The Federation of Old Cornwall Societies (FOCS) was established at the beginning of the twentieth century, around 1924. It was set up with the main objective to collect and maintain 'all those ancient things that make the spirit of Cornwall - its traditions, its old word and ways, and what remains of its Celtic language and nationality.' (R. Morton Nance, Old Cornwall 1925). It's motto reflects this aim; 'Kyntelleugh an brewyon es gesys na vo kellys travyth - Gather ye the fragments that are left, that nothing be lost'. This helps to explain why ancient Christmas traditions in Cornwall are still very much a part of the festival today.
Christmas traditions and historical contexts in Cornwall are of particular relevance in terms of how the festival is celebrated up and down the country. Christmas (Nadelik) had become unfashionable to celebrate across the rest of Britain, but remained an integral part to the Cornish lifestyle. In fact, a lot of the habits we take for granted during the festive season were founded in places like Cornwall in the early 19th Century. Is it thanks to Cornwall that we still celebrate Christmas today? Maybe not, but check out these familiar festive customs that can be traced to Cornish heritage.
Everybody loves a sing along with a Christmas carol each December, but did you ever stop to think where they might come from? A surprising amount of well-known carols sung joyfully each year were created in Cornwall. The likes of Hark The Herald Angels Sing, O Little Town Of Bethlehem and God Rest You Merry Gentlemen were all found to be established in the county.
The Cornish Bush
The Cornish Bush was originally a part of a pagan ritual during the winter solstice. As Christianity has developed, so has the Cornish Bush. Today it is traditionally hung indoors on the 20th December and represents new life. The three dimensional wreath is usually made with withy's, holly, ivy and mistletoe. Add an apple to the centre of the wreath at the top and finally a red candle is securely added to the centre of the wreath, which can then be hung from the ceiling. On 20th December, as midnight approaches you can make like true Cornish folk and light the candle before dancing around it to welcome the God of Light.
Gin and Cake
This tradition seems to have ended, but any traders who wish to reinstate it are invited to do so! Lower classes were gifted Gin and cake from shop owners after purchasing their Christmas goods there. This ritual should perhaps be brought back in regardless, because who doesn't like a bit of Gin and cake?