Harry Watson
4 min readSep 28, 2021


Just because something is traditional is no reason to do it, of course.

Lemony Snicket

This week’s reflection is of some traditions I recall from my younger days living in the northeast of England. For assorted reasons, they seem now to have fallen by the wayside.

The first and most obvious is ‘Penny for the Guy’. That ritual before the 5th of November when children would go door to door showing off their homemade version of Guy Fawkes in the hope of receiving some small monetary reward. I suspect the loss of that ritual was a combination of safety concerns over fireworks and the increasing popularity of ‘trick or treating’ on the nearby Halloween. There may also be a concern at the concept of the metaphorical burning of Roman Catholicism.

Another tradition no longer seen is drawing the curtains in the house of someone just deceased and keeping the curtains that way for some days afterwards. I believe that goes back to Victorian times. As did stopping all the clocks in the home at the time of death and covering all mirrors. The latter was the superstition that the dead person’s soul might become trapped in an uncovered mirror. I do not know when stopping clocks and covering mirrors died out (pardon the pun). However, curtain closing was still happening in the Northeast of England into the late 1960s.

Also linked to death was showing respect when any funeral cortege passed. I recall as a boy that everyone would standstill on the pavement and face towards the mournful procession. Men would remove their hats (more commonly worn than today), and women would bow their heads. I have not seen that happen for decades. In recent times, the nearest I recall was people lining the streets of Wotton Bassett to honour the return of service personnel killed in Iraq / Afghanistan and flown into RAF Lyneham.

On a happier note, a tradition I recall at weddings was throwing small coins by the bride’s father as she and he left the family home en route to the wedding. He threw the coinage from the back window of the car as it moved away, leaving a melee of children to tussle for the minor prizes on offer. It was initially a Scottish custom that must have inveigled its way into the northeast of England. However, I have not come across it in the south of England. And even in the north, it seems to have had its day.

There was also the tradition of ‘crossing a strangers palm with silver’ after a christening or baptism. The practice is the giving, to the first stranger seen after such an event, a ‘silver’ coin. At the time of my own baptism that was ‘half a crown’ (My parents told me that. I confess I do not recall the event myself). If the christening was of a baby boy, the stranger must be a female. If it was a baby girl, then a male. While I have described the northern tradition (another that has died out), there may have been a southern variant of giving the child the ‘silver’ coin.

Although more a superstition than a tradition is placing a coin in a wallet or purse before giving it as a gift. The idea being the said wallet/purse would never after fall empty. I am not overly superstitious, but I still do that to this day.

And saying I am not superstitious, there are two things I try to avoid. One is putting shoes on a bed — a portend that someone will then soon die in that bed. The other is not to cross on a set of stairs. It’s from sword-carrying days when there was the risk the other person might turn and stab you in the back (one can never be too careful, even today).

My challenge this week is finding a piece of music in keeping with this Reflection. I did think of ‘Tradition’ from ‘Fiddler on the Roof’. But, instead, I have gone completely off topic and just chosen a song I like. My argument is that earlier today I watched ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ that serves as a prequel to the TV series, The Sopranos. This song features as a musical backdrop in an episode of ‘The Sopranos’. I like the TV series, this new film and very much like this soulful song from Nils Lofgren with slide guitar playing at its best …