December 2017


December 28th

Another Christmas past, dear readers – I hope yours was as happy as ours, which we spent socialising with family and friends, feasting at home and in restaurants, and getting spoilt rotten with presents. You’ll be pleased to hear that Henry Wowler did quite well, too: Santa brought him a pouch of posh gourmet chicken & brown rice cat-food for his Christmas dinner, (which he scarfed down with record speed), two new catnip toys and three packs of crunchy treats. The latter were also greatly enjoyed by our most frequent festive visitor, young neighbour Ginger Jake, who regularly comes round to see what he can beg in the way of food and entertainment. He’s taken quite a shine to Mr Wowler, (manifested by constant attacks on his tail and attempts to provoke a play-fight, as you can see in the picture); and I assume Henry reciprocates the feeling since he hasn’t yet tried to rip the kitten’s head off (although he does sometimes clip him round the ear and say harsh things to him).

So that was our Christmas – but what’s it really all about, this extended festival which dominates our winter months, and which we may look forward to with very mixed emotions? That was a question I tried to answer in my new talk, delivered to the Doncaster & District Heritage Association on 13th December: The Story of Christmas. I learned a lot of surprising, and sometimes bizarre, facts while researching this most Christian feast whose roots lie much farther back in time than the birth of Jesus Christ. The original festival was held on mid-winter solstice, December 21st, to celebrate the passing of the longest night, the return of longer days and the promise of springtime renewal.


Evergreen trees were almost magical, potent symbols of survival in the depths of winter; our little stalwart (pictured) will be honourably retired this year and released into Beckside to spread its roots. Its prehistoric traditions of making light in the darkness, feasting and rejoicing persisted into the Roman period, when it was celebrated as Saturnalia, (the festival of Saturn, god of agriculture and the sowing of seed). It wasn’t until the 3rd - 4th century AD that the early church adopted December 25th as Christ’s birthday, in the absence of any more certain date in the Gospels; and not until 1038 that we see the name written in English for the first time, Christesmaesse (Christ’s Mass) – but underneath all the tinsel and modern commercialisation, that’s what we’ve been celebrating ever since!

Meanwhile remember that we’re celebrating in a more solemn way at Sandal Castle on Saturday 30th December, anniversary of the battle of Wakefield in 1460. Re-enactors will march in costume from Wakefield Cathedral via the Chantry Chapel and Manygates Lane, arriving at the Castle for a service led by the Bishop of Wakefield; and afterwards (from around 2.20 pm) will be on hand to talk about their costume and weapons. I'll also be there all day (from 11 am - 3 pm) in the Friends of Sandal Castle gazebo, selling copies of Herstory publications and a few bits of re-enactment kit - a proportion of takings will go the the Friends, so why not come along and do some spending?


Scrooge meets the Ghost of Christmas Present: an illustration from my new talk

11th December

So another festive season is upon us! Last week we enjoyed a fun night at the TBS Christmas party, where I entered this T-shirt design (left) for the 2017 Towton Arrow competition, and was pleased to come second to a worthy field, (albeit not as pleased as I’d have been to come first!). Still, the Society plans to use a number of the design entries for various purposes, and mine may well end up printed on a grey marl sweatshirt and/or a greetings card – which would make me very proud.

And although my recent career change means that I can’t deliver as many talks as I have in the past, I will be launching a new one on Wednesday evening: The Story of Christmas for the Doncaster & District Heritage Association Christmas party. It’s been great fun to research and prepare, and I’ve discovered some quite surprising things about this familiar festival – so I’m looking forward to delivering it for the first time, and hope that it might get further Yuletide bookings in the future!

T-shirt front copy

Something else we’re looking forward to is an exciting event to mark the 557th anniversary of the Battle of Wakefield on Saturday 30th December, which we and other Frei Compagnie members will be attending. Organised by the local Harrington Household, it will feature a march by re-enactors from Wakefield Cathedral to the Chantry Chapel, where a wreath will be laid in memory of Edmund, Earl of Rutland, who was killed near that spot; then on to the Duke of York’s monument on Manygates Lane for another wreath-laying; and finally, to Sandal Castle where the Bishop of Wakefield will conduct a service in memory of the slain. Weather permitting, the march will start at 12.40 pm, arriving at the chapel at 12.55, the monument at 13.30, and Sandal Castle at 13.50 - so if you fancy blowing away the post-Christmas cobwebs, why not come and join us?

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