Wassailing, an ancient custom from Saxon times to give blessings of good health over the twelve days of Christmas, is making something of a come-back.
Traditionally, livestock, crops and farm machinery were blessed as well as people. Blessings were taken from door to door. In Scotland and the North of England this is known as First Footing in the New Year.The Lord of the Manor would give food (figgy pudding) and drink to peasants who worked on his estate in exchange for their blessing and goodwill.
This was the forerunner of carolling – considered too rowdy to be done in church and also the forerunner of trick-or-treating in America, as Halloween was the original New Year’s Eve in the Celtic calendar.
“Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too;
And God bless you and send you
a Happy New Year”
Another example of a carol originating from wassail is “We wish you a Merry Christmas” (see Advent 15)
In the Southern shires of England – apple wassail blessings were to ensure a good crop for cider, especially in Kent which produces the best apples for commercial cider, and in the south-west for Scrumpy. English writer Thomas Hardy wrote about wassailing in his books and short stories set in Dorset ensuring that the custom has never died out there. The proceedings for apple wassailing are led by a Wassail King through the orchard, toasting trees and pouring cider on the roots:
Hampshire Wassail Rhyme:
Stand fast root, bear well top.
Pray God send us a good howling crop
Every twig, apples big. Every bough, apples enow.
Hats full, caps full, Tall quarter, sacks full.
Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!
Cider is drunk, songs are sung and drums, sticks, rattles and bells are beaten to drive away bad spirits and encourage the trees to give a good harvest.
Mummers plays, about the Good fighting off Evil, are often performed at apple wassails too. These were known throughout the UK and Ireland and were even taken to Newfoundland with The Pilgrim Fathers. Though kept in much of Wales, the festivals elsewhere gave way to Morris dancing in England, sword dancing in Scotland and pantomime(see Advent 8) just about everywhere. Raggedy characters (literally in costumes made from rags) introduce themselves in rhyming couplets:
Policeman Plod: ‘Ello, ‘ello, ello. In comes I, Policeman Plod.
Jack the Sniffer: You’ll never catch me you silly old sod. (He exits)
Betty Bertha: He’s gone off and scarpered all hurt and affronted
You’ve poked your nose in where it’s not wanted.
Mummer-characters have been Christian crusaders versus Moors, St George (Prince George or King George) and the Dragon, Beelzebub, Dracula, Robin Hood and the Sherif. But secondary characters kept in these plays included Olde Father Christmas and The Fool. These were obviously continued in our pantomimes.
Wassail also refers to the spiced-cider punch in the wassail-bowl. There are many recipes, which you can find online, but I use beer (left-over and flat) along with fizzy cider and a small cup of brandy in a slow-cooker. Throw in some brown sugar, the juice and rind of a clementine or two, a squirt of lemon, some apples quartered (pips & stalk removed) and Christmas spices such as ginger, cloves, cardamom and a few sticks of cinnamon. It makes the house smell lovely and is a warm welcome for guests coming in from the cold.
At 3pm on Christmas Day each year, the majority of British citizens switch on BBC TV to listen to The Queen’s Speech.
There will be clips of the Royals and what they did throughout the year; as well as a topic which will be the focal point of what the Nation will focus on in the coming year. This could be an emphasis on: older people who live on their own, disabled veteran servicemen and women, war and our defences, unity of faiths, what is a Christian? etc.
However the speech is really commissioned by the Prime Minister for the Government of the day. People watch The Queen intensely to see if there is a flicker of approval or disapproval in her manner while delivering the words.
For instance, in her last speech at the re-opening of Parliament in May 2016, it was virtually a list from Cameron’s Conservative Party manifesto and The Queen looked very miserable. She just looked down and read it off the paper: “Proposals will be brought forward for a British Bill of Rights. My ministers will uphold the sovereignty of Parliament and the primacy of the House of Commons…”
The programme ends with a rousing anthem of God Save The Queen and though I know of many who will be crashed out and snoring on the sofa by this time on the 25th of December, there will be others standing up and raising their glasses.
As children we wore our Christmas sweaters all winter – They were more like the tasteful Nordic ones then only not as good crafting.
For anyone that has read or seen the Bridget Jones Diary (2001) movie, they will know that in the UK we wear silly pullovers at Christmas. Knitwear presents are popular and if your aunt has spent the year knitting that embarrassing sweater for you, then the least you can do is wear it to family gatherings over Christmas.
But since that film these jumpers have taken off in a big way. Sixteen years later, we now even import cheap acrylic ones from China. We have a Christmas jumper at work day to raise money for charity and Presenters even wear them on television! There are nights out and pub-crawls where it is compulsory to wear your Christmas jumper.
Here are more photos I took from the Christmas jumper night out at Southampton’s Christmas market – click on to enlarge:
Black Friday is a recent consumer sales hype adapted from North America which takes place after Thanksgiving Day (the last Thursday in November) despite the fact that the UK does not even celebrate Thanksgiving.
Buy Nothing Day is an annual event in Britain to highlight the issues around consumerism, especially in the lead-up to the festive season. It’s a day where you challenge yourself, your family and friends to switch off from shopping and tune into life!
They will be taking over The Art House until 6pm on the 25 November, offering food on a pay-as-you-feel basis, clothes to swap or pay-as-you-feel and books by donation!
