Thursday, 1 December 2011

The Gardener's Calendar - December 1863

Another extract below from Whitnash Parish Magazine, in 1863, with the section that begins December and also lists the gardening tasks.

It is interesting that the identification of the passage in Isaiah is quoted in the Whitchurch as the reason for the custom of decking "our Churches and our houses with branches of evergreens".  This is not to be confused with the Christmas which was introduced in England by  George III's Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz in early 19th century, but which only became popular among the non-German population in the 1840s.

In fact, I have managed to trace a very similar mention of this verse in the sermon "The Beauty of Holiness in the Common-prayer: As Set Forth in Four Sermons Preached at the Rolls Chapel, in the Year 1716."
Philip Bisse (1667-1721) was an English bishop, and was Bishop of St David's from 1710 to 1713. In 1713 he became the Bishop of Hereford, a post he held until his death in 1721, and it was then that he composed this sermon. In a footnote to one sermon about Christmas, he mentions William Stukeley (1687 - 1765), who was an English antiquary and one of the founders of field archaeology, who pioneered the investigation of Stonehenge (although he mistakenly attributed that and Avebury to the Druids). Here is the footnote:

The practice of embellishing and ornamenting churches at this great Festival is explained by Dr. Stukely ; in which he observes, that the ancients expected our Saviour was to be born at the winter solstice, and that the great Advent was to happen when ever-greens flourish. "The glory of Lebanon (the cedar) shall come unto thee, the fir tree, the pine tree, and the box tree together, to beautify the place of my sanctuary" (Isaiah). Many passages, to the same purport, occur in the Old Testament.

While the winter customs may well have developed from pagan sources, it is interesting to see that the custom was legitimised within a Christian framework by these verses from Isaiah. Modern Christmas cards with their depictions of greenery and Christmas decorations may seem far removed from Bethlehem, but a verse from Isaiah acted as a bridge between the two. Although I suspect that most people did not really need much of an excuse to decorate churches and houses.

When I was younger, I remember collecting pine cones, holly and ivy to decorate our house; those were the days before glittering ornaments were available in the shops. We used to glue them onto a base, and spray them with silver and gold. I wonder how many of today's children have such fun.

The Gardener's Calendar - December 1863

 The damp and cold of November prepare us for the leafless winter, and December is frequently greeted as a more welcome visitor than his gloomy predecessor. Especially are we glad to see him when he comes with frosty face and a clearer, brighter hue than damp, dull, foggy November.
Besides, does not December warn us that Christmas is coming, and with it family joys and festivities, and greetings of friends, and forgiveness of real or fancied injuries. Even in the dark and frosty night the sound of the Church bells reminds us of this great Christian festival, and we are carried back in thought to the first Christmastide when angels from heaven came down to proclaim the glad tidings-the "good spell " of Christ's birth in Bethlehem; and we deck our Churches and our houses with branches of evergreens even as we are reminded by the first lesson for service on Christmas Eve (Isaiah 60:13):
"The fir tree, the pine tree, and the box tree shall come together to beautify the place of my sanctuary, and make the place my feet glorious."
And thus while the weather without may be harsh and inclement, we love to look upon signs of life and beauty which remind us of the summer foliage. It will be well for us if, after the close of the month and of the year, our hearts and lives, are in unison with the Angel message of peace and goodwill to all.
Take up broccoli, and replant them with their heads sloping towards the north, in order that their leaves, when frozen, may drop over the hearts, and may not be thawed by the rays of the sun. Protect celery with dead leaves. Give as much air as possible to all plants under hand-glasses and frames; remembering that the effects of cold are much aggravated by damp; so, clear away all dead leaves, and try to keep plants alive rather than to make them grow. Frequently examine stored fruits, throw away all that are rotten, and keep the rest dry. Delicate fruits should be so placed as not to touch one another. Clean paths. In hard weather wheel out manure, and attend to those operations for which time cannot be spared in summer. Dig borders; remove dead leaves, and if the garden cannot be gay, at least let it not be unsightly.
Surely Winter now is king,
Reigning o'er the fettered earth;
Buried lie the charms of Spring;
Summer's joys are little worth.
One huge pall of whitest snow
Covers all that once was fair;
While biting north winds fiercely blow,
And clouds broods heavy in the air.
Wrapt in sleep profound as death
Nature lies; but she shall wake,
Fann'd again by Spring's warm breath,
And her icy stillness break.
In pledge, the varnish'd holly see,
Scarlet berried, ever-green;
Or plant of Druid mystery,
Hanging the leafless boughs between!
Twine, oh twine them in a crown,
Such as Christmas-time may grace,
Choose the hair of glossiest brown,
Choose the rosiest happiest face!
Spring of nature, spring of youth-
Both a wintry hour must meet:
Sigh not at the solemn truth,
Wintry hours may yet be sweet.
So let Spring of Winter learn,
What its fate must one day be;
So let Winter, censor stern!
Point us to eternity.

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