Wednesday 28 December 2016

Gardening Joy in December

Hello Friends!

I hope you all had a PEACEful and JOYful Christmas and are now looking forward to a brand New Year waiting just around the corner; it's an empty page just waiting to be filled with joy, gratitude and new adventures ~~~

Now that the daily Christmas Countdown posts are over I am finding it strange not to be writing every day. I learned much about the Christmas season as I researched each new thread, and that is a joy in itself; also a joy is that I have renewed the habit of writing ~ although I did very little over Christmas and Boxing Day ~ I was given some pretty new note books for Christmas so some of my writing will be placed on those delicious new pages that are waiting to be filled with words ~~~

I had prepared everything in advance for the 25th so I was able to take a well earned "down day" and indulge myself in watching Christmas specials on television, reading new books, and colouring in with new supplies ~~~

Rarely have I been so blessed as to be continuing to garden in December! With the generally mild weather, over the last few days I have found things that defied the earlier December frost and just keep on bringing beauty in their small corners!  Despite the grey December days, the garden is still giving pretty spots of uplifting colour with Kaffir Lilies and Osteospermums! I am in awe over the way these delicate plants overcome the cold and frosty mornings as they continue well out of their seasons ~~~

The bright sugary pink of the Kaffir Lilies look amazing against the glaucous leaves of the Euphorbia plant ~~~

A single bold and bright yellow Marigold braves the chilly days ~~~

Delightful purple Osteospermums still flower ~~~

and a golden yellow rose blooms still ~~~

I am not as hardy as the plants so I wrap up warm and enjoy stolen moments, picking a few herbs from the herb garden {mostly rosemary, oregano, sage, and lemon balm} for cooking. The flavours aren't as strong this time of year, but it is such a treat to pick fresh ones as needed ~~~

There are still a few small piles of leaves and while no one is looking I let my inner child gleefully kick and crunch her way along! Soon, the frost will speed up the decay and next year there will be bags of delicious leaf mould for the borders.  The circle of life goes on ~~~

