Fat Thursday

Doughnuts on sale at a Polish shop in Bournemouth

It’s Fat Thursday today which means that Lent is approaching.

Lent starts next week on Ash Wednesday 26 February.

Pancakes are the great feature on Shrove Tuesday but Fat Thursday means doughnuts in Poland and Polish shops.

Beales first to welcome Father Christmas

J.E. Beale

Today’s confirmation that Beales department store in Bournemouth has gone into administration is sad news.

The flagship shop on the original site and its many branches remain open but the future is uncertain.

Beales in Bournemouth is one of Britain’s oldest department stores having opened in 1881.

In 1885, with the shop’s upper floor devoted to German toys, John Beale introduced Father Christmas who had never appeared in a British shop before.

Since 1870 he had, as Santa, been found in New York at Macy’s.

Bournemouth’s Father Christmas, in a costume made by Mr Beale’s wife Annie, was always bare headed but had lots of white hair as well as a huge beard.

His arrival by carriage in an annual street procession and a balcony appearance was a major event which could be compared to a Papal visit by the crowd and excitement the occasion generated.

John Beale did visit America but he and his sons probably took many elements of the welcome for St Nicholas staged in Nancy as a template.

Certainly we know St Nicholas in Britain as the red Father Christmas mainly due to Beales presenting a standard for other shops to follow including Harrods and Selfridges.

Christmas 2019 at Beales
Beales in Bournemouth staged a pre-Christmas sale in 2018

Plough Monday revival

Tilney All Saints Church (picture: Explore West Norfolk)

The village school in Tilney All Saints near Wisbech in East Anglia, which has been awarded a grant to look at the village’s Plough Monday custom, is involved in reviving the tradition.

For many years until the 1550s the village’s plough was suspended with ropes from the beams of All Saints Church on Plough Monday.

Candles, or plow lyghts as the records read, were lit near the plough. This annual ritual happened from from early times until at least 1544 which was six years after votive candles had been banned by national edict.

The clamp down on traditions and fun was part of the creeping Reformation which eventually saw an end to the Plough Monday celebrations in the last years of Henry VIII’s reign and during the accession of his son Edward VI .

However, the Monday holiday continued to be observed in remote Tilney All Saints for some years after Plough Monday had been banned in 1547 .

This year around sixty children from Tilney All Saints School and its partner school Anthony Curton in Wisbech will perform the traditional molly dance in the village on Plough Monday 13 January.

The revival project is called ‘Sharing The Plough’ and at 10.30am on Monday 13 January, the first Monday after the Twelfth Night, pupils will follow a plough from the school to the church.

The dancing will be performed to music collected in the village by Vaughan Williams whose famous visit is being featured in the project research.

The plough service in the church at 11am will include the lighting of plough lights.

Holy Family replaces Becket

Holy Family by Kenneth Hughes in Southwark Cathedral churchyard next to Borough Market

Today would normally be the Feast of St Thomas of Canterbury because on 29 December 1170 Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered in his cathedral.

Next year is the 850th anniversary of the martyrdom when, thanks to 2020 being leap year, the day will be a Tuesday and much highlighted.

But this year 29 December is a Sunday so Holy Family Sunday takes precedence.

You will also find it referred to as the First Sunday of Christmas in many Anglican churches including Southwark Cathedral where there is a Holy Family sculpture.

Canterbury Cathedral observes St Thomas today with a special evensong and vespers.

Both Canterbury Cathedral and Southwark Cathedral are part of the Becket2020 programme of special events.

Pray for MPs on Boxing Day

Chapel screen at Westminster in 1360s

Boxing Day is St Stephen’s Day when we remember the first Christian martyr.

The cost of following Baby Jesus’ teaching can be high.

Stephen was a deacon and is the patron saint of altar servers, who with the clergy have brought dignity to our Christmas Day liturgy, and international development charity CAFOD.

He is also the patron of the House of Commons which sits in the successor to the Chapel of St Stephen.

Today’s feast day was observed in the chapel at Westminster from 1348 until 1547 when the MPs moved in and sat in the choir.

The old chapel space is now St Stephen’s Hall but MPs still have offices in the chapel cloisters.

So today we might pray for newly elected members that they may have wisdom and seek the common good.

