The truth about St Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day! I’m sure all of us at some time in our lives have sent Valentine cards, or longed to receive one… As a teenager, I can remember it being terribly, terribly important! It is really more of a young person’s event but some people are very good at keeping the romantic flame alive as they get older and go out for a nice meal, or buy flowers, Richard is a real sweetie and often presents me with a huge bouquet – but it depends how busy we are at work!

As ever, when one of these special days comes round on the calendar, I like to do a bit of sleuthing and find out the truth and more often, the myths behind it all…

Saint Valentine’s Day is celebrated in many countries A Valentine card from 1862.around the world. It began as a celebration of one or more early Christian saints named Valentinus and there are all sorts of martyrdom stories and myths about this era. But the day was first associated with romance by Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished.

In 18th-century England, it evolved into an occasion for lovers to express their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards known as ‘valentines’. Printers had already begun producing a limited number of cards with verses and sketches, called ‘mechanical valentines,’ and a reduction in postal rates in the next century ushered in the less personal, but much easier, practice of posting Valentines.

Paper Valentines became so popular in England in the early 19th century that they were assembled in factories. Fancy cards were made with real lace and ribbons, with paper lace introduced in the mid-19th century. In 1835, an amazing 60,000 Valentine cards were sent by post in Britain, despite postage being expensive. 

I think it’s lovely that we crafters still make our own and put real time, effort and love into producing our Valentine cards, rather than just buying a mass-produced effort which today are so often rather cheap and a bit vulgar – I know, I know, I’m showing my age!!

Have a lovely day, whether you are celebrating or not!

 

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Christmas stockings

My major task this week is to find lovely little stocking fillers for my daughter’s stocking. I realise I have very few Emily-free days before she is home from university and will be as nosy as a five-year old about where presents might be hiding even though she is now 21!

Christmas stockings have been hung for ages but there’s no definitive history, it’s all folklore or tradition. Some people just have presents in the stocking – all supplied by Father Christmas. Some have a stocking, and then Father Christmas comes along and leaves larger presents under the tree. In our family’s case, we have stockings, and then all the presents are from real people rather than Father Christmas.

We always leave gifts for the reindeer and Santa – I don’t mean for a moment that Emily still believes – but I think we all just enjoy the little ritual of carrots for the reindeer, orange juice for Father Christmas as he is driving (Father Christmas was a little disappointed about that!) and a mince pie or chocolate brownie depending on what’s in the cake tin, to sustain him through his busiest night of the year.

When the girls were little, it was easy to have a limit of £4-5 for anything in the stocking, now it’s so much harder. Not only have prices gone up – I saw a £45 cashmere scarf advertised as a stocking filler today – but also adults are much harder to find things for than little girls! As tradition dictates, there’ll be a satsuma, some gold chocolate pennies and then a few other sweet treats, the obligatory amusing bubble bath and sadly this year I have stooped to a parrot key ring that swears – not a very good example but it is highly amusing.

So it’s full speed ahead for me – a personalised cupcake making apron (she loves to cook), some underwear, funny socks … thank goodness for the internet!

So, what are your stocking traditions?

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Trick or treat… or a lot of nonsense?!

We know Halloween is almost upon us as the shops are full of witches’ hats, pumpkins and plastic skeletons! But years ago, Halloween had a much greater significance. Rather than leaving the dressing up to the kids, you would probably have taken care to disguise yourself before stepping outside. Read on to find out what else I discovered…

Halloween originated from the ancient Celtic harvest festival known as Samhain, marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, or the ‘darker half’ of the year. Looking out the window today how apt that description is!

People believed that, at Samhain, the spirits of the dead would come alive and walk among the living. It was believed that the spirits could more easily enter our world as the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was the thinnest on this night.

Feasts were held and the souls of dead kin were beckoned to attend with a place set at the table for them. However, the spirits could be malevolent, so people would disguise themselves to protect their own identity from the spirits – which is one of the reasons given for why we dress up­ in costumes today. 

The word Halloween, or Hallowe’en, dates to about the mid 1700s and is of Christian origin. It means ‘hallowed evening’ or ‘holy evening’ and comes from a Scottish term for All Hallows’ Eve (the evening before All Hallows’ Day). Over time, (All) Hallow(s) E(v)en evolved into Halloween.

Halloween is also known as ‘Nut-crack Night’, ‘Thump-the-door Night’ or ‘Apple and Candle Night’. Some people call Halloween ‘Bob Apple Night’ or ‘Duck Apple Night’. This comes from the traditional game played at this time of year and known as ‘apple bobbing’ or ‘apple ducking’, which some of us probably did (reluctantly in my case!) as children. A bucket is filled with water and apples floated in it. The contestants take turns trying to catch an apple with their teeth but must keep their hands behind their backs.