Until next time ~~~
~~~Deborah xoxo

Saturday 24 December 2016

Christmas Countdown, Traditions and Trivia Day Christmas Eve

Hello Friends!

Well, dear followers and friends, Christmas Day is almost here, just one more sleep as they say today. Tonight the stockings will be hung with care, and wee ones all over the world will find it hard to sleep tonight.  I remember when I was a child not being able to sleep at all, butterflies churning in my tummy all night long in eager anticipation that I'd been good and Father Christmas would call on me, leaving me a special present underneath the tree in the parlour and filling my stocking at the foot of my bed. I was up before dawn and stayed fully charged until bedtime on Christmas night!  After opening my stocking it was off to church for the 7:30 a.m Eucharist, then home for breakfast before the mayhem of opening presents commenced. Even back then there were always many books under the tree for me, and I'm pleased to say, I must have been a good girl back in those long gone days of my past, for I was never disappointed ~~~

So, here is the final door of the Advent calendar for 2016, it is the largest door and in the centre of the image too ~~~


For today's final traditions and trivia I will share with you the unique Welsh tradition of Plygain.  If you listen to the clips, below, you will hear how to pronounce it. My best interpretation is to say plug~ayne {but I'm not very good at phonetics}

Plygain is a chapel service that takes place in chapels across Wales in the wee small hours of Christmas Day between 3:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m., starting before daybreak and finishing, symbolically, after the dawn has broken. People either get up very early or some don't go to bed at all ~ that would be a bit too much for me with all the catering and excitement of the day ahead and no sleep the night before, with no chance of a recharging nap during the day.

The word Plygain is believed to have it's root in the Latin word pullicantio, meaning 'when the cock crows at dawn'; it could also be derived from plygu, meaning to bend forward in prayer. The word is first recorded in the Black Book of Carmarthen in early Welsh manuscripts in the 13th century.

The traditions of Pygain vary regionally, for example:

  • In some rural areas the locals would gather in farmhouses to make a treacle toffee called cyflaith.
  • In Marford, they decorate the farmhouse with winter foliage such as holly or mistletoe.
  • In Dyffryn Clwyd, they light the candles at two o'clock in the morning and sang and danced to harp music until the dawn service.
  • In towns, or more populated areas, such as Tenby, crowds start the evening with a torch-lit procession, and the young men of the town would escort the local priest from his house to the church while the rest of the procession sang and blew cow-horns.
  • At the local chapel {I do not attend} one of the attending couples, very generously, invites the entire congregation back to their home where they serve up freshly cooked bacon baps {a special sort of bread roll} to the hungry people.

Until recently, Plygain candles were lit throughout the chapel during the service. Candles were decorated with coloured paper and hoops woven by local congregants.

Here is a clip from the BBC showing an old recording of Plygain with an interesting insight to the non~conformist viewpoint of such Christian feast days as Christmas and Easter.

This is a radio broadcast, about five minutes long, explaining Plygain and with excerpts from a service.

I hope you will be able to access them internationally for I know some of you will be eager to listen.

The last of the Yuletide Lads is Candler Stealer who is also known as Kertasníkir, Candle Snatcher or Candle Beggar.  He arrives tonight and takes his leave on January 6th.

In days of old candles were a very expensive commodity in Iceland and would have been strictly controlled in an Icelandic household. It would have been very uncommon for children to have been given one.  Around Christmas time, however, there is very little daylight in Iceland each day and children may have been given candles at that time. Candle Stealer would sneak around in the dark behind children with candles, waiting for his chance to steal them. At one time, candles would have been made from animal fats {tallow candles} and were edible, therefore Candle Stealer would quickly gobble them up!

Hunger seems to be a recurring theme with the Yuletide Lads and I wonder if this reflects the paucity of food and desperately hard living conditions faced by the settlers in Iceland?

So, this finishes the Advent Calendar, my accounts of traditions and trivia, and rounds up the last of the Yuletide Lads for another year. Tonight the frolics and japes will be many in the homesteads and villages across Iceland as all the Lads are present, but tomorrow evening they start their return, day by day, in the order in which they arrived back to their mountain home for another year.

I hope you have enjoyed the last month as much as I have exploring just a small handful of traditions and trivia, even some of the darker side too. My heartfelt thanks to those of you who have taken time each day to leave a comment. They are precious and mean so much to me.  So, all that remains is for me to say ~~~
Nadolig Llawen!
Wishing You a Very Happy Christmas

I hope your Christmas is jolly, full of family and friends, and I wish for yours to be full joy, peace, and hope.

Until next time ~~~
~~~Deborah xoxo

Friday 23 December 2016

My Christmas Wish to You

Hello Friends!

I had a rude awakening this morning around 5:30 a.m. when Mum came to my bedroom door. I was awake and out of bed in an instant to find out what was wrong, but it was only Mum, bless her, wanting to know if I was asleep or not. Is the irony of this lost on anyone?

So, tucking Mum back in her bed for a few more hours, back to bed I went ~~~ although the bed was warm and comforting I found I was failing miserably at regaining the cosy dream through which I was previously wandering, that was when the words started to bat around in my head.  A Christmas wish from me to you. I tried to compose it but at 5:30 a.m. words trundle merrily along the route~less thoroughfare of my brain and leave at the nearest junction never to be seen again ~~~

Eventually, the alarm sounded and I shivered in the cold of my unheated room, a cold that I had not noticed in the urgency of my early wake up call. As my day began, sitting, sipping my coffee, I found a little gift in my reading list, a new entry by Susan Branch {my happy place} and there I read a lovely verse that she had shared which pretty much sums up, succinctly, what I was trying to compose in lengthy prose,

