Saturday, 1 December 2012

Count-down to Christmas!

oday (or what's left of it) is the feast of Saint Eligius, who is also known as St Eloy or St Loye, and is the patron saint of goldsmiths, which seems highly suitable during the run-up to Christmas, especially when you consider that gold was one of the gifts present to Jesus by the Three Kings.

Apparently Eligius, who died in the 7th century, was a skilled goldsmith who became counsellor to the French king, but established churches and monasteries, helped the poor, carried out missionary work, and eventually became a bishop.

December, from Jean, duc du Berry's
Book of Hours.
Celebrating with real gold is a little tricky, but there are masses of golden coloured Christmas baubles and tinsel around at the moment, so it should be easy to mark his day with a bit of glitter and sparkle, and burning a golden candle would add a festive touch. And I guess it won't matter if you celebrate a little late!

Anway, It's the First of December, the year is almost at an end, and the final count-down to Christmas is under way, so I'm launching a seasonal celebration. Last year I celebrated with 'Adfest' over on my other blog (The Book Trunk), a kind of month-long Advent Festival where I looked at my favourite literary representations of Christmas. This year I'm marking the occasion here, on my original blog, by trying to find out a little bit about some of our seasonal customs.

December, as I'm sure most of you know, is so called because it was the tenth month of the old Roman calendar (decem is Latin for ten), and it kept its name after Julius Caesar reformed the calendar, and two new new months were introduced. The Anglo Saxons called it Winter Monath, or Yule Monath.

Many religions have major festivals during the month, which is the darkest time of the year, with the shortest days and the longest nights, and it is one of the most important times in the Christian calendar, celebrating the birth of Jesus. All kinds of traditions have sprung up and by now you should have baked your cake and prepared a Christmas pudding ready for boiling or steaming – after all, Stir-Up Sunday was back in November.

But many of you will have opened the first window of your advent calendar today, and I notice that lots of people have already decorated their homes and put a Christmas tree up, which does seem awfully early to me – when I was a child decorations and trees usually went up on Christmas Eve, and stayed up for the 12 Days of Christmas, before being taken down and carefully packed away for another year.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Pumpkin Lanterns!

onight is Hallowe'en when, as the old ballad says, the fairy forces ride... It's the Eve of All Hallows (or All Saints) Day, when ghosts, spirits and witches can walk abroad, along with all kinds of ghoulies and beasties (three-legged or otherwise) and things that go bump in the night... But, according to legend, you can keep the dark at bay by ensuring a fire burns through the night... 

All Saints Day was one of the great festivals of the Medieval Christian church, but Hallowe'en and its traditions seems much more pagan. It's the Eve of Samhain, the last night of the Celtic Year, before the start of winter, when crops had already been gathered in, cleansing fires were lit, and animals slaughtered and their meat preserved for the months ahead. At this time people looked to the past and future, and considered ageing and death, and the circle of life.
Shine a light! Jack-o'-Lantern candles.
The Romans also had a festival at the end of October to celebrate Pomonoa, goddess of fruit trees, especially apples. Nuts and apples were roasted on bonfires, to symbolise the food stored up for winter and, presumably, because they tasted good! It's an interesting link with the past I think, because apple bobbing is a traditional Hallowe'en game, and sticky toffee apples are always popular at this time of year.

These days fancy dress, parties, and trick or treating seem to be the order of the day, but but there are all kinds of customs associated with Hallowe'en, many of them connected with foretelling the name of one's future wife or husband. Church bells were rung to keep away evil spirits, and in days gone by lanterns lit for a similar reasons were carved from turnips, rather than the pumpkins used today.
I knitted a Hallowe'en tea cosy!
According to one tradition, if a maiden threw unbroken apple peel over her shoulder it would fall to the ground and form the initials of the man she would marry. And there were similar superstitions involving mirrors, candles, nuts and even cabbages!

