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Owen Langland

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Gwyliau Nadolig - Christmas Holidays


Before Owen was born, Cromwell’s soldiers were ordered to go around the streets and take, by force if necessary, food being cooked for a Christmas celebration. The smell of goose could mean trouble. His grandfather reminded the family that the soldiers had no trouble eating that same food in their own homes.


Father had a favorite tale of setting his dogs upon a mince sniffer. Under the Damned Lord Protector, as he told the tale, feasting at Christmas was a lewd behavior and banned by law, particularly mince pies because Mother's were so delicious. There were agents of the Puritans whose job was to pass by dwellings and sniff for cooking around the holiday. One such man presumed to hide himself in the kitchen court at Brynfield and upon discovery, was set upon by the three terriers. Therein was much humor upon the nature of these miscreants poking their noses into the household at Christmas time being chased by ratters. The end of the war had not ended the despicable laws, but the sniffers were far less likely to visit our kitchens on December 25.


His mother had brought with her a family recipe for mince pie that near surpassed her magnificent lamb pie. Currants, prunes, raisins and spices and a lashing of wine were added to finely chopped beef and mutton then thickened with bread crumbs and egg. Alongside this remarkable dish she added a Christmas pudding. “To make a humble pudding,” she often said to fend off the outrageous attentions of father upon her person following his own liberal lashing of wine, “is to stir it in an east to west direction in honor to the journey of the Three Wise Men.” This speech seemed a ritual stirring of father to chase mother about the kitchen in a likewise fashion. Being a prosperous household, a silver coin was hidden in the pudding which was quite the prize for a young child to find. Owen and his siblings had to eat an awful lot of pudding at times before the Christmas treasure was found! As another of her traditions during the twelve days, Mother laced her tea with rum because “it was just once a year.”


For the all the Langlands each year Father would tell the story of our ancient benefactor William the Conqueror who was crowned King of England on Christmas Day in 1066. Our soldier ancestor stood in the guard at that service and tales of duty to the King of England have been recurrent in our family stories even to this day. Owen's overly zealous younger brother was never able to find any reference to that event or that ancestor and we concluded that it was a story mixed with fable which neither of us would dare deny.


A hazard of the season was the marauding King of Misrule and his followers bedecked in yellow and blue with bells upon their feet. Their mockery invaded churches and accosted passers by, ridiculed the clergy, and held trials which meted out punishments of which some were quite cruel. Should the Lord of Misrule visit our household, father had a pistol ready and a pair of large servants at his heels, but always a basket of good things for all in the crowd and something to take away with them. When the chorus of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” broke out at the door, the song said ‘we won’t leave until we get something’ and the common courtesy was to take the “goods” in a basket. Owen often suspected it was the bag of coins in the bundle that kept the manor safe each season.


For Owen the traditions and feasting were all a wonder in his childhood. He held a memory of walking the beach with his brother Rhys who asked if the fishes could see it was snowing. Of little Alice trying to write Nadolig Llawen** in the snow with her feet. Of his first Christmas after his sister Agnes died. Of his desperation at sea off Madagascar, abandoned by the snow and revelry of England. Of Alice's telling young Hawkins her husband the pudding rite. Of the face of Mother at Christmas table without her husband at hand. Of his lying abed, buried warmly in blankets, saying some words to the holy night, then drifting asleep.


*With assist from Dylan Thomas **Merry Christmas

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