‘twas the nineteenth night before Christmas.
December 6th is the sixth day of the made-up characters calendar and being Saint Nicholas’ Day, the day that Sinterklaas and Zwarte Pieten kidnap all of the bad children and take them away to Spain.
What does that have to do with the price of fish? Well nothing really but this story does, sort of.
Before you consider tucking into your Christmas Pudding, green bean bake, Brussels Sprouts and goose this Christmas, have a think in advance about what the best Christmas dinner could possibly be. Far too many Christmas dinners are blighted by blandness and boringness because that's the way that it has always been done. Tradition for tradition's sake might be easier to plan but there is a definitively perfect Christmas dinner and you need to know about it.
Before the Norman invasion of Britain in 1066; before the wave of Viking invasions; before the wave of Danish and Saxon invasions, the island of Britain was a patchwork quilt of smaller independent kingdoms who mostly hated each other. Three kingdoms had control of the south of the island and they were the Kingdom Of Mercia, the Kingdom Of Devon and the Kingdom Of Cornwall. All three were highly protective of their borders and even though they shared the same island, they were more likely to trade with mainland Europe than they were with each other.
In the year 584, when Æthelford the Bad was King of Devon, a trade delegation from King Woadi of Mercia was sent to try to diffuse tensions following a series of raids up and down their border; by raiders from both sides. Woadi was painfully aware that the continued tension, only drained the public coffers and that eventually when the public purse ran empty, there would be internal unrest in his own kingdom. A wagon train of wine, cured meats, and some of the finest fabric that the kingdom had to offer, was sent on its way to Æthelford. It didn't even make it twenty miles across the border and the entire cache of goods was stolen by the locals; with the wagon drivers killed and the oxen taken for their own use.
In 586, Woadi decided to send a ship full of beer, jewellery, fine linen and spices that they had acquired from other trade but this too was sunk after being set on fire.
In 587, Woadi sent ten nobles to negotiate terms of the end of hostilities, if no formal peace treaty could be reached. They were taken to a formal assembly of the Thing (the parliament) and although the achieved nothing, at least they weren't killed and all ten were able to return home to tell the tale.
In 590, after the village of Wicker Basket in Mercia had been razed, the village of Soggy Bottom in Devon had been attacked and the chief, Luke Owtawindo, had been taken captive and after the walled hamlet of Little Trouble had been set on fire, King Woadi decided to visit Devon himself and travelled on a fish van that carried the most amazing smoked cod that the kingdom had to offer. The people of Devon weren't sure what to make of the arrival of the King Of Mercia and the fish van was denied entry across the border at least two dozen times. Eventually the situation had to be resolved by the arrival of King Æthelford of Devon himself and the fish can was allowed entry, but only under the direct authority of the king.
When King Woadi did finally arrive at Æthelford's great hall on Christmas Day of 590, there was much joy and celebration for the people knew that the period of conflict was surely at an end. This was a blessing that could only have come at Christmas and in a season of goodwill towards all.
A banquet was given and Æthelford presented Woadi with the most expensive dish was available in the Kingdom of Devon - the eye of a camel which was served upon the spike of a knitting needle.
King Woadi said:
“It is easier for a needle to pass through the eye of a camel than for a fish van to enter the Kingdom Of Devon.”
When Æthelford tasted the cod which had been brought by King Woadi of Mercia, he couldn't believe that such a thing existed in the world. This could only be a Christmas miracle and Æthelford described the fish as the tastiest thing that he had ever eaten; indeed:
"It was the piece of cod that transcends all understanding."