DECEMBER 31ST NEW YEAR’S EVE

Happy new year card showing drunken wealthy young man slumped on the snow overlooked by a policeman

On the seventh day of Christmas
My true love sent to me:
7 Swans a Swimming; 6 Geese a Laying;

5 Golden Rings;

4 Calling Birds; 3 French Hens; 2 Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

First an admission, I have just changed all my days of Christmas to one day earlier. According to my muse, Charles Kightly, the first day of Christmas is Boxing Day, the 26th of December. According to most other authorities it begins on Christmas Day. So, I have gone back and rearranged my days of Christmas.

This is a day of preparation, and perhaps of anxiety. Have we got an invitation anywhere tonight? Is anyone going to come to our party? Am I in good shape for a late night and a belly full of alcohol? For years in my life New Years Eve was spent with my parents watching some inexplicable variety show hosted in Scotland. More recently, if not spent at a party is spent with Jools’ Annual Hootenanny, which is a live music show masquerading as a New Year’s Eve party.

Folklore suggests that your preparation should include finishing off any unfinished work or projects, as a task carried forward is ill-omened. Your accounts for the year should be reconciled, and as Charles Dickens suggests in the Chimes, your moral account with the world should also be addressed so that you can come into the New Year with a clean slate and good conscience.

Next you need to make sure a ‘Tall, well-made man’ is the first-footer into your house. Dark haired men are preferred to fair-haired, but he must not be dressed in black, nor be from the ‘professions’ (those people who can counter-sign your passport). He must not carry a knife but he must bring gifts, particularly a loaf of bread, a bottle of whisky, a piece of coal or wood, and a silver coin. Silence is to welcome him to the house until he puts the coal on the fire, pours a glass of the brandy and greets the family. He will bring in the luck through the front door on the stroke of midnight; the bread symbolising that you will be well fed, the fuel that you will be warm and safe, the whisky that you will have fun and the coin will bring prosperity. Your first-footer will take the old year and its bad-luck out of the back door when he leaves.

The weather today will be reflected on the 7th month – so July will start brightly with blue sky peeping through scudding clouds.

Or as a Scottish Rhyme has it (quoted in the Perpetual Almanac)

If New Year’s Eve night-wind blow south

That betokens warmth and growth

If west, much milk, and fish in the sea

If North, much cold and storms will be

If east, the tress will bear much fruit

If north-east, flee it, man and brute,

2 more days till my ‘Ring in the New Year Virtual Walk. To book click here:

DECEMBER 30TH – HANGOVER CURE

Crack Willow Trees on the Oxford Canal, August 2021

On the sixth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
6 Geese a Laying; 5 Golden Rings; 4 Calling Birds[ 3 French Hens; 2 Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

Nature provides many plants that can soothe headaches. One of the best documented is willow bark. Here is a record of how simple it could be to use:

‘I am nearly 70 years old and was born and bred in Norfolk… My father, if he had a ‘skullache’ as he called it, would often chew a new growth willow twig, like a cigarette in the mouth.’

‘A Dictionary of Plant Lore by Roy Vickery (Pg 401)

In the 19th Century Willow was found to contain salicylic acid from which aspirin was derived. As a child I remember chewing liquorice sticks in a similar way, although supposedly for the pleasure and the sweetness not for the many medicinal virtues of the plant.

Yesterday’s weather on the 5th Day of Christmas was warm and damp in the early part and sunny later on. This means, according to Gervase Markham, that the 5th Month, May will begin warm and damp and then later on will be lovely and sunny. ‘The English Husbandman’ of 1635. Today, the sixth day foretells Jume. So far, unusually warm and damp.

The Day of Nymphs in Greece dedicated to Artemis, Andromeda, Ariadne, Ceres. (according to the Goddess Book of Days by Diane Stein.)

Only 4 days to go to my ‘Ring in the New Year Virtual Walk.’ Click here to book.

