Burning the Ashen Faggot, DevonAlthough the custom is practised in other parts of the West Country, Burning the Ashen Faggot is particularly associated with Devon, especially Dartmoor - Ashburton is named by some writers as holding dearly to the tradition.
It is highly probable that this tradition of burning a faggot of ash sticks (or in some places a single thick branch) bound with nine withies from a willow tree is linked to the custom brought over by the Norse invaders of burning the Yule log in homage to Thor, though as the Vikings settled the eastern side of the country far more than the west, it does seem strange that the ashen faggot is a West Country thing.
Christmas Eve is the usual time to set light to the faggot, and this being the West Country there is much drinking of cider and other local brews (a drop of smuggled brandy would be, or is, added to the cider at times) that accompanies the burning, and in modern times pub landlords have been happy to organise the event in their premises, to the contentment of their customers and their bank managers.
Customs don't have tend to have set rules, so practises vary from place to place - in past times it was usual for the drinking to be very much a communal affair, a large flagon or a loving cup being passed around from hand to hand, drained and refilled as each withy broke; some insist that a scrap of wood saved from the previous year's burning be used to start the new faggot off.
One older aspect of the thing that has gone out of fashion is the idea that unmarried women present at the burning would choose one of the withies as theirs, and should it burn and break before the rest she would marry before the other maidens.
There are few things more comforting than a fire in midwinter. Add to the fire convivial company and a tasty drink and you have the perfect ingredients for a good evening, and the excuse if excuse be needed that you are keeping tradition alive.
More British Folk Customs?