Winter Celebrations In Newhaven

Up here in the north, winter changes everything, and while it isn’t always deep snow there is nearly always a frost or a ‘dusting’ on the ground – and the land looks white for much of the winter. There are few crops to harvest in winter, instead you must rely on things you put into storage to see you through. It gets cold – cold enough (on some nights) to freeze distil Blue Jack and cold enough to stop food going bad quickly.

And when the year ‘turns’ and the days start getting longer again and the nights start getting shorter - it is the start of a new year and a time for a celebration.

The Celebrations

Winter Week

Winter Week is less of a celebration but more of reminder for folks and is a week to make plans for the really cold weeks ahead. It is a time to review stocks and supplies, check over livestock and make decisions about the next few months. Is there going to be enough feed to overwinter all the live stock? What should be slaughtered, and what can be kept. Slaughtered stock must be preserved, as must the last of the nuts and berries.

Winter Week is also the time for Winter Markets that sell preserved foods, nuts, seasonal fare, and small items of clothing or seasonal gifts. It is a big trading day, people scurry around buying socks, scarves, shawls, hats, gloves, candied berries, sugared nuts, peg dolls, small soldiers – anything that will make an appropriate gift or enhance the Winter Feast. There are often street traders selling hot roast chestnuts and mulled hooch,

Winter Week a time when communities plan their co-operative efforts, to make sure everyone survives through the frozen weeks ahead. Surpluses are exchanged, swapped, shared or sold while community or emergency are discussed and planned.

Many trappers, travellers and other itinerants take up their winter quarters during this week

New Year’s Eve

Most people stop work early on the Eve of the New Year, for it is a time to spend with family, and is the day to decorate the house with greenery as a reminder that the growth, and a New Year, is just around the corner. Anything green and still growing is good although branches from fir trees are most common, however they are often brightened up by fetching in branches of other evergreen that have berries on them.

During the afternoon it is traditional to collect (In towns buy) the greenery, during the early evening the family decorate their home. The more artistic families might mix in candles and bright decorations, to make it look ‘prettier’.

Later evening is a time to drink mulled Hooch in front of a warm fire, to tell the stories of Old Frosty, The Snow Queen and Jack Frost – and to eat roasted Chestnuts and Winter Bread. Children leave a slice out for Old Frosty as he comes around to deliver their Year Gifts the next day.

But there is a darker reason as well. New Years Eve is also known as ‘The Night of the Pale’ when the ghosts of those who died during the previous year manifest upon the world and come to visit the homes they lived in during life. Decorating the house with greenery is said to keep those spirits out, whilst staying warm indoors telling stories, means you aren’t liable to run into any of these spirits at all. Make sure you have enough firewood in, for even a quick run to the woodshed and back can be concerning.

However, the risks to any given individual caught outside are very small ….

New Year’s Day

Next Morning Children hurry to see what Old Frosty has left for them. If the have been good and if they cleaned their shoes last evening - they find a few nuts, candied berries, honey cake, perhaps even a couple of copper coins or a small toy. They never get very much and never more than can fit into one shoe.

The morning is then spent visiting friends and relations and preparing for the big feast in the late afternoon. The feast is communal – often extended families get together, or in more rural areas, the whole community get together in the barn or meeting hall. Each area has their own speciality - but there is nearly always roast meat, breads, vegetables and more winter bread for dessert. Adults normally drink Hooch with the meal and have a bottle or two of Blue Jack for later in the evening.

It is also a day for generosity and giving gifts – friends, family, servants, and perhaps even strangers. Gifts tend to be small and practical and are often items of clothing. A hat, gloves, scarf or socks make suitable gifts for family and friends – although it is acceptable to gift a small home made item instead*. Employers often give their servants a new suit of clothes on this day. It is a traditional day for charity and giving alms to help the poor – starting off generously is said to bring you good luck and good fortune for the rest of the year.

(*) In wealthier society, small purchased gifts are acceptable as well.

Second Day

Next day everything goes back to normal - however, it is often a day when employers take on new apprentices (or other new staff) and new contracts are signed.

Others Celebrations

Some worshippers of Desna carry out a ‘Ritual of Stardust’ on one of those evenings, while worshippers of Shellyn celebrate ‘Crystalhue’.

The Personalities

Old Frosty – the Oldest Silver Dragon Ever - who brings small gifts to good children in the middle of winter. It is said that he travels the land in the shape of an old man with a bushy white beard and hair - checking up on the children. He keeps a list and he knows who is naughty or nice ….

The Snow Queen – Said to be descended from elementals this stunningly beautiful woman lives in a castle of ice hidden in the cold-lands, and rides the snow storms and avalanches in her ghost sleigh. If you look hard enough, you can see her shadow as she drifts past. She is reputed to be Old Frosty’s lover and sometimes helps those caught out in severe cold weather.

Jack Frost – reputed to be the son of Old Frosty and The Snow Queen, this blue-white ice sprite runs through the land in winter, drawing patterns on windows and fixing icicles on roofs and trees. Sometimes he nips at noses, toes and fingers - just because it is fun.

Special Stuff

Winter Bread - think of something like Gingerbread with dried fruit mixed in – then add a slight kick of your normal Christmas/Thanksgiving spices. A rich, smooth little cake that does the job of Mince Pies, Stollen, Christmas Cake and Christmas Pudding – all rolled into one. Presentation varies from individual muffins through to one large cake that can be cut and shared - but covers just about every size and shape in-between.

Hooch – Hooch is a country wine made from Blue Wolfberries, which looks like normal white wine with a bluish tinge, but has a slightly ‘tinny’ flavour. Think of a cheap white wine.

Mulled Hooch – Put a pot of water by the fire and add the spices, let the spices steep in warm water – and then mix the warm water and wine in the tankard. For adults make it 50/50 – for children dilute 50/50 again with plain warm water.

Blue Jack – the local liquor where Blue Wolfberry Hooch is freeze distilled to make it a stronger, smoother drink. It still has a pale blue colour, a tinny flavour and is about 20% abv.

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