DECEMBER 29TH – ST THOMAS WASSAILING

Black and white drawing of a servant Bringing in the Wasaill Bowl (from Washington Irving's 'Old Christmas
Bringing in the Wassail Bowl (from Washington Irving’s ‘Old Christmas’)

On the fifth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
5 Golden Rings; 4 Calling Birds; 3 French Hens; 2 Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

The fourth day of Christmas is dedicated to Thomas Becket, martyred at Canterbury. In London there was a legend that his mother, Matilda, was a Muslim who fell in love with Thomas’s dad, Gilbert, during the Crusades. She helped him escape captivity and then found her own way from Acre to London, knowing only the name ‘London’ in English and walking most of the way. It is said that on St Thomas Day people used to walk around St Paul’s multiple times to remember her walk of love. The story was told as true from the 13th Century till the 19th Century found Matilda had more prosaic Norman origins. The story is told here:

The Twelve Days of Christmas are full of wassailing. This has at least two different facets. Firstly, it is a formal drinking tradition at the centre of Christmas hospitality. Secondly, it is part of the traditional of the Waits, the Mummers, and Carol Singers who go around the village singing or playing in exchange for a drink or some food, or money.

The name comes from the Anglo-Saxon version of ‘Cheers’ or good health and its ceremonial use is described by Geoffrey of Monmouth in 1135.

From that day to this, the tradition has endured in Britain that the one who drinks first at a banquet says “was hail” and he who drinks next says “drinc hail.”

Geoffrey is explaining how Vortigern betrayed Britain for the love of Rowena, the Saxon Hengist’s daughter, and speculating on the origins of the tradition of wassail.

A Wassail bowl would be full of some form of mulled alcohol or hot punch. A couple of pints of ale or cider, a pint of wine/brandy/mead, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. You should have an apple or crab-apple floating in the bowl. To find out more look at ‘British Food, a History’ here.

Join me on my virtual ‘Ring in the New Year’ guided walk around London.

DECEMBER 28TH – CHILDERMASS & CHRISTMAS GAMES

Bullet Pudding

On the fourth day of Christmas
My true love sent to me
Four calling birds, Three French hens, Two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

Holy Innocents Day is dedicated to children on the day Herod ordered the slaughter of children aged two or under, in an attempt to kill the prophesied Messiah.

It is, therefore, as far as fokllore is concerned, an ill-omened day so don’t begin any new enterprise or, indeed, attempt to go back to work. And remember, as Childermass falls on a Tuesday this year, Tuesdays throughout the year are all ill-omened days. Weather wise, as the third day of Christmas is warm and damp expect the third month, March, to be similarly damp and wet.

So, despite your desire to go back to work, it’s best to spend the time in Christmas Games. The one I remember, most fondly, is pick-up-sticks or spillikins. You drop a pile of sticks onto a table top and then have to pick up the sticks without disturbing any other.

Pick-up-sticks or Spillikins

Another game we played at parties was, I discovered when researching for my Jane Austen’s Christmas Walk, also played in the Austen family. They called in Bullet Pudding. I don’t think we had a name for it, but it involves putting flour in a bowl, upending it on a plate, putting a bullet (in our case a coin) on the top . A knife is placed by the side, people dance around the plate, and whoever the knife is pointing at when the music stops has to cut a slice of the flour mountain.

Eventually, the coin will collapse, and the hapless winner, according to Jane’s niece

‘must poke about with their noise & chins till they find it & then take it out with their mouths which makes them strange figures all covered with flour but the worst is that you must not laugh for fear of the flour getting up your nose & mouth & choking you. You must not use your hands in taking the bullet out.’

In my family we pushed the winner’s head into the flour to maximise the fun.

Christmas at Godmersham Park

1811 to 1812 Fanny Knight, Jane Austen’s niece writing to a friend Miss Dorothy Chapman

‘I don’t know whether I told you that the Miss Morris’s are at home for the Christmas holidays. They are very nice girls and have contributed a good deal to our entertainment.

None of us caught the whooping cough and have been very well the whole time.
We have in general had cards, snapdragons, bullet pudding etc on any particular evening and Whist, Commerce and others and Tickets were the favourite games.

I think when cards fail the boys played every evening at draughts, chess and backgammon.’

Snapdragons is a very dangerous game! A tray is filled with brandy, raisins are sprinkled in; the brandy set on fire, and the game is to retrieve and eat the raisins without receiving first degree burns.

