O Holy Night

carol-singersI’d intended to include this section in my post about the history of Christmas carols yesterday, but decided against it when I realised I had more to write about than was wise for a single post. In addition, the focus on this carol is very appropriate for today, considering what day it is! Of course, carols like Silent Night and Hark the Herald Angels Sing, While Shepherd’s Watch and several others would also fit the bill, but O Holy Night was on my mind.

So here we are again, enjoying another Christmas Eve. Children everywhere will be getting very excited. What the heck …. I’m excited, and I want to wish everyone in Blogland a really wonderful Christmas.


Now for the serious stuff . . .

I was reading one of Natalie Scarberry’s posts a few days ago on her blog Sacred Touches and on it she’d put a video of my favourite Christmas carol, O Holy Night. I’d never heard it sung by male voices before (oh, my sheltered existence! 🙂 ) but I was pleasantly surprised. The finale is excellent.

O Holy Night has been my favourite carol since I was thirteen or so and a member of our school choir. Every Christmas we had a Carol Service in the church for school and families to attend. One year the choir sang O Holy Night, and the lead singer was a sixteen year old girl (who looked positively ‘grown up’ to me at the time). Her name was Gwyneth and she was Welsh – and she had an incredible voice. She hit the high notes perfectly, the sound resonating around the church. I tried to copy her for years!

I’ve found several versions of this carol on YouTube. Some are sung by traditional boys’ choirs, others by a variety of groups and trios. I liked several of them, but have decided to put two quite different versions here now.

The first video features the carol sung in the traditional way, the way we were taught to sing it (well, minus the soprano voice once Gwyneth had left school). The second one – the one I found on Natalie’s post – is a modern arrangement and really needs listening to all the way through to hear the finale.

So here’s the first version by Affiniti Music. It’s a wonderful combination of an amazing soprano voice, enchanting harp and beautiful violin, resulting in a very lovely Celtic sound – plus background orchestra and a great smile-jerking choir of cheeky-looking little boys.

Lastly, here’s the version I’d decided I wouldn’t like … until I heard it. It’s not the traditional sound and, being the old-fashioned type, I’d decided I wouldn’t like it even before I played it. . . But I was wrong. It’s very modern-sounding, and a lot different to the traditional versions I know, but the force of the male voices impressed me. The American accents add to the different feel to British ears, of course. It’s by Home Free.

See what you think . . .

The words of O Holy Night were written in 1847 by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure* a wine seller and poet. He was asked by the parish priest to write a poem for Christmas, and he obliged by writing the beautiful words of a poem entitled Minuit, chrétiens (Midnight, Christians). Realising it should have music to accompany the words, Cappeau approached his friend, Adolphe Charles Adams, who agreed and duly composed the music. I’d say they made a great team.

*Roqumaure is a small town in southern France.

Now it really is time for me to wish everyone a very Happy Christmas, Happy Jul/Yule, Happy Midwinter/Midsummer – or whatever festival your own culture or religion follows at this time of year.


A Chirp about Carol Singing


The word ‘Carol’ means a dance or song of praise and joy, originally written to be sung on various occasions throughout the year. Christmas carols are songs or hymns with lyrics specifically on the theme of  Christmas, and have been sung over the Christmas period for hundreds of years.

Singing and dancing at celebrations long predates Christianity. Over three thousand years ago (perhaps as far back as five) people would have danced and sung joyful songs as part of festive worship at stone circle like Stonehenge.

Early Christians adopted the pagan celebrations of the Winter Solstice for Christmas, giving people Christian songs to sing. The first known Christmas hymns were in Latin and date from 4th century Rome. Another famous hymn was written in 760 by Comas of Jerusalem for the Greek Orthodox Church, and it was soon after this that composers across Europe started writing Christmas carols, too. Unfortunately, they were still written in Latin and were not very popular as most people couldn’t understand the language. By the 13th century, few people were still interested in celebrating Christmas.

But things were already afoot to change that . . .

In 13th century France, Germany and Italy, a tradition of Christmas carols in regional languages became popular, under the influence of St Francis of Assisi who made the birth of Christ into a live theatrical event. The first carols in English appeared in 1426 in a work of twenty-five Caroles of Cristemas by Shropshire chaplain, John Awdlay. These were possibly sung by groups of wassailers or minstrels as they went from door to door.

Many popular carols of today originate from a collection first published in 1582, again in Latin. Amongst them are Christ was born on Christmas Day and O come all ye Faithful, the latter appearing in its present form in the mid-18th century (though the words possibly originated in the 13th).

During the strict Puritanical rule of Cromwell in 1647, Christmas celebrations became almost non-existent, those who still continued to enjoy them doing so in secret and risking severe punishment if they were caught. Puritans not only disapproved of general merriment, they did not believe in religious songs. Their strict ban on such things not only affected Christmas in England, but in some other English-speaking areas too (as in the Massachusetts Bay Colony).

Public notice from 1656 in Boston regarding the celebrations of Christmas. Public Domain.

It was two hundred years before Christmas recovered from this setback. In 1822, the English MP and amateur historian, David Gilbert, published a collection of old carols. Eleven years later, William Sandys published a volume of tunes still sung today, including The First Nowel (the Angel Did say), and Hark the Herald Angels Sing.

One interesting carol originally from the 17th century but later republished in 1833 by William Sandys, is I Saw Three Ships (come sailing in.)