1 Corinthians 13:13 “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love”

Later, an email arrived in my inbox with a very similar message, taken from an early 16th century writing by Fra Giovanni Giocondo (c.1435–1515) a Franciscan friar.  I quote:
“I salute you. I am your friend, and my love for you goes deep.  There is nothing I can give you which you have not. But there is much, very much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take. No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant.
Take peace! The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. There is radiance and glory in darkness, could we but see.  And to see, we have only to look. I beseech you to look!
Life is so generous a giver. But we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendor, woven of love by wisdom, with power. Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the angel’s hand that brings it to you.
Everything we call a trial, a sorrow or a duty, believe me, that angel’s hand is there. The gift is there and the wonder of an overshadowing presence. Your joys, too, be not content with them as joys. They, too, conceal diviner gifts.
Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty beneath its covering, that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage then to claim it; that is all! But courage you have, and the knowledge that we are pilgrims together, wending through unknown country home.”

So, my friends, whether you celebrate Christmas or any of the other number of feasts at this time of year, these words are my Christmas gift to you, to keep and to hold in your hearts all year long, to live and abide by the true meaning of Christmas all year long.  The times in which we live are bleak so we must hold faith and hope dear, and remember that LOVE is the greatest gift of all ~~~

Nadolig Llawen
Deborah xoxo

Christmas Countdown, Traditions and Trivia Day Twenty Three

Hello Friends!

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, so today I open the penultimate door of my Advent calendar and here is the picture and scripture for today ~~~


I've introduced some quite scary Christmas traditions from around the world, so today I'm taking a look at a much gentler one, something that I feel is far more appropriate for the Christmas season and that is the Christingle or Christkindl. Christingles originated, again, in Europe when a Moravian minister, John de Watteville, gave candles tied with a red ribbon to the children at the Christmas service in 1747.  The Christingles were accompanied by this little prayer ~~~
Lord Jesus, kindle a flame in these children’s hearts, that theirs like Thine become.
Over the following years the tradition flourished and spread, and the Christingle changed in appearance until it evolved into what we know today, a candle in an orange pierced with sticks holding dried fruits. Each of these is symbolic
  • The orange represents the world
  • The candle is the Light of God
  • The ribbon is the blood of Christ
  • The sticks represent the four points of the compass and the four seasons
  • The dried fruit represents the bounty of the earth

The meaning of Christingle or Christkindl can be either Christ Child or Christ Light and today they are used in many Advent services across the world, and popularised in Great Britain in 1968 by John Pensom who used the Christingle to raise money for children's charities.
The second to last Yuletide Lad is Meat Hook, arriving tonight and departing on 5th January Also called Ketkrókur, Meat Hook, would, in bygone days, lower a hook down the kitchen chimney to pull up a leg of lamb that is being smoked, or any meat that may be being cooked in the pan.  These days Meat Hook will use his hook to snatch meat from anywhere, but as his pole is very short, often has little success.

Until next time ~~~
~~~Deborah xoxo

Thursday 22 December 2016

Christmas Countdown, Traditions and Trivia Day Twenty Two

Hello Friends!

Nearly there ~ here is today's Advent picture and scripture ~~~


I don't know what it is with the northern Europeans but they certainly do have some very unfriendly and frightening characters in their Christmas lore! Over the last few days one name keeps popping up everywhere, and that is Krampus, so I decided to investigate.  I really do not like what I found, I had not heard of this dreadful character before, but have decided to tell you about him anyway. Like the Mari Lwyd of Wales, which I wrote about earlier, it is something that belongs more in Hallowe'en than Christmas.

So who, or what is Krampus?  He is an anthropomorphic half goat half demon figure from areas of Europe that include Austria, Bavaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia and Northern Italy.  He is a sort of companion to Saint Nicholas, but Krampus is the one who punishes all the children who have been naughty.  In some areas where the Feast of Saint Nicholas is celebrated on December 6th, the preceding evening is the Night of Krampus, or Krampusnacht, when the beast roams the streets seeking out children who have been bad to give them gifts of coal into shoes left outside for him to find {another common theme in Europe for naughty children} Being the stuff of nightmares, in some countries this creature with his horns, dark hair, and fangs, comes with a chain and bells that he lashes about, along with a bundle of birch sticks meant to swat naughty children. He then hauls the bad kids down to the underworld.

For many years Krampus's frightening presence was suppressed both by the the Catholic Church who forbade the celebrations, and by fascists in World War II Europe found Krampus despicable because it was considered a creation of the Social Democrats.  However, of late, there is a resurgence in Krampus's popularity and books have been written and a film made of this demonic Christmas character.

Personally, I don't understand the necessity, or the logic, behind such scary stuff, especially when aimed at young children, but who are we to question the traditions of centuries?  I give you my word, no more evil Christmas characters!

Moving on to Iceland where tonight's eleventh Yuletide Lad is Doorway Sniffer who will be here between 22nd December - 4th January
Also known as Gáttaþefur and Keyhole Sniffer, he has an enormous nose and a very good sense of smell. He loves the smell of cakes and Laufabrauð being baked, and will stand at the door using his great sense of smell to sniff out any cakes he can steal.

Until next time ~~~
~~~Deborah xoxo