Some believe that apple bobbing is a reminder of the way women accused of witchcraft in the Middle Ages were tried. They were tied to a chair and repeatedly ducked into a river or pond –if she drowned, she was innocent. If she survived, she was declared a witch and burnt at the stake. It’s hard to believe that such a barbaric form of ‘justice’ should be remembered through an innocent-seeming game…

The origin of the carved pumpkin light, or Jack o’ Lantern, is unclear, but the idea of carving a Jack-O-Lantern specifically to celebrate Halloween was first recorded in the USA… but it’s believed that the idea arrived in America from Ireland where turnips, mangelwurzel or beets were also used. They were often carved with grotesque faces to represent spirits or goblins, while others believe they represented Christian souls in purgatory. They were then were placed on windowsills to keep the harmful spirits out of your home. 

Of course, many of today’s ‘customs’ originated in America quite recently and have travelled back to the United Kingdom including the controversial trick of treat! When I was a child it was unheard of and, when it started to appear, people of my parents’ generation took a pretty dim view of it and it has to be said I really, really dislike it, but maybe I am just an old misery!

So what are your thoughts? Is it innocent fun, or a Pagan tradition that should be stamped out? Do you answer the door to trick or treaters… or turn the lights out and pretend you aren’t at home?!

 

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Summer Solstice

Today, 21st June, is the Summer Solstice – a date that holds great significance for many people. For me, I always reflect on it being the real start of summer and enjoy it being the longest day… and try to ignore the fact that it’s now downhill all the way to Christmas! 

Solstice, or Litha means a stopping or standing still of the sun – hence the longest day – and it is the time when the sun is at its maximum height. 

This date has had spiritual significance for thousands of years as humans have been amazed by the power of the sun. The Celts celebrated with bonfires that they believed would add to the sun’s energy. Christians placed the feast of St John the Baptist towards the end of June and it is also the festival of Li, the Chinese Goddess of light.

Like other religious groups, Pagans are in awe of the incredible strength of the sun and the divine powers that create life. For Pagans this spoke in the Wheel of the Year is a significant point. The Goddess took over the earth from the horned God at the beginning of Spring and she is now at the height of her power and fertility.

In England thousands of Pagans (and non-Pagans!) flock to ancient monuments, such as Stonehenge, to see the sun rising on the first morning of summer. At Stonehenge the Heel Stone and Slaughter Stone, set outside the main circle, align with the rising sun – which must be a magnificent site to behold!

As well as all the annual drama and news coverage of the celebrations at Stonehenge, many more Pagans will hold small ceremonies in open spaces, everywhere from gardens to woodlands.

Let’s hope the lovely weather holds and we can all enjoy the longest day!

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The power of three

Have you ever stopped and thought about the number three? No, neither have I much, but if we do stop to analyse, it is actually quite an interesting little beast.

While that old saying ‘Two’s company, three’s a crowd,’ has a negative slant, the fact that three can be a crowd is actually very useful when it comes to arranging flowers and planting in the garden. It’s also a very important number to remember when you’re writing…

In appearance, an uneven number of things, three, five, seven and so on, always gives a more random, ‘natural’ look. A farmer friend of mine planted all his daffodil bulbs two by two in a regimented march across his lawn and, oh dear, did it look odd! If he’d done little clumps of three it would have looked much better.

I always plant my perennials in clumps of at least three, and the same goes for bulbs. Flower arranging, which I am trained in and did a very great deal of earlier in my career, works a lot with threes and the triangular shape, and the science behind it and how our brain sees things is very interesting…

The ‘Rule of three’ is a writing principle that suggests that things that come in threes will be funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things. And that sentence was itself an example of it!

Apparently, we are more likely to absorb information if it is written in groups of threes. From slogans – the Olympic’s “Faster, higher, stonger!” – to films, many things are structured in threes. Examples include the Three Musketeers, Three Little Pigs and Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

When I’m busy writing – whether it’s an article, a book or this blog – (that’s another three!) the rule of three does come to me quite naturally after all these years. At the moment, as some of you will know, I am working on a novel and, when I am trying to create dramatic, impact I do sit and chew my pen – well actually my finger nails as I type everything – and put a lot of effort into producing the most concise, clever and crafty sentences that I can. A series of three creates a progression in which the tension is created, built up, and finally released.

Will I succeed? Or will time, tiredness and tedium get the better of me…? Only time will tell. I’ll keep you posted on the novel’s progress…!

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