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Christmas in Brittany from ‘Dorigen’

It was, as now I well remember,

The frosty season of December.

The sun was pale and weak throughout the day.

The nights were cold, and it was dark at four,

When working men went home and closed their door

Against the dampness of the night

Which entered in their very bones it seemed.

They called the wind a lazy wind

For it did not trouble

To go around the men

As they went about their fields and barns,

But straight through their coats and flesh and bones it blew,

And left them shivering with the cold.

From field and hedge all green had gone.

The freezing rain and sleet had stripped the trees

Of every leaf from every bough.

The birds sang sadly on the branches bare

Of the oak and ash that grew together there.

Winter did not merit a whole song,

And anyway, they thought much more

Of the happy songs they sang in May.

Then, frozen to their wing tips,

They flew down and, thirsty, hopped about

Looking in trough and stall and yard

For a little water not yet frozen hard.

And the walled garden where they all had danced

In summer on the well mown lawn

Was left to sleep alone on her bare bed

Of cold brown earth hard with the frost.

And in the town the wind blew down the street

As people walked with frozen feet

And stamped them hard upon the stones

To shake off the snow and to feel their toes once more

For the cold had entered in their very bones.

Glad they were to reach their door

And close it on the bitter cold outside.

Then they stayed inside their houses warm

And prepared their Christmas as best they could,

With holly and its berries red that would

Add some bright colour to the cold, grey days.

Light were the windows of the village inn,

A welcome sight to the working men

Who now had left their fields to the cold night

And led their oxen each one to its stall.

Inside the inn the men sat where they could.

In the fireplace was a blazing fire

Where cherry logs were placed across the dogs

And smelled like flowers in bloom.

The fireside settle held the grey-haired men

Who said the winters of their youth

Were colder far than those today,

Though when the young came in from work

With fingers blue and cheeks bright red

They did not yield the seats they had

So close to the red embers of the logs.

They drank in sips the warm mulled wine

And made it last the evening through.

They passed the old brown jug around

As they had done on Christmases before.

The great boar’s head was roasted then.

Apple in mouth, it held the centre of the board,

And Noel sang the merry boys and men.

At home the fires were stoked and logs   

Were stacked to dry inside the ingle nook.

Each night the father would take out the holy book

And read the Christmas story once again

To the children gathered round his knee.

Their mother bustled at the stove

And stirred a stew of onions, carrots and of meat

And mixed the fruit into a pudding sweet.

Candles were lit around the room each day.

Fresh rushes were then strewn upon the floor

And the Christmas wreath was hung upon the door.