Wednesday 21 December 2016

Christmas Countdown, Traditions and Trivia Days Twenty and Twenty One

Hello Friends!

Oooops, I did it again! I missed a day, but I had company coming and was busy fixing an early Christmas lunch for my Godmother for our annual Christmas gift exchange. It was a lot of fun, and I made a variation on the theme of Sherry Trifle using macerated strawberries and Marsala. It was very delicious and will be made again.

In the meantime, I'll do another double up, so here are the Advent images for December 20th {yesterday} and today the 21st ~~~


Today is the Winter Solstice. I look forward to this day every year because after six months of the days getting shorter and the evenings longer, tomorrow we will see the start of the long haul back into the light as each dark evening grows shorter and the light slowly returns to the northern hemisphere. Soon, the darkness will be forgotten in the heady days of late spring and early summer and all will be light.

The date of each solstice varies annually, and it can be any time between 21 and 23 of December and although the solstice itself only lasts for a brief moment, it is an important day known by many different names, including Midwinter, Yule, and Jól .  I often try to imagine what it must have been like for our ancient ancestors as they stood by, helplessly watching the sun sink slowly lower in the sky each day, as the days shortened and the nights lengthened; how frightening it must have been for them, wondering what was happening in the days before they understood that this is a natural part of the cycle of the year, of the changing seasons, and what they must have thought they had done to displease their gods.  Is it any wonder that some of the major feasts and festivals of so many religions are in December?

Food was scarce and cattle and livestock were slaughtered so that they did not have to be fed using valuable stored supplies of food through the very lean months ahead, so the supply of fresh meat was plentiful and perfect for feasts and celebrations.  Wine and beer that had been made earlier in the year was also ready to be drunk.  Let the festivities and merrymaking commence!

Our neolithic ancestors were aware of the importance of this astronomical event and it is not coincidental that the primary axes of important henges, such as Stonehenge and Newgrange are carefully aligned with the solstice sunset and sunrise respectively.

Christina Rossetti's poem {later to become a hymn, or Christmas carol} "In The Bleak Midwinter" makes a direct reference to the solstice in the title. It is a favourite of mine.

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago. 
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ. 
Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk,
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore. 
Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air -
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss. 
What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give Him -
Give my heart.
The ninth Yuletide Lad to visit on the 20th December was Sausage Swiper who will be around until 2nd January.  In days of old, he would sneak into the rafters of the house and steal any sausages that were being smoked there. As this practice is very rare in most Icelandic households, these days he will attempt to steal any slices of pepperoni found on pizzas.  He might also be called Bjúgnakrækir, Sausage Snatcher, Sausage Thief, Sausage Pilferer.

On December 21, Window Peeper arrives until 3rd January.  Also known as: Gluggagægir, Peeper, Peeping Tom, he is the tenth Yule Lad and while he is not a greedy as the others, he will stand outside the home, looking through the window looking for any toys that have been left out, if he sees any he likes the look of, he will break in and steal them.

