Advent 19: Mummers, Wassailers and Yulesingers

Blessing the orchard at Manor Farm Country Park, Southampton
Blessing the orchard at Manor Farm Country Park, Southampton

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.

Toasting the apple tree in the literal sense
Toasting the apple tree in the literal sense

P1130610This 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:


p1100943 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 play with St George and Olde Father Christmas
Mummers play with St George and Olde Father Christmas

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.

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Dipping toast in the wassail bowl to put on apple tree branches at Manor Farm

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.

All photos © Southampton Old Lady

Advent 18: The Royals

royal-jumpers

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.

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Santa took this selfie but where did he go?  The Royals as depicted by Madame Tussauds waxworks in London

 

Advent 14: Silly Jumpers

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Christmas jumper party at the Southampton Christmas Market © SOL

As children we wore our Christmas sweaters all winter – They were more like the tasteful Nordic ones then only not as good crafting.

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Scene from Bridget Jones Diary (2001) 
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Presenters Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield wearing Christmas jumpers

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:

Some of my favourites:

Take a look at these Cheesy Jumpers on WordPress

What do you wear at Christmas?

 

Buy Nothing Friday  

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Upstairs in the Art House

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!

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Curb giving away food at a recent festival

To mark Buy Nothing Day in the City of Southampton, this Black Friday, the Art House Café is partnering with Curb, The Real Junk Food Project, Clothes Swap and Books for Free!

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!

P1130006Food 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

Copyright © 2016 The Art House Southampton CIC, All rights reserved.

 

 

Craig ‘Flipping’ David

Craig David sings at St Mary's Stadium while sporting a Southampton Football Club's striped shirt
Craig David sings at St Mary’s Stadium while sporting a Southampton FC red & white, striped shirt

Looking forward to being entertained by Craig David at Southampton’s Common People Festival this May. The British media are full of his “come-back” now that he has hit the Top 20 with a new single, When The Bassline Drops – a collaboration with Big Narstie. David suffered bad image problems after comedian Leigh Francis made fun of his Bo Selecta image – but for us in Southampton, he has never been away.

I was at school with both his talented parents, George and Tina. They still live here and he sees them regularly. His performances in Southampton always sell-out. There is so much love for him here.

Read more about it: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-35483863  Watch him on YouTube: https://youtu.be/uPdPpetOSJ8

Holyrood

There is a plaque on a large anchor outside a derelict church in Southampton’s High Street (QE2 Mile) which reads: The Church of Holyrood erected on this site in 1320 was damaged by enemy action on 30 Nov 1940. Known for centuries as the church of the sailors, the ruins have been preserved by the people of Southampton as a memorial and garden of rest, dedicated to those who served in the Merchant Navy and lost their lives at sea.

There are many memorials in this peaceful place to those lost at sea. From mediaeval captains that went down with their ship to those bombed while bringing supplies during WWII.

There is a special corner dedicated to the crew who drowned when the Titanic sank. Of her 1,517 victims, Southampton was home to 538 of the 685 crew members who died on this White Star liner’s fateful crossing to New York on the 15th of April 1912. It was like our 9/11 – our city lost a generation.

gospel choir singing in the Merchant Seamen's Memorial (this was once Holy Rood Church) during Music in the City festival, Southampton. © Southampton Old Lady
Gospel choir singing in the Merchant Seamen’s Memorial (this was once Holyrood Church) during Music in the City festival, Southampton. © Southampton Old Lady
Holyrood bells, Southampton. © Southampton Old Lady
Holyrood bells, Southampton. © Southampton Old Lady

I have been meaning to write about the Holyrood neighbourhood of Southampton for some time.  In the 1960s a new area of council flats were developed on that which was raized to the ground by the Blitz. In the last decade Southampton council has employed mural artists and sculptors to reveal the history of the area. However, Marie Keats, another Southampton blogger I follow, has been able to do this so much better than I on her ‘I Walk Alone” wordpress site – so if you are interested in her lovely mural walk around the area please do visit her blog: http://www.iwalkalone.co.uk/?p=22590

The Gathering

Southampton students on a themed party night out. © Southampton Old Lady
Southampton students on a themed party night out. © Southampton Old Lady
Girls Just Wanna Have Fun
Girls Just Wanna Have Fun in my neighbourhood © Southampton Old Lady

Photo challenge: The Gathering https://dailypost.wordpress.com/photo-challenges/gathering/

You may be forgiven for thinking that these young people are out celebrating New Year’s Eve. Well, It is almost the opposite. Let me explain:

Southampton has a population of nearly 245,000. Of those 43,000 are higher education students (students 18 years-old and over, attending universities and colleges  – coincidentally, 18 is the legal age to drink alcohol in Britain). Seniors over the age of 65 years make up a mere 13% of the population. Southampton is a transient and vibrant city that caters well for young people.

I happen to live in a neighbourhood, favoured by students, who pass by my home, every night, seven days a week. If the weather is mild, they just gather outside and gossip until the early hours of the morning. It is often difficult to get a night’s rest. But I can hardly complain, because this is exactly what I did when I was a student, many, many years ago.

However, over the holidays, most of the students return to stay with their parents. Then the number of people in my area decreases, leaving mainly working residents.

Christmas can be a very quiet time and on New Year’s Eve people say it is boring – there is hardly a whisper.

Just sleep     … in heavenly peace…

Feliz fin de año