“On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me
a partridge in a pear tree.”
So goes the first verse from one of England’s most well-known carols, the Twelve Days of Christmas. The twelve days of Christmas begin on St. Stephen’s Day (26th December) and continue until Twelfth Night; the evening of the 5th January and the night before Epiphany. Epiphany (6th January) celebrates the coming of the Magi and marks the end of the Christmas season, a tradition dating from medieval times.
You may be surprised to learn that the Twelve Days of Christmas was first written down in 1780. It was included in a children’s book named Mirth Without Mischief, and probably intended as a memory forfeit game to be played on Twelfth Night. The players would each recite a verse from memory and the first to make a mistake would be subject to a forfeit.
Picture the scene. It’s the week before Christmas and today is bitterly cold. Even though it’s not yet evening, darkness has well and truly fallen. If you braved the wintry weather tonight, you would soon see the stone walls of a church by the sea. Warm lights shine out invitingly from the windows and make patterns of the churchyard trees on the new-fallen snow.
Then, suddenly, the lights go out. If you went inside right now, you would see people of all ages lining the walls of the church, each holding an orange with a lit candle. The tiny lights show little else but the face of each bearer. And they all begin to sing.
A note in scrawly handwriting, found tucked into the pages of a very battered old copy of Nanny Ogg’s Cookbook:
Igorth are renowned for the thpeed and accurathy of their thurgical operathionth, and even more tho for the exthellent rethulth (and thould we thay, thurvival rateth). Patht patienth thing their praitheth, for an Igor’th accurate thtitching and attentionth to detail hath many a time been the differenth between life, death and thevere dithfigurementh.
There ith no prethent an Igor liketh more than any thpare organth or parth you may have lying around, but if you are looking for thomething extra thpecial for your Igor thith Hogthwatch, look no further than Igor’th caketh. A theathonal delicathy from Überwald, jutht like the Igorth it ith quick, flexthible and therveth up a treat!
This week I went to the cinema to see Harry Potter with my mother. When we bought the tickets – concessionary, as usual – I was struck by the mix of emotions I felt as I hesitated before admitting I was unemployed. It seemed like a taboo; like I should be ashamed to be unemployed – because being unemployed means you’re lazy, incapable and unwilling to work. Is this true?
Of course it isn’t. There is no reason why I should feel ashamed of being unemployed.
In the last year or so, my working life has been a rollercoaster. This time last year I was about to discover that after months of unemployment I had landed the job of my dreams: a library assistant at the local council. The first half of 2010 was amazing. Though my position was casual, my hours gradually increased until I was earning enough to sign off. I had a lot going for me. I was looking forward to a full-time job, buying my own house, a bright new future. The recession was in full force, but what did it matter to me?
I have returned from the frosty south; from the glitter, homemade pork pies and unrestrained quacking which could only be Hogswatch in the Year of the Happy Goose. I wish I could go back and do it all again. Having spent a long weekend in the company of some* of the Roundworld’s most wonderfully kind and warm-hearted people, a family who welcomed me with open arms… could you blame me?
In his post-celebratory address to the masses, Bernard Pearson spoke about being a member of the Discworld family, saying, “when winter comes you know what trees are evergreen”. This distinguished gentleman is famous for his way with words, but this is perhaps the most inspired thing he’s ever said.