I like the catchy tune of this carol although the lyrics are open to interpretation. In the carol the ships are sailing into Bethlehem – which is highly improbable as the nearest water (the Dead Sea) is 20 miles/32 km away. One interpretation is that the three ships refer to the ships that carried the relics of the three kings to the cathedral in Cologne in the 12th century. Another suggestion is that the ships are actually the camels used by the Magi, as camels are frequently referred to as ‘ships of the desert’. Other interpretations exist, too.

I like a few versions of this carol but I picked this one because I love the Celtic music and of course, the lovely voice of Orla Fallon (of Celtic Woman). It was uploaded to YouTube by iscrazy4horses:

In the 1840s, Christmas in England began to take on a completely new feel. This was due, firstly, to the intervention of Queen Victoria and her new German husband, Prince Albert.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, 1854. Photographer Roger Fenta. royalcollection.org.uk  Public Domain

Not only were traditions from the continent adopted, new music books were published to widen the appeal of carols. These carols included Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, The First Noel, Good King Wenceslas and It Came Upon a Midnight Clear (the latter a New England carol).

Here’s a fun version of Good King Wenceslas sung by Irish Rovers. It was uploaded to YouTube by BrothersCharles.

This is what the story of King Wenceslas is actually about for anyone who doesn’t know. I’ve quoted it directly from Wikipedia:

Good King Wenceslas  is a popular Christmas carol that tells a story of a Bohemian  king going on a journey and braving harsh winter weather to give alms to a poor peasant on the Feast of Stephen (December 26, the day after Christmas). During the journey, his page is about to give up the struggle against the cold weather, but is enabled to continue by following the king’s footprints, step for step, through the deep snow. The legend is based on the life of the historical Saint Wenceslaus 1, Duke of Bohemia…

Good King Wenceslas from a 1879 book by Henry Ramsden Bramley. From an engraving by the Brothers Grimm. Public Domain.  

The second reason for the increased enthusiasm for Christmas in the 1840s  was because these new changes were taken on board by a young writer called Charles Dickens.

Charles Dickens in 1842, the year before the publication of A Christmas Carol. Author: Francis Alexander. Public Domain

In 1843 he published A Christmas Carol.

Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol. Date 1843/2008. Photographer: Heritage Auctions Inc, Dallas, Texas. Public Domain

In the book, readers ‘see’ the reality of grim Christmases of the past compared to the festive, music-filled Christmases that had now become the norm.

Meanwhile . . . in Austria in 1818, the beautiful carol, Silent Night (Stille Nacht), was composed by Franz Xaver Gruber to lyrics by Joseph Mohr.

The English translation of Silent Night was published in 1859 by episcopal priest John Freeman Young (then serving at Trinity Church in New York). It has become the favourite carol of many people.

Christmases of the 20th and 21st centuries have continued to extend the Victorian Christmas as a festive, secular celebration, obsessed with tradition. The singing of carols was popularised still further in 1961 when the Oxford University Press published one of the most popular carol books in the English-speaking world: Carols for Choirs.

Many more Christmas songs have become popular over the last century, most of them secular ones. One of the most well-known and well-loved songs is probably White Christmas, described by Wikipedia as ‘a 1942 Irving Berlin song reminiscing about an old-fashioned Christmas setting’.

Christmas songs have become ‘big business’ nowadays and competition for top places in the charts is the norm. This video is of the song that topped the UK charts at Christmas for many years. It’s Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody, uploaded by Andrew MacLachlan. Not exactly a Christmas Carol . . .

We’ve come a long way from the austere, Latin hymns of early Christian times. Yet traditional carols from over the past few hundred years can still be heard over the holiday period around stores and markets in towns, and in restaurant and café – and we all love to sing along (well, most of us do!). Many carols have been given an upbeat arrangement, which – like everything in life – some people like and others don’t. We rarely see carol singers at the door nowadays (another thing people either loved or hated) but Carol Services in churches still take place, despite poor attendance at some.

All in all, to me, Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without these wonderful old carols.


1. http://www.whychristmas.com/customs/carols_history.shtml
2. http://www.bbc.co.uk/victorianchristmas/history.shtml
3. http://musiced.about.com/od/christmasnewyeararticles/a/carols.htm
4. The Long, Strange History of Christmas Carols:       http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/assessment/2011/11/the_long_strange_history_of_christmas_carols.html
5. Various Wikipedia sites on individual carols and people mentioned in the post.


WInter Solstice Celebrations Through Time


Last year on this very date, I wrote a post about the winter/hibernal solstice and how people have celebrated it through the ages. As the basics of that haven’t changed I’ve decided to reblog the post for anyone interested to glance at.

The solstice happens at the same moment for everyone worldwide. It occurs when the sun reaches its most southerly point (23.5 degrees: over the Tropic of Capricorn). Naturally this makes climatic conditions in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres very different at that time and the celebrations vary accordingly.

This year, 2017, the winter solstice occurs on Wednesday, December 21 at 10.44 GMT. (As I write this, the time here in the UK is exactly that!) This means that at ancient sites like Stonehenge, as well as many other venues worldwide, people will be gathering on Wednesday evening/night to wait for the sunrise the following morning. Having visited Stonehenge for the first time in early May, and written a post about the site, I can understand the enormity of its appeal as a venue for both the winter and summer solstices. It’s simply mystical and awe-inspiring.

