Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Holly Holy Day

Since 1973 Holly Holy Day has been celebrated in Nantwich, Cheshire, on the Saturday nearest 25  January. The Day commemorates the lifting of the siege of the town following the defeat of the Royalists by the Parliamentarian army at the Battle of Nantwich in January 1643.  It is said that the townspeople wore holly (Ilex aquifolium) as an annual commemoration of this, but the evidence  is weak, the only reference to it being in Joseph Partridge’s Historical Account of the Town and Parish of Nantwich; with particular relation to the remarkable siege it sustained in the Grand Rebellion, in 1643 (1774), where it is stated that Holly Holy Day had been celebrated annually ’till of late’.  According to the 2024 programme: ‘the townsfolk of Nantwich have celebrated their deliverance from the siege by wearing sprigs of holly in their hats.

In its current form the event includes three essential elements,  a parade by members of the Sealed Knot, the laying of holly wreaths in memory of all those who died in the Battle on the town’s war memorial, and a re-enactment of the Battle.  Despite holly trees producing exceptionally abundant fruit in 2023-24, none of  the wreaths contained any berries.   Only a minority of the participants of the Sealed Knot participants wore holly, and very few, if any, of the ‘civilian’ spectators did so.

Major source: K. Lawrence, The History of Holly Holy Day: Commemoration and Re-enactment of the Battle of Nantwich, 2023.

Photographs taken 27 January 2024.

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