British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

A calendar of the traditional customs, practices & rituals of the British Isles.

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22                               EVE OF THE EPIPHANY,                    [Jan. 5.
In the parish of Pauntley, and the surrounding neigh­bourhood, the servants of each farmer formerly assembled together in one of the fields that had been sown with wheat. At the end of twelve lands, they made twelve fires in a row with straw, around one of which, much larger than the rest, they drank a cheerful glass of cider to their master's health, and success to the future harvest; then, returning home, they feasted on cakes soaked in cider, which they claimed as a reward for their past labours in sowing the grain.—Fosbrooke, Hist, of Gloucestershire, 1807, vol. ii. p. 232.
At the approach of the evening, the farmers with their friends and servants meet together, and about six o'clock walk out to a field where wheat is growing. In the highest part of the ground, twelve small fires and one large one, are lighted up.* The attendants, headed by the master of the family, pledge the company in old cider, which circulates freely on these occasions. A circle is formed round the large fire, when a general shout and hallooing takes place, which you hear answered from all the adjacent villages and fields. Sometimes fifty or sixty of these fires may be seen all at once. This being finished, the company return home, where the good housewife and her maids are preparing a good supper. A large cake is always provided, with a hole in the middle. After supper, the company all attend the bailiff (or head of the oxen) to the wain-house, where the following particulars are observed: The master, at the head of his friends, fills the cup (generally with strong ale), and stands opposite the first or finest of the oxen. He then pledges him in a curious toast, the company follow his example with all the other oxen, addressing ea- h by his name. This being finished, the large cake is produced, and, with much ceremony put on the horn of the first ox, through the hole above mentioned.
* These fires represented our Lord and the twelve Apostles.
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