, it is organised on the Spring Bank Holiday. The hill has dangerous slopes and the winner gets a Double Gloucester cheese weighing almost 3.5kg.
The second £1.55 stamp celebrates the world’s biggest Halloween Party in Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland. It is organised from 26th October to 1st November. About 1 lakh people from various countries come to watch parades and fireworks. They take ghost walks around the walled city and participate in almost 100 events at 40 venues. The festival was started by local pubs in the 1980s.
A £1.60 stamp is dedicated to the Horn Dance at Abbots Bromley named after reindeer antlers which are 1000 years old. The dance was performed at the Barthelmy Fair in August 1226. This rural tradition is followed even today. Nowadays, it’s performed in early September by six men holding the reindeer antlers, dressed as Maid Marian, a fool, a hobby horse and a bowman.
The second £1.60 stamp in the set celebrates a bog snorkelling competition which was first organised in 1976 near Llanwrtyd Wells. The Welsh town conducts the World Bog Snorkeling Championship every August now. Contestants dive into a 55-metre trench with only flippers and a snorkel. They are not allowed to use conventional swimming strokes.
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Image Courtesy: The Royal Mail