Wassail is a traditional drink that is associated with the Christmas season in many parts of the world.
A hot, spiced punch, wassail can be made from a variety of ingredients, including apples, oranges, spices, and ale or wine.
Traditionally, it was served from a communal bowl and was meant to be shared among friends and family.
The origins of wassail can be traced back to ancient civilizations, where it was used as a way to celebrate the winter solstice and welcome in the new year. In the Middle Ages, wassail was a popular drink during the holiday season, and it was often served at Christmas feasts and celebrations.
In some parts of the world, it is traditional to go wassailing, which involves visiting friends and neighbours and singing carols while carrying a bowl of wassail. The tradition of wassailing is still practiced in some areas and is seen as a way of spreading good cheer and celebrating the holiday season.
If you fancy a warm, spiced drink for the New Year, but prefer something non alcoholic, then I highly recommend this recipe that was developed for me, when I ran the cook school, by a wonderful lady called Judith.
Judith's Fruit Punch
27/12/2022 0 Comments
This year, with Christmas day falling on a Sunday, we have Boxing Day yesterday and an 'extra' day off today.
These days, Boxing Day is seen as the start of the sales. But today, my mind turned to how, as a child, I remember that on Boxing Day, the Post Man (and it was a man in those days), along with the Bin Men and Milk Man, coming around in their ordinary clothes and knocking on each house in our road, and my parents giving them their 'Christmas Box'. Often, they would bring their children with them to introduce to our parents as my mum would often ask about their children when she saw them, during the year.
Whilst there doesn't seem to be a clear origin of this tradition, Samuel Pepys mentioned giving money to his tradesmen in his diary entry for 19th December, 1663.
Thence by coach to my shoemaker’s and paid all there, and gave something to the boys’ box against Christmas.
In July 1852, Lord Hardwicke, who was Postmaster General, issued a notice to all senior staff banning ‘any officer’ from soliciting for Christmas gifts from the public.
Louise Todd, Archivist at the Postal Museum, in London writes:
Lord Hardwicke considered the solicitation to be an ‘oppressive tax’ that would seriously affect the conduct of Post Office officials towards those unwilling or unable to pay. It seems that he did not object to letter carriers being given Christmas gifts if this was done voluntary, but more to the active solicitation by officials. This instruction led to what one minute written many years later described as ‘agitation … throughout the kingdom.’
As you can imagine, this went down like a lead balloon with the postal workers. They turned to their MPs and anyone who they thought could influence this decision.
They met with senior people in the Post Office.
‘The number of Letter Carriers of every description who participate in these gratuities is upwards of 1300; the sum divided amongst them is not less than £8000 a year. There are few that get less than £1, some £5, others £10, and in some cases more than this. In most cases, the senior men get the largest amounts as they work the best walks.’
It worked because postal workers in London, Dublin and Edinburgh were except from the ban.
You can read more on the Postal Museum blog.
So, how much was this Christmas box actually worth? Mr Micawber, in the 1850 published David Copperfield talks of his incoming being around twenty pounds a year. In fact, it was more likely that his income was around £30 per year. So, if a postal worker was getting a Christmas Box of around £5-£10 this was no small thing. Even a pound would be more than a week's wages.
In a time where 25% of the UK population were living below the poverty line and child labour was prevalent, such a small amount of money would have made a massive impact on a working family's life.
26/12/2022 0 Comments
Folk Stories for Christmas
The Christmas Spider is a Ukrainian folk tale that tells the story of a poor family who couldn't afford to decorate their Christmas tree. One evening, a spider crawled up the tree and began spinning webs all over it. When the family woke up on Christmas morning, they saw that the spider had turned the tree into a beautiful, shimmering work of art, covered in silver and gold webs.
In the story, the spider is seen as a symbol of hope and perseverance, reminding us that even in difficult times, we can find beauty and joy. The story is often used to teach children about the value of hard work and the importance of being grateful for what we have.
