Written by Heather Elvidge
November has shown us its dark side with gales and lashing rain that stripped the last leaves from the trees. But just before the Atlantic fronts swept in, large numbers of waxwings arrived in the country.
These handsome birds come here when they’ve exhausted the supply of rowan berries in Scandinavia. This usually happens in January, so the waxwing invasion is earlier than usual.
While many of our rowans are bare, the invaders won’t go hungry because they like the berries of cotoneaster, a hardy shrub commonly planted in urban borders. Small flocks of waxwings are all over the country, so these pinkish, starling-sized birds with a rakish crest could be gobbling up berries in your local supermarket car park.
With less than five weeks to go, the mistletoe gatherers have been in action at Tenbury Wells in Herefordshire, where the first of this year’s mistletoe auctions took place this Tuesday.
Tenbury lies in the heartland of English mistletoe, where there are old cider-apple orchards whose mature trees are the ideal hosts for this remarkable plant. The oldest, lichen-clad trees can bear up to 20 clumps.
Mistletoe makes its own sugars for food so it’s not truly parasitic, though it does take water and minerals from its host. It can’t be hurried — from the first shoot to the first crop can take up to 10 years.
Reports say there’ll be plenty of mistletoe with berries this Christmas. Tenbury mistletoe should make its way to a market, florist, or greengrocer near you, but if it doesn’t there are a few suppliers online. Try The English Mistletoe Shop, http://buy.mistletoe.org.uk
Christmas music can stir the soul, or at least give us a warm glow. Choirs have never been more popular and Christmas concerts are always packed. What could be better than joining in with our favourite carols?
They’re up for that in the Sheffield area, where there’s a long tradition of carols in village pubs. The season starts in mid-November at The Black Bull in Ecclesfield, and continues in other villages until Boxing Day.
Squeezed into bars and back rooms, they belt out their favourites: The Bells of Paradise, Brightest and Best, and Hail Smiling Morn.
Hardly any of the carols they sing are familiar. Some are local compositions that have been passed on for over two centuries, while others were left out when the repertoire of carols was chosen in the 19th century.
Advent begins this coming Sunday, and with it the church’s year. Originally the Advent season was a time for fasting and penitence, like Lent. Today the emphasis is on personal reflection and preparing oneself for the celebration of Jesus’ birth.
You don’t have to be a churchgoer to see the benefit of self-reflection. So how about taking the stress out of Christmas? After all, the things we hate about it are largely self-inflicted.
We’ve ruled out reckless spending already, so it’s time to get radical. Try resisting social pressure – be honest about what you can’t do. Be realistic – don’t expect too much of yourself, or others. And root out that old serpent, cynicism – it leaves no room for joy. Or singing.