Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Christmas past II

Extract from "A West Country Christmas":

"In Somerset, it is recorded that on Christmas Eve the festivities would include a feast of hot cakes and nuts, washed down with a drink made up of mulled or warmed ale and spice roast apples.  The cake found favour in Cornwall too, so we learn from the English Illustrated Magazine for December 1903: 'In days gone by, every Cornish housewife provided "the Christmas" or the Christmas cake for her household.  This was a small saffron or currant cake for presentation on Christmas Eve, to every member of the family and to each guest and the custom was for everybody to taste everybody else's cake by way of good fellowship.  This practice is nearly out of fashion but was in evidence last year in some cottage homes near Redruth.'

Decorations formed as much a part of Christmas in times gone by as they do now.  Mistletoe, for instance, can be traced back to the Druids, who were convinced that the plant had magical properties.  A parasite chiefly found on oak and apple trees, the Druids called it a "Curer of all Ills".  They considered that the trees on which it grew were sacred, and that the birds which visited their branches were messangers from the gods.  When mistletoe was required for a religious ceremony, it was gathered with great care by a priest, who used a golden sickle to remove it.

Devonians believe that their county was cursed by ancient Druid fathers, who had decreed that mistletoe should not grow there.  There is no record to explain this believe but there is an account of a gentleman who possessed an orchard, one half of which lay in Devon, and the other half in Somerset, the division of the two counties being marked by a deep ditch.  On the Devon side of the ditch, the apple trees were free of mistletoe, whereas on the Somerset side the parasite grew in great abundance.  Every effort that he made to cultivate it on the trees in Devon failed.

                                                   *                                 *                            *

Christmas ws not always remembered with fondness.  Here is Martha's take on it (she lived with her husband Ned at Whiddon Down.  She was asked, does she look forward to Christmas as much as the children obviously do? :

Well, I do and I don't.  Us don't really like Christmas.  Something always goes wrong in our house when 'tis Christmas.  It has done ever since we've had the children small, you know.  One Christmas I remember I said, 'Put the turkey in the oven.'  Us done our work, then went to church, and then come home and had our dinner.  Then I helped out with the Christmas pudding.  Well, there us was sitting around in the kitchen, eating our Christmas pudding, and enjoying it because it was a beautiful recipe of my old mother's, and suddenly one of the boys starated to cry.  I said to Father, 'There's something wrong with that boy.'  I said, 'Look at him.  Get over and pat him on the back.'  So Father went over and give the boy a good pat on the back and the boy went a bit purple and spluttered and managed to tell us that he'd swallowed the sixpence!

Then I remembered another year, when things didn't seem too bad and I thought, 'Now this is better, this is going alright, this is.'  Us had got through the day pretty well.  Us had had tea, and then us went in front room, you do that Christmas night don't ye?  You light the fire and it smokes all day - it doesn't burn right until it's time to go to bed - but you sit there with your eyes watering and stick it out when all of a sudden one of the boys started to cry again.  I thought, 'There you are!  I thought that it was going too good to be true.'  The boy kept pointing to his ear so I said to father, 'Get on and have a look in the boy's ear.;  Well, he lit a candle and nearly set fire to the boy!  I swaid, 'Why don't you go in the kitchen and get the flashlight?'  So he come in with the flashlight and looked in the boy's ear.  'Cor Mother,' he said, 'You'll never guess what I've seed.  You want to look in the little boy's ear.'  So I did.  I took the torch out of his hand and looked in the boy's ear and, to tell you the truth, I nearly passed out.  Do you know when I looked in that boy's ear, there was an eye looking at me.  It was only the eye off his teddy bear, but you have a glass of sherry at Christmas time and look in somebody's ear and see an eye!  It don't half give you a turn!'

I think she must have had more than the one glass!!!


  1. a feast of hot cakes and nuts, washed down with a drink made up of mulled or warmed ale and spice roast apples.

    sounds absolutely divine and for this vegan, much more appealing than a roast bird. I love all these old traditions and I think I could certainly keep this one up (wink).

  2. It does sound good doesn't it Kath? I think crab apples were often used in the mulled ale. I saw that elsewhere in one of the books so will try and find the page and add it.

  3. Two lovely posts - I really enjoy reading about Christmas traditions and customs. Had to laugh out loud at your last sentence!! :) I can never walk past one of those old-fashioned sweet shops without going in and buying something!!

  4. Your stories made me laugh BB but your snowy views blew me away.

  5. They're not bad are they Pat? Sometimes it's hard to take a bad photo then on other days the light is so poor it's impossible to take a good one.

    R/Robin - more to come : ) I think she must have been pie-eyed too! (Gosh, that's one of my mum's expressions suddenly come from nowhere).