Spirits among the trees and a toast to the forest

Unlike our superstitious medieval ancestors we were pretty sure that Sherwood Forest wasn’t harbouring any malevolent spirits, but for one weekend we’re preparing for a very sinister presence indeed.

The terrifying figure of Krampus, or its equivalents, has been part of the winter customs in many of the central and Eastern European nations for centuries.

Traditionally, Krampus are said to appear alongside Saint Nicholas at Christmas time, giving naughty children gifts of birch twigs – or subjecting them to a much worse fate – while Nicholas rewards the good children with presents.

Krampusnacht is still celebrated across the world and the beast himself, with long dagger-like teeth, matted fur and devilish horns upon his head, is enough to scare anyone, adult or child into behaving themselves.

Krampus will be joining us at Sherwood for on Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th January. With this in mind, we do very much hope you have been good.

Wassailing for a healthy forest

But fear not! We do have a plan – wassailing on Sunday.

Traditionally, wassailing was a festival to wish for the health of the forest and a good year for the harvest. In reality, it was another chance to eat, drink and be merry, with plenty of raucousness and singing to boot, a little like in the 19th Century illustration below.

As historian Richard Townsley describes:

It started as an Anglo-Saxon tradition at the beginning of each year, the lord of the manor would greet the tenants and retainers with the toast waes hael, meaning “be well” or “be in good health”, to which his followers would reply drink hael, or “drink well”. This is the origin of our Wassailing.

The wassail drink would consist of warmed cider, ale, or wine, mixed with spices, honey and perhaps an egg or two, all served in one huge bowl and passed from person to person with the “wassail” greeting.

Wassailing celebrations generally take place on the Twelfth Night, 5th January, however the more traditional still insist in celebrating it on ‘Old Twelvey’, or the 17th January, the correct date; that is before the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1752.

Join the noisy parade

The Lady Bay Revellers Morris Dancing troupe will be performing in the amphitheatre for us, and there will be a chance to once again to make lots of noise as you march through the forest, led by the Green Man, the timeless spirit of new life and rebirth.

The noise is vital if the Krampus are to be scared away from Sherwood for this winter at least.

You can make at bird-seed shaker for just £1 at Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre during the day, to add to the racket on the march to the Major Oak and to feed the birds when you return home.

Once at the Major Oak, the Green Man (whose face is carved in a tree, above left) will lead the so that the forest may flourish for another year.

(Did you know that making a toast dates back to ancient Greece? It was a way of proving trust – if the host drank the wine first it showed their guests that it wasn’t poisoned! The Romans put actual toasted bread in the wine to make it taste sweeter.)

Oh, and bring a torch to light your way on the return journey to the edge of the forest, now safely rid of the Krampus.

For now.

For details of this weekend’s happenings, visit our Events page.

Please note that dogs should be kept on leads, as they may react excitably if they see the Krampus.