On the 8th of December was the conception of Mary. There was a little confusion as some thought it was Mary’s conception of Jesus Christ on this day, however, it was meant to mark St Anna, Mary’s mother’s, conception of Mary. The farmer’s primstav mark for this day was a cross, a fishnet, a St. Mary crown, or a Mary figure.
This was the day when brewing for Christmas started. Brewing was an art-form which was passed down from father to son. It was one of the most ceremonial Christmas preparations. During pre-Christian times beer was drunk to honour the gods. Later, when the gulating law was in full-swing, it was mandatory to brew beer for Christmas. The beer had to be blessed in thanks for Christ and St Mary for a good year and peace. Everyone had to brew as much beer a possible to show gratitude to the dieties for the years harvest. The beer had to be so strong that you felt it in your head – it was almost a duty to get plastered at Christmas.
Each farm had their own secret recipes which were carefully passed down to the next generation. It was tradition for the men to do the harvesting while the women did the brewing. Preferable, it had to be brewed by ‘old hags’ as they made the best and strongest beer.
The brewing was connected with many customs and traditions especially when it came to protecting the beer from evil spirits. A parade of trolls and witches – Åsgårdsreien (wild hunt, Gabriel’s hounds, or Ghost-riders) could drink all the beer if crosses and steal were not put up to ward them off. The brewers had to be as quiet as possible while brewing but when they got to the end they had to scream and shout to make the brew stronger. Often the neighbours would came round to help with the noise. It was common to pour liquor into the brew and some even added tobacco and pepper to make it stronger. Some thought it was the tobacco that would make people vomit after drinking too much. It was a great loss to make a bad batch of beer so every best effort was made for a great batch every time – especially to be better than the neighbours.
Also, on this day, pregnant women prayed for a good birth and women also prayed to become pregnant. In some areas the folk washed their clothes white for Christmas.
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