Our native bees play a vital role in making Christmas possible in ways that very few people realise. Thousands of years before Christianity, across Northern Europe, people would make hanging wreaths to ward off winter spirits, keep unwanted smells at bay also remind everyone that spring would eventually come again. These wreaths still contain both Holly and Ivy today, both of which rely on our precious native pollinators, especially the increasingly common striped Ivy bee.
The ancients also used honey as a crucial part of their mid-winter feasts and festivals, both being used to preserve food like honey-cured pork and other meats, as well as being a key ingredient in many ceremonial cakes, sweets and biscuits made at this time of year. Beeswax infused cloth wraps have also been used for centuries as an ancient form of clingfilm and are currently making a welcome resurgence to reduce the amount of single-use plastic.
Without bees, your classic Christmas feast would be extremely sparse. There would be no cranberry sauce, no parsnips, no carrots, and no peas. You would not have any spices, nuts or fruit for your Christmas pudding, Christmas cake, or mince pies. Even your turkey, beef or other roast joints might be more miserable for the lack of bees who pollinate the soya and field beans used in their food pellets. This also applies to the clover and additional nitrogen-fixing plants critical for good quality outdoor grazing.
Beeswax candles burn with a bright, smokeless light and have been used in churches for centuries as well as being a key feature at the Christmas dinner table. We make our candles each year and when lit, the house is filled with the honey-sweet smell of melting beeswax and the rooms are lit with a warm, cosy glow keeping the darkness at bay. We do briefly visit the bees over the Christmas break to check they have enough stores and if necessary, replace the packs of sugar candy we leave just under the roof of each hive.
An old Christian tradition is that on midnight on Christmas eve the bees would sing to mark the birth of Jesus. When the adoption of the Gregorian calendar moved Christmas back 11 days in 1752, the fact that bees weren’t heard humming carols on the new Christmas Eve was seen as proof by some that the new calendar was Satan’s work! Bees buzz in the key of C apparently, although I don’t think I’ve ever heard my bees sing any recognisable tune!
Have a sweet Christmas and a bright New Year.
Simon, Caroline, Hilary, Crissy and the rest of the Bee Good team