Is it a hut? Is it a scarecrow? No, it's a straw bear. Don't worry, it is an easy mistake to make. Who would ever expect to see a bear made of straw wandering the streets? Well, maybe the people of Whittlesey. The small fenland town in the City of Peterborough as an annual Straw Bear Festival dating back well over a hundred years. On the first Tuesday after Twelfth Night, it was customary to dress up a member of the Plough Confraternity in straw and call him a straw bear? Why? No one quite knows. Perhaps it was to celebrate the importance the harvest. A newspaper report from 1882 stated that 'he was then taken around the town to entertain by his frantic and clumsy gestures'. A bit like carol singers, he would dance outside people's houses, and in return receive money, food, and drink.
The tradition began to decline in the early twentieth century, but was revived again in 1980. The Straw Bear now has a procession of performers following him down the street, with lots of entertainment such as morris dancing, clog dancing and more.
There are several family events around the town throughout the festival, which lasts between the 9th-12th January 2014. Some activities are three, while others cost between £2-£10. These include concerts, storytelling, barn dancing, cajun dancing and a melodeon workshop (a German accordion). Tickets can be booked by calling 01733 204055.
The final night will see the 'Bear Burning', which opens the way to the next year's harvest.