Until next time ~~~
~~~Deborah xoxo

Monday 19 December 2016

Christmas Countdown, Traditions and Trivia Day Nineteen

Hello Friends!

Here is today's Advent calendar picture and scripture.


A week from today and the Christmas festivities will be winding down, it will be Boxing Day and we will be wondering why we ate so much on Christmas Day!

One of the things many of us may over~indulge in, and one of the most famous dishes to grace the British Christmas table, is the Christmas Pudding, sometimes called Plum Pudding {although it does not contain any plums}.

Traditionally Christmas Pudding arrives at the table spectacularly alight with flaming brandy.  It became the rich pudding we know today during Victorian times having evolved from a Medieval dish called Frumenty which was a thick, stodgy, porridge like pudding made from cracked wheat. Modern day Frumenty is a spicy wheat based dish made from cracked wheat, almond milk, eggs, beef stock, and saffron.

Here is a recipe written in the fifteenth century for Frumenty ~~~

Curye on Inglysch, 15th c.
To make frumente. Tak clene whete & braye yt wel in a morter tyl the holes gon of; sethe it til it breste in water. Nym it up & lat it cole. Tak good broth & sweet mylk of kyn or of almand & tempere it therwith. Nym yelkys of eyren rawe & saffroun & cast therto; salt it; lat it naught boyle after the eyren ben cast therinne. Messe if forth with venesoun or with fat motoun fresch.

It isn't easy to understand, but I can make out words that suggest cracking wheat using a mortar, soaking the wheat, cooling the mixture, then I can see broth, sweet milk of almonds, raw egg yolks, and saffron and salt. Following that I can make out venison and fresh mutton. Lots of familiar words with an unfamiliar feel, and lots of words that mean nothing at all!  I think a good knowledge of cooking and an understanding of what words meant six hundred years or so ago would help immensely! Did you notice there are no indications of measurements or times?

By the late 16th century, records indicate that the recipe now included a list of ingredients such as raisins, currants, prunes, breadcrumbs, spices and alcohol, as the recipe was evolving closer to the pudding we know today. However, in 1664, it was banned by the Puritans as a "bad custom" and was not seen again until revived by King George I in 1714.

There are many superstitions and traditions surrounding the Christmas Pudding, including:

  • that it must be made with exactly thirteen ingredients to represent Jesus and his disciples;
  • that the pudding be stirred from east to west to honour the Three Wise Men;
  • that every member of the family take a turn to stir the pudding {but this probably arose more from the desire to get help with the energy needed to thoroughly stir such a stodgy mixture by hand};
  • that everyone stirring the pudding got to make a wish;
  • it is topped with a sprig of holly to serve, often said to represent the Crown of Thorns;
  • tokens were placed in the pudding and whoever got that token in their portion would receive the attribute in the coming year.  Some examples include: a wishbone {good luck}; a thimble {thrift}; an anchor {safe harbour}; a ring {will be married soon}; a silver sixpence {see below}.

Puddings are traditionally made on the Sunday before Advent which is known as “Stir Up Sunday”.  It is widely believed that it is called "Stir Up Sunday" because the Collect, from the Book of Common Prayer used in the Church of England in the 16th century, for that day includes the wording:
"Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
The puddings are then left to mature until Christmas Day.  However, I remember my Grandmother making the puddings one year and allowing them to mature until the following year! This long maturing process is not uncommon, and the longer the maturation the better the pudding.

One tradition I remember from my childhood is finding a silver coin in the pudding. Traditionally, a silver sixpence is stirred into the pudding and is said to bring wealth for the coming year to the person who finds it ~ assuming they don’t choke on such a small object hidden in the dense pudding!  I always potched my pudding to see if I had the coin {and I now know this was often rigged so I would find it} before eating a mouthful!

Here are some silver sixpences that have spent time in Christmas Puddings. If you got the coin, you didn't spend it for if you did you would be giving your wealth away.  I can’t imagine doing any of this today because of health and safety, but it is what I grew up with and I don’t know of anyone who suffered because of the coin in the pudding.

Top row King George V 1921 and 1927; Bottom row King George VI 1943, 1945 {2} and 1948

Christmas Pudding is best eaten hot served with a brandy flavoured white sauce, or custard sauce, Brandy Butter, or any one of a variety of creams {plain or flavoured} that are now available to buy, or make yourself.

I recently read that an estimated five million puddings {equivalent of} are thrown out every Christmas. This is disgraceful and there is no excuse for throwing out your leftover pudding. You can reheat it successfully for Boxing Day, it keeps well and can be eaten cold like a rich fruit cake, you can freeze it, or you can make something else, such as a Christmas Pudding Trifle, or something fun to give to guests or as sweet treat gifts to your neighbours are Nigella Lawson's Christmas Puddini Bonbons.  No reason to waste pudding at all!

I shall depart this subject with one of the most famous literary quotes about the Christmas Pudding from Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" ~~~

"Mrs Cratchit left the room alone – too nervous to bear witnesses – to take the pudding up and bring it in... Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper which smells like a washing-day. That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook's next door to each other, with a laundress's next door to that. That was the pudding. In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit entered – flushed, but smiling proudly – with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quarter of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top."

Tonight's Yuletide Lad is Skyr Gobbler and he will be leaving on the 1st of January after he has sneaked into the pantry to gobble up any bowls of Skyr that have been left lying around.  Some of his other names are Skyrgámur,  Skyr Glutton, and Curd Glutton.

Skyr is quite delicious and I can understand why a hungry Yuletide Lad would seek out as much as he can eat!

Until next time ~~~
~~~Deborah xoxo

