Brightening the Dark Days of Winter

LightNicola here. Today is known as Epiphany, Three Kings Day or Twelfth Day. For many the date marks the end of the Christmas festivities, the day people take down their decorations if they haven't already done so the day before. It’s also the last of the Word Wench festive posts for this season as we head out into 2017!

We’re lucky that these days we have artificial light to help us face the long, cold and dark days of winter. Candles and firelight may sound romantic but I imagine that if I was trying to read or write in that sort of light on a daily basis it would get very difficult. Travel, work, cooking, all the elements of daily life are aided by light. Importantly a lot of people also find their mood is affected by an absence of natural light and so the darkness can pull us down and at the start of the year in particular, when Christmas is over, it’s important to have things that lift our spirits.

Many of the events and entertainments that are going on at the moment have their roots far back in history. The fun fair, the Three kings
pantomime and the carnival were all winter activities designed to entertain people when life was bleak. Coming back to Three Kings Day, El Dia de Los Reyes, is a particularly important festival in Spain and Latin America, but there are celebrations on 6th January across the globe, ranging from pageants and parades to the creation of special bread to share at family and community meals.

Here in the UK it’s pantomime season (Oh no it isn’t!) The origins of the panto date back to the Middle Ages and over the years have incorporated lots of different traditions from Tudor masques to Victorian music hall. The pantomimes are nearly always based on well known children's stories such as Peter Pan, Aladdin, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty etc. Pantomimes are performed not only in the top UK theatres but also in village halls throughout the country. Our local one is Jack and the Beanstalk. Audience participation is a very important part of a pantomime and it’s all very silly and fun. The audience are encouraged to boo the villain whenever he enters the stage, argue with the Dame (who is always a man) and warn the Principal Boy (who is always a girl) when the villain is behind them by shouting out "He's behind you!" It’s completely eccentric but it gets us through the winter!

BreadThis evening I'll be making cheese and rocket bread, in honour of Three Kings Day. It's delicious eaten warm, with a bit of butter and extra cheese! Are you a fan of speciality breads? What would you recommend to share to celebrate Twelfth Day? 

Welcome to December!

Hibernating dormouseNicola here, celebrating the month of December. I have mixed feelings about this month; on the one hand I find it hard to get out bed on these cold, dark mornings and would quite like to hibernate, but on the other hand I love the sense of anticipation about the holiday season!

December was the tenth month of the Roman calendar which is why its name is derived from the Roman WInter trees "decem" for ten rather than "duodecim" for twelve. The Anglo Saxons called the month "wintermonath" before their conversion to Christianity and "Heligbmonath," holy month, afterwards. Other ancient names refer to the winter festival of yule.

The traditional December weather here in the UK is usually fairly mild and damp, bearing little resemblance to the "white Christmas" snowy scenes on the Christmas cards. However in recent years there has been more chance of cold, frosty days in December and we are promised frost and possibly snow from the end of this week.  Elsewhere in the world, of course, Christmas can be hot and sunny. (Sighs with envy).

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