Thursday 10 December 2020

The Cornish Bunch

  The Folkloric Tradition of the Cornish Bunch

Alex Langstone

The Cornish Bunch is a lovely old custom, that allows us to easily make something authentic and creative for our homes at Christmas. Two withy hoops are fastened together at right angles, and these  are covered with holly, ivy and other evergreens. Traditionally the foliage used would have been what was available to pick in the locality. A red candle is placed at the base and an apple is secured to hang down above it. These were hung from the ceiling on Winter Solstice eve, where just before midnight, the red candle was very carefully lit. Then those assembled would form a ring underneath the bush, and perform a dance to welcome the rebirth of the sun.

In much the same way as kissing under the Mistletoe, it is customary in Cornwall to kiss under the bunch, and by doing this, luck was procured for the coming New Year. For areas where Mistletoe doesn't naturally grow, and is hard to come by, this is a great alternative. 

In the past, the Cornish Bunch was hung from the central beam of farmhouse kitchens across Cornwall, and was a centre piece to the seasonal celebrations. It was also sometimes hung in the largest window, where it was believed to be a good luck charm.

How to make a Cornish bunch

The easiest way to make a Cornish Bunch is to make two hoops from rolled up chicken wire, which is then formed into two individual hoops with a diameter of around 45 cm. These hoops then need to be secured together at right angles. Using chicken wire is great, as it gives a good base for attaching the foliage.

Once secured, you can decorate with holly, ivy and other evergreens. You may need to secure the foliage with floristry wire. Finish it all off with either an apple or a Christmas bauble hanging from the top, and a red candle in the base. 

I usually dispense with the candle, as I do not consider it is safe to have a lighted candle within the foliage. But a battery powered candle or lantern would suffice. As an alternative, I tend to finish the base with red berries.

All of the examples illustrated were handmade by myself, and are hung in the kitchen of our farm cottage in the Camel Valley. I usually make the Bunch a few days before the Winter Solstice, and remove it on New Year's Day. 

It is a great way to observe the rebirth of the Winter Solstice sun; and to celebrate one of the old folk-traditions of a Cornish Christmas.

Article originally published 10 December 2020.

Re-published in Cornwall Life 04 December 2021

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