Food will be available until it runs out – a big part of waste reduction is challenging the notion that there is always ‘plenty’. Be sure you get a plateful of delicious nosh made from food diverted from landfill.
Drop in any time to enjoy some nosh, swap your clothes, pick up a book and have a chat about the ways you can reduce waste in your own home.
178 Above Bar Street, Southampton, Hampshire, UK SO14 7DW
I have two entries concerning wasted public money for the weekly WordPress challenge: Chaos
Southampton City Council spent £4.6million revamping the civic centre’s main square and pavements which was completed in 2010. But just 18 months after a private contractor completed it (with no expert investigation) large parts of the road began to sink, leaving its surface uneven and cracked.
I don’t know how many times I have fallen over in the City myself – it’s no good just looking where I am going as the shadows create optical illusions, it would be easier to walk on gravel or loose earth. So many have been hospitalised and had their lives ruined. It is cheaper for the Council if pedestrians, cyclists and drivers to claim compensation for their injuries from the contractor than have the street repaired. I think coloured Tarmac would have been a better option for the street and was even better left as it was. Cutting corners always works out more expensive and money always seems to come before people.
The street where the Developer has run off with the cash
Southampton City Council granted £1.4 million of public money to Grays Developmentsin the early 2000s to refurbish Victorian properties in Old Northam Road. This was to regenerate what was once the antiques quarter of Southampton, England.
The man who owns Grays, bought up 30 commercial properties and 68 homes within Old Northam Road had promised to invest millions restoring them within 13 years.
So far there has only been ripping down and dilapidation. No work has actually started, leaving residents and businesses in chaos. Some who lived above shops have had walls to their property removed and just left.
The traders insist that he has spent the money on a house for his mother and ran off with the rest of the cash. Here is a YouTube video of promises from the project manager: Restoration of Old Northam Road
For my local Halloween story I would like to tell you about the real story of Richard Parker. An unfortunate cabin boy who sailed from Southampton at the tender age of 16 only to be eaten by his crew.
In Southampton’s Peartree Churchyard lies an unusual gravestone…
It is the combined stone which marks the grave of Sarah Parker and the memorial of her beloved son Richard Parker, who had reached the age of 17 by the time he became the victim of cannibalism at sea.
Richard Parker served on the English yacht Mignonette, which set sail for Sydney, Australia from Southampton, England in 1884. While in the South Atlantic, the Mignonette sank, leaving Parker and his three shipmates in a lifeboat. Dying of thirst Richard fell into a coma after drinking sea water. As the crew thought he was going to die anyway, they killed the boy to drink his blood, then ate him so that they could survive. There had been many similar cases like this up until that time, which were given over to sympathy from seafarers, even those in Richard Parker’s own family in Southampton. It had been regarded legally as “A Custom of the Sea”.
The surviving three were rescued after 24 days by the German sailing barque Montezuma, named fittingly enough after the Aztec king who practiced ritual cannibalism.
But this case caused a great uproar in Victorian Britain. The men were charged with murder and were found guilty. Although not much was done about the prisoners even when their sentences were later reduced to six months hard labour. Most importantly, their trial, R v Dudley and Stephens established a legal precedent in common law around the world, that: ‘Necessity is no defence to a charge of murder’. It is one of the first cases that law students read about.
If you haven’t read Yann Martel’s Booker Prize novel about the Life of Pi then you may have seen the ®Oscar-winning movie of the same name directed by Ang Lee.
The narrator is a novelist who has been recommended to interview an Indian man named Piscine Molitor Patel, as his life-story will make him “believe in God”.
Pi’s story is how at 16 he survives a shipwreck in which his family and the zoo of animals they are transporting to Canada, all die, apart from him and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker who he ends up sharing a lifeboat with.
In the novel the tiger who arrived at their zoo was called Thirsty but got mixed up on the list with the hunter’s name – Richard Parker. The novel is an allegorical one about man’s battle between his animal instincts and his religious ones. Pi has been brought up a vegetarian and does not even eat fish.
By a great nautical coincidence, the name of Martel’s tiger, Richard Parker, was also inspired by a character in Edgar Allan Poe’s nautical adventure novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket(1838). In Poe’s book, Richard Parker is a cabin boy who is stranded and eventually the victim of cannibalism on a lifeboat. There is a dog aboard who is named Tiger.
A third Richard Parker drowned in the sinking of the Francis Speight in 1846, described by author Jack London, and later a cabin boy was cannibalized.
Yann Martel said: “So many victimized Richard Parkers had to mean something. My tiger found his name. He’s a victim, too – or is he?”
For most who have never had starvation forced upon us it must be difficult to imagine how this could happen. One can only receive clues from behaviours in the animal kingdom.
There have also been three plays written about Richard Parker – ‘Richard Parker’ by Owen Thomas, ‘Mr Parker’s Bones, or The Strange, Lamentable, Bloody, and mostly true History of Parker of Pear Tree Green and of his Captain, the Dastardly Cannibal Tom’ written by Russ Tunney and more recently The Sad Tale of Richard Parker by Cheryl Butler who also works on historical walking tours of Southampton.
Although there are still many shipwrecks, technology is developing all the time and we are now able to convert sea water into drinking water in minutes. Although still expensive, new materials will soon make it available for common use.
To visit Pear Tree Church and cemetery on Peartree Green by satellite navigation, use the postcode SO19 7GY