JANUARY 7TH – ST. DISTAFF’S DAY

I’m not sure what the Three Kings were doing on the day after Epiphany, but if, the Shepherds were like English farmworkers, they would still be on holiday until next Monday. However, the women, according to folk customs, went back to work on the 7th, the day after Epiphany.


In London the Fraternity of St Anne and St Agnes used to meet at the Church in London with that name, and which is near to the Museum of London on the corner of Gresham Street and Noble Street, just by the corner of the Roman Wall. St Agnes is the patron saint of young girls, and St Anne is the mother of the mother of the Son of God, and thereby the three generations of women are represented. Maidens, mothers, and grandmothers, a reminded that this trinity has been honoured in London since the 3 Mother Goddesses in the Roman period. Given this churches attributions it is very strange that the Christopher Wren’s Church was leased by the Lutheran Church from 1966 to 2013

The Three Mother Goddesses (and someone else) in the Museum of London


St. Distaff’s Day is explained best by Robert Herrick (1591–1674)

Partly work and partly play
You must on St. Distaff’s Day:
From the plough soon free your team;
Then come home and fother them;
If the maids a-spinning go,
Burn the flax and fire the tow.
Bring in pails of water then,
Let the maids bewash the men.
Give St. Distaff all the right;
Then bid Christmas sport good night,
And next morrow every one
To his own vocation.

Reading Museum's copy of the Bayeaux Tapestry.  King Edward in Westminster. To the right in his Palace. The the left in his coffin on the way to burial in the new built Westminster Abbey
Reading Museum’s copy of the Bayeaux Tapestry. King Edward in Westminster. My Virtual Walk ‘LONDON. 1066 AND ALL THAT VIRTUAL WALK’ is this Sunday 9th Jan. Book here:

JANUARY 6TH – TWELFTH NIGHT (AGAIN)

Drawing for twelfth-cake at St. Annes Hill by Isaac Cruickshank 1807

Yesterday was Twelfth Night for the modern Church of England, but today is Twelfth Night for the Catholic Church and in England in former times. It is the big party night, featuring the famous Twelfth Night Cake which is now called Christmas Cake; (makes sense doesn’t it, why would you want Christmas Dinner, Christmas Pudding and Christmas Cake all on the same day? ) and theatrical entertainments; mumming and wassailing.

I gave a recipe for the cake two days ago (here it is) but the important point is that it had a bean and a pea in it. The one who got the bean was selected thereby as King for night and the pea the Queen. Cards were then given to all the participants detailing a role they were to play for the rest of the night, with an introductory speech. The King and Queens led the way and for the rest of the evening the party members adopted the persona of their person. It might be a soldier, a cook, a parson etc. It the illustration above you will see the participants,pulling their role cards out of their hat. In the game the women’s cards were drawn from a ‘reticule’ (bag) and the men’s from a hat. In this case the hat seems to be a revolutionary sans culotte’s cap. Several versions of Cruikshank’s illustration exist, one of the others has ‘speech bubbles which give some idea of the controversy the game might provoke,

This blog post has some interesting additional information about Twelfth Night from which I quote below.

‘Mr and Mrs William Clifford and their seven children (and maid), John Fox snr. and Sally Twining, Mr and Mrs William Fox, and William Weale. To feed this crowd took “Ham, Greens, 3 fowls roasted, Soup, Leg of Mutton, potatoes, Boiled rump of beef (large)” Desert included pudding, mince pies and a forequarter of home lamb. For supper, the assembled party consumed tarts, stuffed beef, mince pies, cold mutton, oysters, cold sliced beef, cold lamb, apple pies and pears. 12th Night Cruikshank, Isaac, 1756-1811 printmaker. Published Janr. 10, 1897 by Thomas Tegg, 111 Cheapside, 1807’

Reading Museum's copy of the Bayeaux Tapestry.  King Edward in Westminster. To the right in his Palace. The the left in his coffin on the way to burial in the new built Westminster Abbey
Reading Museum’s copy of the Bayeaux Tapestry. King Edward in Westminster. My Virtual Walk ‘LONDON. 1066 AND ALL THAT VIRTUAL WALK’ is this Sunday 9th Jan. Book here:

JANUARY 5TH – TWELFTH NIGHT CONTROVERSY

To show a Christmas celebration in the Victorian period, probably twelfth night

On the twelfth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Twelve drummers drumming, Eleven pipers piping, Ten lords a-leaping,
Nine ladies dancing, Eight maids a-milking, Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds, Three French hens, Two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

So, finally I have a suggestion as to the basis for the confusion as to when the Twelve Days of Christmas being. Most people agree you start counting from Christmas Day, but some folklore sources going back in time count from Boxing Day. For example Gervase Markham’s ‘The English Husbandman of 1635 counts it from Boxing Day.

