When icicles hang by the wall, And Dick the shepherd blows his nail, And Tom bears logs into the hall, And milk comes frozen home in pail, When blood is nipp’d and ways be foul, Then nightly sings the staring owl, Tu-whit; Tu-who, a merry note, While greasy Joan doth keel the pot. When all aloud the wind doth blow, And coughing drowns the parson’s saw, And birds sit brooding in the snow, And Marion’s nose looks red and raw, When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl, Then nightly sings the staring owl, Tu-whit; Tu-who, a merry note, While greasy Joan doth keel the pot. William Shakespeare - Love's Labours Lost
Advent begins on the 4th Sunday before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. This year it was Sunday 28th November but it can be as last as 3rd December.
Advent divides the world into those who love to plan; who love to anticipate and people like me who buy all my presents in a mad flurry on Christmas Eve. Surely, my nephew will like the Arsenal Yearbook, my father ‘The History of the Spitfire’ and my brother the remastered version of the early Fleetwood Mac LP that I have, he tells me, already bought him three times. (In my defence, not the middle-of-the -road Fleetwood Mac but the one with Peter Green in it and capable of the Green Manalishi).
In my mind, people should be heavily fined for mentioning the C-word before December, and whipped, for mentioning the X word at all. So, not sure advent is my favourite time of the year.
23rd November St Clements Day the Blacksmith’s Holiday
St Clement was martyred by drowning, tied to an iron anchor. He was a very early Bishop of Rome, and his mode of death (AD99) means he is particularly venerated by Blacksmiths and Sailors.
24th November – the dawning of Sagittarius
According to the Kalendar of Shepheardes 1604, women born on this day should marry at age 13, shall have many sons and live to 72 years old. Men will be merciful, far-travelled, prosperous after early dangers and live to 72 years and 8 months.
25th November St Catherine’s Day Patroness of the Catherine Wheel.
In the pantheon of horror that is the Saints’ Calendar, St Catherine suffered by being broken on the wheel, although the wheel broke and she was beheaded. The princess was very studious and disputed with pagan learned men and confounded them. She refused to marry a pagan Emperor. She is the patron of Philosophers, Theologians and Royal women but also of students, spinsters, and anyone who lives by a wheel – carter, potters etc.
26th November Thanksgiving Day in the USA
Thanksgiving is a festival given over to celebrating God’s Bounty. There are unanswerable debates about which was the ‘First’ Thanksgiving but the date of the 4th Thursday in November was set by Abraham Lincoln.
27th November – Eels now in Season.
Eel Pie Island . Ordnance Survey In 1871 to 1882 map series (OS, 1st series at 1:10560: Surrey (Wikipedia)
28th November – Time to Wed before Advent
Traditionally, you could not marry after Advent and before 12th Night. So now might be the last chance to marry before that bump gets too big!
Wedding dresses were traditionally whatever really pretty dress you had. White only became de rigueur once Queen Victoria worn one, and the costs of material reduced because of mass production.
29th November To make a Dish of Snow
Snow is increasingly possible, and if you are keen to see some – try this medieval recipe:
To make a dish of Snowe / Take a potte of sweete thicke creme and the white of eight egges and beate them altogether with a spoone then putte them into your creame with a dish full of Rose Water and a dishfull of Sugar withall then take a sticke and make it cleane and then cutt it in the ende fowre square and therewith beate all the aforesayd thinges together and ever as it ariseth take it of and putte it into a Cullander thys done take a platter and set an aple in the middest of it and sticke a thicke bush of Rosemarye in the apple then cast your snowe upon the rosemarye and fill your platter therewith and if you have wafers cast some withall and thus serve them forth
From Medieval Manuscripts Blog. https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/medieval-history/page/2/
30th November St Andrew’s Day
One of the first Apostles. It seems all Christian martyrs have to be killed in a different grizzly way and Andrew was martyred on a X-shaped cross. As he was formerly a simple fisherman so patron of fishermen.
Celebrate with a Haggis and a Whisky!
In Kent and Sussex Andrewtide gave the right to hunt squirrels, and in Hasted’s History of Kent (1782) it allowed the ‘lower kind’ to form a lawless rabble hunting any manner of hares, partridges and pheasants.
In the East Riding of Yorkshire hiring fairs were held around this time. It was also called Pack-Rag Day as servants carried their clothes to their new place of work.
A hiring fair is how Gabriel Oak is hired by Batheseba Everdene in ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’ by Thomas Harding. They were often also held at Michaelmas.
November 17th Accession of QEI
was celebrated with bonfires and bell-ringing. In London lighted fire-barrels were rolled along Cheapside. It was, in a way, the precursor to Guy Fawkes Day. Protestants celebrated it with such joy as it was the end of the reign of her sister Queen Mary I who had over 250 Protestants burnt at the stake.
November 18th Time for sausages!
Good time to make sausages as the slaughter of cattle before winter meant there was a lot of meat and guts around. (A Random Fact: it took 200,000 cattle guts to make gasbags for the Zeppelins that bombed London in World War 1.