I would suggest you mark the occasion by lighting a candle an reflecting on the summer that has gone, and the winter that lies ahead, and thinking about the good things in life, and the people you have known. You could enjoy a warm and spicy celebratory meal of course – pumpkin soup perhaps, and baked apples (with sultanas and golden syrup), cook up some pumpkin soup, or carrots .. something orange and spice would be suitable... and a glass of wine. And you could listen to Fairport' Convention singing Tam Lin here (and the rest of the Leige and Leaf album). And if your nerves are up to it you could curl up with a spine-chilling ghost story, but I'm afraid I can't recommend anything, because spooky tales aren't my thing!
More Jack-o'-Lanterns -sadly, I can't eat chocolate, but I
bought these last year because they looked so sweet, and
the family ate them.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Don't Burn the Cakes!

et us celebrate Alfred the Great, who died today in 899 AD. Alfred was the father of Ethelfleda, Lady of the Mercians, who is one of my heroines (I blogged about her here), so I thought he desreved a mention. Alfred is, of course, famous for burning the cakes: he was (allegedly) hiding from the Danes in a humble cottage belonging to an old woman who asked him to keep on eye on her baking while she popped out for a bit, and the king (allegedly) forgot. He obviously lacked the culinary skills of the delectable Paul Hollywood, who I am sure would have had something to say about the disaster!
King Alfred, pictured in a 13th century
I must admit I always have a tendency to muddle Alfred up with King Arthur and Hereward the Wake, producing a composite figure of a heroic, mythical leader charging about the marshy countryside righting wrongs and repelling all invaders, with a little help from God and a magical wizard...

Anyway, Alfred became king of Wessex in 872 and won a series of key battles against the Danes before negotiating a treaty with them in 886, which established that land to the north and east of England (roughly the area between the Thames and the Tees) was subject to Danish law. Alfred hung on to Wessex, and also gained West Mercia and Kent. Think of the outcome as being like the football results – Invading Pagan Danish l, True Blue Christian Brits 3!

The pact put Alfred into a much stronger position (top of the league, but under threat of demotion, as it were) and gave him a chance to protect his new, enlarged kingdom by improving the army, erecting fortifications throughout the southern part of the country, and creating a navy to protect the coast. In addition to being a great military leader, he was an able civil administrator: he reformed coinaged, introduced a fairer justice system, and new laws, and promoted learning, especially for churchmen. It is believed that he learned Latin when hewas in his thirties, and helped translate books into Anglo-Saxon.

He supported the church and is said to have been a friend of Pope Marinus, who is thought to have given him gifts, including a piece of the True Cross. There always seems to be a lot of supposition involved in this period of history – early records are not always to be relied on, as they don't always separate fact from fiction.

By the time he died, at the age of 50, Alfred (who is the only English king to be known as'the Great'), he had pulled much of the south of England into a single realm, with unified laws and money, and he was known as the King of the Anglo Saxons on coins and documents. He was buried in Winchester, which was his capital city.

I think it's worth remembering his achievements, and there's only one possible way of celebrating – with cake! I doubt that Anglo Saxon cakes (I'm sure they had them) cooked on hot stones over an open fire were not as tasty as those available today, but there's plenty of choice, so just select your favourite. And to accompany it raise a glass of wine to the king who could rule a kingdom – but didn't know how to bake cakes!
The Alfred Jewel, which is kept in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford. It's use
 is unknown, but it is inscribed with the words 'aelfred mec heht gewyrcan' -
Anglo Saxon for 'Alfred had me made'.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Buy New Shoes for St Crispin!

Today is the Feast of St Crispin, when a handful of stout-hearted English archers beat the mighty French army at Agincourt way back in 1415. Remember Henry V, and Shakespeare, and that stirring speech? But St Crispin is also the patron saint of shoemakers (or one of them – there's St Hugh as well). According to legend he and his brother Crispinian were Romans, who were martyred in Gaul, where they preached the Gospel by day and made shoes by night – which is why he has special significance for shoemakers.
In Medieval times shoe and boot makers were given the day off, for feasting and celebration, but since you are likely to be give a holiday, I suggest you mark the occasion by buying new shoes! And you could read 'The Elves and the Shoemaker', by the Brothers Grimm, which is one of my favourite fairy tales, or 'The shoes of Salvation', by Edward Monkton, which is a very small and very funny cartoony book about a woman who buys uncomfortable, expensive shoes, but she doesn't care because they make her feel so good!
Shall I wear cheerful pink sneakers to celebrate St Crispin?