I won’t say anything else or I’ll be duplicating what’s in the post. So here it is…

Millie Thom

Winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere over Asia

The word solstice comes from the Latin word, solstitium, which means ‘Sun standing still’. The December solstice is the day on which the Sun is at its most southerly point, directly overhead at the Tropic of Capricorn, before it reverses its direction and gradually starts to move north again.  The image above shows the winter solstice in the Northen Hemisphere over Asia.  (Author: Jecowa at English Wikipedia. Creative Commons).

To people in the Northern Hemisphere the winter solstice means the longest night, with the latest dawn and shortest day of the year, with the sun at its lowest point in the sky. The day after the winter solstice marks the beginning of lengthening days, as we head towards the summer solstice on June 21st 2016.

For those in the Southern Hemisphere the opposite is true: people will experience the shortest night and the earliest dawn, with the longest…

View original post 924 more words

A Fairytale Christmas at Doddington Hall


Doddington Hall is a family home located in the village of Doddington about five miles from the city of Lincoln, UK. It was built in the 16th century and is similar in design to other Elizabethan halls built at that time. I don’t intend to write about the history of the Hall at this stage, but here are a few more photos of the East Front as we approached after getting our tickets at the Gate House. The unicorn sculptures and topiaries are significant in that the unicorn is the family crest.

The Hall has a large estate on which Christmas trees are grown and a careful programme of replanting is carried out. We’ve bought our Christmas trees here for some years now but this is only the second time we’ve actually been inside the Hall itself – and I’m really glad we did.

Between November 29 and December 23 this year, Doddington Hall is open to the public at weekends (10-4 pm) and on Wednesadays ( 3-7 pm). It has been beautifully and imaginatively decorated to present a Fairytale Christmas, many of the main rooms having specific themes with scenes and characters from well-loved fairy stories. The team responsible for creating the wonderful displays include Claire Birch – who runs the estate with her husband James – several members of staff, florist Rachel Petheran, the resident cutting gardener, and lighting and production designer Howell Thomas with students from Lincoln College.

On entering through the East Front doorway we found ourselves in the Great Hall. This room’s long dining table is decorated and set for a festive meal for some interesting people or possibly elves/gnomes/dwarfs.

From the Great Hall we headed across to the Brown Parlour, decorated  as The Sweet World of Hansel and Gretel. One of the central items on display is a gingerbread cottage, and there are candy sticks and other ‘sweet’ items hanging from the ceiling and in jars and containers around the room. This room also had a Christmas tree and a nice old rocking horse.

On leaving the Brown Room we entered the hallway in order to head up to the first floor. The elegant staircase has not escaped themed decoration, either. A beautifully made green beanstalk (as in the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk) follows the stairs right up to the top/second floor where ‘the goose that lays the golden eggs’ sits on a fluffy white cloud. But it seems the giant has detected intruders and his lowering boot shows he’s coming to investigate . . .

On the first floor landing we were greeted by a friendly looking dragon made of willow . . .


. . . before we entered the first one of two bedrooms to view on this floor. This one depicted The Princess and the Pea story. An antique four-poster bed is cleverly piled high with mattresses with the princess lying on the top. Her dress sits on a nearby chair, next to a table on which was another Christmas tree.

Unfortunately, in the other bedroom on this floor we couldn’t get any photos at all as it is really dark in there and no flash photography is permitted. The whole room has been cleverly transformed into a scene from Sleeping Beauty. The princess lies sleeping in a four-poster bed for a hundred years whilst around her the thorns and brambles of the forest continue to flourish.

After being greeted by the goose and descending giant on the top/second floor, we headed into a bedroom decked out as Aladdin’s Cave. This impressive display was also difficult to catch on camera because of the glaringly coloured lights, which could have been partially countered by using flash. The lights constantly changed colours in ‘the cave’ so we have three different coloured genies and treasures. It was also difficult at first to pick out Aladdin’s lamp.

Also on the top floor is the 96-foot-long Long Gallery, the room in which people of bygone times would have walked up and down for their exercise when the weather was ‘inclement’ (unpleasantly cold or wet). This was a particularly beautifully decorated room: a snowy woodland fairyland and realm of the (absent) Snow Queen. At the far end of the gallery, a throne awaits any lady willing to be photographed wearing the queen’s crown and fur coat. Our photos of this room aren’t too wonderful either, unfortunately, as it is fairly dark, especially at the end away from the windows.

Finally, on our way down, we found this very pretty little elf on the first floor who kindly agreed to let us take her photo. Thank you, Elf, for posing so beautifully for us. 😀


I’m already wondering which theme will be chosen for next year’s Christmas decorations at Doddington Hall.

The Lincoln Santa Run 2016


Today, Sunday December 11, we decided to head into Lincoln to watch the annual University of Lincoln Santa Fun Run, organised by the The Rotary Club of Lincoln Colonia in aid of a number of local charities. The university itself sponsors Macmillan Cancer Support.


This was the eleventh time the Lincoln Fun Run has taken place, and just like the brilliant Christmas market held annually over the first weekend of December, each year has seen the event growing in size and popularity. This year, well over 2,500 santas took part – as well as over 200 canine ones. We’ve been a couple of times in the past but had never bothered to take photographs before. So today we went with determination!

