Saturday, December 22, 2007

Season's Greetings

It’s the season to be greedy. The markets are turgid with argumentative shoppers and excitable children, sharing their winter germs with everyone they happen to sneeze over. The towns and villages of the Fylde and Wyre are festooned with plastic icicles and blow-up Santas and the sort of blue lanterns that you’d normally associate with ‘flats of ill repute’. Surely Christmas was friendlier, once? Well, yes, it was. And just to prove it, here are a few lost customs from yesteryear.
Many centuries ago, it was a Fylde tradition to place a penny on the hob by the fireside on the nineteenth of December. On that same date ‘waxen flambeaux’ were lit (if anybody knows what ‘waxen flambeaux’ actually were we’d be glad to hear from you, because we’ve got no idea) and ‘boughs and laurels’ were suspended from every available ceiling joist. This heralded the start of the festive season. (Nowadays Christmas begins in June when the first rolls of wrapping paper and dancing Father Christmases appear in the shops.) From this point onwards, the first person to enter the house brought the ‘Spirit of Christmas’ in with them and, by way of reward, were given the hob-penny.
Mince pies were a bit different back then. They were large and coffin shaped; the local baker’s attempt to make them resemble Christ’s manger, apparently. They were baked from ‘a compound of eastern products’, exotic spices and oriental delights, shipped into Fleetwood (or, before Fleetwood was built, Poulton) and then redistributed around the district, representing the offerings of the wise men.
Mince pies weren’t the only Christmas fayre on offer, however. In Poulton customers were each presented with ‘The Yule loaf, two popery candles and a Christian box.’ Yule loaves were baked with carefully sculptured lambs’ heads on the top. Why a lamb’s head at Christmas? Because it was a ‘Ewe Loaf’, of course. (Ewe loaf – Yule Loaf? Well, we never said that the bakers in Poulton were big fans of Oscar Wilde.)


Throughout the area Carols were sung, and not just by opportunistic kids from Fleetwood either, out to make a quick buck but not conscientious enough to have learned more than the first couple of lines of each song. Here’s a fine example of one such Christmas ditty, recited merrily in Lanky Twang:

“We’re nother cum to yare hase to beg nor borrow,
But we’re cum to yare hase to drive away sorrow,
A suop of drink, as yau may think, for we’re varra droye,
W’ll tell you what we’re cum for – a piece o’ Christmas pie.”


Back in mediaeval times, in the great halls and aristocratic residences, the largest logs possible were dragged indoors and deposited on the hearths. These Yule logs, or so the superstition ran, had to remain lit throughout that night and the following day. If this was accomplished then it was considered a good omen. If the log stopped burning, however, it was regarded as an ominous sign…especially for those servants who’d fallen asleep instead of watching the fire.

In the poorer households, families were given packs of cards to keep them entertained over Christmas. Those who couldn’t afford their own pack received one free as ‘alms from the rich’. (We’ve been trying to resurrect and update this tradition ourselves, but as yet the local nobs haven’t responded to our requests for a Nintendo Wii.)
Once the Christmas festivities were ended, there came the menacing custom of ‘Plough Monday’. This took place on the first Monday after Twelfth Night, and involved farmhands, dressed as sword dancers, old women and animals, travelling from village to village with a ruddy great plough. On arrival this mob would set about demanding ‘Ale Money’ from local householders, those too stubborn to oblige having their doorsteps ploughed into furrows.

Our favourite seasonal custom, however, can be found in William Thornber’s ‘History of Blackpool’ which records that: “The house of God, as well as the windows of their own dwellings, decked out with evergreens, faintly recorded the tribute of homage paid to the meek and lowly Saviour of the world on his triumphant entry into Jerusalem; though superstition continued the practice, as an invitation to the little saints of Popish creation to come and settle among the branches.”
It sounds to us as though Thornber had been hitting the eggnog a bit hard again.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all our reader/s.

10 comments:

Ann O'Dyne said...

Dear Fyrey and Wylde Antiquarians - wishing you a Very Crippy Crimble.

Brian Hughes said...

Cheers Ann and Merry Chrimbo to your good self as well.

I'll raise a glass of mulled wine (generously spiked with Teachers) to you on Christmas morning.

John said...

Merry and Happy Holidays to you and Michelle, Brian, and a terrific new year of wading in trenches with toothbrushes and camera!

All the best, JOHN :0)

PS Thanks for the look at Christmas Past!

Brian Hughes said...

John,

I'm raising another glass of mulled wine and Teachers for you here...only without the mulled wine in it this time...

...and with a drop of Glenmorangie mixed in to make up the difference.

Happy Christmas to you, Anitha and the kids. And let's hope next year shows a bit more promise than this 'un.

Ozfemme said...

Yes but anyway it's summer here.

I rather fancy Flaxen Wambeau as my new nom de plume.

We're Orstralians. We dunt do customs.

That is orl.

BTW
word verificamation looks rather like "eggnog"

Brian Hughes said...

Bella,

I think the 'Word Verification' people are feeling seasonal...mine reads 'pubfgiht'.

Ozfemme said...

Okay I'm back, having repelled the drunken(ish) imposter who was here earlier.

I think waxen flambeaux were some sort of wax torch made popular by the Romans. Or the Greeks. One of that mob anyway...

Lol at "pubfgiht"... hang on... now THAT is an Australian custom. See, we do have culture!

Word vfication = xklqjru. Not very festive at all, really...

So hope you enjoyed your yuletide festings and all the best for the New Year. Looking forward to more exciting Fylde and Wyre.

Brian Hughes said...

Bella,

Cheers, and have a great New Year yourself. (I don't know about your own last twelve months, but as far as mine and Michelle's have gone, I reckon anything's got to be an improvement. Hmmm...Famous last words, eh?)

JahTeh said...

I go with Bella, only I'd say they were candles and only for the toffs. The peasants were lucky to have a lump of vile smelling tallow to light their hovels. And sledging in the 1930s seems to be different to the sledging we have now although it might change now that Warnie's gone.

Brian Hughes said...

Witchy,

I believe it was a common practice amongst the poor to save up the earwax of the elderly throughout the year and then poke a bootlace through the centre of the congealed mass at Christmas.

And I can almost guarantee that some future historian will swallow that idea, hook, line and sinker and quote it in their book...and it'll serve 'em right when they don't name the source.