Sunday 18 December 2016

Christmas Countdown, Traditions and Trivia Day Eighteen

Hello Friends!

We're on the home straight now, a week from today it's Christmas Day. It is hard to believe how quickly this year has flown by ~~~

Here is today's Advent calendar picture and scripture ~~~


We have a lovely tradition in the cathedral at Christmas called Lilies for Remembrance.  Displays of pure white lilies are arranged on the altars, the font, at the bases of pillars, and in the small chapels and annexes throughout the cathedral.  For a small sum you may dedicate a lily to a loved one who has gone before.  I have seven names that I dedicate lilies to, and here are some of the images I've taken over the years of the displays ~~~

Here is a photo of the organ loft decorated for Christmas. I often feel the presence of my Grandparents when I look at the organ loft, for my Grandfather was Verger at the cathedral for 35 years, and my Grandmother was Housekeeper at the Deanery, which is just up the hill from the south door. I often sense they are standing there looking down on the building that played such an important part in both their lives, and which meant so much to them ~~~

Tonight's Yuletide Lad, number seven to come down from the mountains, is Door Slammer, also called Hurðaskellir or Door Banger. He enjoys nothing better than disturbing you while you sleep by making plenty of noise during the night by banging doors.  He leaves on December 31st.

Until next time ~~~
~~~Deborah xoxo

Saturday 17 December 2016

Christmas Countdown, Traditions and Trivia Day Sixteen and Seventeen

Hello Friends!

Christmas took over yesterday and I had to strike while the iron was hot, so to speak, so I am a little behind and rather than play catch up with two separate posts, I shall combine the two days. There's just over a week to go now and here is yesterday's and today's Advent calendar pictures and scripture ~~~

oh, dear, they seem a little out of focus. I dropped my camera two days ago, I hope I haven't broken it.

Something no Christmas seems complete without are the omnipresent Christmas cards that drop through our letter boxes by the dozen at this time of year. From humble beginnings to a multi million GB pound and US dollar industry, post offices across the world go into overdrive to process countless millions of cards every year. They come in every shape and size, any Christmas theme you can think off and more, and every colour of the rainbow in addition to traditional Christmas colours, and in every quality to suit every pocket, but do you know when Christmas cards were invented and why?

It comes down to two gentlemen, Sir Henry Cole and John Hallcott Horsley, in 1843.  Sir Henry, a civil servant, worked for the Public Record Office which was later to become the Post Office, and which he had helped set up. He was looking for ways to encourage people to use this new service and with his illustrator friend, John Hallcott Horsley, came up with the idea to make an illustrated greeting for people to purchase and send through the postal system to send Christmas greetings to their family and friends.  So, the first Christmas cards came into being. The first card showed a scene of family gathered around a table full of food as they celebrated Christmas, controversially raising a glass of wine in a toast.  Cards with religious scenes and other traditional seasonal images did not come until much later.

