Hallowe'en and Samhain are over. It's time for the arrival of the Blue Hag. Usually, we have to wait another month or so to really feel Her presence in the Grove; but this year, She arrived almost immediately after the candle burned down in the Jack o' Lantern.
The Blue Hag is, not surprisingly, a Winter fairy, since Her face is blue and wrinkled tightly from the cold. She appears as an old woman or crone, in a veiled brown cloak, leaning on Her staff of holly, topped with a skull. She rules; during the dark time of the year after the Summer has ended (Samhain/Hallowe'en) and until the Summer begins once again (Beltane/May Day). She is usually accompanied by a crow; who is a link to the underworld, a messenger of death, an eater of carrion and a sign of changes to come. The Blue Hag's name in Gaelic (Scottish); is Cailleach Bheur, meaning the "blue veiled one". The Blue Hag pounds down the old vegetation into the earth with Her staff, and when that job is done, She brings in the cold, frost and snow.
When May and Summer approaches, She thrusts Her staff under the holly tree (which is why no grass can grow under it) and shrinks down into a cold gray stone; to once again await the season of cold that She presides over. In this way, She reminds me of the White Witch of Narnia, who Herself presided over that land (but only as long as Winter could remain) and turned Herself and Her Imp into stone when the thaw heralding Spring approached.
I quite feel Her in the Grove with our recent snowfall. The ground under our holly tree refuses to allow anything to grow other than ivy and periwinkle. We have instead created wee paths of bricks from a 100+ year old chimney that had been disassembled from the twin house next door to us. We have also added garden statues and little deities to the mix. Hopefully, the Blue Hag approves ... as it looks to be a long Winter!
Bibliography: Guide to the Fairy Ring by Anna Franklin, Llewellyn Publications, Woodbury, MN USA 2002, ; Mysterious Britain and Ireland: Mysteries, Legends & The Paranormal, The Caillech Bheur by Ian; mysteriousbritain.co.uk/folklore/the-caillech-bheur/, 2008, 2019; The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, Penquin Books, Middlesex, England, 1959 (original copyright 1950).
Meadow Sweet Grove © V. Buchanan, 2022
Christmas Eve is such a magical time and what more appropriate time to hold a wedding?
During my delve into genealogy some years ago, I found that my Great-Grandparents were married on Christmas Eve, 1901. At the time, I simply thought it was a sweet and unusual discovery. However, I recently learned that the romantic Victorians often held weddings during Christmastime and 1901 just marked the end of this interesting era.
Bibliography: Victorian Christmas, Bobbie Kalman & Barbara Bedell, Crabtree Publishing Company, 1997
Meadow Sweet Grove © V. Buchanan, 2021
Old Father Christmas & His Yule Goat
Interestingly, I immediately came across this image, which is so similar that I felt the artist must have based her artwork on it. This earlier version is titled "Old Christmas" and was illustrated in 1836 by Robert Seymour for "The Book of Christmas" by Thomas Kibble Hervey. Santa with his Yule Goat appear quite often in Christmas cards too during Victorian times.
I thought the goat might have been a nod to the old horned Gods or perhaps, because in other British Isle traditions like Puck's Fair and May Day, goats are sometimes crowned with flowers during harvest and summer festivals. He's an important little fellow associated with harvest and sun and so could easily be associated with Winter Solstice as well.
But of course there is the Yule Goat or Julbock in Scandinavia! My first introduction to the Yule Goat was many, many years ago when we bought a little boxed set of Christmas ornaments of straw goats from IKEA, the Swedish furniture company.
The Julbock in Scandanavia is thought perhaps to be derived from the two goats who pulled the sky chariot for the God Thor (Norse); or with the God Devac (Slavic) who was depicted as a white goat. Originally he demanded gifts, or offerings at this time of year, probably in exchange for returning the sun, and as the traditions changed and Santa Claus appeared, the white goat became the giver of gifts instead.
But getting back to why the artist called this "The British Father Christmas" and why Robert Seymour, a British illustrator depicted Santa in this way in the first place ... well, maybe the Yule Goat trotted his way on over to Britain and merged in wonderfully with the already existing English traditions surrounding the goat. Now as for the Wassail bowl ...
Bibliography: Victorian Christmas by Bobbie Kalman, Crabtree Publishing Company, 1997; Wikipedia, Yule Goat, October 2020; The Yule Goat Sneaks Heathen Tradition into Christmas, The Rational Heathen, Tyra Ulfdottir, 2017
Meadow Sweet Grove © V. Buchanan, 2020
I love digging into and dissecting old Mother Goose rhymes!
The first thing I noticed about this nursery rhyme is that Jack Horner is sitting in the corner; a place usually associated with punishment for a childhood mischief; so from this we may determine that Jack has done something naughty. But he does not think he is naughty and in fact evaluates himself as a good boy, by virtue of either the existence of a plum in his pie, or by the fact that he himself has the power to extract it. Both seem rather egotistical and out-of-keeping with how children would have been expected to behave in those long, long years past. So what has really happened here?
It seems that there was an abbot in Glastonbury during the time of King Henry VIII who decided to gift twelve manor houses to the King. By this he hoped to dissuade the King from his plan to dissolve the Catholic monasteries. The impending "Dissolution of the Monasteries" resulted in the terrible disassembly and destruction that we see today when visiting the ruins of these magnificent structures; which aren't actually "ruins" at all, but the result of King Henry the VIII's wilful destruction. The story goes that Thomas Horner, a steward of the abbot, was sent to London with a Christmas Pie that contained the deeds to the twelve manor houses. He "put in his thumb" and extracted the deed to one manor house ... which he kept for himself, and his descendants live in it to this day. The alternate story is that he bought the manor house from the King. Also quite plausible as, when he delivered the Christmas Pie, he may well have known what the pie contained and asked leave to purchase one of the houses.