The run was scheduled to start at 11.30 am, but we got there well before 10 o’ clock, purely to make sure we found somewhere to park – and to find ourselves a ‘viewing spot’ near the front in order to take the photos. Last time we went, we were a long way back in the crowds and all I managed to see was the odd flash of red now and then. 😦  So we mooched about and took a few pics here and there of the organisers making the final preparations to the route, as well as the gathering santas and supporters.

The ‘compere’ kept supporters entertained as we massed, and at one stage he asked whether any of us were visitors from distant places. It was interesting to note that amongst those were people from Australia, New York and California.

The photos below show one on the inflatable santas going up. The run eventually started behind this cheery chappie, at the other side of the castle.

Here are just a few photos of ‘The Gathering of the Santas’ – as we decided to call it. The santas in the blue suits were running in support of Nepal.

The ‘Run’ itself was a lot of fun and spectators added to that with their support of the participants. Some of the faster runners completed the 3.5 km (2 mile) run very quickly, but everyone was well encouraged and cheered on. The route involved two laps, part of which circled the imposing cathedral.

And lastly, here’s a short video we made of the ‘Run’. (No, I haven’t got a tripod yet! 🙂 )

The Holly and the Ivy … and a Little Sprig of Mistletoe

Traditional Christmas card with holly and mistletoe. Date circa 1880s. Author: Shirley Wynne. Public Domain

Over the last couple of years I’ve written a number of posts about Christmas traditions in the U.K. I’ve done posts about Christmas trees, Yule logs, Boxing Day and Wassailing. I’ve also written about the Winter Solstice celebrations and Christmas markets. So this year, my first ‘Christmassy’ post is about the use of greenery – other than the Christmas tree.

Evergreens such as holly, ivy, mistletoe, laurel, fir and yew have been used in Northern Europe since pre-Christian times to celebrate the winter solstice (December 21). Staying green in the middle of winter, and not dying like most other plants, meant that evergreens symbolised eternal life. Hanging greenery in the home would ensure that new vegetation would return with the coming spring, as well as warding off evil spirits.

Greenery was also used in Rome for Saturnalia, the mid-winter celebration in honour of the god, Saturn. Romans decorated their houses with greenery, lit candles and enjoyed feasting and exchanging gifts with family and friends.

As Christianity spread, pagan cultures continued many of their midwinter practices, despite the disapproval of the Christian Church. Eventually, by 1600, the use of greenery became accepted in churches, though it took on a Christian perspective.

Holly is perhaps the most popular and well-known of the Christmas evergreens. Its prickly leaves symbolise the crown of thorns worn by Christ at His crucifixion and the bright red berries symbolise his drops of blood. In Scandinavia, holly is known as Christ Thorn.

European holly (Ilex aqufolium) leaves and fruit. Author Jurgen Howaldt. Creative Commons

In early days, holly was believed to be a fertility symbol as well as having magical powers and the ability to drive away witches, goblins and demons. In medieval England, when people were very afraid of such supernatural beings – which were thought to be particularly active at Christmas time – unmarried women would tie a sprig of holly to their beds to guard themselves against such things. In Germany, holly was considered to be a good luck charm against the hostile forces of nature.

In the 1640s, during the rule of Oliver Cromwell when Puritans banned Xmas, Christian country folk still continued to hang up bunches of ‘holy’ boughs of evergreens as a symbol of Christmas. This became the holly bough we know today.

We have two, smallish holly trees in our garden. One has variegated leaves and red berries, the other is not variegated and has yellow berries (Ilex aquifolium Bacciflavia). I always think of Christmas colours being red and green, so we don’t usually bring any of the yellow one indoors at Christmas, but it’s quite pretty all the same. Here are a few photos of the two trees:

Ivy is such a common evergreen. Various species grow in so many places – often to heights of 30 metres above the ground. The following  pictures show just three varieties of the hedera species.

And these are a few photos from around our village. The bird table is in our garden and the ivy growing up it started life in a basket of flowers sent by one of our children a few years ago.

Ivy needs to cling to something to support itself – which, in the Christian view, reminds people of the need to cling to God for support in their lives.

In Roman times ivy was the ancient symbol of Bacchus, the god of wine and revelry. Due to such association with pagan festivals, ivy was banned from the insides of churches and Christian homes, and used only to decorate the outsides. In Germany, a piece of ivy tied to the outside of a church was once thought to protect it from lightning.

Nowadays, ivy has become part of the traditional Christmas greenery, particularly as part of Christmas wreaths that many people hang outside their front doors.

Before I say a little bit about mistletoe, here’s a nice little version of the old hymn, The Holly and the Ivy that I found on YouTube. There are several versions of it but I liked the sweet little images in this one from MyVoxSongNurseryRhymes.

Mistletoe is one of the Christmas greens that everyone knows something about. Kissing beneath it has become the norm at get-togethers and parties. Some people avoid it like the plague, other people scheme and plan as to how they can entice someone they fancy to stand beneath it.

One little snippet I read regarding the origin of the name ‘mistletoe’ did make me laugh. Apparently, the name comes from two Anglo Saxon words: ‘mistel’ – meaning dung – and ‘tan’ – meaning stick. So next time you stand canoodling beneath the mistletoe, remember that you’re doing it beneath some ‘poo on a stick’. (Not my words!).


Mistletoe is a parasitic plant which attaches to and penetrates the trunk and branches of a tree or shrub by a structure called the haustorium, through which it draws water and minerals from the host.