You can read more about the development of the Christmas card, and how it evolved into the cards we now post across the globe in their countless millions here or here.  It is quite fascinating, including information on official Christmas cards, charity cards, commercialisation of Christmas cards and more.  You will also find some charming illustrations of early cards ~~~


Last night the fifth Yuletide Lad, Pot Licker, came down from the mountains. He is also called Pottaskefill or Pot Scraper and will be here between 16th and 29th December.  Pot Licker will break into the house and steal any unwashed cooking pots, to lick any remnants of food from the insides.

Tonight, the 17th, sees the sixth Yuletide Lad, Bowl Licker arrive and he is considered to be the ugliest. He will break into the house and hide under the bed waiting for bowls of pet food to be put down for the dog or cat, which he will then eat, and lick clean.  "Askur" is a particular type of Icelandic pot with a lid. Also known as Askasleikir, he will return to the mountains on 30th December.

Until next time ~~~
~~~Deborah xoxo

Thursday 15 December 2016

Christmas Countdown, Traditions and Trivia Day Fifteen

Hello Friends!

Over half way now, and here is today's Advent calendar picture and scripture ~~~


I thought today I'd tell you about the history of Christmas Crackers.

When I was a child, these fun novelites were pulled at every Christmas meal and we sat around the table wearing the obigatory paper hat and reading silly jokes and mottoes that came from the crackers.  In those days in the middle of the 20th century crackers were not particularly expensive things, containing cheap paper hats and a silly, cheap novelty gift.  Over the years, however, even every day Christmas crackers have taken on a more designer quality with more elaborate gifts from a few luxury chocolates, miniature bottles of alcohol, travel sizes of toiletries, to jewellery and silk scarves. Making your own crackers and customising the contents to match your table decor and your guests preferences is also popular.

So how did the Christmas cracker come into being?  They were invented by an English gentleman named Tom Smith who had worked from an early age in a bakery and confectioner's shop in London. In 1840 he travelled to Paris, France where he came across the "bon bon" ~ small almond confections wrapped in tissue paper. From this simple beginning, the Christmas cracker evolved and developed into the elaborate and decorated novelty we know today.

If you would like to read more about the fascinating development and history of this tradtional novelty, you can do so here tracing the changes from Victorian love mottoes to corny jokes and riddles, and how the familiar 'snap' was developed, and connections to the Ministry of Defence.  There is even a rather sad tale of a gentleman who wrote to the factory in 1927 enclosing a diamond ring, a 10/- {ten shilling} note and a request for a special cracker to surprise his {future} fiance. Sadly, the gentleman overlooked to include his return address and the ring and money are still in the company's safe!

Tom Smith is still a leading name in the world of Christmas crackers and the company he founded is still run by family members, and is in posession of many Royal Warrants, including one granted in 1964 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and this is still held today.


The Yuletide Lad who arrives tonight is called Spoon Licker, or Þvörusleikir. He will be here until the 28th December.  Spoon Licker is extremely thin and malnourished and will try to steal dirty Þvörur, a type of wooden ladle, and lick any food found on them.

