Row of cows at farm in Shropshire

In the name of tradition

19/12/19In the name of tradition

The seasons, high days and holidays all bring with them a manifold of traditions, particularly in the countryside, and none more so than Christmas. As we enter the season of goodwill, we thought we would take a look at some of those traditions and where they come from.

Have you ever tried taffy-making on Christmas Eve?

This old Welsh custom used to take place on Christmas Eve. Families would pass the dark hours of Christmas Eve's night by boiling toffee in pans on open fires and dropping dollops into icy cold water. The taffy curled into all sorts of shapes - like letters and it was believed that this was a way of working out the initials of unmarried family members' future loves.

Lucky mince pies?

Mince Pies have become a staple over the Christmas period. However, did you know that for good luck, British tradition recommends that everyone should eat a mince pie on each of the twelve days of Christmas? Tradition states that anyone who refuses one of their twelve pies will suffer a year of misfortune – if you needed a reason!

Mari Lwyd – the grey mare that brings good luck

Mari Lwyd (or Grey Mare) is a pre-Christian custom that's still acted out in parts of Wales. The tradition consists of a model horse’s skull being carried from door-to door on a pole by a young man, accompanied by his friends; Sergeant, Merryman, Punch and Judy. At each house the team recites a series of ‘impromptu’ verses begging admittance, while the occupants refuse (also in verse). Once the visitors inevitably win the contest and gain admittance, the Mari chases the young ladies, Judy pretends to clean the house and Punch engages in all kinds of mischief until they are offered food and drink to pacify them. Once they have feasted they go to the next house and begin all over again.

Knowing your onions

Did you know unmarried maids used to peel an onion on the 21 December and leave it, wrapped in cloth, under their pillow. If lucky, the divination would reveal their future husband in a special Christmas dream.

Wassail

A Welsh Christmas at the turn of the century involved drinking from the wassail bowl. These bowls were often elaborate, ornate and many-handled. The bowl was filled with fruit, sugar, spices and topped up with warm beer. As it was passed around, the drinkers would make a wish for a successful year's farming and a bumper crop at harvest time. Although the wassail bowl has been a tradition in Wales for many years, its origins are not uniquely Welsh.

All creatures great and small

Many farmers used to believe that, for an hour over midnight on Christmas Eve, cattle would turn to the east and kneel in honour of the Christ child, while bees would hum a carol of praise. In fact, so strong was that last belief that when the adoption of the Gregorian calendar moved every date back 11 days in 1752, the fact that bees weren’t heard humming carols on the new Christmas Eve was seen as proof that the new calendar was Satan’s work!

These are just a few traditions associated with Christmas we’ve found. When researching the subject, we have found ourselves discussing our own traditions. Whatever your Christmas traditions are, we’d love to hear about them.

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