Bottle-kicking is an old Leicestershire custom that takes place in the village of Hallaton each Easter Monday. Records of bottle-kicking date to the late 1700s, but the custom is thought to originate much earlier, from before the Christian era.
The Hallaton villagers would fight each other for the food and drink, and on one occasion, the residents of the neighbouring village of Medbourne joined the fray and stole the beer. The Hallatonians cooperated to retrieve the spoils, thus beginning the village rivalry that continues to this day.
Bottle-kicking has been an annual tradition for over 200 years. The tradition has been cancelled only once in that time, in 2001 because of concerns over foot and mouth disease. Legend has it that the rector of Hallaton, opposed to the tradition because of its pagan origins, tried to ban the event in 1790. However, he relented the next day, after the words "No pie, no parson" appeared scrawled on the wall of the vicarage overnight.
The pie is blessed by the Hallaton vicar before being cut apart and thrown to the crowd for the "scramble". The rest is placed in a sack to be carried up the nearby Hare Pie Hill.
The bottles are then taken to the Buttercross (a conical structure with a sphere on top, used for keeping butter and cheese cool when the village was a market town) on the village green to be dressed with ribbons. Here, the penny loaves are distributed to the crowd.
The contest is a rough one, with teams fighting to move the bottles over such obstacles as ditches, hedges, and barbed wire. Broken bones are not unheard-of, and emergency services are generally on standby.
Those unfamiliar with the rivalry between the two villages might feel that Hallaton has an unfair advantage with regard to the geography of the ground over which the bottle-kicking takes place. However, any advantage results from the natural evolution of the event into a game and is not deliberate.
The bottle-kicking scrums are the highlight of a full day of merrymaking by the residents of both villages. Many participants have several pints before joining in, and people join and leave the scrum as they please, often for some quick refreshment with family and friends.
Several families from each village are especially vested in the contest, taking it upon themselves to participate in the game from start to finish to win a barrel for display in the local pub.
After the game, participants and spectators return to the village. Those players who put in an especially good effort (for example, carrying a barrel across the goal stream or holding on to a barrel for quite some time) are helped up onto the top of the ten-foot-tall Buttercross, and the opened bottle is passed up for them to drink from before being passed around the crowd.
The festive day normally draws to a close with participants and spectators retiring to pub for drink and banter.
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