Saturday, December 22, 2007

Longer days and a bountiful apple crop!

We celebrated Winter Solstice in fine style last night. Bonfire, friends, food, homebrew, and our old apple tree. The weather was dry, but cold, and we alternated between house and fire.
Just after wassailing the tree. It has a "grotto" in the trunk where a branch was removed many many years ago. We placed a statue there a few years back, and that's where we poured our offerings of cider and toast to the tree spirit.

And here's the top of Stew's head. He decided to participate in the wassail by slurping up the cider overflow. The camera was a bit too slow to catch most of his "sacrilege", but we had a good laugh. Hopefully the tree spirit has a sense of humor and won't hold it against us come harvest time.

Now it's back to the usual winter chores, prepping for the arrival of bees & Stella's calf, and planning the best garden ever!

After celebrating the winter holidays, our ancestors had a "getting back to work" tradition called Plough Monday. While local practices may vary, Plough Monday is generally the first Monday after Twelfth Day (Epiphany), 6 January, a day when ploughmen traditionally blackened their faces and wore white shirts.
Plough Monday was the day when village life in many agricultural areas focused on the dragging of a decorated plough by bands of young men who would knock on doors and ask for money, food and drink. They were accompanied by someone acting the Fool. This character would often be dressed in skins and a tail, and carry a pig's bladder on the end of a stick. Households not contributing money for the celebration would often have the path to their front door ploughed up in playful retaliation. The Plough Monday customs declined in the 19th century but have been revived in the 20th.

One area of England has an even rowdier custom which takes place the Saturday before Plough Monday in which the whole parish plays a game called Haxey Hood. Here is the probable origin from their website:

In folklore, when a custom is too old for its origins to be remembered, a story is often devised to rationalise what would otherwise be baffling. The 'official' story of the Hood's origins are unlikely, but strangely enough there are parallels between the Hood and bog burials in Europe.The game takes place on the border of bogs where naturally-preserved mummies of prehistoric sacrificial victims have actually been found. The game takes place in midwinter, one of the traditional times for sacrifices, so perhaps the smoking of the Fool is symbolic of a sacrifice? The sticks that the Chief Boggin holds may be a remnant of the sticks frequently found with the bog mummies, but the leather hood may be the most significant link of all - several bog mummies have been found with leather hoods tied to their heads.In fact, the origins of this rowdy village battle are obscure. It has similarities to other village combats, such as Asbourne's Shrove Tuesday Football and the Hallaton Bottle Kicking contest in Leicestershire.

This modern day version celebration as fully explained sounds like a blast, and a good excuse for blowing off steam in the middle of a long dreary winter. There is an old chant as part of the festivities that goes:

"Hoose agen hoose, toon agen toon, if tha meets a man nok im doon, but doant ‘ot im"
(This translates as: House against House, Town against Town, if you meets a man, knock him down but don’t hurt him.)

The website continues:

The event is as much about the drinking in the pubs as anything else. Just as with Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve, more ale is probably drunk on Hood Day, and Hood Eve in Haxey, as any other. The pubs are always heaving. The landlords prepare for this by covering their carpets with thick black plastic, to protect them against all the mud that will come off the fields on people's feet from the game.

Go check it out at Haxey Hood and read more about the Lady of Mowbray, slaughtered bulls' heads, Fool's right of kissing, shoving parked cars off the road, John Barleycorn, and much more old fashioned madness!

Smoking the Fool

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