The burning of the Ashen Bundle or Faggot is a Devon and Somerset tradition, similar to burning the Yule Log; it may very well have pagan origins as the custom is sometimes thought to be a salute to the sun following the shortest day three days before. It may also represent the bundle of wood the shepherds brought and burnt to keep baby Jesus warm, or maybe it was Joseph who gathered and burnt the faggot for Mary.
The Yule Log is a single log, sometimes a really huge log to be burnt in the old fireplaces of farms and manors, and even little cottages maybe; the Ashen faggot was a bundle of ash logs bound together with nine branches, or willows or maybe brambles or even withies (young willow trees, used for making baskets) Sometimes the faggot was huge, five feet long and weighing a hundredweight (112 lbs)
As the faggot burned and the branches or whatever was holding it caught and burst open a secret wish could be made. Sometimes the bands would be chosen by members of the family and the first band to burn would be the first person to marry! Sometimes extra ash branches or furze (gorse) were added as the faggot burned to keep it going through the twelve days of Christmas.
Sometimes a small piece of the burnt ember was kept throughout the year for good luck, or sometimes everyone might take a small semi-burned stick and carve their name or initial on, and the date, and keep it in a bundle commemorating each year of his or her life.
Apparently this custom is still alive and well in the south Somerset town of Dunster, and in the King William IV pub at Curry Rivel. In Curry Rivel the twelve days of Christmas start on January 5th, the night before ‘Old Christmas’ – the calendar was changed from Julian to Gregorian, and there was a shift of dares so days were ‘lost’ … but that must be a topic for a different post!
If I had an open fire… or if I ever get an open fire, then I might very well adopt the old Somerset custom as I live in Somerset!