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.
All photos © Southampton Old Lady
Where would Christmas be without children?
He’s making a list
and checking it twice
He’s going to find out who’s naughty or nice
Santa Claus is coming to town
Also in response to the weekly WordPress Photo Challenge: anticipation
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:
Some of my favourites:
Take a look at these Cheesy Jumpers on WordPress
What do you wear at Christmas?
Southampton is not usually forthcoming on Christmas lights as much as other cities – What with the Christmas market and so many lights from shops, ships and offices – But, to open up a leisure area for Christmas at West Quay malls this year, a stunning loop of 7-minute, light and sound illuminations ran on our Old Town Wall at the weekend.
Depicted, was the history of Southampton’s port, which focused on departures of: Henry V troops leaving for Agincourt, The Mayflower with Pilgrims preparing for America, The Titanic leaving for New York, boats and planes in WW2 manoeuvres, J-Class yachts, powerboats, hovercraft, container-ships and so on.
Do you have any festive lights where you are?
German Christmas markets must be all over the world nowadays. Here are some photos of the annual one in the City of Southampton.
All photos © Southampton Old Lady
Christmas is a very peaceful time in the neighbourhood where I am. Mainly because there is a big exodus of students and people who visit relatives in other countries leaving just about a quarter of the crowded streets. Sometimes I feel like I have God’s earth all to myself.
All photos © Southampton Old Lady
Also in response to the Weekly WordPress Challenge: Horizon
Ice Skating is always associated with Christmas in Britain. Artificial rinks are put up in nearby towns as it is never usually the right temperature, especially where I live in the South, to have natural ones.
The winter of 1962–1963 (also known as the Big Freeze of 1963) was one of the coldest winters on record in the United Kingdom. Temperatures plummeted and lakes and rivers began to freeze over.
I had a pair of second-hand ice-skates given to me for Christmas then. I used to go to the Bannister Ice Rink, near The Common in Southampton with my sister. I remember that the pavements and roads were so iced up that I skated on them all the three miles home to the Newtown area.
It is a great time to relax when you go home for Christmas. I love spoiling my daughter. However some people have no homes to go to…
It has been very frosty in the UK and weather forecasters are predicting a white Christmas this year, which is no fun for those who have nowhere to go and are sleeping rough. Why not make a gift of a night in a homeless shelter or buy a Christmas dinner for someone homeless this year?
It is estimated that 117,000 children will be homeless in the UK this Christmas
For homeless young people who have run away to London there is Centre Point’s Home For Christmas appeal – click here
In my area the Society of St James organises such for the homeless click here
Or there is Crisis at Christmas click here
There must be many organisations in your area that you can help: A home is where the heart is.
Also in response to this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge: Relax
Here are the Tribes from which I hail
The Hobbits of my Shire
The re-users, repairers, recyclers
Savers from landfill that fields may flourish
Salts of the earth dwellers
Early birds who catch the worm
Out in the cold
Fuelled by hunger to over-indulge
in all things merry
Dancers happy in simplicity
Comedians cut by teachers’ sarcasm
attended no classes –
they’re a class of their own
The JAM tomorrows who live for today
True to themselves and trusting of none
Proud on their pins –
not scrounging welfare but scavenging bins
Disregarded regarders of the discarded
Magic menders of pre-loved dreams
Lorries full of broken treasures
Carpenters, seamsters and craft-sellers
musicians, poets and storytellers –
The talented that globalisation never minds
but we will sorely miss
Inspired by a village auction in the New Forest, Hampshire
November 2016 © Southampton Old Lady