In Ukrainian tradition, it is also believed that the Christmas Spider brings good luck to the household and protects against evil spirits. Some people even hang small, spider-shaped ornaments on their Christmas trees toto honour this tradition
The Yule or Christmas Cat is a figure from Icelandic folklore. According to legend, the Christmas Cat is a large, black feline that lurks around homes on Christmas Eve, waiting to pounce on anyone who has not received new clothing as a gift. The story is meant to encourage people to be generous and give gifts to others, particularly during the holiday season.
In Icelandic tradition, it is believed that the Christmas Cat is the pet of the Yule Lads, a group of mischievous, gift-giving figures who visit homes during the Christmas season. The Yule Lads are said to leave small presents or treats in the shoes of children who have been good, and rotten potatoes in the shoes of children who have been naughty.
There are many variations of the Christmas Cat legend, and it is not as well-known or widely celebrated as some other Christmas traditions. However, the story serves as a reminder of the importance of giving and sharing with others during the holiday season.
The Yule Goat is a figure in Scandinavian folklore that is associated with the Christmas season. According to legend, the Yule Goat is a mischievous creature that visits homes on Christmas Eve to deliver gifts to children. In some versions of the story, the Yule Goat is accompanied by elves or other helpers.
The origins of the Yule Goat tradition are somewhat unclear, but it is thought to date back to ancient Norse mythology. In the past, the Yule Goat was often portrayed as a fearsome figure who demanded that people offer him gifts or risk being punished. However, over time, the Yule Goat has become more closely associated with the holiday season and is now seen as a friendly, gift-giving figure similar to Santa Claus.
In Scandinavian countries, it is traditional to leave out food and drink for the Yule Goat on Christmas Eve, and children often leave out a pair of shoes or socks to be filled with small gifts or treats. Some people also decorate their homes with Yule Goat-themed decorations or hang small, goat-shaped ornaments on their Christmas trees.
Mari Lwyd (pronounced "MAH-ree LOO-eed") is a traditional Welsh folk custom that is practiced around Christmas and New Year's. The tradition involves a group of people going door-to-door, singing carols and performing a play that involves a horse's skull on a pole.
The Mari Lwyd is a horse's skull, which is traditionally adorned with ribbons and other decorations. It is carried by a person who is dressed in a white sheet, and the group is accompanied by musicians who play traditional Welsh instruments. The group goes from house to house, singing carols and performing the play, which usually involves a challenge or contest of some kind.
The origins of the Mari Lwyd tradition are somewhat unclear, but it is thought to date back to the Middle Ages. Some people believe that the Mari Lwyd represents the spirit of the horse, which was an important animal in Welsh folklore. Others see it as a way of celebrating the end of the year and welcoming in the new one.
The Mari Lwyd tradition is still practiced in some parts of Wales, and has become something of a tourist attraction. It is an important part of Welsh cultural heritage and is a unique way of celebrating the holiday season.
Kallikantzari (also spelled Kallikantzaros or Calicantzaros) are creatures from Greek folklore that are associated with the Christmas season. According to legend, Kallikantzari are mischievous, goblin-like creatures that spend most of the year underground. However, they come up to the surface during the Christmas season, causing mischief and causing trouble for humans.
The Kallikantzari are said to be responsible for a variety of things, including causing fires, destroying crops, and causing animals to become sick. They are also believed to be able to shape-shift into various forms, including animals and humans.
In Greek tradition, it is believed that the Kallikantzari are kept in check by the light of the Christmas candles, which are lit on Christmas Eve and burn throughout the holiday season. It is also believed that the Kallikantzari will return underground once the Christmas season is over.
The Kallikantzari are an important part of Greek folklore and are often used to teach children about the importance of behaving well during the holiday season.
25/12/2022 0 Comments
A Tale of Christmas Present
So, I've previously talked about the Christmas presents past, but now that Christmas day is over, I can talk of the presents made this year.
This year's present for my Brother (and Sister In Law) and Sister (and Brother in Law) was a book pillow.
Book pillows are very on trend this year, but I first saw them late last year. The concept is easy; a pillow with a pocket at the front which is designed to hold the book you are reading. They also often have a loop at the top to act as a handle, so that you can carry them from one cosy place to another.