European Mistletoe on an apple tree in Essex, England. Author: Chilepine. Public Domain
European Mistletoe (Viscum album) on an apple tree in Essex, England. Author: Chilepine. Public Domain
Mistletoe growing in a tree in the Wye Valley, UK, showing white berries in medium close-up. Author: Alexbrn. Public Domain

The name originally referred to the species Viscum album (European mistletoe) found in Great Britain and much of Europe. Separate species occur in Spain, Southern Portugal, North Africa, Australia and Asia.  Over the centuries the term has broadened to include other species of parasitic plants with similar habits found in other parts of the world. The Eastern Mistletoe is native to North America. Viscum album is not native to North America but it has been introduced in California.

Eastern mistletoe has smooth edged, oval, evergreen leaves in pairs along a woody stem with waxy, white berries in clusters of 2-6. The Eastern mistletoe of North America is similar but has shorter, broader leaves and longer clusters of 10 or more berries.

Eastern Mistletoe (Phoradendron leucarpum) in Northeast Texas. Author: Loadmaster (David R. Tribble). Creative Commons
Eastern Mistletoe (Phoradendron leucarpum) in Northeast Texas. Author: Loadmaster (David R. Tribble). Creative Commons

Mistletoe is an attractive plant which provides contrast and interest when used alongside holly, ivy and other greenery, as in many Christmas wreaths and other arrangements of foliage.


The Romans treated it with great respect due to (what they saw as) its magical/mystical properties. Although all parts of the plant are poisonous, mistletoe’s healing powers have been recently recognised. It can be used in homeopathic recipes used to lower blood pressure and it may also have a role in cancer remedies. (The usual warning applies here: Don’t try this at home!)

Mistletoe was sacred to the people of ancient Britain and, as in ancient Rome, it was considered to have magical properties. In the Celtic language the name ‘mistletoe’ was ‘all heal’ as it was thought to cure diseases and render poisons harmless. It could also make humans and animals fertile and protect the house from ghosts and bring good luck.

Druid priests used it in their sacrificial ceremonies, and possibly, also in marriage ceremonies, and people meeting under a tree bearing mistletoe were forbidden to fight – even if they were enemies. The kissing custom is believed to have comes down to us from the Celts, so perhaps the friendship offered beneath the tree was the start of things.

Later on, hanging up the mistletoe in a house was originally done to ward off evil spirits, as was the case with most evergreens. The Victorians used it in doorways and hung it from ceilings and it eventually it became acceptable for the odd ‘mistletoe kiss’ to take place. Tradition has it that the more berries the mistletoe has, the more kisses are possible. With every kiss a berry was plucked until the berries were all gone and the kissing stopoed.


I’m adding this final picture simply because I like it!

The Mistletoe Seller by Adrien Barrere. Date: before 1932. Author: Adrien Barrere ((1874-1931). Public Domain.


1. Christmas Traditions and Customs:


2. Fashion Era: ChristmasCustoms -The Tradition of the Holly and the Ivy:


3. Woodland Trust:


4. Wikipedia:





The Midsummer Festival

In the Northern Hemisphere, the festival of Midsummer is traditionally celebrated at the time of the summer solstice, generally thought of a being on June 21st, though it can fall at any time between the 21st and 22nd, depending on the time zone you’re in. (Note that in the Southern Hemisphere, the June solstice is the Winter Solstice.)

The word ‘solstice’ comes from the Latin solsitium, or ‘sun stands still’ – the day when the sun appears to stand still as it reaches its highest point in the sky, an illusion which occurs because the Earth’s axis is tilted as far as it goes toward the sun on that day.

The Earth at the start of the four (astronomical) seasons, as seen from the north. Earth is far left at the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere, far right for the southern hemisphere.
The Earth at the start of the four (astronomical) seasons, as seen from the north. Earth is far left at the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere, far right for the southern hemisphere. Author: Tau’olunga. Public Domain

In ancient times, the festival associated with the summer solstice was primarily a Celtic fire festival, representing the shortening days as they gradually headed back towards winter. The ancient ceremonies revolved around beliefs in the power of the sun, which was often revered as the sun god. People would flock to join in with the all-night festivities whilst awaiting the first light of dawn. Midsummer bonfires were lit in the belief that they would add strength to the sun’s energy. In some areas of Scotland, Midsummer fires were still being lit in the countryside well into the 18th century.

At Stonehenge, the sun rises over the ‘Heel Stone’ and is framed by the great trilithon stones of the main entrance. These pictures from my Stonehenge post show the Heel Stone and trilathons (megalithic structures consisting of two upright stones and a third across the top as a lintel).

This diagram below shows the alignment of the sun’s rays through the Heel Stone, which can be seen outside of the circle at the bottom:

Shortly after stones erected an earthwork was built around it. 2

The Christian Church designated June 24th as the feast day of St John the Baptist, and in the U.K, from the 13th century onwards, Midsummer’s Eve became known as Saint John’s Eve, though it was still celebrated by feasting and merrymaking, and the lighting of great bonfires. St John’s Wort was traditionally gathered on this day as it was thought to be imbued with the power of the sun, and several other plants were also thought to be more potent at this time. Such flowers would be placed beneath pillows in the hope of wonderful dreams, particularly about future lovers.

