Our Head of Hunting Polly Portwin writes: There are probably no two households that follow the same routine over the festive period however most families have their own traditions, many of which have been passed on through the generations.
Whether it be attending the local pantomime, going to church on Christmas Eve, visiting family members for drinks on Christmas morning or attending the Boxing Day meet, these all form part of the festivities that create lasting memories and lay the foundations for the Christmases of the future.
I was fortunate to grow up genuinely believing that going hunting on Boxing Day was what everybody did. Although neither of my farming parents tended to follow hounds on a horse, attending the meet went without saying. In those years when Christmas falls on a Sunday I feel bereft, not knowing quite what I should be doing, although thankfully the racing usually fills the gap!
The same applies for hundreds of thousands of others across the countryside whose annual ritual it is to attend their local meet. Almost a quarter of a million people are expected to turn out to greet hounds on Boxing Day this year. The majority of those showing their support will turn out on foot and a large percentage of the vast crowds might only attend this one meet a season, but it is still very much a part of their annual festivities. Christmas wouldn’t be the same without wrapping up in warm, outdoor clothes to cheer as hounds and horses leave the meet.
Boxing Day meets are always magical. Tiny tots on fluffy ponies adorned with tinsel will melt even the coldest of hearts, while the excitement in the voices of older children can be heard relaying details of the contents of their Christmas stocking. Brand new items of clothing and tack often get their first airing on Boxing Day, pockets are stuffed with Christmas chocolates and there are always a few mounted first-timers looking slightly apprehensive about what lies ahead.
Famous faces can sometimes be spotted in the crowds alongside those from every generation and walk of life but it is the hounds that take central stage. Often allowed to mingle amongst those on foot, nobody can fail to notice how kind and friendly they are, allowing themselves to be cuddled and fussed over by everyone before re-joining the pack as soon as their huntsman blows the horn.