I had been wandering over on Spoonflower. It's a fantastic site where people can upload their drawings and illustrations to create print on demand fabric, wallpaper, bedding and other fabric-based items. You can order fabric on different materials and anything from a 20x20cm swatch, a fat quarter or by the metre.
We have an in-family joke regarding Jane Austen. We are distantly related to her on our paternal side. She is our 2nd cousin 6x removed. So, when I have the opportunity, I include something Janite related.
I found two fabrics that I particularly liked. One was covered in quotes and the other was filled with drawings of book covers. At the time of writing, a metre of cotton poplin is just under £20. I decided to order a metre of each. The fabric takes around 8 - 10 days to be printed and is 106cm wide. I ordered on 2nd October and it was delivered just 11 days later on 13th. Shipping for the two metres was just over £5.
I was happy to pay for the print on demand fabric as I would make the cushions unique. Add to this that I got the back panels as ready made (with the zips already inserted) in the closing down sale at Colemans, earlier in the year, I felt it was worth being a little indulgent for the main fabric.
I used a good quality quilting calico as the lining for the pocket to give some weight to the pocket and hopefully stop it from sagging over time.
In all, it took longer to iron the fabric pieces, once cut out, than it did to sew them all up.
I found a great tutorial on the 'Hello Sewing' blog with a guide to fabric sizes. I made the pocket a little shorter than recommended, but that was just a personal preference. There is also a video tutorial by the same blogger.
25/12/2022 0 Comments
Christ is Born in Bethlehem
Once again, Desborough & Toller URCs published an advent booklet with a reading for each day, written by a member of the congregation.
This year, each day took its inspiration from a line of the carol 'Once in Royal David's City'.
Here is one of the two that I wrote.
I was just 18 when I took that school trip.
We had travelled over 4 hours, by coach, to a remote kibbutz before heading to Bethlehem, which at that time was still within Israel. The land was undulating, and in the distance, the hills has a smattering of snow. As we drove through the countryside, we saw burnt out tanks, relics of the 6 days war. With the dry, arid environment, they looked as fresh as the day they had been hit, over 17 years earlier.
The coach was filled with young teenagers who were boisterous; laughing and chatting whilst at the back, I and my friend were feeling bleak from the landscape we had driven through.
The Church of the Nativity, as we arrived, was a plain solemn looking building. Set in a courtyard, we stayed back from the loud tourist hoards and walked in silence towards the entrance.
Nothing could have prepared me for the inside. The far end of the church, directly in front of us, was ornate and gilded. The smell of incense was overwhelming. This seemed a world away from the Bethlehem of the Bible.
We waited until everyone else from the group had finished and then went through a doorway. Carefully, we wound our way down the steps to the Grotto of the Nativity. It was the four of us. Myself, my friend, my teacher and a guide from the Church.
The grotto was so quiet after the noise of the coach and church. The guide pulled us towards the altar and showed us, underneath the fourteen-point silver star, marking where Jesus was born.
He looked around, conspiratorially, and beckoned us over, indicating for us to touch it. We three leaned in and placed our hands there, together. As we did this, I looked up at the cave we were in, below the church that was bustling, and in that quiet, sacred space, I connected with something bigger than myself.
Have you heard about Jólabókaflóð (or Jolabokaflod)?
Jolabokaflod or the 'Christmas Book Flood', is an Icelandic holiday tradition in which books are given as gifts on Christmas Eve and then enjoyed that evening, and the rest of the holiday season.
Thought to have started in the 1940s, when paperbacks, first became widely available in Iceland, people began giving books as affordable and personal gifts.
Today, Jolabokaflod has become an important part of Icelandic culture. Many families exchanging books on Christmas Eve a tradition. They then spend the evening reading together.
Recently, Jolabokaflod has also gained popularity outside of Iceland, with people around the world participating in Christmas Eve book giving as a way to celebrate the joy of reading and the holiday season.
24/12/2022 0 Comments
When food is linked to your memories
So, the food order arrived at 9am this morning. A la Margot Ledbetter. In a van. Christmas was delivered.
