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.

11 comments:

Shooting Stars Mag said...

Thanks for sharing! I forgot today was the Winter Solstice!!

Kelly said...

I always enjoy your posts like this and all the information you share.

Personally, I welcome the solstice and the subsequent lengthening of the days. I need sunlight!

I've sung that little ditty all my life and it will be on my mind now for the rest of the day.

Suko said...

A lovely (and informative) post, Tracy--thank you!

Brian Joseph said...

Great post Tracy.

I never new about the celebration Yuletide. This was both informative and interesting.

I am currently reading Anthony Trollope's The Last Chronicle of Barset and the characters are eating Christmas pies. Thanks for adding some context to this!


I hope that you and your family have a Merry Christmas and happy Holidays!

Anilkumar Kurup said...

That was a revelation of sorts. Thanks

themethatisme said...

... and what was the occasion of the heavy drinking on the 21st in Germany?

themethatisme said...

... and who is Belsnickel?

Aunt Mary said...

Such a lovely post , rhyme is beautiful. Thank's for sharing :)

Melissa (Books and Things) said...

I enjoy these posts! I have to ask... is the tree hugging and the alcohol consumption related? I mean you did place those tidbits together and it made sense! LOL

Kelly Steel said...

A lovely and informative post, thanks for sharing!

themethatisme said...

is the tree hugging and the alcohol consumption related? I should say so... sufficient drinking requires something to lean up against and lots of drinking requires something to talk to other than a human being.