November 19th Night Fowling
Night-fowling in season. Gervase Markham’s Hunger’s Prevention tells you to go to a stubble field when the air is mild and the moon not shining. Take a dolorous low bell, and net.
Spread the net over the stubble where there may be fowl, ring the bell, light fires of dry straw, and the fowl will fly and become entangled in the net.
November 20th – Feast of St Edmund of East Anglia.
He was killed with an arrow by Vikings in 869 and became a saint. Well, in fact he was tied to a tree, shot full of arrows and then beheaded. The head was found and still talking and he was, with St Edward the Confession, the saint of the monarchy. They could explain to St Peter why the King had to undertake actions which might be strictly against the Ten Commandments.
Also the day to grow garlic
Set garlic and beans, at St Edmund the King.
Garlic with soft cheese ‘stauncheth’ catarrh and so is good against hoarseness.
Nov 13th – Time to gather yarrow which is often still flowering. It was used for wounds, inflammations, hair lose, tooth-ache and good for those who cannot hold their water.
November 14th Firewood
Beechwood fires burn bright and clear
If the logs be kept a year
Oaken Logs if dry and old
Keep away the winter’s cold
Chestnut’s only good they say
If for years ’tis laid away
But ash-wood green or ash-wood brown
Are fit for a King with a golden Crown
Elm she burns like the churchyard mould
Even the flames are cold
Birch and pine-wood burn too fast
Blaze too bright and do not last
But ash wet of ash dry
A Queen may warm her slippers by.
November 15th Exercise
Leaping is an exercise very commendable and healthful for the body.
The Compleat Gentleman 1634
Foul privies are now to be cleaned.
The chimney all sooty would now be made clearn.
Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry. 1573
So, this is All Saints Day, Old style also known as St Martin’s Day.
Father Francis Weiser in the Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs (quoted at https://onepeterfive.com/forgotten-customs-of-martinmas-and-st-martins-lent/) suggests this was the thanksgiving of Medieval Europe.
It was a holiday in Germany, France, Holland, England and in central Europe. People first went to Mass and observed the rest of the day with games, dances, parades, and a festive dinner, the main feature of the meal being the traditional roast goose (Martin’s goose). With the goose dinner they drank “Saint Martin’s wine,” which was the first lot of wine made from the grapes of the recent harvest. Martinmas was the festival commemorating filled barns and stocked larders.
It was also the time of year when lime plaster was renewed, because lime needs to be kept moist when renewed. It takes three to four days to form the calcite crystals that make it waterproof.
Martin of Tours was a soldier in the Roman Army who would not fight because of his Christian belief. When he met a beggar he cut in half his cloak and gave half to the beggar. He rose in the hierarchy of the Gallic Church and became Bishop of Tours. He is one of the very few early saints not to be martyred. He is the saint of soldiers, beggars and the oppressed. He stands for upholding your beliefs and helping those in need.
According to legend his barge on the River Loire was accompanied by flowers and birds and a late warm patch is called a St Martin Summer. It can also be called a Halloween Summer. Normally, though this is when it begins to feel really wintry.
St Martin was very famous in London and there are two famous Churches dedicated to him with possible early origins. St Martin’s in the Fields, near Trafalgar Sq has been the site of excavations and finds which show a very early settlement there, with early sarcophagi. It is the one place where a convincing case can be made for continuity between the Roman and the Anglo-Saxon period. It is likely, or at least possible, that the Church was founded soon after St Martin’s death. A settlement grew up near it, and this expanded to become Lundenwic, the successor settlement to Londinium.
St Martins Within, is just inside the Roman Gate at Ludgate, many early churches are found at or indeed above Gates, But this one has legendary links to burial places for King Lud, and for King Cadwallo, (Cadwallon ap Cadfan,) one of the last British Kings to have any chance of recovering Britain from the Anglo Saxons. He was said to have been buried here in a statue of a Bronze Horseman, and to protect London.
St Martin was also the saint of Travellers and this might explain the location of the Church near the gate. Although there is nothing but legendary ‘evidence’. It would make sense for an early church to be built near Ludgate, as St Pauls was founded in 604AD. Although the City might have been mostly empty, the presence of St Pauls means that Ludgate was most likely still in use or at least restored around this period.
St Martin was one of the most important in the Medieval Calendar of Saints. We will have a look at him tomorrow on his Saint’s Day.
But it is also Halloween or it would be if the Calendar had not been change in 1752. So for traditionalists this is the actual Halloween. It gives another chance to look into the future and to celebrate Halloween traditions.
If Martinmas ice will bear a duck
Then look for a winter of slush and muck.
i.e. it will be a mild winter. From my experience this will only have any validity if used in the North.
Today is also for Kali, Indian destroyer of Evil, and also for the Fate, the Norns, the Furies, the Morrigan and Persephone.
Gervase Markham (1682) says ‘…feed them for the first week with Barley sodden till it breaks; then feed them with raw malt from the floor; then for a week after give them dry Peas or Beans to harden their flesh. Let their drink be the washings of Ale-barrels and Sweet Whey. This manner of feeding breeds the whitest, fastest, and best flesh that maybe….’