The Daily Express reveals to me that the Protestants count from Christmas Day and the Catholics from Boxing Day. That maybe it, but is the confusion more complicated than that? The religious festival really makes sense if it begins with Christmas Day, and ends with the Epiphany, the day the Three Kings from the Orient come to worship Jesus. Also most festivals begin on the Eve, so why does Twelfth Night follow the Twelfth Day rather than precede it? Shouldn’t it be like Christmas Eve, Hallowe’en be called Twelfth Eve?

I suspect there is a fudge going on here. Twelve is the magic number, twelve Apostles, 12 months in the year, so twelve Days of Christmas. But clearly for Christians it stretches from Christmas Day to Epiphany. Two ways to square that 13 day difference. One is to begin the twelve days on Boxing Day, the other is to end with a Twelfth Night party on the Eve of Epiphany.

I don’t think I am alone in being confused. If you know any better let me know! Tomorrow I will look at Twelfth Night festivities.

Reading Museum's copy of the Bayeaux Tapestry.  King Edward in Westminster. To the right in his Palace. The the left in his coffin on the way to burial in the new built Westminster Abbey
Reading Museum’s copy of the Bayeaux Tapestry. King Edward in Westminster. My Virtual Walk ‘LONDON. 1066 AND ALL THAT VIRTUAL WALK’ is this Sunday 9th Jan. Book here:

JANUARY 4TH – THE ELEVENTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

Twelfth Night Cake at the Geffrye Museum (now called the Museum of the Home)

On the 11th day of Christmas
My true love sent to me
11 pipers piping; Ten lords a-leaping; Nine ladies dancing
Eight maids a-milking; Seven swans a-swimming
Six geese a-laying
Five golden rings (five golden rings)
Four calling birds; Three French hens; Two turtle-doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

Now is your last chance to make your Twelfth Day cake. This is a recipe from 1604 by Elinor Fettiplace:

Take a peck of flower, and fower pound of currance, one ounce of Cinamon, half an ounce of ginger, two nutmegs, of cloves and mace two peniworth, of butter one pound, mingle your spice and flower & fruit together, but as much barme [the yeasty froth from the top of fermenting beer barrels] as will make it light, then take good Ale, & put your butter in it, saving a little, which you must put in the milk, & let the milk boyle with the butter, then make a posset with it, & temper the Cakes with the posset drink, & curd & all together, & put some sugar in & so bake it.

I found this on the excellent www.britishfoodhistory.com

If you want a more modern recipe, the following is from the BBC. Please remember to add a pea, and a bean to the recipe. These will be useful once you have read my Twelfth Night post.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/twelfth_night_cake_53367

Reading Museum's copy of the Bayeaux Tapestry.  King Edward in Westminster. To the right in his Palace. The the left in his coffin on the way to burial in the new built Westminster Abbey
Reading Museum’s copy of the Bayeaux Tapestry. King Edward in Westminster. My Virtual Walk ‘LONDON. 1066 AND ALL THAT VIRTUAL WALK’ is this Sunday 9th Jan. Book here:

JANUARY 3RD – 10TH DAY OF CHRISTMAS & THE FEAST OF ST GENEVIEVE

priant pour arrêter la pluie lors des moissons, réalisé au XIXe siècle par Alfred Gérente pour orner le corridor de la nouvelle sacristie de Notre-Dame de Paris.
Saint Geneviève praying for the end of the rain. 19th Century by Alfred Gérente Notre-Dame de Paris.

Two pieces of weather lore from Richard Inwards book of the same name:

Janiveer freeze the pot by the fire
As the day lengthens
So the cold strengthens

In January should the sun appear
March and April will pay full dear.

And remember we are still following Gervase Markham, suggesting that the weather on the 10th Day of Christmas will rule the weather in the 10th Month. So October will be sunny at first, then grey, but warm.

St Genevieve of Nanterre has her feast day today. Nanterre is an ancient settlement swallowed up by modern Paris. Genevieve is a most remarkable women who met St Germanus on his way to Britain and became a consecrated virgin at the age of 15. She led an aesthetic life of fasting and prayer. In 451 she led the Parisians in prayer on the approach of the Huns led by Attila, and is credited with his decision not to attack the City. She lived to 89.