Every two months I ensure that we work our way through the freezer and fridge. With the fridge dying the other week, that wasn't a problem and the freezer was down to a bag of oven chips and my frozen lobster which was put in there a few months ago when I got the opportunity to buy one on offer.
So, I defrosted the lobster today for my tea. Normally, it's a treat that we would have if we go to a fish restaurant. But with lockdown and wfh we've not done that sort of traveling these past 3 years so a lobster on offer in Morrisons was a big treat.
I gave hubby a plate of nibbly things as is our Christmas tradition (his blue goat's cheese, goats gouda, tomato, olives, home made chutney, crab, figs, goats cheese filled peppers, dill pickles, roll mops ... you get the idea.
And for me, some mayo, the lobster and two slices of bread. I have to say, I think my plate, only half his, was more divine.
It's December, it's wet and miserable but with every bite it feels like a summer day, outside the Oyster Sheds in Whitstable.
Food really has a way to bring memories to life.
24/12/2022 0 Comments
Last year, I wrote three short pieces about Christmas. I wanted to share these again.
Marley’s Ghosts Part 1
When Jacob Marley’s Ghost visited, he showed Scrooge Christmases past, present and future.
My childhood favourite past memory of Christmas was attending Church for the midnight service.
The lights on the Christmas tree, always twice my height, would be twinkling against the tinsel. The winter flower arrangements would be full of holy berries, bright against the green of the laurels and holly leaves.
And the heating, although turned on sometime in June, never really worked so we were wrapped up to the nines under our choir robes.
I had been a member of the choir since I was in my teens. One of only two ‘kids’ allowed to be in the choir (there were auditions and a waiting list to join, it was extremely competitive).
To stand there, with the organ playing and us sopranos singing the descant to ‘O Come all ye faithful’ and the volume from the congregation being so loud, I couldn’t hear my own voice.
I’ve sung over the years in amateur choirs and semi-professional choral societies. Performing the Messiah was a wonderful experience and really pushed my vocal range. And they were fun and wonderful experience, but there is something completely different singing as part of a congregation.
When you sing in a concert, it’s for your enjoyment and the audience.
But at those Midnight Services, it was always the feeling that the all those people together, singing as one voice, regardless of talent or experience were truly making a joyful noise unto the Lord. And loving every, single, minute of it.
Marley’s Ghosts Part 2
Marley’s second ghost showed Christmas present.
A few years ago, we chose to celebrate Christmas day as just the two of us (and the kitties).
Having had my parents stay every Christmas for over 10 years, I naturally still catered for in case I should happen to have the missing 9th Legion of the Roman Army turn up. Who honestly needs a 6lb ham for two people? Well, at least we wouldn’t go hungry for the rest of January.
That first time that we sat down, just the two of us, for Christmas dinner, I realized that in the storm of all the preparations for Christmas, sometimes you need the simple peace of being with the person who means the most to you.
Yes, we have roast dinners throughout the year and yes sprouts are not just for Christmas. But, Christmas Day is the one day that there is very little traffic on the roads. Our house is quiet as are the streets around us. I like to get up early, sit listening to my mix of carols and Christmas songs and as I peel my potatoes and prepare my sprouts I get to talk to God, just on my own.
For one day, I am not anxious about anything. In fact, as I bring out our dinner and give thanks to God for everything, I am always overcome by that peace of God which passes all understanding and guards our hearts and minds.
Marley’s Ghosts Part 3
Looking forward with the last of Marley’s Ghosts I am always torn between the ghosts of Christmas past and present.
Wanting to be part of a Congregation celebrating Christmas together and being at home with just my husband enjoying the peace and personal closeness to God.
Yes, you can pop into Church for the Christmas day service and then go home to the quiet. But that doesn’t really explain the dilemma.
Coming together helps enthuse and encourage us in our faith, it brings us closer to God because we undertake the act of worship and do it as a community.
Spending time with ourselves in contemplation is also an important part of being a Christian. There is a difference between hiding from the world and taking a step away to separate yourself from your worries and concerns.
