Posts Tagged ‘Holidays’

The Jane Austen Centre already offers a comprehensive article on Christmas music in the Origins of Regency Era Christmas Carols in their Online Magazine, which I cannot add to in a meaningful way, and which includes a lovelingly told history of ‘Silent Night.’

After reading the article, view a YouTube video of Gloucestershire Morris men dancing a traditional stick dance to the tune of While Shepherds Watched, one of the carols described in the article.

While Bledington, where this dance originated, is situated in the Cotswolds, one is quickly transported to the 18th and 19th centuries when viewing this dance and listening to the music. I believe the musical instrument accompanying this dance is the harmonium (thank you for the tip, Pixzlee). Historically, the pipe and tabor accompanied this dance, while later in the 19th century, the fiddler replaced the pipe and tabor musician.

Pipe and Tabor

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Wassailing goes back to pre-Christian times in a tradition meant to bring luck for the coming year. Wassail gets its name from the Old English term “waes hael”, meaning “be well”. At the start of each year, the Saxon lord of the manor would shout ‘waes hael’. The assembled crowd would reply ‘drinc hael’, meaning ‘drink and be healthy’. In cider producing regions, the wassailers went from door to door, with a wassail bowl filled with spiced ale, and sang and drank to the health of those they visited. In return people in the houses gave them drink, money and Christmas food. Traditionally Wassailing was held on Old ‘Twelvy’ Night, before the Georgian Calendar aligned the calendar year to the solar year. The true date for Wassailing, therefore, was the 17th of January.

Listen to a traditional wassailing song on this YouTube link.

In cider producing regions, the tradition varied, and was known as the wassailing of trees:

…it was the custom for the Devonshire people on the eve of Twelfth Day to go after supper into the orchard with a large milk-pan full of cyder with roasted apples in it. Each person took what was called a clayen cup, i.e. an earthenware cup full of cyder, and standing under each of the more fruitful trees, sung —

“Health to thee, good apple-tree,
Well to bear, pocket-fulls, hat-fulls,
Peck-fulls, bushel-bag-fulls.”

After drinking part of the contents of the cup, he threw the rest, with the fragments of the roasted apples, at the trees, amid the shouting of the company. Another song sung on such occasions was

“Here’s to thee, old apple-tree,
Whence thou may’st bud, and whence thou may’st blow,
And whence thou may’st bear apples enow
Hats full! caps full!
Bushel-bushel-sacks full,
And my pockets full, too, huzza!”

From Wassailing

Update: Tim writes: Wassailing refers to the practice of both door-to-door carol-singing on Christmas Eve and the apple wassailing on Old Twelth Night. The naming comes from the common imbibing of the wassail. Both traditions co-exist and the carolling occurs not just in cider-growing areas.

Thanks for the information, Tim. I should have been clearer about the distinction between the two traditions at the start of this post. These days wassailing does mean carolling, but it did not always have this connotation.

Wassail Bowl
La Belle Cuisine, Recipe from the Gourmet Archives

4 cups apple cider
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup dark rum
1/4 cup brandy
1 tablespoon orange liqueur
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
Salt to taste
1/2 lemon, thinly sliced
1/2 orange, thinly sliced
Whipped cream
Freshly grated nutmeg

In a saucepan bring the apple cider to a boil over medium heat, add
the brown sugar and cook mixture, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved.
Remove pan from heat and add the rum, brandy, orange liqueur,
cinnamon, cloves, allspice, salt, and fruit slices. Heat mixture over
moderate heat, stirring, 2 minutes. Pour the wassail into wine glasses
and top it with whipped cream and freshly grated nutmeg.

View my other holiday posts: A Jane Austen Christmas, Yule Log, New Year’s Eve, Boxing Day, Christmas Pudding, etc. here.

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History of Valentine’s Day

The reason behind Valentines Day celebration dates back to the Roman Empire. During the 3rd century, Rome was engaged in many unpopular wars, and Emperor Claudius II was having trouble persuading soldiers to join his military. He believed this was due to men’s attachments to their lovers or families so he outlawed all marriages in Rome.
Enter St. Valentine, a Roman priest.