Either way, it would seem that the writer of this rhyme viewed "Jack Horner" as a "naughty boy in the corner" (opportunist), who saw a "plum" (the manor house) ripe for the picking in the pie, and let him self-proclaim himself "a good boy" (deserving) who was justified in enjoying the good things in life.
Since the writer allows this - was Jack, in actuality, naughty or nice? Such a great poem for the Christmas season!
Bibliography: Mother Goose, A Little Golden Book, 1942 version; The Hidden History of Nursery Rhymes, education.com, 2006-2019
Meadow Sweet Grove © V. Buchanan 2017 / edited 2019
Boxing Day - Fill a Box!
I love the ancient tradition wherein an employer would fill a box and gift it to his servants, to help make their Christmas bright; and also to show your appreciation for a year's work - kind of like the modern Christmas Bonus!
The idea originated, partially, because servants had to wait on their employers and their guests all day long on Christmas Day -- cleaning, cooking, serving, receiving guests, taking coats, stabling the horses, etc. etc. etc.! So the grateful employers would fill a box the following day full of all kinds of wonderful things such as left-over cakes, pies, meats and treats; to old clothes and household items that had been replaced by new items. The servants would then take these boxes home to their families and celebrate their Christmas on Boxing Day. That's only one variation of this very old tradition but it is a particularly nice and generous one. Other versions include people going door-to-door to the homes of rich people on Boxing Day, carrying with them their own box, in the hopes of receiving any bits and bobs that the abundant households might no longer need and were happy to pass on to the less fortunate. Or sometimes, the wealthy would make a day of it and gather as a group to go about to the homes of those in need, or to their servants, and drop the goodies off themselves ... remember Bob Cratchitt's turkey!
I received a nice big cardboard box this year from out-of-town relatives filled with lovely Christmas gifts. I was just about to recycle it when I decided that, while I don't have any servants (more's the pity), I'm going to fill the box with items around the house and take it to our local Salvation Army or hospital charity shop. And maybe I better leave out some wee offerings to the fairy folk; for my brownies and house elves, and also those industrious little garden gnomes who perform many important tasks around the Grove!
Meadow Sweet Grove © V. Buchanan 2018 / edited 2020 & 2021
If you are making fruit cake this season for your Christmas or Yuletide celebration ... it is time to get them soaking!
With just under 5 weeks to go, this is the optimum time to wrap your cake in brandy-soaked cheesecloth, wrap it in tin foil and seal in an airtight container. Refresh the brandy once a week, and re-wrap ... up to 5 or 6 times before Christmas! The longer your Christmas fruit cake soaks ... the more incredibly dark and delicious it becomes.
For my complete Christmas Fruitcake recipe, click here: christmas-cake.html
Last year, I went pagan and decorated the Christmas Cake with a fresh sprig of holly from our tree here in the Grove. But this year, I think I will go "kitschy vintage" and adorn it with the many bits of pieces of vintage plastic cake decorations I have acquired over the years. I have trees, greeting signs, holly, elves, reindeer ... and even Santa and his sleigh! Maybe I'll even include some coins in the cake to reward the lucky few!
One of the most beautiful stories of Christmastime is "The Snowman" by Raymond Briggs. Pictured here, the little boy's Mom has magically (and simultaneously) decorated the Christmas Cake with an exact duplicate of the snowman her son created in their garden. The Snowman comes to life, at the stroke of midnight, and he and the boy share a memorable, yet ultimately heart-wrenching adventure.
Decorating a Christmas Cake can give you a chance to express, in diorama, the symbols of Christmas that you hold dear.
Meadow Sweet Grove © V. Buchanan 2018
The Holly and The Ivy
Winter Solstice is such an incredible time. The fairies in the Grove are abuzz with excitement! One of their favourite activities is making a Winter Solstice Tree for all the hungry little woodland creatures - this is most enjoyed by the chickadees, blue jays, bush tits, juncos, woodpeckers and yes, even the squirrels.
How to make a Winter Solstice Tree
Watch and enjoy your little visitors from a quiet place!
Meadow Sweet Grove © V. Buchanan 2016 / edited 2019
Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly!
The Meadow Sweet Grove fairies are getting ready to deck their little halls with boughs of holly. And why not? "Deck the Halls" is such a quintessential Christmas song. There have been several different versions over time, but they all fully encompass the true gaiety and spirit of the winter celebrations. The happiness and joy of being warm and snug and safe during the cold winter nights, with lots of good food and drink to share with family, friends and neighbours . . . now that's a reason to celebrate!
Everything about Deck the Halls resonates joy and good spirits - from decorating the home with symbols of everlasting life to passing the torch of new life along to the "lads and lasses" - all rejoicing and good-natured enjoying the abundance of "more than enough to go around"; with a fond nod to the ancientness of man's celebrations at this time of year. Even the replacement of: "Fill the mead cup, drain the barrel" with "Don we now our gay apparel" retains the essence of the message and illustrates clear understanding. Yule is a time to fully enjoy the abundance you are blessed with . . . whether it be with an ample amount of good drink . . . or by dressing in all your finest clothes!
Meadow Sweet Grove © V. Buchanan 2016 / edited 2021
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