Forgotten UK tradition which would be banned today

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This week, many Brits celebrated Shrove Tuesday, rustling up pancakes and choosing what to give up for lent. However, few may be aware that the Christian festival was followed in some parts of the country by another long-forgotten tradition, marked on the first Friday after Ash Wednesday, known as Kissing Friday. The custom, celebrated predominantly in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, went out of practice some time ago and would no doubt be more than frowned upon today. 

The origins of the tradition are not known but it is thought to have continued into the early Forties and the beginning of World War 2. 

On Kissing Friday, schoolboys were allowed to kiss girls without the fear that they would be slapped or told off in retaliation. Essentially, the girls were not allowed to say no. But there was a catch. In order to kiss any girl of his choice, the boy would have to catch her first. 

Girls in Yorkshire were allowed to leave school early, before their male counterparts to get a head start. However, some had a mischievous plan to make sure they got the girl. 

Some boys would tie a piece of rope across a road and if a girl wanted to pass, she would have to give a kiss as payment, like a toll bridge. 

Although the Yorkshire Society told the BBC in 2016 that they did not know much of the tradition’s origins, Nancy Hudson, who lives in Teeside, said she remembered Kissing Friday from her childhood spent in Keighley, West Yorkshire. 

She also told of how it only gave the boys until midday to kiss the girls. She said: “The boys could kiss the girls until 12 noon but they had to catch them first, which resulted in much chasing around the schoolyard.” 

In the midlands and some parts of the North of England, the odd custom was known as “Nippy Hug Day” with some adult men joining in. 

In some areas like Sileby, Leicestershire, the boy was allowed to pinch the girl’s bottom if she resisted his embrace. This was known as “lousing”, a reference to the removal of headlice. 

The “loused” girl or woman would, in some places, have to play wife to whoever pinched her. It was not clear what this exactly involved. 

Kissing Friday was also known as “Nippy Lug Day” in some areas of Cumbria. There, the children sought to pinch each other’s ears without reproach for a whole day.  

An article in the “This World of Ours Section” of the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer from February 1955 reveals that it was not a known tradition to everyone in the UK. 

One teacher only discovered the custom when working in the Wharfedale valley in the Yorkshire Dales. During a dance class, she was shocked to spot one of her pupils kissing a girl who did not bat an eyelid. 

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The article read: “She was taking a mixed class of 13-year-old children in country dancing when she saw the leading boy of the team suddenly lean across and kiss his partner, who showed no sign of embarrassment.”

The teacher did raise her eyebrows “in astonishment”, but the boy “calmly” explained: “It’s alright, Miss. You see, it’s Kissing Friday.”

The teacher said it would be “useless” to have expressed her disapproval when every girl was “soundly” kissed by any boy she met during each break between lessons. However, she did note that every year Kissing Friday came around “the school was in turmoil”. 

The author described it as a pleasant custom and pondered whether it stems from the fact that the sixth day of each week was dedicated to Venus, the goddess of love and desire. 

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