Acrobat by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (

It’s my last chapter of Steve Roud’s The English Year and I have been savouring it, hence the reason I’m not posting about it until January is nearly over! Roud says that traditionally much more of January would have been occupied with celebrating Christmas than it is now, and Twelfth Night would have been a really big deal.

Twelfth Night falls on the 6th January and marks the coming of the Wise Men to visit Jesus (Epiphany). The day would have been celebrated with plays, pageants and games. A special Twelfth Night Cake would have been eaten. Inside the cake would have been hidden various objects (it’s where the idea of putting a silver sixpence in the Christmas pudding comes from), and whoever got the slice of cake with one of these objects in would then have taken on a designated role for the evening. The person who got a bean would play the King, the person who got a pea would play the Queen and the person who got a clove would play the knave. Our ancestors would have drunk something called Lamb’s Wool, which had strong connections to the Wassailing tradition that also happened at this time of year. Roud describes it as, “hot cider, ale, or more rarely wine. Sugar and spices, such as nutmeg, ginger, or cinnamon were added, along with the essential element, apples; the latter were baked or roasted until their pulp fell apart in the liquid, giving the appearance of Lamb’s Wool.” Roud says that whereas now preparations for Christmas begin in November and the celebrations are usually wound up by New Year, historically Christmas would have started on Christmas Eve and ended on Plough Monday. Plough Monday was the first Monday after Twelfth Night and marked the beginning of the new agricultural year.

New Year is a funny one isn’t it? I don’t know many people who are big fans. Most often I hear people say that New Year feels like a bit of a let down. After a Christmas of every possible sort of over-consumption, staying out late and drinking always feels to me exactly the wrong thing to do on the eve of a brand new year. This year my sister-in-law and her husband went away and stayed in a cosy little hideaway in the middle of a wood. That sounds much more like it, doesn’t it? Snuggling up by a woodburning stove with someone you love, quietly reflecting on the passing of the old year and peacefully contemplating the start of a new one. At the very least I’d like to begin the year in a healthy way; an early night, a walk in the countryside on New Year’s Day, followed by a hearty and wholesome lunch shared with friends and family. There’s plenty of time for me to slip back into my lazy old habits without blighting the year with a sore head on day one! Hmmm, maybe my New Year’s resolution for this year should be, to do New Year better.

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