Commerce and Tickets are both gambling games. Tickets played by exchanging lottery tickets, and commerce is a three card poker type game played with counters

Other games mentioned by Fanny

Hunt the Slipper, Oranges and Lemons, Wind the Jack, Lighting a Candle in Haste; Spare Old Noll.

Remember, on 2nd January 7.30 I am doing my annual ‘Ring in the New Year’ virtual walk where I look at all things new year. To see more details click here:

RING IN THE NEW YEAR VIRTUAL WALK

Druids at All Hallows, by the Tower
Druids at All Hallows, by the Tower

On this walk we look at how London has celebrated the New Year over the past 2000 years, and using our crystal ball look forward to what will befall London in 2022

Sunday January 2nd 2022 7.30pm

We look at London’s past to see where and how the Solstice might be celebrated. We also explore the different New Years we use and their associated Calendars – the Pagan year, the Christian year, the Roman year, the Jewish year, the Financial year, the Academic year and we reveal how these began. We look at folk traditions, Medieval Christmas Festivals, Boy Bishops, Distaff Sunday and Plough Monday, and other New Year London tradition and folklore.

At the end we use ancient methods to divine what is in store for us in 2022.

The walk finds interesting and historic places in the City of London to link to our stories of Past New Year’s Days. We begin, virtually, at Barbican Underground and continue to the Museum of London, the Roman Fort; Noble Street, Goldsmiths Hall, Foster Lane, St Pauls, Dr Commons, St. Nicholas Colechurch and on towards the River.

To book

DECEMBER 27TH -FORECASTING THE WEATHER

On the third day of Christmas
My true love sent to me:
3 French Hens
2 Turtle Doves
And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

Folklore is full of risible methods of forecasting the future and Gervase Markham’s ‘The English Husbandman of 1635 is no exception. He says:

‘What weather shall be on the sixth and twentieth day of December, the like weather will be all the month of January.’

Then and so on for the 12 days of Christmas. So today’s weather will be the weather ‘the following February’ and so on.

Thanks, Gervase, so January and February are going to be very wet and miserable.

This is St, John’s Day, he who was loved by Jesus and wrote the Gospel making him the patron saint of booksellers, publishers, printers and writers. Lecterns in the Church of England are normally shaped as an Eagle as this is the symbol of St John, as a writer of grace and power, and a messenger of Authority from God.

Black and white advert for a lectern with an eagle at the top from 19th Century Ecclesiastical Suppliers Catalogue
19th Century Ecclesiastical Suppliers Catalogue

Remember, on 2nd January 7.30 I am doing my annual ‘Ring in the New Year’ virtual walk where I look at all things new year. To see more details click here:

DECEMBER 26TH – BOXING DAY – ST STEPHEN’S DAY

Picture of Christmas greenery on a gift box
by Tjana Drndarski-via unsplash

On the second day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
2 Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

It is the Feast day of St Stephen, the day when Wrens could be hunted.. He is the first Christian Martyr and was stoned to death not long after Jesus’ apotheosis. It is the day people used to give presents (Boxes) particularly to servants and people who have helped out. Other days for presents include Dec 6th, St Nicholas’s Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Twelfth Night and any other day, Night, Eve (or Morn) you fancy.

Swedish Choir singing in St Stephen’s London – I was taking them around the City of London on a guided walk, and we happened to find St Stephen’s open, and they just fancied the acoustics.

In 1858 James Ewing Richie wrote about ‘Boxing Night’ in The Night Side of London. I’ve mixed it with another source to give a list of the people who came knocking at the door for the traditional Boxing Day Box.

Richie’s advice was to tie up your knocker as these people would come and knock on it:

The Sweep

Varlets playing French Horns pretending to be the Waits – The Waits were licensed musical beggars.

Then came the Turncock, the Postman, the Dustman; the Road Waterer in summer, and the Road Scrapper in Winter. After this the real Waits turned up for a musical turn. Then the Lamplighter, the Grocer’s Boy and the Butcher’s Boy.

I imagine the Knocker-upper also got a Box. My grandmother told me about the knocker-upper in Old Street in the early Twentieth Century.

Google search image 'knocker-upper', the lady at top left worked in Limehouse
Google search image ‘knocker-upper’, the lady at top left worked in Limehouse and is using a pea-shooter.