You could get in the party mood by listening to Elvis singing Blue Suede Shoes and, if you can get hold of it, you could watch the old black and white classic 'Hobson's Choice', starring the late, great Charles Laughton in one of his funniest roles, and a young John Mills as bootmaker Will Mossop, whose life is turned around when the boss's eldest daughter takes a fancy to him. You could watch Red Shoes, with Moira Shearer (another wonderful old movie) but personally I think it's much too sad to be celebratory.

I can't think of any food featuring shoes. I did once read that during the seige of Paris in the Franco-Prussian War of the 19th century starving residents boiled leather shoes and ate them, but I don't think that's to be recommended. What about choux buns? It's spelled differently, and it's nothing to do with footwear, but it sounds the same, and choux buns (with cream) are one of life's great pleasures.

So there you are, lots to choose from to celebrate St Crispin. And if you're not a shoe enthusiast, why not turn to Shakespeare - read Henry V, or better still watch the Kenneth Brannagh film.
From 'The shoes of Salvation', by Edward Monkton

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Sunday Scatterings

Good Morning All! I have decided to try and reactivate this blog, on an occasional basis (but more occasional than once every three months, I hope!) so it can run alongside The Book Trunk, and I can write about things that are not book related. It will be good to try and get it up and running again, because this was my original blog, started when I was a very novice computer user – I never, ever got to grips with the in-house system at work, and remained petrified of computers until, following redundancy, I embarked on an IT course at our local college.

Then, during the snowy winter of 2010, I broke a toe, hurt my back, and had a cold I couldn't shift, so I sat at home feeling very sorry for myself. My younger daughter, trying to cheer me up, said: “Do something positive. You're learning about computers - write a blog.” So I did, and you see my very first post here. Gradually the books took over, and I set up The Book Trunk, and although I tried to keep this one going, it kind of lost direction.

So for starters, while I try to organise myself, here is a piece posted on The Sunday Salon, hosted by Carrie K, which only mentions books once, and shows that I don't spend all my time with my head in a book. So this is what I'm doing today:
Embroidering: I bought a kit of a map of Yorkshire for £3.49 in a charity shop - a real bargain, because it had never been taken out of the pack, and usually sells for almost £36. I've oversewn the edges of the linen, to stop it fraying, and done lines of running stitches (horizontal and vertical) to mark the centre. Now I have to put it on a frame to keep the material taut, and then I can start stitching. Looking at this, I realise that large parts of Yorkshire were settled by the Vikings, so there is a Nordic connection going on in my life today.
Reading: 'A Winter Book', by Finnish author Tove Janssen (who wrote the Moomintroll stories). This a collection of short tales, drawn from her own life, which I am enjoying very much, and would recommend to anyone. See what I mean about the Scandanavian links?

Listening: 'Finlandia', by Sibelius, is one of my favourites, and seemed a suitable choice. Music from the far north – blame my Norwegian ancestry.
Enjoying: The sun is shining after days of rain, high winds, and low temperatures, so I may venture into the garden at some point to do battle with the snails and weeds, which are flourishing after all that rain. And I have some plants my mother gave me last week, which are still sitting in containers, and really need to be planted out. Did the Vikings have gardens I wonder?
Shopping: We are like Old Mother Hubbard and the cupboards are bare. The vegetable basket is empty, because yesterday I used all the left-over vegetables to make soup; the fridge is empty, because I cleaned it, and threw out all the oddments lurking inside, and the freezer is almost empty - it contains ice-cream and chips, but precious little else. Plus, of course, we need cat food. We always need cat food. It doesn't matter how much I buy, it disappears really quickly. I like to think The Cat is helping himself, but in reality it is our fault, because every time anyone goes in the kitchen he mithers for food, so we all feed him, several times a day and he is, as you can see, a Fat Cat.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Walking in the Snow