I’m lucky enough that once each year, at the start of Lent, I’m able to go on a sewing retreat at a monastery. When the commercialism of Christmas starts to overtake the meaning of Jesus’ birth, I will take time out to reconnect with what Christmas is really about.
For me, it is being able to connect in the weeks of advent leading up to our Christmas morning service, then to enjoy connecting with my personal relationship with God in the days following Christmas when I am at home with my husband and my cats so that I can truly hear that still, small voice of calm.
My first visit to a Christmas Market, in Germany, was in 2006 when I was in Munich for work.
Between 2012 and 2016 I visited Munich for work every December and spent most of my evenings wandering around Marienplatz and taking in the Christmas vibe whilst keeping myself warm drinking Glühwein.
One year, I was so cold that it took me nearly an hour to defrost back in my hotel room.
In 2007, hubby and I went to Cologne and visited the 8 markets there.
German Christmas markets, also known as "Weihnachtsmarkt," have a long history dating back to the Middle Ages. These markets originated in the German-speaking regions of Europe and have since spread to other parts of the world.
The first recorded Christmas market was held in Dresden, Germany in 1434. These early markets were held in church squares and were a way for people to buy and sell goods, particularly food and handmade crafts, during the holiday season.
Over time, the Christmas market tradition spread throughout Germany and other parts of Europe, becoming an important part of the region's cultural and economic life. Today, German Christmas markets are known for their festive atmosphere, which includes the sale of traditional holiday foods, drinks, and gifts, as well as live music and other entertainment.
Every one of our nutcrackers and incense burners, that we get out at Christmas, have been bought at one of the Christmas Markets we have visited in either Germany or the UK
In the UK, Christmas Markets have started to become a regular feature with a Medieval one in Lincoln and the now famous Frankfurt German Market in Birmingham.
11/12/2022 0 Comments
Ghosts of Christmas Presents Past
I only have a small number of people that I give presents to.
So, as each of them are craft worthy, I plan through the year to make something special.
A few years back, I made myself a crochet scarf and loved it so much, I decided to make one each for my sister and sister-in-law. Colours are easy. Sue, my SIL loves shades of blue. Kris, my sister, loves reds and purples.
The yarn is Lion Brand Shawl in a Ball. Mindful Mauve for my sister in shades of cream, warm brown and purples. Healing Teal for my SIL in shades of grey, teal and blue.
The pattern is Diagonal Eyelets by Lion Brand and whilst shawl in a ball behaves like an Aran weight yarn, it's actually more like a 4ply so you get this light open texture that is soft from the cotton / acrylic mix. As a project, it crochets up in a few evenings, so definitely something you can whip up as a fast present for someone who is crochet-worthy.
For my brother and brother-in-law, that year, I decided that this would be the year that I taught myself to not just knit, but knit in the round with colour work.
Working with chunky wool, which is more forgiving and works up quickly, I knitted Christmas Tree Hats. I made two with the brown earth rib and loved them so much that I then made one with the red rib for myself.
The pattern is X-mas Trees beanie from Patternery.
So, not a bad start.
Then the following year, around August, I saw a kit to make a blanket. To buy enough yarn and make a blanket is a big investment. But, at the time, the yarn was half price so I couldn't resist.
The pattern was a 'tartan' throw by Deramores, in their chunky yarn. Much later, I found out that this yarn borders on super chunky and that is how I ended knitting from September to December, and creating two single bed sized blankets that then had to be 'embroidered' with the vertical stripes of the pattern.
This was the first Christmas of lockdown and in early January, my brother had to go to the hospital for a check up. My SIL went with him, but had to stay in the car. She took the blanket, that I made, with her to snuggle up in whilst she waited. I think that is the best recommendation for someone being knitworthy.
I added a leather tag that said 'handmade by Liz' and pasted the washing instructions for the yarn onto the rear of a gift tag as a way to pass them on.
Then onto last Christmas. I have no idea why, but I had the urge to make tea cosies. Hubby thought I had gone completely mad. He kept asking me if my siblings drank tea. But by the end of the knitting and sewing, he was just the slightest bit jealous and asking about having one made for him. Fox on a flower mound for my sister. Cat on a green hill.