21 Dec 2014

WASSAILING AND THOMASING: CELEBRATING THE 21ST OF DECEMBER.

May the Solstice and turning of the wheel bring you love, peace and good fortune in the coming year.
Let us welcome the returning sun with hope and joy.
May you never thirst.
- A Wiccan Yuletide Blessing
(Source unknown)


Regarded by some traditions as New Year December 21st 2014 (dates vary from December 20th to December 24th) sees the celebration of Yuletide (from the old Nordic word Yul meaning wheel of fire) otherwise known as the Winter Solstice in the Northern hemisphere, the Summer Solstice in the Southern.

A time when bonfires were lit, when holly, ivy and mistletoe were hung, when children were escorted from house to house with gifts of apples and oranges representing the sun and groups of wassailers (wassail from the old Anglo Saxon 'Waes Hael' meaning Be well/whole/healthy) would visit bearing their Wassail cups and singing loudly of apples and other fruits to entice a good harvest the following year.

3 red apples,
3 oz brown sugar,
2 pints of either brown ale or apple cider,
1/2 a pint of either dry sherry or dry white wine,
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 
1/4 teaspoon lemon peel,
white sugar to taste
orange slices to garnish

Core and heat apples with brown sugar and some of the ale/cider in an oven for 30 minutes,
Pour in a large pan, add cinnamon and lemon peel and shimmer on stove top for 5 minutes,
Add the rest of the alcohol at the last minute so it heats but does not evaporate,
Serve with white sugar to taste and orange slices for decoration if desired.
- Recipe for Yule Wassail

Traditionally the Yule log (harvested from the landowner's land or given as a gift but never bought) once dragged into the house and placed in a fireplace was decorated with seasonal greenery such as holly and ivy, doused in cider or ale and dusted with flour before being set ablaze with a piece of last years log specially saved for this purpose where upon it would blaze throughout the night and left to smoulder for the next twelve days.


Though now celebrated on the 3rd of July traditionally the Feast of St Thomas was celebrated on the 21st of December. A day, popular until Victorian times when it was seen as tantamount to begging, in which the poor of the parish went 'Thomasing' (Mumping or Doleing), visiting wealthier folk asking for food and/or household provisions such as coal and candles to see them through the winter months.


Christmas is coming,
The Goose is getting fat,
Please put a penny in the old man's hat.
If you haven't got a penny,
A ha'penny will do,
And if you haven't got a ha'penny
God bless you.
-Traditional English 'Thomasing' Nursery Rhyme


Typically a time that saw the making of Christmas pies which would be put aside until eaten at Epiphany. It is these Christmas pies made of meat flavoured with fruit that gave rise to today's sweet-mince pie made solely of fruit.
One and a half pounds of underdone roast beef, 
two pounds of beef suet,
one pound of raisins, stoned,
one pound of sultanas, pickled,one and a half pound of apples,
one and a half pound of pears,
one pound of mixed peel,
three quarters of a pound of almonds, blanched and chopped, 
thin peel of two oranges,
thin peel of two lemons.
- Ingredients for Christmas pie 
Agnes Martha Marshall
(1855 - 1905)

Traditionally a time in which people took to hugging trees in the hope of a good harvest the following year. Alcohol, lots of alcohol, was consumed (in parts of Germany the 22nd of Germany is still known as Kotzmorgen, 'Hangover Morning') and it was said that if a unmarried girl was to sleep with her head at the foot of the bed that night she would dream of her future husband.


NB Whilst generally accepted as widely held beliefs details and spellings etc can vary from individual to individual, from tradition to tradition, from country to country.

19 Dec 2014

ONE CHRISTMAS NIGHT & FATHER CHRISTMAS AND THE DONKEY.

The seventh and eighth books read for this year's Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge (Details on the right side-bar): Visions Of Sugarplums #3 & 4.

ONE CHRISTMAS NIGHT by M CHRISTINA BUTLER (With illustratons by TINA MACNAUGHTON.)

SOURCE: A 2013 Christmas present.

BACK COVER BLURB: Christmas is near - but Little Hedgehog has forgotten to get presents for his friends, and his house isn't sparkly and Christmassy at all! Hedgehog sets off into the forest to find gifts, but the night is cold and the woods are growing dark ...

FIRST SENTENCE: It was nearly Christmas and Little Hedgehog just could not wait. 