I looked out of the window this morning, to see more snow: not a lot, more of a sprinkling or dusting than a covering, but it did look pretty, so I went out early, with my camera, and walked down into town., and took this photo of Tamworth Castle perched on its snow-covered mound.
The canal was frozen, and looked more than a little bleak, with no sign of life – last year I watched ducks skidding and skating on the ice, but they ere nowhere to be seen today. 
Not grass, but daffodils!
In MacGregor Park daffodils were pushing their way through the snow, lots and lots of green leaves, still far too small for flowers, but it’s a sure sign that spring is on the way, and it won’t be long until the grass on either side of the path is a carpet of flowers. 
In the swim... geese and ducks on the river.
I walked under the Arches and alongside the river, watching the ducks and the geese on the Anker. The ducks are mallards, but I have no idea about the geese: I looked at photographs I took, and then looked online in a bid to identify them, but I’m really not sure – Canada geese maybe? The Castle Grounds, as ever, were really beautiful, and the Castle was wonderful. I love the Castle, and the way it is always different, depending on the weather, the light, the time of day, the season of the year. Even the colour of the stone it is built from varies. 
The River Anker inTamworth's Castle rounds.
There seemed to be fewer birds around than usual, but a few grey squirrels were out and about, bold and bright-eyed, foraging for food I suppose. As far as plants go, it’s too early for flowers to blooming in the terraced garden, but there are so many trees and shrubs with interesting leaves, trunks and stems that the lack of other colour really doesn’t matter.
Warrior in the snow... he's made from those tiny
flowers used for floral clocks, and is either Saxon or
Viking - I can never remember which!
Walking back through the town centre to the bus stop (it’s uphill on the way home, and I was cold) I treated myself to a bag of toffee bon-bons, or snowballs as I’ve always called them, which seemed considerably smaller than they used to be.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Cuthman Carried his Mum in a Wheelbarrow!

Let us all remember St Cuthman who is, quite possibly, the only person to have hailed his ailing mother around in a wheelbarrow. It is to be hoped that this rather unusual mode of transport was in better condition than the rusting wheelbarrow with the wonky wheel which sits at the end of our garden and has never been known to steer a straight (or smooth) path – otherwise the poor woman’s journey would have been most uncomfortable.

A statue of Cuthman created by Penny Reeve.
According to legend the saint, whose feast day is today, lived at the end of the 7th and beginning of the 8th centuries, and was a shepherd who looked after his paralysed mother. Forced to beg for a living, he built a wheelbarrow so he could pull his mother around with him. When his towing rope broke he used willow branches instead, promised that when they snapped he would take it that God wanted him to stop at that point, and he would build a church.   

His journey came to an end at Steyning, in Sussex, so there he stopped and built a church (having first constructed a hit where he and his mother could live – he was obviously a practical sort of a chap). He had divine help with his place of worship, for as he struggled with a roofbeam a stranger gave assistance, telling Cuthman: “I am he in whose name you are building this church.” The church said to have been founded by him is now called St Andrew’s, but it includes a chapel has been dedicated to him.

A stained glass window in the chapel that bears his name shoes
St Cuthman pulling the wheelbarrow whicch bears his mother. 
The saint has also been connected with nearby Chanctonbury Ring. A local story claims the Devil wanted to dig a channel to let seawater flood Sussex and drown everyone, but Cuthmann discovered the plan by knocking a cockerel off its perch and holding a candle behind a sieve, so the Devil thought dawn had arrived, and ran away, leaving behind him the mounds of earth from his digging, which formed hills, including Chanctonbury Ring.

Another tale recounts how Cuthman once used his staff to draw a circle round his sheep while he went to get food, and when he returned the sheep had not moved a step outside this invisible boundary.

I had thought of celebrating his life by using our wheelbarrow to tidy the garden, but I spent much of the day helping to spring clean the Oxfam bookshop where I am a volunteer, and by the time I returned it was much too late to venture out into the garden, so I got my needles and wool out and have been sitting knitting, which strikes me as being a good way to mark the occasion. However, should you wish for a more festive activity I suppose you could feast upon roast lamb.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Happy Birthday to Sir Robert Peel

Sir Robert Peel - 224 years old today!

Living in Tamworth it’s hard to avoid Sir Robert Peel, founder of the Metropolitan Police Force, who served two terms of office as Prime Minister, and developed a pig which was named after the town. Peel, who represented Tamworth in Parliament, is also known for repealing the Corn Laws, laying the foundations of the modern Conservative Party, and building a stately pile at Drayton Manor – now the site of a theme park.

