At the end of the Christmas holidays in the dark days of winter everyone needs to let off a little steam. This may explain why the Christmas Tree Topiary contest in Northallerton is so popular with people eager to reshape their Christmas trees after spending many tedious and argumentative hours with their families.
On January 5th, people come to the main street of the town with their trees and then between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. they can register for the topiary contest in one of three categories of shaping device: nail clippers (for trees under three feet high), scissors and secateurs (for trees under 10 feet high), and chainsaws (10 feet and over).
The contest started in 1862. The chainsaw category, added in 1978, replaced the kitchen knife category, which was dropped from the contest at the advice of the police after the 1977 contest ended in bitter recriminations and much bloodletting. Obviously families had been hard to deal with that Christmas.
At 10 a.m. sharp competitors are allocated a place on the main street and asked to place their trees in this area. At 10:15 the Cutting Contest Chief shouts “prepare thy implements for varving” and then one minute later he continues, “start to cut.” The contestants then have four hours to shape their trees into something recognizable and aesthetically pleasing.