St John's Wort. Author: Michael H Lemmer. Creative Commons
St John’s Wort. Author: Michael H Lemmer. Creative Commons

Like that of many festivals, St John’s Eve was seen as a time when the veil between this world and the next thinned and powerful forces were free to wander. Careful watch was kept during the night and it was said that if you spent a night at a sacred site during Midsummer Eve, you would gain the powers of a bard (poet). But, it was also thought that people could end up totally mad, dead, or be spirited away by the fairies. Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream is based on the idea that fairies were about and at their most powerful on this night.

The summer solstice is still important to pagans today, and many of them celebrate it at great sites like Stonehenge and Avebury. Some head for other stone circles and ancient monuments or hold small ceremonies in open spaces … everywhere from gardens to woodlands. For witches the solstice forms one of the lesser sabbats – or sections of the wheel of the year – their main festivals being Beltane and Samhain.

Stonehenge is always the most popular site at both the summer and winter solstice, and there are several videos on YouTube for anyone interested. This video gives a very brief look at the summer solstice sunrise at Stonehenge in 2015. I haven’t added the actual video to my post because I’ve no idea about copyright – and I really don’t fancy a massive fine!


Though many of the original traditions no longer exist, some were brought back during the 20th century. Midsummer bonfires are still lit on some high hills in Cornwall, a tradition that was revived by the Old Cornwall Society in the early 20th century.

Traditional Cornish hilltop bonfire on Midsummer Eve, 2009. Author: Talskiddy at en.wikipedia. Creative Commons
Traditional Cornish hilltop bonfire on Midsummer Eve, 2009. Author: Talskiddy at en.wikipedia. Creative Commons

Naturally, different countries have their own traditions, and this post would go on forever if I attempted to work through them all. The many Midsummer celebrations held in the United States are mostly derived from the cultures of immigrants who arrived from various European nations since the 19th century.

I’ll finish with a quick word about Scandinavia, where the festival of Midsummer is celebrated as much as Christmas. In Sweden, it is a national holiday called Midsommar. Houses are decorated inside and out with wreaths and flowers and people then dance around a decorated midsummer pole while listening to traditional folk songs known to all. As in many other countries, the Midsummer festivities include bonfires and divining the future, especially one’s future partner or spouse.

Midsummer celebrations at Årsnäs, started in 1963 at an international community on the west coast of Sweden, near Kode. Date: June, 1969. Family photo of Karim Aasma and Felix Aasma. Uploaded by Mikael Haggsstron. Creative Commons
Midsummer celebrations at Årsnäs, started in 1963 at an international community on the west coast of Sweden, near Kode. Date: June, 1969. Family photo of Karim Aasma and Felix Aasma. Uploaded by Mikael Haggsstron. Creative Commons

Mysterious Britain and Ireland
The Midsumme.co.uk
Office Holidays
Time: Summer Solstice

Happy Father’s Day 2016


I’m sure I don’t need to remind anyone that today is Father’s Day in many countries around the world. Many of us will have been out there this past week, hunting around the shops for gifts or making last-minute bookings at restaurants and such like. Well, this year, we’re all heading out for an evening meal in Lincoln. Our youngest son is once again abroad – for work! – this time in sunny Antigua, so he’ll be missed, yet again.  😦

Last year I wrote about the various customs attached to this day, and how it all started over there in the U.S. so, as nothing has changed about that, I thought I’d just repost it, with a few words more relevant to this year.

This image, courtesy of Pixabay, is particularly applicable to my husband, who was a motorbike fanatic in his youth – thankfully, before I met him!


In the United Kingdom, Father’s Day is celebrated on the third Sunday of June, in keeping with the United States, where the custom originated, and many other parts of the world. This is in contrast to Mothers’ Day, which has a very different history in the U.S. and the U.K. (Happy Mother’s Day) and is celebrated on different dates.

Father’s Day is a day to honour fathers and father figures, including grandfathers and fathers-in-law. Many people make a special effort to visit their fathers or to send them a card or gifts. As for Mothers’ Day in Britain, children spend time making their own cards, and gifts tend to be similar to those many dads get for Christmas – socks, slippers, ties, items of clothing or perhaps a mug with a slogan like ‘The World’s Best Dad’ or simply ‘Dad’ written on it. T-shirts, mouse mats, bags and T-shirts with photographs of the children printed on them are also reasonably popular. As for giving flowers, in the U.S. fathers were traditionally given the gift of white or red roses. The rose is the official flower for Father’s Day.


Wearing a red rose signifies a living father, while a white one represents a deceased father. I haven’t heard of roses being given here in the U.K. but that doesn’t mean the custom isn’t observed at all.

For some dads in the U.K. Father’s Day can be a day for being taken out and treated to a pint or two down at the pub. Some families make more of things and the ‘treat’ could be a meal out somewhere special, or one of the popular ‘Father’s Day’ experiences, like driving a rally car, tank, fire engine, or even an aeroplane. Some children pay for Dad to have a golf, football or cricket lesson with a celebrity coach.

A father holding a necktie cookie on Father's Day. Author: Dean Michaud, originally posted on Flickr, terms compatible with Commons.
A father holding a necktie cookie on Father’s Day. Author: Dean Michaud, originally posted on Flickr, terms compatible with Commons.