Today is his birthday: he was born in Bury in 1788, which makes him 224. Should you wish to mark the occasion I would suggest cakes, buns or biscuits would be highly suitable, given the link with Corn Laws. You could, of course, cook pork, or ham, or bacon but, as a vegetarian, I’m not sure I should encourage you to eat meat. Come to that, I’m not sure I should encourage anyone to celebrate the birth of a Tory politician, but he is an interesting historic figure.
Anyway, back to more serious matters. By the early 1790s the Peels had moved from Lancashire to Staffordshire, where they set up home in an old manor house at Drayton Bassett, just outside Tamworth. The future PM’s grandfather had made a fortune printing calico cloth with coloured designs, including a popular parsley leaf pattern which earned him the nickname Parsley Peel. Once in Tamworth the family continued to print fabric, and also established a cotton mill in the town. In addition they rented the historic Castle and installed a forge in the Great Hall – a form of industrial vandalism which seems to have bothered no-one at the time.
Tamworth Pigs, said to have been bred by Sir Robert Peel,
are known as Sandybacks because of their reddinsh sndyish colour.
Peel’s father was the first ‘cotton king’ to become an MP (representing Tamworth) and the young Robert was educated at Harrow and Oxford before he became MP for Cashel, in Ireland, aged just 21, and rose rapidly though the Tory ranks. In 1813 he was Chief Secretary in Dublin, and the following year he founded the Royal Irish Constabulary. Over the years that followed he changed constituencies, holding seats in Chippenham, Oxford University and Westbury before he took over his father’s Tamworth constituency in 1830, a position he held until his death in 1850.

A 'Peeler' pictured roundabout 1850
He became Home Secretary in 1822, and his best known initiative from that period was the founding of the Metropolitan Police Force in 1829 – the officers were nicknamed Peelers, or Bobbies, a term still in use today. However, he was also responsible for overhauling criminal laws; introduced a proper system of payment for jailers; made for provision for the education of prisoners, and cut the number offences which carried the death penalty.

After a period in opposition, in December 1834 Sir Robert Peel drew up the Tamworth Manifesto (which, according to legend, was read to the people from a window in the Town Hall). This document outlined the actions he hoped to take. It was the first time a politician had pledged his policies so openly, and established a procedure which is still being followed by modern political leaders. It is also regarded as the point at which the Tories began the journey that eventually resulted in the creation of the Conservative Party. Peel became Prime Minister, but he led a minority Government and held the position for just a few months, resigning in April 1835, when the Whigs seized control.

I took this photo of Tamworth's
Perl Statue  because I liked the showy cape and cap.
Four years later Queen Victoria asked him to form a Government, prompting what became known the Bedchamber Crisis. Peel, concerned that many of the Queen’s Ladies were the wives and daughters of prominent Whigs, asked for some of them to be replaced with Tory supporters, but the Queen rejected the idea – so Peel refused to form a Government. However, in 1841 the Tories were back in power and he was Prime Minister for the next five years.

In 1848, supported by Whigs and Radicals – but not by his own party - he repealed the Corn Laws, which were originally introduced to safeguard the livelihoods of British farmers and landowners. It is often claimed that he took this action so more food would be available for victims of the Irish potato famine, but it is also possible that he supported free trade At any rate, the decision led to his resignation, and overshadowed his other legislation, including acts which stopped women and children working underground, and limited the length of time they could work in factories.

Peel and his wife Julia had five sons and two daughters and lived at Drayton Manor, the stately home he built on the site of the old manor house in the early 1930s. It was very fashionable, very modern, and had the best of everything – including a central heating system which was admired by Queen Victoria when she stayed there with Prince Albert in 1843. Sadly, the house stood for less than a century and was demolished in 1929, and today only the clock tower remains.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Port and Custard Tart

On this day in 1488 Portugese navigator and explorer Bartholomew Diaz (now referred to as Bartolomeu Dias) sailed around the Cape of Good Hope, travelling further south than any European before him. He was hunting for a sea route to India, so precious spices could be brought back more cheaply than by following overland trade routes. Although he didn’t reach India – apparently his unhappy crew forced him to return home – he proved it was possible to travel to India by sea, and the charts he drew helped Columbus and Vasco da Gama on their voyages.

Diaz named the area at the southern tip of Africa as Cabo das Tormentas (the Cape of Storms), because of the awful weather. However, King John II of Portugal, who had ordered the trip, was optimistic that Diaz’ discovery would open up a new and profitable trade route with the east, so he called the area Cape of Good Hope, or Cabo da Boa Esperança.

In 1497 Diaz sailed to India with Vasco da Gama, and in 1500 he travelled with Pedro Álvares Cabral on a journey which saw the discovery of Brazil, before the expedition made its way towards the south African coast, where Diaz died in a shipwreck during a fierce storm off the Cape.

