Oranges and Lemons Day
the third Thursday in March (since 1920)
Oranges and Lemons Day is held each year at St. Clement Danes Church in Strand, London, England, a church that was completed in 1682 but may have been the site of a church as early as the ninth century. In 1919, Reverend William Pennington-Bickford had the church's bells restored to play the tune to "Oranges and Lemons," a nursery rhyme and song about the bells of several churches in and around London, which includes the line "Oranges and lemons/Say the bells of St. Clements." On March 31, 1920, the bells were blessed and covered with garlands of oranges and lemons. A special service was held, and at its conclusion, the children in attendance received an orange and a lemon.
The handing out of oranges and lemons was based on an ancient custom. Years earlier, oranges and lemons arrived in London by boat on the River Thames and were brought to Clare Market. From this came the custom of porters and attendants of Clement's Inn handing out oranges and lemons to residents. The practice ended in the final decades of the nineteenth century, but Reverend Pennington-Bickford's Oranges and Lemons Day revived the concept and became a new annual custom. Students from the nearby St. Clement Danes Church of England Primary School parade down the street to the church for the service. The church bells are rung and the tune of "Oranges and Lemons" plays. Throughout the years, children and church scholars have played the song on handbells too. As the children leave the church they receive an orange and a lemon.
In 1921, the second year of observance, 600 or 700 children filled the church. Three years later, 800 children took part. This service was broadcast to the nation, which raised the event's profile, making it nationally famous. Reverend Pennington-Bickford died in 1941, the same year the church was bombed as part of Germany's Blitz. The church's ten bells fell into the burned-out building, although the towers and walls remained standing. The bells were put into storage and recast after the war.
Despite the destruction, Oranges and Lemons Day continued. In 1944, Reverend P.D. Ellis handed out oranges—there were no lemons on account of war rationing—to 26 children in the ruins. The school choir sang a psalm, and handbell ringers played "Oranges and Lemons." The church was rebuilt in 1957, reconsecrated in 1958—when it also became the central church of the Royal Air Force—and Oranges and Lemons Day was back indoors in 1959. The recast bells rang out, with garlands of oranges and lemons hanging above them. Oranges and Lemons Day has continued since. For many years the event was held on March 31, but now it usually is held on the third Thursday in March.
How to Observe Oranges and Lemons Day
Some ideas on ways to observe Oranges and Lemons Day are:
- Attend the Oranges and Lemons Day service at St. Clement Danes Church.
- Read the lyrics to "Oranges and Lemons" and listen to different versions of the song.
- Watch a video of the event from 1939 or 1967.
- Eat some oranges and lemons.
- Hand out oranges and lemons to children.
- Play the "Oranges and Lemons" singing game.