MEMORABLE MOMENT: At last the snow stopped, and a bright moon peeped above the trees. Pale blue shadows flitted here and there as Little Hedgehog huffed and puffed through the snow.

MY THOUGHTS: A lovely little story made all the more festive by the liberal use of glittery illustrations. What I really liked about this book was the fact that Little Hedgehog looked to nature to decorate his home and provide presents for his friends.

Product DetailsFATHER CHRISTMAS AND THE DONKEY by ELIZABETH CLARK.

SOURCE: A charity shop buy.

BACK COVER BLURB: It's a cold Christmas Eve and a lonely, lame donkey is looking for a warm place to rest. Suddenly he hears the sound of sleigh-bells and galloping hoofs. Who could it be but Father Christmas? And Father Christmas has thought of a special present for the old donkey, the best kind of present of all. 

FIRST SENTENCE {Page 2}: It was Christmas Eve and the night was very quiet and still.

MEMORABLE MOMENT {Page 18}: But mostly Father Christmas walked beside the donkey with his hand resting on the donkey's shoulder, just where the dark cross-mark showed on the shaggy, mouse-coloured coat.

MY THOUGHTS: A wonderfully traditional story, my favourite Christmas read of 2014 ... so far, made all the more charming by the simplicity of the story with its message that sometimes the best gifts are those that are given freely.

With beautiful illustrations simply done in monotone with a sparse use of silver hi-lighting there really is something incredibly memorising about the whole book.


 

17 Dec 2014

HOME FOR CHRISTMAS.

The sixth book read for this year's Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge (Details on the right side-bar): Mistletoe level (2 to 4 books) ... Completed.


HOME FOR CHRISTMAS by ANNIE GROVES.

SOURCE: A charity shop buy.

BACK COVER BLURB: It's 1940 and the London Blitz has begun. For the four girls living at No. 13 Article Row, life must go on despite the nightly bombing raids.

As Christmas approaches hospital worker Tilly meets a handsome young American called Drew, but could he be the one to mend her broken heart? Agnes and Dulcie are doing their bit on the home front, while Nurse Sally returns to Liverpool and gets a shocking reminder of the past.

With the bombs continuing to rain down on a wintry London, the girls do their best to create some festive cheer - but the only present they really want is to be home for Christmas.

FIRST SENTENCE {Prologue: Just after Christmas 1936}: 'Darling, oh, your face is so cold.'

MEMORABLE MOMENT {Page 44}: She smelled of dust and tiredness mingled with despair.

MY THOUGHTS: Expecting a typical world war at Christmas romance story I was actually delighted at the depth of some of the threads that made up Home For Christmas, the second book (though perfectly readable as a standalone novel) in the Article Row series.

OK so there were all of the usual characters you'd expect of such a novel - the salt-of-the-earth landlady, the beautiful blonde, the dedicated nurse, the disapproving mother, the dashing surgeon, the handsome Americans (rather surprisingly not all of them pilots) - but there were also those (though sadly very much secondary characters) generally less well featured (if at all) in books of this genre.

Ultimately heart warming stuff. A story of the unquenchable nature of the human spirit and yet by by no means a sugary sweet read, this may well appeal to those who enjoy war time stories or those simply looking for a good Christmas novel with a bit more substance.


15 Dec 2014

THE BEST CHRISTMAS EVER.


Book five read for this year's Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge (Details on the right side-bar): Visions Of Sugar Plum #2.


THE BEST CHRISTMAS EVER by SYLVIA GREEN.

SOURCE: Borrowed from a friend.

BACK COVER BLURB: Puss is a country cat, born and bred. He loves his territory and knowing all the other animals in his village to say hello to, or to chase, depending. So he doesn't understand when Jenni moves to the town, where the traffic frightens him and everyone's so unfriendly ... He decides he's got to get back home.

When he runs off, Jenni is frantic. Puss has adventure after adventure, while Jenni tries to track him down. Then, in the end, they both discover there are good things in town, too. Just in time for Christmas ... 

FIRST SENTENCE {Chapter One: I'm Not Staying Here!}: "They might want to stay in that strange house.

MEMORABLE MOMENT {Page 101}: The brightly decorated Christmas tree made her think of him trying to climb it when he was a kitten. And of him jumping up to catch the silver and gold baubles.

MY THOUGHT: A sweet enough tail, purrfect for young readers who are feline in need of an animal story that isn't too sad. Whilst the plot and characters are unexceptional the pawsome pen and ink illustrations make this an incredibly charming book.