No bah humbug here!
Eek! As I write Mia is on stage in the opening night of Scrooge the Musical in Kentisbeare Village Hall. To be honest I have been a bit bah humbug about Christmas before now. I didn’t really see the point – the blatant commercialisation of it seemed offensive, as an atheist it doesn’t hold any religious significance for me, and maybe it just lost its magic as I grew out of the naivety of childhood. This year though, like Scrooge, I’ve found myself contemplating Christmas past, Christmas present and Christmas yet to come and I’m actually feeling rather festive…
The traditions of Christmas past have helped me come to terms with celebrating at this time of year, not in Christian sense but in an older, more pagan way of marking the darkest time of year by bringing light and life into our house in the form of roaring fires, candles, twinkly lights, trees, holly, ivy and sharing the fruits of our labours with family and friends. In 1753 the then owner of “Halsbeare”, John Frost, gathered on Christmas Eve with his family, friends and all those who had worked at the farm during the year to burn the “great Ashen Christmas faggot” (a bundle of ash sticks bound with nine green ash bands). This Devon and Somerset tradition symbolises renewal – a piece of the burnt faggot was kept during the following year to ward off evil and was used to light the following year’s Christmas faggot. The account, written by John Frost’s granddaughter Diana, tells that the faggot was “over six feet in length, its girth over five”. Wowsers! Presumably it was burnt in the huge fireplace in what we now call “the snug” and which is the oldest part of the Devon longhouse. Diana’s descriptions of the attendees (“the rosy-faced weeding woman”, “the fustian-coated men”, “the leather breeches boys”, “grandmother with brown stuff gown, lace cap so white and neat”) have brought the house’s history to life for me. They could actually be characters out of a Dicken’s novel! I see them in my mind’s eye having a rip-roaring evening singing carols and supping mulled cider in front of the fire. I so look forward to burning an ashen faggot (perhaps not as big as the 1753 one!) this year in tribute to Christmases past at Halsbeer and in thanks to everyone who has helped us since we moved here (including the rosy-faced weeding wwoofers).
Which brings me to Christmas present – the first Christmas in a new house is bound to be exciting – the thrill of decorating, anticipation of welcoming family and friends and of course, for us, guests in the cottages too. I wonder whether a house ever really feels like a home until you’ve spent Christmas there? It certainly feels more warm and welcoming with clusters of fairy lights over the fireplaces. I had to hold myself back from starting to decorate during November (wasn’t that a rubbish month? Well it was for me – what with a kidney infection, kids off school with norovirus, torrential rain leading to potential flooding and so on and so on. I’m glad November is over with that’s for sure). I decorated the conservatory with gusto on 1st December ahead of our very first workshop here at Halsbeer Farm, appropriately enough bedecking hand-made willow wreaths with fresh foliage and other goodies (such as scandi-style moss, dried hydrangeas and limes – who knew?) for our front doors. It went so well, the festive atmosphere was just gorgeous, so good in fact we are doing it all again on Friday morning for a few people who couldn’t join us that evening. I hope this is the harbinger of more fun crafty workshops to come next year.
I’m now getting ready to welcome cottage guests on Christmas Eve – 22 members of the same family. What a lovely vibe that will be, I love it when all the cottages are taken by one big group enjoying themselves. The (excellently decorated) conservatory has a beautiful banqueting table where they can all feast together on Christmas Day, plus we have a bountiful supply of board games and puzzles in the games room alongside pool, table tennis and table football to satisfy that competitive Christmas spirit. Not to mention the heated indoor pool to splash about in between mince pies. They won’t really need to go out!
So, what will Christmas future hold? Who will be here enjoying our special hidden valley next Christmas. Only time will tell. Maybe you’d like to book in to enjoy the Halsbeer hospitality…?
Merry Christmas one and all. No bah humbug here. xxx