The Turning of the Year, Part II

Kathy gave you Part I of the turning of the year’ Mark and Val bring you Part II.  January 3rd will be the 10th day of Christmas (10 Lords a Leaping, anyone?) and well into winter.  So a winter show it is! We’ll drive the cold winter away and warm ourselves up; reprise a bit of Christmas; hunt the cutty wren; offer a reminder that Christmas is not all joy and bliss for everyone; give a nod to the ongoing pandemic; usher the new year in; and end with a message of hope.

So what’s this hunting the cutty wren about?

Well, in many English-speaking countries, December 26th (the 2nd Day of Christmas), is St Stephen’s day (when Good King Wenceslaus looked out…), also Boxing Day, and maybe Wren day. It’s not clear where the practice originated, but it involves hunting a wren (“the king of all birds”.) Sometimes it’s kept alive and paraded through town in a small net attached to a stick while the hunters ask for donations from townsfolks. Sometimes it was killed and feathers given as tokens of good luck (not so much anymore). In some places, it has associations with mumming and “straw boys” who do the hunting and parading. While mostly associated with Ireland in the UK, it appears prominently in Wales and Scotland as well, and throughout England.

And how did the wren get to be the ”king of all birds”?

There are a couple of associated legends, but the most common goes like this: One day, all the birds came together to see which of them would be king. To do this, they began to fly upwards to see which of them would fly the highest. While the birds were soaring upwards, the wren sat under the eagle’s wing. When the eagle stopped soaring, the wren came out from under his wing and flew a bit higher. The eagle thought he went the highest, but then he saw the wren was higher. The wren became king that day.

Share This Episode