Until next time ~~~
~~~Deborah xoxo

Wednesday 14 December 2016

Christmas Countdown, Traditions and Trivia Day Fourteen

Hello Friends!

Just eleven more sleeps, as they say, until Christmas Morning! Here is today's Advent picture and scripture ~~~


Today I'm sharing with you the unique Icelandic tradition of Laufabrauð, or Leaf Bread {call me a romantic, but I'd really like to think that this may be where JRR Tolkien got his inspiration for the Elven waybread of Lembas Bread} and also sometimes called Snowflake Bread ~~~

Laufabrauð is a traditional Icelandic bread eaten at Christmas consisting of very thin "cakes" about 7 inches in diameter with intricate leaf~like patterns cut into the dough before they are deep fried in fat {or oil}.  Originally eaten only in the north of Iceland, it is now the custom across most of the country to make and eat Laufabrauð at Christmas.  It is usually a pre~Christmas family activity with several generations sitting around the kitchen table cutting their own patterns into the dough. Sometimes, a special cutting iron called a laufabrauðsjárn is used.

You can watch a clip of still images with dialogue from Icelandic Review here.

I was privileged to see this happening, some thirty years ago when I lived in Iceland, at the Árbær Open Air Museum in Árbæjarsafn near Reykjavik. I bought the paper ornament, below, as a memento of seeing real Laufabrauð being made ~~~

Tonight's Yuletide Lad, the third, is Stubby, or Stúfur, and is also the shortest Lad. He is also known as Pan Scraper and he will try to steal small bits of food left in the fat at the bottom of a dirty pan.  He joins his two brothers who are already here and will leave for his mountain home on December 27th.

Until next time ~~~
~~~ Deborah xoxo

Tuesday 13 December 2016

Christmas Countdown, Traditions and Trivia Day Thirteen

Hello Friends!

We're over half way to Christmas now ~ half way through December, that is. Here is today's Advent picture and scripture ~~~


For today's Traditions and Trivia I will turn it over to you. I've been asked by a few of you if I'll share some images of some of my ornaments, so I'm doing this today instead of research ~~~ so if you'd like to, why not tell me some of your traditions in the comments box? I'd love to read what you do too!

I used to decorate all out for Christmas and have quite a collection of ornaments, some vintage, some new {or they were new 30 years ago which makes them almost vintage now} and many handmade ones. I used to decorate one large, two medium, and several miniature trees each year, but have pared it all back since Mum can't cope with it all. So, this year I have just decorated my mantel and a shelf or two {I'm still decorating, by the way} to give a little Christmas cheer to the living room only.  Here are a few of my particular favourite ornaments ~~~

Let's start with the Crib. This is almost as old as I am, and I know many of us have one. Inexpensive, mine came from the long~gone traditional newsagent that stood on the bottom of the village square for decades. It was bought for me by my dear Nanna, and it has travelled the world with me in my hand luggage because if I only have one decoration at Christmas, this is it ~~~

Now on to some of my David Winter Cottages and Shoemaker Cottages which I bring out at Christmas ~~~

and some Cherished Teddies, which I used to collect at one time ~~~

some miscellaneous Santas ~~~

I made this from cotton paper pressed into a cookie mold

and the few of my snow globes that I have found {the box with the remainder is still waiting to be found, maybe one of the Yuletide Lads took it as he left last year!} ~~~

My Corn Angel tree topper ~~~

A Thomas Kincaide Tree ~~~ large enough for my small cottage ~~~

and a small stack of Christmas books {and a few that aren't Christmas but have Christmas things in them}

It isn't much this year, but it does bring an air of festiveness to the cottage for my visitors and guests.
Tonight's Yuletide Lad is Gully Gawk, or Giljagaur.  This Lad lurks in dark corners around Icelandic farms waiting for an opportunity to sneak into the cowshed and skim froth from the pails of milk.  So, tonight, two of the Yuletide Lads are abroad in the villages and farmsteads!

Until next time ~~~
~~~Deborah xoxo

p.s. don't forget to share some of your traditions, will you?