The first ‘sings’ are a festive reminder

Look out for waxwings, arriving from the north.
Look out for waxwings, arriving from the north.

Written by Heather Elvidge

The last rocket stick was still falling from the sky when the first festive store ads hit our screens. If you’re groaning now, think how you’ll feel after watching them for the next six weeks.

Glossy, sentimental, or just plain weird, these top-dollar productions all have one aim: to get us thinking about you-know-what.

Yes, six weeks to go. Right now, Santa is on his way from the North Pole. Naturally, he is travelling by sea – the reindeer are flying in later – and this Saturday he’ll arrive in Scarborough Harbour. From there, a happy crowd will accompany him to his grotto in Boyes Store.

Now if your home-baked Christmas cake has been snug in its tin for the last two months, this event will hold no fears for you. But for the rest of us, it’s a wake-up call.

While it’s not too soon to think about presents or cards, it’s certainly too early for Christmas music. But not for some villagers near Sheffield, who begin their carolling season this week. Pubs in Woodseats, Ecclesfield and Harthill will be packed tonight for the first “sings”.

Apart from a few old favourites, these aren’t the carols that we know. Some are old songs that never made it into the church repertoire. Many are local compositions handed down through generations. Outibridge, where they’ll be singing on the 16th, has a collection of local carols stretching back 200 years.

Pint glasses in hand, they really belt them out. At Grenoside there’s a string quartet, though the voices are usually accompanied by piano or electronic keyboard.

Many tunes have a call-and-answer repetition known as “fuguing”, where the bass line echoes the melody. One of these tunes was borrowed for On Ilkley Moor b’aht ‘at. It’s still sung around Sheffield with its original words, While Shepherds Watched. Try it – While Shepherds fits the tune perfectly.

Cornwall has its own folk carols too, written down by collectors in the 1820s. And they sing their own carols at Beeston in Nottinghamshire, where Yorkshire weavers started the custom around 1800. But that won’t happen until Christmas Eve.

Not too tidy

As garden plants start to die back, we get the urge to tidy up. Some things have to be removed, like mouldy stems that can damage the crowns of perennials; but try to leave seed heads that provide food for small birds.

A layer of fallen leaves makes a brilliant soil conditioner, so leave them too. Worms will pull them into the soil, enriching it for next year. And let’s not forget the hedgehog, who needs those leaves to furnish his winter nest.

Among the dead leaves and rotting wood will be spiders and insects snuggling down for the winter. Some are the gardener’s friends, yet even the pests have their place. They make tasty morsels for foraging birds. So tidy up a bit, but not too much.

More winter visitors, the waxwings, are arriving from the forests of Scandinavia. First reported in Shetland, there have been recent sightings of these colourful birds at York and Spurn Point. They flee the northern winter hoping to find plenty of berries here — look out for them in hawthorn trees, and the shrubs planted around supermarket car parks.