Valentine thought the Emperor’s decree was unjust and began performing secret marriages for young lovers. When his actions were finally discovered, he was imprisoned.

While in prison, Valentine supposedly fell in love with his jailer’s daughter. Before his death, it is said that he wrote her a letter, which he signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is used today. This is considered the first valentine. Click here for the source of this information.

In the 14th century Valentine’s Day began to be celebrated with loved ones and a large feast was organized to mark the day. Valentine greetings were said or sung, but by the 15th Century beginning to be put into writing. In 16th century began the custom of exchanging gifts between lovers with the passing of paper Valentine. In Great Britain, Valentine’s Day celebrations took off around the 17th century. The oldest known valentine still in existence today is a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife, while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. The valentine is now part of a collection in the British library in London, England.

Initially, valentines were usually handmade and given anonymously. During the 1800s much larger hand-painted copperplates molded in the shape of hearts replaced paper e-cards. In later years, the copperplates gradually gave way to woodcuts and carvings and lithographs. By the middle of the 18th century, Valentine’s Day become popular amongst the masses and it became a common tradition for all social classes to secretly exchange small tokens of lover or handwritten love notes called Valentine. Despite the existence of the pre-printed card, the majority of valentines were one of a kind and made by hand. Consequently, few exist today.By the middle of the 18th century, it was common for friends and lovers in all social classes to exchange small gifts or handwritten notes on that day.
By the end of the century, printed cards began to replace written letters. Cheaper postage rates helped contribute to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine’s Day greetings.


The History.Behind.Valentines.Day

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Ophelia’s Valentine’s Song

Valentine’s Day has been a celebration for lovers since the medieval period.

Jane Austen would certainly have known Ophelia’s Song, written by William Shakespeare in the 16th century.

To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donn’d his clothes,
And dupp’d the chamber- door;
Let in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.
By Gis and by Saint Charity,
Alack, and fie for shame!
Young men will do’t, if they come to’t;
By cock, they are to blame.
Quoth she, before you tumbled me,
You promised me to wed.
So would I ha’ done, by yonder sun,
An thou hadst not come to my bed.

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What did a New Year’s Eve Celebration look and feel like during the time of Jane Austen? This English Country House site gives you a good idea. You can still celebrate New Year’s Eve at The Pig, Hunstrete House in Somerset much as they did in the 18th & 19th Centuries. Visitors are greeted by a cheery log burning on the fire, and are called to afternoon tea.

One can imagine the fabulous black tie meal consisting of a variety of courses that stretched for hours on end. The evening would then culminate with the ringing in of the New Year and a festive group singing the Robert Burns version of Auld Lange Syne.

In England, “If the family prefer to bring in the New Year at home there is such a custom: the members of the household sat themselves round the hearth, and when the hands of the clock approach the hour, the head of the family rises, goes to the front door, opens it wide, and holds it thus until the last stroke of midnight has died away. Having let the Old Year out and the New Year in, he shuts the door quietly and returns to the family circle. ” (From this site)

The song, “Auld Lang Syne,” is traditionally sung at the stroke of midnight in almost every English-speaking country in the world to bring in the new year. The custom of singing this song on New Years Eve goes back to the British Isles from the 18th century when guests ended a party standing in a circle and singing this song. The custom first was rooted in Scotland, because the lyrics were written in 1788 by Robert Burns, their favorite folk poet of the time. But most musicologists feel that Auld Lang Syne came from a traditional Scottish folk melody. The entire song’s message merely means to just forget about the past and look ahead to the new year with hope. (From Study English Today)

More About Auld Lang Syne
The most commonly sung song for English-speakers on New Year’s eve, “Auld Lang Syne” is an old Scottish song that was first published by the poet Robert Burns in the 1796 edition of the book, Scots Musical Museum. Burns transcribed it (and made some refinements to the lyrics) after he heard it sung by an old man from the Ayrshire area of Scotland, Burns’s homeland,” Borgna Brunner .

Click here for my other New Year’s Post.

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