Churches dedicated to Stephen in Blackpool, Bournemouth, Gloucester Road London, Vienna and many other places will be keeping their patronal festival today.

Midnight Mass on Radio 4

St George’s RC Cathedral, Southwark (picture www.LondonSE1.co.uk)

If you cannot go to Midnight Mass tonight listen on BBC Radio 4 at 11.30pm.

The live broadcast is from St George’s Cathedral in Southwark, the Roman Catholic cathedral opposite the Imperial War Museum.

The entire church was a glorious Pugin building until bombed during the Second World War.

The celebrant and preacher is the new Archbishop of Southwark John Wilson.

We can expect the music under Director of Music Jonathan Schranz to be superb. Hymns include Unto us is born a Son, In the bleak mid-winter and Hark! The herald-angels sing.

The motet is Bethlehem Down which has a setting by Peter Warlock, father of art critic Brian Sewell. The carol was written in 1927 by Bruce Blunt whilst on a moonlit walk with the composer between two Hampshire country pubs.

The Midnight Mass service sheet can be downloaded here.

The Expectation of Mary

Our Lady of the O

Yesterday we imagined Mary and Joseph setting out from Nazareth to reach Bethlehem.

Today we think about Mary’s pregnancy due to an old custom of recalling the Annunciation on 18 December.

This began with the Mozarabic Rite in Toledo and the tradition remains in Spain where they speak of Our Lady of the O as it is the second day of the O Antiphons.

The Expectation was being observed in the 12th century at Barking Abbey and Bury St Edmunds Abbey.

The Expectation of Mary

Mary & Joseph have set out…

The seven O Antiphons

Today is another Advent staging post.

It’s just over a week to go before Christmas and if Mary and Joseph are to be in Bethlehem they will need to have started their 90 mile journey from Nazareth.

By tradition they set out about now and are accompanied by the singing of the O Antiphons at Mass and Vespers or Evensong.

An O Antiphons is said or sung over the next seven days starting today with O Sapientia or O Wisdom inspired by the Old Testament.

You will hear them at a cathedral evensong and find all brought together in the Advent hymn O come, O come, Emmanuel sung to a 15th-century tune.

Britain’s Christmas Story on BBC1

Karen Gibson and Gareth Malone

One reason for the BBC being accused of ignoring religion is that its often very good programmes are hidden.

Britain’s Christmas Story is a good example. Part one was shown yesterday morning. Even the Sunday morning political shows have small audiences. When Robert Peston switched his Sunday morning show to the evening viewing figures shot up.

It’s worth looking at Britain’s Christmas Story on iPlayer.

For an hour Gareth Malone and Karen Gibson consider the origin of Christmas traditions with visits to Hexham Abbey, Walsingham’s Holy House (like Loreto), Salisbury Cathedral, Great St Mary’s at Cambridge and Hampton Court Palace.

At Salisbury there is time to see rehearsals for the Advent carol service which attracts 6,000 people and meet this year’s Girl Bishop trying on her vestments.

In Cambridge there is a long discussion about the time when Cromwell banned Christmas and it was difficult to go to church.

Part two is next Sunday morning but at a different time!

Also worth finding is Lucy Worsley’s Christmas Carol Odessey where she expands on the dancing tunes of Christmas carols mentioned briefly by Gareth Malone in his programme.

St Lucy brings light to Advent

A Lucia procession in a Stockholm church

In Sweden this morning a young girl representing St Lucy wearing her crown of candles will make an early morning appearance in many homes and schools.

There will also be Lucia processions in many darkened churches tonight.

Lucy wore candles on her head to light the way and leave her hands free to assist persecuted Christians in Sicily. Now she is the symbol of the light of Christ to be celebrated soon at Christmas.

On St Lucy’s Day, 13 December, there are big celebrations in her home town Siracusa, Naples where the Lucia song sung in Sweden was first heard and Venice where her body lies in a church near Santa Lucia railway station.

Lucy is the patron of opticians, blind people and photographers.

Lucia buns in London: To taste the Lucy Cat saffron buns as enjoyed today in Sweden call in at the Scandinavian Kitchen at 61 Great Titchfield Street, London W1W 7PP.


Leigh Hatts