The Haxey Hood is an annual event that takes place on the 12th Day of Christmas (January 6th), and it’s reputedly one of the oldest still-running “sporting” events in Britain. The object of the game is to form a town-wide scrummage and push a large leather tube into one of four local pubs.
The unusual activity takes place in the English village of Haxey. The whole event is overseen by officials known as the Lord, the Fool, and the 11 Boggins. These 13 officials represent the 13 men who took part in a 14th event that, according to tradition, is the origin of the game.
Supposedly, Lady de Mowbray, the wife of a wealthy Isle landowner, was out riding on the hill that separates Haxey from its neighboring village of Westwoodside when the wind swept her riding hood off her head. Thirteen farm workers chased down the garment until one finally caught it. However, he was too shy to approach the woman so he handed the hood off to another man. Lady de Mowbray declared that the man who returned the hood had acted like a Lord and that the man who originally caught it was a Fool. She was allegedly so entertained by the whole debacle she donated 13 acres of land to the parish so the chase could be annually reenacted.
However, some say the inspiration for the current Haxey Head festivities actually predates the 14th century, and that this occurrence was used as an excuse for carrying on an older pagan custom.
It’s typical for the 13 officials and numerous enthusiastic Haxey Hood fans to spend the morning of the event touring the four participating alehouses, where they drink large amounts of alcohol and sing traditional songs. The Fool then leads a procession from the pubs to the local church, during which he’s allowed to kiss any woman he meets. The event’s formal opening occurs in the afternoon. It includes the Fool’s speech and the Smoking of the Fool, where the Fool is exposed to the smoke from a pile of damp straw. In the past, the Fool was bound and hung above the flames, but this aspect of the tradition was altered after someone caught fire.
When it’s finally time for the game to begin, the Hood, a two-foot long leather tube, is thrown into the crowd. The village people form a scrum (a massive rugby-style huddle) and begin to slowly and laboriously push the Hood to one of the town’s participating pubs. Anyone can partake in the action.
Running with and throwing the Hood are prohibited. Because of this, the competition takes several hours. There are no teams, just large groups of people hoping to get the Hood into their favorite pub.
The Lord acts as a referee. The 11 Boggins, who along with the King and the Fool are dressed in traditional colorful costumes, are supposed to try to shepherd the mass of people carrying the Hood in an attempt avoid damage to private property. It doesn’t always work. Fences are typically trampled and from time to time there is serious damage to parked vehicles. Some personal injury is expected, but the amount is surprisingly low. Those thinking of participating should take note of a traditional line from the Fool’s speech which, translated from the local dialect, is: “House against house, town against town, if you meet a man, knock him down but don’t hurt him.”
The game ends when a pub landlord touches the Hood from his or her pub steps. The winning pub pours beer over the Hood and then hangs it behind the bar, where it remains until the next year’s game.