Incidently, Nanterre has an interesting prehistory. The name in Celtic means ‘enduring sacred site’, and a big cemetery found there makes it possibly the original site of Paris, or at least an important early site. Julius Caesar attended an assembly with local Gallic leaders in the area. The topography of Nanterre fits as well as the Île de la Cité some argue.

JANUARY 2ND – THE 9TH DAY OF CHRISTMAS OR IS IT?

Reading Museum's copy of the Bayeaux Tapestry.  King Edward in Westminster. To the right in his Palace. The the left in his coffin on the way to burial in the new built Westminster Abbey
Reading Museum’s copy of the Bayeaux Tapestry. King Edward in Westminster. My Virtual Walk ‘LONDON. 1066 AND ALL THAT VIRTUAL WALK’ is this Sunday 9th Jan. Book here:

But is it? Wikipedia says it is the 9th Day as the first is Christmas Day. But the Perpetual Almanac of Folklore by Charles Kightly counts from Boxing Day so for him it is the 8th Day and I have seen this in other older sources. For example: Gervase Markham’s ‘The English Husbandman of 1635 says:

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

This is the idea that the weather on each day of Christmas is linked to the weather in the corresponding month. So the first day of Christmas for Markham is the 26th not the 25th.

But if it is the 9th Day we can therefore expect the weather in September 2022 to be unusually warm and sunny. Otherwise an unusually warm August!

Today, is special for the Cybele, Isis, Aphrodite and Ishtar, and the Vigil for St Genevieve of Nanterre. Paris. (more tomorrow).

Wassail Bowl being brought in by a Servant into a dining hall on Christmas Day
From ‘Old Christmas’ by Washington Irving

Time to go around and about your neighbours and get out the Wassail Bowl.

Into the bowl is first place half a pound of sugar in which is one pint of warm beer; a little nutmeg and ginger are then grated over the mixture, and 4 glasses of sherry and 5 pints of beer added to it. It is then stirred, sweetened to taste and allowed to stand covered for 2 to 3 hours. Roasted apples are then floated on the creaming mixture and the wassail bowl is ready.

The Curiosities of Ale and Beer,by John Bickerdike, published about 1860 from a Jesus College Oxford recipe of 1732. (From Recipes of Old England by Bernard N. Bessunger

JANUARY 1ST – NEW YEAR’S DAY & ALMANACS

From the Kalendar of Shepherdes (illus. 1529)

On the eighth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
8 Maids a Milking; 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

The 8th day is the day of the Throbbing Head. Leonard Cohen wrote in ‘Closing Time’ about drinking to excess. I like to think he refers to Christmas and New Year’s Day:

And the whole damn place goes crazy twice
And it’s once for the devil and it’s once for Christ
But the boss don’t like these dizzy heights
We’re busted in the blinding lights of closing time.

We are probably too pained to think about the New Year and our resolutions but we might begin to turn to an almanac to see what the year has ahead. Newspapers and the web have now taken over largely from Almanacs. They print articles about the upcoming highlights of the Sporting Year or the Musical year and so one. But almanacs are still produced and arguably grew from medieval manuscript Books of Hours and, in particular, the 1493 Kalendar of Shepherdes which was published in Paris. Each month was described with the addition of important information for farmers. By the 1600’s almanacs were the most published form of book other than the Bible. Lauren Kassell in ‘Almanacs and Prognostications’ reports estimates that by 1660 one third of every household had one.

Not an advert but a screen shot!

Originally, they had a Calendar for each month, and information about the phases of the month, and the tides, predictions of the weather, and health issues likely to occur at that time of the year. Astrology was an important element of them. London Almanacs contained further information about the year and its ceremonies and elections of officials. And this informational side to the almanac grew, they began to include lists such as lists of monarchs, and interesting stories, verse foretelling the weather, recipes and cures. This are the source of most of the quotes used in blogs such as mine which look at all things calendrical.

Cover page of the Illustrated london almanack for 1867

So here, translated from the French is January.

Verse about January from the Kalendar of Shepherde's (translated from the 1493 Paris edition)
January from the Kalendar of Shepherde’s (translated from the 1493 Paris edition)
Reading Museum's copy of the Bayeaux Tapestry.  King Edward in Westminster. To the right in his Palace. The the left in his coffin on the way to burial in the new built Westminster Abbey
Reading Museum’s copy of the Bayeaux Tapestry. King Edward in Westminster. My Virtual Walk ‘LONDON. 1066 AND ALL THAT VIRTUAL WALK’ is this Sunday 9th Jan. Book here:

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.