December 31st New Year’s Eve – The White Heather Club and Hootenanny

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, there is a lot of confusion out there as to which is the First day of Christmas. According to my muse, Charles Kightly, the first day of Christmas is Boxing Day, the 26th of December. This makes Twelfth Night January 6th which is Epiphany – when the three wise men rocked up with their fabulous presents. But that is a Christian day of importance and most other authorities begin the counting on Christmas Day. So, Twelfth Night is Epiphany Eve i.e. January 5th. Have a look at Notes&Queries for different viewpoints. One suggestion was that the Church had to accept that the Twelve Days of Christmas were taken up with pagan activities and allowed it to go on until the night before Epiphany. I have gone back and rearranged my days of Christmas accordingly and am going to take my Christmas decorations down before going to bed on the 5th January. Twelfth Night.

picture of front cover of The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore by Charles Kightly
The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore by Charles Kightly

New Year’s Eve

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? Can I take another blow out feast, a belly full of alcohol and a very late night? For years in my life New Years Eve was spent with my parents watching some inexplicable variety show hosted in Scotland. Google has helped me remember that it was the ‘White Heather Club’ hosted by Andy Stewart. Up to 10 million people watched this between 1960 and 1968. I never understood the pleasure of it and it seemed a symbol of a old-fashioned world that was passing and irrelevant.

More recently, if not spent at a party, New Year’s Eve is spent with Jools’ Annual Hootenanny, which is a music show masquerading as a live New Year’s Eve party. It features really excellent bands and singers. It is however, recorded earlier in December (15th, 20th are dates I have seen) and hence a New Year’s fake. Here is a 2007 except starring Madness’s ‘House of Fun’. The fun of this is to spot the stars grooving along to the music.

New Year’s Day needs a lot of preparation. Folklore suggests that this 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, good conscience and plans for a better new year. And don’t we all need that for 2023!

To see the rest of this post follow this link:

Tomorrow I am doing a New Year’s Walk and a New Year’s Virtual Tour
Reconstruction of Dark age London

For details of the next walk

Click here:

December 31st – New Year’s Eve

First Footing

The first person to set foot into you house needs to be a ‘Tall, well-made man’. 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 whisky 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 gloomy and with rain but it will also be warm.

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,

The wind is currently south west so it would seem we are in for a year of warmth and growth, with much milk and fish in the sea.

New Walk for Next Week – London before and after the Roman Invasion

London before the Romans
View of London from the SE as it might have looked before the Roman Invasion

Tower Hill Underground
Sunday 8th January 2023 11.30pm

The walk looks into the evidence for a prehistoric London and tells the story of the coming of the Romans in AD43

The walk is led by Kevin Flude, a former archaeologist at the Museum of London.

The walk investigates the City of London before and after the the Roman Conquest. What is the evidence for settlement before the Romans set up town of Londinium? Why did the Romans establish the town on this spot? Who were the early Roman Londoners and what made their choice of site so successful?

The fledgling Town was then burnt down by Queen Boudiccan and her Icenian rebels. We look at the evidence for the Revolt and London’s recovery to became the capital of Britain.

This is a London Walks Guided Walk. Look at their web site for a list of other of their amazing walks.

REVIEWS (from London Walks website)
“Kevin, I just wanted to drop you a quick email to thank you ever so much for your archaeological tours of London! I am so thrilled to have stumbled upon your tours! I look forward to them more than you can imagine! They’re the best 2 hours of my week! 🙂 Best, Sue

To Book:

December 29th – Becket & St. Thomas Day & Wassailing

Murder of Becket at Canterbury Cathedral 1170
Murder of Becket at Canterbury Cathedral on 29th December 1170 (Late 12th Century Manuscript from British Museum

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 fifth day of Christmas is dedicated to Thomas Becket, our most famous Archbishop’s of Canterbury. He was martyred at Canterbury on this day in 1170 and made a Saint in 1173 in double-quick time in order that the Pope could rub Henry II’s nose in his complicity with the murder. Becket was a Londoner from a well known London family, who became a friend of Henry II who was having trouble with the freedoms and fees owed to the Catholic Church. So he thought it would be a good idea to make his friend Archbishop. But as soon as Becket became Archbishop he went rogue, became a very stubborn and adamant defender of the Pope’s privileges in Britain. Henry is said to have said, in anger, ‘Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?’ And three knights took him at his word and Becket was murdered in the Cathedral in Canterbury.

Soon, a new magnificent bridge was built to replace the wooden London Bridge and in the centre of that Bridge was a magnificent Chapel dedicated to St Thomas Becket. It was refurbished by the famous architect Henry Yevele (c. 1320 – 1400). It was here that pilgrims began their pilgrimage to Canterbury i.e. from where he was born, to where he was matryed.

Stained Glass window showing St Thomas's Chapel on London Bridge (Window is in St Magnus the Martyr's Church on the site of the approach to London Bridge
Stained Glass window showing St Thomas’s Chapel on London Bridge (Window is in St Magnus the Martyr’s Church on the site of the approach to London Bridge

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:

Medieval St Thomas’s Pilgrims Badge showing the murder of Becket. The ampulae contained holy water.


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’)

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.

In yesterday’s post I included a link to an article which talks about how Santa was used to turn people from the rowdy outdoor wassailing tradition to a calmer domestic indoors Christmas.

Here is the link again:

Reconstruction of Dark age London

For details of the next walk

Click here:

December 28th – Childermass & Christmas Games with the Austens

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 folklore 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 Wednesday this year, Wednesdays throughout the year are all ill-omened days. Weather wise, as the fourth day of Christmas is warm and damp expect the fourth month, April 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 as many sticks as you can without disturbing any other. You go ends when you move a stick. Different sticks have different values.

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, Fanny.

‘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.

Santa for the Elite

I enclose a link to a discussion about the originals of the American Santa as a method for the elite to keep control of the rowdy working class in New York. The argument, in a nutshell, is that the folk Christmas was out of doors and rowdy, while Clement Moore who wrote “A Visit from St. Nicholas” introduced a domesticated indoor version of Father Christmas. Its a fascinating spin on the traditional story.

December 27th – Saturnalia, Chinese Solstice and Medieval New Year Gifts from the British Museum

Here is a short video from the British Museum on seasonal customs. It includes details of Martial’s gift list; radishes for Saturnalia in a Vindolanda letter from a master to his slave; the Bishop of Salisbury’s New Year Gift purchases of 72 Rings, 2 gold broaches, gold and jet beads – all to be given away, and dumplings for the Chinese Solstice.

I’m now going to see all four generations of my family for a Christmas get together. Dad aged 95, a whole set of great grandchildren, and generations in between.

December 26th – Boxing Day & St Stephens Day

St Stephens, Walbrook. Unusual photo taken during building work. The part of the Church to the right is much ‘cruder’ because Christopher Wren was saving money by not ‘finishing off’ parts that could not be seen from the public thoroughfare. Photo by the Author in 2008

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

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.


Happy Christmas!

Beautiful rhyme of a working boat on the Regent’s Canal, Haggerston. Video K Flude from the author’s garden

Not much time to post today as I had to move my boat to a new location. I started at 9.15pm, at Notting Hill and got the boat to Camden to find the Canal shut for major engineering work. Turned round in a small space, and a bit of trailing rope from a garden got caught in my propeller. Moored, got moved on to a suggested new site by the engineers. Found, after mooring and shutting up the shop, that the towpath was closed off and there was no way out to the rest of the world. So, as there are no mooring from Paddington to Camden had to take the boat back almost to where I started. So by 2pm had returned to within 10 minutes of my starting point…….

December 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.