Richie says he had to give 6 people, who wished him a Happy Christmas on his way to work, half a crown each. He thought his wife would be lucky to get away with a shilling per person for the list above. His belief was that it would all do more harm than good as it would be spent on drink leading to the miseries of drunkenness.

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DECEMBER 24-25TH BIRTHDAY OF THE SUN

Helios, Colossus of Rhodes, artist's impression, 1880
Helios Colossus of Rhodes, artist’s impression, 1880

The First Day of Christmas my true love sent to me

A Partridge in a Pear Tree

Dies Natalis Solis Invicti

In the Northern Tradition the day begins at Dusk, so Christmas Day begins on Christmas Eve. So many countries celebrate the eve as much or more than the day.

December 24th is also a day for Mothers, as tomorrow, the 25th, will be born Jesus, Mithras, Attis, Saturn and the Day of the Birth of Invincible Sun. And we think of Mary, Isis, Theia, the Three Mother Goddesses and mothers everywhere.

Sun Gods have quite a complicated interrelationship. Zeus, and Apollo are both also considered to be Sun Gods. Apollo is particularly interrelated to Helios the Greek God who drives the Chariot that carries the Sun across the skies everyday. Sol, perhaps the original religion of Constantine the Great, has been suggested as a response of the Romans to a trend towards monotheism in the later Roman period. Early worship of Jesus is full of solar metaphors, Churches are orientated East West. Mithras and Attis both wear the same Phygrian Hat.

Did the Celts have a sun-god? Belenos was a contender but linguists are suggesting his name does not come from words meaning bright but from strong. Lugh’s name is suggested to mean ‘shining’ but his attributes are more of a warrior than a sun god. Taranis is probably the best candidate but he is more of sky or thunder god that specifically a sun god. However his sympbol is a wheel and the wheel is symbolic of the turning the year which is caused by the movement of the Sun relative to the Earth.

December 25th was the date of the Roman Solstice but the slipage of dates caused by the inability of humans to keep to a proper Solar calendar, meant that the actual solstice varies from the ‘official’ solstice.

DECEMBER 23RD 1652 – NO MORE CHRISTMAS

1653 Illustration of Old Christmas being rejected by the Puritan from London and welcome from the rustic from Dorset
1653 Illustration of Old Christmas being rejected by the Puritan from London and welcome from the rustic from Dorset

23rd December 1652 Resolved by Parliament. : ‘That no Observation shall be had of the five-and-twentieth day of December, commonly called Christmas-Day.’

This was one of several bans on Christmas that Parliament introduced. (Parliament not Cromwell). It banned Christmas Services and ordered that shops be kept open but it was at least, inside people’s homes, largely unenforceable.

The logic for banning it was that Christmas is not mentioned in the Bible and was thus a Catholic superstition.

I’m giving a New Year Virtual tour on 2nd January 2022. For more details click here:

DECEMBER 22nd CAPRICORN & STAGE COACH MISERY

As the Sun enters the House of Capricorn remember the poor Coachman travelling all day everyday in all weathers. Washington Irving in his ‘Old Christmas’ (Originally ‘The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon’ pub. 1819) describes him with a broad red face, a broad body widened by drinking beer; swathed with any numbers of layers of coats trying to keep the cold out. He has many worries on his mind as he has a coach full not only of people who need looking after but also a lot of parcels and commissions that need to be carried out in the many stops along the way. He is delivering parcels, turkeys, geese, presents, children, you name it he is responsible for its safe delivery.

Feel sorry for the people crowded inside the carriage but even sorrier for those sitting on the roof. They have umbrellas in a vain attempt to keep dry, but the run off from their neighbours umbrella might trickle down their necks.

John Keats blamed his consumption on a stage-coach journey from London to Hampstead on a cold day in February.

Capricorn: ‘The man born under Capricorn shall be iracundious and a fornicator; a liar, and always labouring.

….The woman shall be honest and fearful, and have children of three men, she will do many pilgrimages in her youth and after have great wit.’ From Kalendar of Shepheards 1604 quoted in ‘The Perpetual Almanac of Folklore by Charles Kightly’.

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