I thought the statue of him on the South African High Commission building in London (see above left) is interesting, because he looks just like the Portugese soldiers or sailors who appear on the bronze plaques and statues made in Benin City (where modern Nigeria is), which I studied as part of an OU course. The bronzes were largely created during the 15th and 16th centuries (when the Portugese empire was at its height), and some show Portugese visitors alongside the kings of Benin. .They were made from bronze bracelets, which traders from Portugal exchanged for slaves.

Anyway, I felt Diaz’ voyage of 1488 should be marked in some way, so I may have a go at making pasties de Belem, or pasties de nata (that’s Portugese custard tarts in English), which were first made by monks looking for a way to use left-over egg yolks, because they used egg whites to starch clothes and clear the sediment from wine. Wine, of course, would be another way to celebrate – providing it is Portugese. Or some port might be nice.

Meanwhile I am going to sit and read Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s ‘Sonnets from the Portugese’, so-called because Robert Browing called her his little Portugese. And for a musical accompaniment there’s Wagner’s ‘The Flying Dutchman’, since the ghostly vessel is supposed to haunt the stormy waters off the Cape.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Time to Light a Candle

‘Tis Candlemas today, the time when candles were blessed so they could be used for services in the year ahead. In addition, members of the congregation were each given a candle to take home, which could be lit if they needed protection from the devil during times of crisis, such thunderstorms, childbirth, and serious illness, or when crops were threatened by drought, hail or frost. In the evening people placed lighted candles in their windows, to keep the dark at bay and welcome Christ, the Light of the World.

The custom, apparently, marks the ritual purification of Mary, 40 days after the birth of Jesus, and his presentation to God in the Temple at Jerusalem, where he was held by Simeon who had been told he would not die until he had seen ‘the Lord’s Christ’, and called the baby a Light to the World. As I understand it, the prayer ‘Nunc Dimittis’, which is said at the end of the day, is supposed to be what Simeon said:
Now dismiss Thy servant, O Lord,
In peace, according to Thy word;
For mine own eyes have seen Thy salvation,
Which Thou hast prepared in the sight of all people,
A light to reveal Thee to the nations,
And the glory of Thy people, Israel.
I don’t know how far back the customs of Candlemas dates, but Henry VIII ordered that ‘the bearynge of Candels’ should be done in ‘memorie of Christe, the spirituall lyghte whom Simeon dyd prophecye’, and maybe his order formalised an earlier practice.

Christ th Light of the World, by
William Holman Hunt
Like many other Christian festivals there are all kinds of traditions and customs associated with the day, some of which may have pagan origins. At the end of January and beinning of February the Celts celebrated Imbolc, a festival of light marking the mid-point of winter, half way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It was also a time for growth and renewal. Many customs are connected with the weather, since people believed that conditions for the rest of winter depended on conditions on Candlemas Day – I suppose some indication of what lay ahead must have been important if there was ground to be prepared and seeds to be sown for crops. One rhyme said:
If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight
If Candemas Day brings cloud and rain
Winter will not come again.

On the same theme, it was believed that badgers came out to look at the weather, and would only stay above ground if it was snowing – in sunny weather they would return to their setts because, presumably, bad weather was on the way. And another piece of weather law insisted that if ‘ thorns hang adrop’ with icicles you could be certain of a good pea crop

Folklore also recommended that:
A farmer should on Candlemas Day
Have half his corn and half his hay.
This sounds like a sensible precaution if their animals were to survive on stoed food for the rest of the winter.

And there are various legends about snowdrops, which traditionally bloom in February. According to one tale an angel made them flower as a sign of hope to Eve, but they are also seen as a symbol of Jesus being this hope for the world – just as lighted candles placed in windows on the night of Candlemas are said to represent Christ  as the ‘light of the world’.

By the way, Candlemas is regarded as the last day of Christmas, so if you forgot to take down your decorations on Twelfth Night, don’t worry: you have been given a period of grace and may avoid bad luck, as long as you remove them today.  And if you want to celebrate this festival, then cook a special meal and eat it by candlelight... or put a bunch of green leaves in a vase... or plant a seed to grow as spring approaches... or read TS Eliot’s ‘A Song for Simeon’.