16th January. The old Twelfth Night, and also the feast day of no less than three saints:
- St Sigebert. A saint and King of East Anglia. He was forced into exile in Gaul, but following his step-brother’s assassination in 627 he returned to become King jointly with another half-brother. Later he rejected his kingdom and entered monastic life, but was forced to return when East Anglia was invaded by the Mercians, being slain in battle in 634.
- St. Fursey. An Irish mystic monk who reputedly experienced visions of the afterlife.
- St Henry. An English-born bishop of Uppsala, Sweden in the mid-twelfth century. After the Swedish King had invaded Finland Henry converted the Finns to Christianity and remained in Finland to supervise church building. After his murder in 1156 a number of miracles are reported to have taken place. His actual existence is disputed by some uncharitable folk.
Apple wassailing traditionally takes place around this time. It comes from the Saxon “was hael” meaning “to your health”. It was the time of blessing orchards to ensure a good crop in the coming season. At dusk songs were sung, cider poured over the tree’s roots, toast was hung in the branches for the robins to pick, to frighten off evil spirits, guns would be fired, horns blown and pots and pans banged, and bonfires lit.
Old apple tree we wassail thee
And hope that thou wilt bear,
For Lord doth know where we shall be
Till apples come next year.
To bloom well and to bear well,
So merry let us be.
Let every man take off his hat
And shout out to the apple tree.
19th January, St Wulfstan’s Day. c. 1008-1095. He served as Bishop of Worcester under the last two Saxon Kings and the first two Norman Kings. He started the building of the new Worcester Cathedral in 1084.
20th January. St Agnes Eve.
As, supperless to bed they must retire,
And couch supine their beauties, lilywhite
Nor look behind, nor sideways, but require
Of heaven with upwards eyes with all that they desire.
22nd January. St Vincent’s Day.
Remember on St Vincent’s Day
If the sun his beams display
Be sure to mark the transient beam
Which through the casement sheds a gleam.
For ’tis a token bright and clear
Of prosperous weather all the year.