Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Reasons To Be Cheerful - January!

Hello and welcome to my first post of 2012! (Drums fingers and stares at the ceiling for inspiration.) The trouble is we may have a brand, New Year - but the weather is still damp, dull and grey. So to cheer everybody up lets take a look at what traditions January holds in store.
6 January - The Epiphany or Twelfth Night (or time to take the decorations down!)

Whether you want to call 6th January, Epiphany or Twelfth night (more of the differences shortly) this is the last day for taking your Christmas decorations down.
Epiphany is the easier of the two to explain. Named after the Greek word for 'manifestation' it was first celebrated as the day of Christ's baptism and took another four centuries to become associated with the visit of the Magi or Three Wise King's to the infant Jesus.
Twelfth Night came about in AD 567 when the Council of Tours decreed that the duration of the Christmas festival would be 12 days, during which time no one should be made to work!
Party animal.
Originally, Twelfth Night was marked with a massive party. From the reign of Charles II through to George II, in England the day was marked with masques, plays, pageants and gifts. Those with less money played games involving role play at being the King or Queen. To this end players shared a cake containing a bean, pea and clove. The bean represented the king, pea the queen and clove the knave. Whoever found the respective legume in his slice got to play that part. Samuel Pepys mentioned a Twelfth cake in his diary, when drew the clove and secretly placed it into his neighbour's portion!  
Sadly the fun part of Twelfth night seems to have died out, leaving us instead with a slightly sad day when all the fun and sparkle of Christmas disappears.
So what can we look forward to?
A plough being taken through the streets to raise money.
Plough Monday.
Plough Monday was the first Monday after Twelfth night and widely regarded as the start of the agricultural year. In 15th century England there are references to Plough Lights being lit in churches, these candles were kept burning to bring God's blessing on the farmers' efforts. But then things become a bit blurry, because some parishes formed 'plough guilds' to raise money to pay for the candles, and then raising money became an end in itself with ploughs being taken round from church to church for fund-raising purposes.
With the Reformation plough lights were banned as superstitious and the practice died out.

Saints Days.

There are a whole crop of Saints days to look forward to in January (tongue firmly in cheek) :

7th       - St Distaff's Day (when women started spinning again, after Christmas)
13th     -St Hilary's Day - reputedly the coldest day of the year.
19th     -St Wulfstan's Day - a popular medieval saint, now largely ignored
21st     -St Agnes' Day - young women could divine their future husbands on this eve.
22nd    -St Vincent's' Day - if the sun shines today, the weather will be fair for the year.
25th     -St Paul's Day - if the weather is good here, a great harvest could be expected.
St Wulfstan - who bizarrely has a cheese named in his honour.
Now, if that isn’t enough to make January more interesting, here is one final piece of trivia. The anniversary of the execution of King Charles I falls on January 30th. Charles was beheaded on 30 January 1649 - sending shock waves through English society. Reputedly, Charles had a favourite black cat called "Lucky" that kept him company whilst in prison. On the morning of the King's execution Lucky went missing….
Lucky...or unlucky for Charles?
You may or may not have gathered, that January isn’t my favourite time of year - far too dismal for my liking. But how about you? Is it a good or bad time of year? Please leave a comment to cheer me up.


  1. Great post, Grace. I love January as it's full of possibilities for the year ahead. So I begin it full of optimism - sometimes it lasts longer than the month! All the best for 2012.

  2. I applaud your positivity, Rosemary. I really must follow your example - it's the lack of sunshine that makes me gloomy! Still, nearly summer.

  3. Im a newbie to your blog and i love the facts and history. I dont mind January and agree with Rosemary that i feel its a fresh start. I have 4 cats so share your feline passion.

  4. Thank yo for leaving a comment, Autumn. It's so good to know that you enjoy the blog and great to say hello to a fellow cat addict!
    Happy 2012,
    Grace x

    PS The blog is updated every Wednesday so you should find something new each week.
    G x

  5. You missed the January thaw. But then I live in Florida where it's now 72 and sunny. I'll send a little sunshine your way.


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