There are two versions regarding the origins of Father’s Day in the United States. Some people maintain that it was first introduced in 1910 by a woman called Sonora Smart Dodd who was inspired by the work of Anna Jarvis, the woman who had pushed for Mother’s Day celebrations. Sonora’s father raised six children by himself after the death of their mother, which was uncommon at that time, as many widowers placed their children in the care of others or quickly married again. So Sonora felt that her father deserved recognition for what he’d done. The first Father’s Day was held in June 1910, and was officially recognised as a holiday in 1972 by President Nixon.

Sonora Smart Dodd. Image from Wikipedia.
Sonora Smart Dodd. Image from Wikipedia.

Others in the U.S. say that Grace Golden Clayton from Fairmont, West Virginia, should be credited with the idea of Father’s Day, after she suggested a day to celebrate fatherhood in 1908, following the anguish of the Monongah mine disaster in December 1907. Officially, 362 men died, in that disaster, 250 of them fathers, leaving more than a thousand children without a dad. It was America’s worst mining ­accident. Most of the men were Italian migrants and the actual death toll is estimated at nearer 500.

Grace Golden Clayton, whose father was killed in the tragedy, suggested a service of commemoration for this lost generation to the pastor of her local Methodist chapel, and the first Father’s Day took place on July 5, 1908. But Grace’s idea didn’t spread outside this isolated mining settlement. It took off two years later, after Sonora Smart Dodd’s campaign – only to fall into disuse soon after until the 1930s, when it slowly gained official recognition. President Richard Nixon proclaimed it a national holiday in 1972.

I must confess that until I looked this up last year, I didn’t know the origins of Father’s Day in the U.S. I knew the custom started in America but, like many other people, I assumed it was either another money making racket on behalf of the gift and card industry, or a way of keeping things equal with Mother’s Day – which is partly true.

In our house, the children usually come round with presents around lunchtime. The usual gifts from our sons is some type of malt whisky, although there will often be a box of chocolates as well. The girls, Louise and Nicola, tend to go for something from the Garden Centre – or vouchers for him to spend there, as he’s an avid gardener. Our youngest son, who works in various places abroad, generally sends some kind of plant via Interflora or suchlike. We have lots of  plants and flower in our garden that started life in wicker baskets, and they’re doing very nicely.

One last note or two…

In Germany, Father’s Day (Vatertag) or Men’s Day (Männertag)  is celebrated differently from other parts of the world. Groups of men go off into the woods with a wagon of beer, wines and meats. Heavy drinking is common on that day and traffic accidents tend to rise, causing police and emergency services to be on high alert. Some right-wing and feminist groups have asked for the banning of the holiday. Father’s day with a kick, I’d say!

A Hiking Tour on Father’s Day. Author: Steffen Gebbhart at Wikimedia. Public Domain

In China, Father’s Day used to be on August 8. This was because the Chinese word for 8 is ‘ba’ and the colloquial word for father is ‘ba-ba’. It has now been moved to the third week in June to keep in line with other countries.




Yum . . . Easter Eggs!

eggs 3 (2)

I’d intended this post to be purely about Easter eggs, but decided I couldn’t just plunge in and talk about ‘eggs’ without first saying a little about the celebration of Easter itself. So that’s what I’ve done . . .

Easter is a Christian holiday which falls in the spring, the time when the earth renews itself after a long, cold winter. The date of the holiday is not fixed, as it falls on the first Sunday following the full moon that occurs on or after the spring equinox (March 20/21). This means that Easter will fall sometime between March 22 and April 25. In contrast, Christian churches in the East, closer to the birth of Christianity, celebrated the resurrection of Christ long before the word Easter was used. The word they used for the celebration was Pascha, which is derived from and linked to the Jewish festival of Passover.

The origins of the word, EASTER have been traced to the Scandinavian/Norse word Ostra and the Germanic words Ostern or Eastre. Both of these come from the names of mythological goddesses of spring and fertility (e.g. Eostre) whose festivals were held at the time of the spring equinox.

Ostara (Eostre0 bu Johannes Gehrts, 1901. Ostara flies through the heavens surrounded by Roman inspired putti, beams of light and animals. Germanic peoples look up at the goddess from below. Public Domain.
Ostara (Eostre) by Johannes Gehrts, 1901. Ostara flies through the heavens surrounded by Roman inspired putti, beams of light and animals. Germanic peoples look up at the goddess from below.
Public Domain.

Despite being a Christian celebration, many of the customs associated with the holiday are linked to far older, pagan traditions – including the Easter egg and the Easter bunny.

The egg is an ancient symbol of fertility and new life which has long been associated with pagan festivals celebrating spring. In Christianity, for the celebration of Eastertide, Easter eggs symbolise the empty tomb – or the stone of the tomb – a reminder that Christ rose from the grave.

The decorating of eggshells was practiced long before Christian traditions. Decorated ostrich eggs that are 60,000 years old have been found in Africa, and representations of ostrich eggs in gold and silver were often placed on the graves of ancient Sumerians and Egyptians as early as 5.000 years ago.

Ostrich egg shell with painted red lines. Punic artwork from Iron Age II. Current location: National Archaeological Museum of Spain. Photographer: Luis Garcia (Zarqarbal). Commons.
Ostrich egg shell with painted red lines. Punic artwork from Iron Age II. Current location: National Archaeological Museum of Spain. Photographer: Luis Garcia (Zarqarbal). Commons.

