Folklore Thursday: Celebrate January

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You might think the time for celebration has passed but the joy of folklore is that there is always something to get excited about. First out all, now New Year’s Eve is out the way, comes wassailing.

I’ve written about wassailing before (and done it). Carried out on 12th Night (5th January or 17th January, depending on the calendar used), the word wassailing originates from the toast ‘Waes hael’, meaning good health and involves toasting your favourite apple tree to encourage it to fruit abundantly.


Once you’ve secured your apple supply for the coming months, there’s Plough Monday to celebrate. Plough Monday is on the first Monday after Twelfth Day, 6th January. It’s the traditional start of the agricultural year, when workers would return to the fields after Christmas.

In the past, ploughs would be taken around by mummers and molly dancers, collecting money. They were often accompanied by the Bessy (old woman), and a man playing the fool.

Some people used the plough  as a threat, ploughing the front paths of anyone who didn’t donate to their cause. Others performed intricate sword dances, which I find mesmerising to watch. In Norfolk, Plough Pudding was eaten: a bacon, sausage and onion suet pudding.

I’m not the only gardener who feels the ground stirring. I’ve already seen reports of snowdrop and crocuses which makes me suspect an early spring.

While it’s too early to plant in earnest, you can certainly get early seeds in now. Chilli and basil can be started indoors. I’ve put coriander in too as I’ve had it sprout early before. Winter leeks, aubergine, early carrots (under glass) and broad beans (under cloches) can be sown now too. Sow peas indoors for pea shots too. If in doubt, check the seed packet as there are many variations for different times of year.

If you want flowers, you can sow sweet peas, dailies and petunias in seedling trays on windowsills now too. I’m seeing the first of the bulbs poking tentative shoots up and can’t wait to see the early spring blooms.

On 25th January comes Burns Night: whisky, haggis, neeps, tatties and cranachan for pudding – with Burns poetry accompaniment. Cranachan is a tasty mix of whipped cream, honey, whisky and raspberries, layered with toasted oats and sugar. I use blackberries saved from last year as a darker, delicious alternative.

It’s also Chinese New Year on 25th January so, alternatively, you could feast on dumplings and fish for prosperity. Make sure you clean the house well ahead of new year, to get rid of bad energy. As in UK folklore, it’s deemed unwise to sweep the house or clean on Chinese New Year’s Day as it sweeps luck away.

After dinner, red envelopes filled with  cash are given to children to bring good health and  luck – and suppress any evil that might be lurking in them. Lighting fireworks at midnight is thought to send evil spirits away. It’s extra lucky if you light the first firework (please think of the animals).

After Chinese New Year, it’s good luck to decorate the house with red lanterns and door gods. January 27th is also Day of the Rat in China – the day that rats marry – and people leave grain and crackers for rats to share the harvest. They retire early to avoid disrupting the ratty nuptials in the hope the rats will return  the favour by staying away for the rest of the year.

These are far from the only celebrations in January. Keep informed about folklore and you’ll have many excuses for tasty food.

For more folklore, follow FolkloreThurs on Twitter and join in with the #FolkoreThursday tag each week.


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