23 December: La Longue Veille
The best mulled wine ever; the history of the Longue Veille; a memoir of a pleasant Longue Veille from 1824; A mon beau laurier, a dance for the Longue Veille.
La Longue Veille
The night before Christmas Eve is a very notable one in the country; it is called 'La Longue Veille'; and poor indeed must be the cottage which has not a cup of vin brûlé, a piece of cheese, and a Guernsey galette for the Longue Veille. It is the merriest night of all the year, and gallons of wine are mulled by the bettermost farmers which last them throughout the winter. As I never tasted anywhere such mulled wine as we make, I really think it will be kind to give the exact receipt, and thus to recommend myself to your remembrance in every future Longue Veille; always under the stipulation, that you abide by the good old Guernsey rule, which allows one coffee cup full of the vin brûlé to every young person; two to married ladies, and three, or at the utmost four, to each gentleman. More than this is an unlawful excess and disgraces the offender.
Receipt for Guernsey Mulled Wine.
Some cloves and whole cinnamon;
An ounce of the last;
Of the first just one quarter;
Boiled, but not boiled too fast;
In a quart of cold water
To a dozen of wine;
Take a pound of loaf sugar,
Don't break it too fine;
Let them stand both together
While boiling the spice;
You can taste it to see
That the sweetness is nice.
That the cloves and the cinnamon
May simmer away,
If you're not in a hurry,
One third of the day;
It may then be poured into
The wine, and is fit
To be warmed—but not boiled
When you wish to drink it.
From Louisa Lane Clarke's The Folk Lore of Guernsey and Sark, pp. 7-8.
The History of the Longue Veille
In the long winter evenings neighbours were in the habit of meeting at each other’s houses in turn, and while the matrons took their places on the 'lit de fouaille' [bed made of grass or rushes],1 and the elderly men occupied the stools set in the deeper recess of the chimney, the young man and maidens gathered together on the floor, and by the dim light of the crâsset, plied their knitting, sang their songs, and told their stories. The saving of fuel and oil, which was effected by working in company under the same roof, entered for something in their calculations. These assemblies were called 'veilles,' or vielles, and were well adapted to keep up a pleasant neighbourly feeling.
The wares thus made were brought into town for sale on the Saturday, but there was one day in the year that a special market or fair for these goods was held, and that was the day before Christmas. The night previous to that—the 23rd December—was employed in preparing and packing up the articles, and, being the termination of their labours for the year, made an opportunity for a feast. Masters were in the habit of regaling their servants—merchants treated those with whom they had dealings—and neighbours clubbed together to supply the means of spending a joyous night. It may be that the restraint imposed by the Puritan clergy on all convivial meetings connected in any way with religious observances, cause this occasion for rejoicing to be more highly appreciated than it would otherwise have been, and to replace in some degree the usual festivities of the season.
Although the manufacture of woollen goods as a staple article of trade has come to an end, and the social 'veilles' are no longer kept up, 'la longue veille', or the evening of the 23rd December, is still observed as an occasion for family gatherings in many Guernsey households, though there is perhaps not one person in twenty who could tell the origin of the custom. Mulled wine, highly spiced and sweetened, and always drunk out of coffee cups, with mild cheese and a peculiar sort of biscuit—called emphatically 'Guernsey biscuit'—is considered quite indispensable on this evening, and indeed on all occasions of family rejoicing; while on every afternoon of the 23rd December the old country people were met riding home from town with their panniers full of provisions for the night. The next day, Christmas Eve, is called the 'surveille', and the town on that day is flocked with pleasure-seekers, buying and eating chestnuts and oranges.
From Edgar MacCulloch's Guernsey Folk Lore.
I remember so vividly the Christmas night, when I was a child, and mulled wine, as was the unfailing custom, was served at ten o'clock in a silver coffee pot with coffee cups, and pieces of cheddar cheese and Guernsey biscuit to go with it. An old gentleman was dining with us, who was a rigid teetotaller. But on this occasion he was inadvertently offered what he thought was coffee, and took a steaming cup absentmindedly, being in the middle of one of his witty and delightful discourses. As we children watched in fascination he drained his cup with evident enjoyment, our elders no doubt deciding to leave well alone, and all passed off safely.
From Arthur E Lee's 'Memories, mainly about ormering,' in the Quarterly Review of the Guernsey Society, VI (1), Spring 1950, p. 13. The above is an Editor's note to the story by Lee of a similar occurrence at the Vale Rectory. The story was told to Lee by his old great-aunts, the Chepmell sisters, and is interesting in that he notes a difference in strength between the Town recipe for mulled wine, and the country. The Townies used good port, while the country folk made use of a sweet wine called Ampurdam, normally drunk at home only when guests were not present. The new Rector of the Vale, who had come from the Town, used his Town recipe, the unaccustomed strength of the wine leading to interesting consequences for his Vallois guests: 'None of these good people, who were all of the most staid and circumspect conduct of life, had any notion of what was happening to them until it actually happened.' They became quite rowdy, it would seem!
¹ Louisa Lane Clarke asserts that dried pea-stalks were used in the Winter (Redstone's Guide to Guernsey, 1844, p. 135), but the poor had always had to make use of anything to sleep on that could be dried, including bracken.