The Christian custom of the Easter egg can be traced back to the early Christians of Mesopotamia, who stained eggs red in memory of the blood of Christ shed at his crucifixion. The Christian Church officially adopted the custom, regarding the symbol as the resurrection of Jesus. In modern-day Greece, the custom of painting eggs blood-red is still practised:

Painted eggs from (present day) Greece. Author: Tony Esopi from el. Commons
Painted eggs from present-day Greece. Author: Tony Esopi from el. Common

In the earliest days, people gave each other gifts of eggs carved from wood or precious stones. The decorating of eggs for Easter is a tradition that is believed to date back to the 13th century. It is thought that the custom arose because eggs were a forbidden food during Lent, so people would paint and decorate them to mark the end of the period of penance and fasting. The eggs would then be eaten at Easter as a celebration.

By the 18th century, pasteboard or papier mache eggs were given, holding small gifts, and by the 19th century, cardboard eggs covered with silk, lace or velvet and fastened with ribbon, were fashionable. More exquisite and costly eggs were also being created in the 19th century from materials such as ivory and porcelain, and often inlaid with jewels. The most spectacular of these was perhaps the one made by Carl Faberge in 1887 for the Russian Czar and Czarina. Today this, and other such elaborate creations, are museum pieces.

Imperial Coronation egg, photographed at an exhibition in Rome.. Author: Miguel Hermoso-Cuesta. Commons.
Imperial Coronation egg photographed at an exhibition in Rome. Author: Miguel Hermoso-Cuesta. Commons.

Chocolate Easter eggs have developed from a simple type wrapped in paper to the more elaborate  ones in bright foil, packed in a fancy box or basket. The first chocolate eggs were produced in France and Germany in the early 19th century. Some of the earliest eggs were solid, and the first hollow eggs were very difficult to make as the moulds had to be lined with paste chocolate, one at a time!

John Cadbury began making his first ‘French eating chocolate’ in 1842, and by 1875, the first Cadbury’s Easter Eggs were made. But it was a slow business until a method was found of making the chocolate flow into the moulds. (I won’t go into the process by which this was done here!)

John Cadbury, founder of the Cadbury chocolate making company. Photo taken prior to 1889. Public Domain.
John Cadbury, founder of the Cadbury chocolate making company. Photo taken prior to 1889. Public Domain.

The earliest Cadbury eggs were made of dark chocolate, with a plain, smooth surface and filled with dragees  (hard, bite-sized, colourful forms of confectionery, with a hard, outer shell, and sometimes used for cake decoration. Unlike those in the picture below, many are spherical. Small, silver dragees are often used to decorate wedding cakes).

Jordan almonds - a form of dragees. Photographer: Alex Kasperavicius. Public Domain.
Jordan almonds – a form of dragees. Photographer: Alex Kasperavicius. Public Domain.

The outer ‘shells’ of the Cadbury eggs were decorated with marzipan flowers and chocolate piping. But more  decorative designs soon followed and by 1893, Cadbury could boast 19 different lines. The ‘crocodile skin’ finish of the shell came from Germany – a technique that was ideal for disguising flaws in the smooth surface of the chocolate. Nowadays there are many distinctive designs from different manufacturers.

It was the introduction of the famous Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Chocolate that made the greatest contribution to Easter egg sales. Today, the Easter egg market is predominantly milk chocolate.

The traditional decorating of eggs for Easter (both chicken eggs and artificial ones) continues in many countries today. Most are incredibly beautiful. This post would be far too long if I were to show some of these here, so I’ll leave the topic of Easter eggs with a link to a wonderful post by my blogging friend, Amanda (forestwoodfolkart) over at Something to Ponder About. As someone very much into art and decoration, Amanda knows what she’s talking about.

Me . . .? I just adore Cadbury’s chocolate!

Check out the link to Amanda’s post:

Easter Eggs – Traditional Art in Eastern Europe

There are many other interesting Easter traditions, such as egg-rolling, eating hot-cross buns, Easter parades, and Easter bonnets. Not to mention the Easter Bunny! But I’ll  leave those to talk about next year.

Easter postcard c early 20th century.Author: ItsLassieTime. Public Domain
Easter postcard c early 20th century. Author: ItsLassieTime. Public Domain

Happy Mother’s day

Like Christmas, Easter, birthdays and a host of other anniversaries, Mother’s Day comes but once a year. And like all of the others, that’s part of the reason why it’s so special. I’ve had a wonderful day with the family so far, and have so many flowers that the house looks like a Garden Centre! Mother’s Day in the U.K. has an interesting history, and as I’ve nothing extra to add to what I wrote last year, I thought I’d simply reblog.
Happy Mother’s Day to all mums everywhere. ❤

Millie Thom


It’s early morning and I’m enjoying some peace and quiet before my tribe of six offspring (plus partners and grandchildren) invade for Sunday/Mother’s Day lunch. We tend to spend Mother’s Day here, at our house, because we have the biggest dining table for seating everyone. Besides, I love to cook for them all. I’m also looking forward to receiving my selection of lovely cards, flowers, chocolates and whatever other knick-knacks they decide I might like this year. I’ve never asked it of them, but I sincerely appreciate all that they bring. It’s like Christmas all over again. And to think, my birthday’s less than a month away, too.

Well, today I thought I’d have a think about what Mother’s day actually involves in the U.K. and how it originated. I won’t delve into how the celebration started in the U.S. in 1908 – which, I believe, is celebrated in May…

View original post 569 more words