And so we reach the end of our Anglo-Saxon year. I’ve enjoyed following the old ones through their Eostermonaths and Weodmonaths, and I’ll feel at something of a loss at the start of every month now I have nothing to report on! I’m interested in the subject from a linguistic point of view, but also in terms of my roots. My surname is Anglo-Saxon, probably originating in the north-east of England, so I don’t think of these month names as merely words but as being part of the rhythm of my ancestors’ lives, and something that still runs in my blood.
(My first name, on the other hand, is said by many authorities to be Welsh in origin. Ironically, the word ‘Welsh’ is actually a Saxon word itself which they applied to the original Celtic inhabitants of Britain, and means ‘Foreigner’!)
Anyway, back to December. Those of you have have followed this story from the start may know that we have come full circle in more ways than one, since the Saxon names for January and December are linked. January was ‘After Yule’: Æfterra Geola, and, surprise surprise, December is ‘Before Yule’, or Ærra Geola.
As has so often been the case with this seemingly strange and alien language, the modern counterparts of the words themselves aren’t too hard to identify: ‘Ere’ is still sometimes used today, especially when someone wants to sound poetical (‘Ere I go…’)
We associate Yule now with Christmas, but to the early Pagan Anglo-Saxons it represented the celebration of Midwinter and the Solstice day – which for celebration purposes is now fixed at December 25th. Intriguingly, during Ærra Geola the Anglo-Saxons celebrated Modranecht, or Mother’s Night (some accounts have it on the day itself, others either the 24th or the 26th.) No one knows exactly what it represented, but I like to think the link with mothers or motherhood was through it being the day when the new year was born (The Saxon New Year started after the winter solstice) and that they commemorated it is a way similar to our Mothering Sunday.
Be that as it may, it was a time when much of the labour in the fields was over for the year, pigs were slaughtered to provide food until the crops were ready to eat, and people settled down by the fire and sang songs and told stories.