Strike! strike the gong of our song
Til souls take fire, clap hands and bellow.
Dance, dance, leap higher and longer
And hug each with your fellow.
Up with the windows,
Raise the shout,
Hang all the Hallelujahs out,
Bring every stranger in, call for the lights and sing!
For unto you this day is born a King.

- W. R. Rogers


Tom Bawcock's Eve

Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
This bird of dawning singeth all night long;
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad,
The nights are wholesome, then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow'd and so gracious is the time.
- Shakespeare (Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 1)

Once upon a time, back in the dark ages of history, on this day, December 23rd, a small village by the name of Mousehole was on the brink of starvation. A great storm had been raging for many weeks and no fisherman could keep his boat afloat in the wild, tossing ocean. They could catch no fish, and each day the fear in their eyes grew, for the storm would not abate and their families starved. There was one man, a villager named Tom, who could not stand by and watch his family die. That day he took his boat out into that wild, tossing ocean and he set his nets.
In those days, the cock was the most noble of creatures. It was said that even the lion was afraid of the many-colored bird who read the stars and heralded the coming of the morn. Once beaten, a cock would never crow again, but while he remained victorious he announced the coming of the dawn, and his cry was revered and considered a blessing. (Gaius Plinius Secondus, Natural History)
The villagers watched for Tom late into the night, and feared that he would not return. But at dawn, his boat was sighted, and he came home with enough fish to sustain the village until the end of the storm. He was hailed as Tom Bawcock from that day forth, since he had shown a cock's strength and bravery and come back at dawn with a blessing for his village.
Every year since then, the village of Mousehole in Cornwall has celebrated Tom Bawcock's Eve on December 23rd. They bake a fish cake, called a Stargazy pie, in memory of the fish Tom caught, and toast his memory until dawn.


Villagers all, this frosty tide,
Let your doors swing open wide,
Though wind may follow, and snow beside,
Yet draw us in by your fire to bide;
Joy shall be yours in the morning!
Here we stand in the cold and the sleet,
Blowing fingers and stamping feet,
Come from far away you to greet
You by the fire and we in the street-
Bidding you joy in the morning!
- Kenneth Grahame, Wind in the Willows

In this weather the only thing to do is go caroling. When you're snowed in and can't drive anywhere put on a warm pair of gloves and a perhaps three or four pairs of socks, and brave the cold outside. The look of surprise and joy on the faces of those you call upon will be worth the frozen fingers and toes!

P.S. A lovely tribute to the caroling tradition...

"And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing, to drive the dark away."

This is the most magical time of year, when the days darken and the nights grow cold. Through the centuries, man has sought to keep a light burning in the great darkness, a flame of hope for the coming spring. Christmastide is swift upon us, and with it all the merrymaking that lights this month afire. One of the most beautiful traditions of this season, unfortunately becoming more obscure these days, is morris dancing, and in particular, the sword dance.
Morris dancing is one of the most ancient forms of English folk dancing, thought to have originated in the old Anglo-Saxon culture. It is danced by a group of men, wearing bells on their legs (the sound was said to awaken the spirit) and often carrying hankerchiefs or staves of wood. An interesting aside: William Kepte, famous for being one of the origional Shakespearian actors, was also known in his time for being the first to morris dance for nine days straight, from London to Norwich.
Thus, throughout England's history, when the darkness decended and the wind tore at the chimney, the morris men would gather to dance. The sword dance was usually performed within a St. George mummer's play, when the dancers would weave their swords into a star and behead St. George so that he might rise again, significant of the coming death and resurrection of the Christ child, and also of the death of the old year and birth of the new.
The morris traditions are still preserved in small groups, or "sides" throughout England and North America. Click, here for the Longsword dance as performed by the Bridgetown Morris Men, our local morris side. And for variety, here is the rapper sword dance, performed by the Black Swan Rappers of Warick.


In the bleak midwinter...

December always finds me before the fire, preferably with a book or two in hand.It is
the season for Dickens, Frost, and the Bronte sisters. Maybe a little Homer or
Beowulf to make it complete. Forget the strain of the quick approaching holidays and
find peace in the dark evenings with the rain beating on the roof and a cup of hot
tea in hand.