I forgot it was the start of Yule. I mean, I didn’t forget, I had it written on my folklore spreadsheet of many things. It’s just that once I knew I didn’t have access to what I wanted to do, the thought quite slipped my mind. But then Yule runs until 1 January, so I’ve got time. Instead I gilded some walnuts with my friend, Sarah. Or as she put it, we made #ShinyNuts.
Walnuts are surprisingly folkloric. It’s said that a three lobed walnut placed under a chair can reveal a witch, in a pocket can protect you from lightning, and thrown to the ground can produce an endless sea. Mine were just two lobed though. They’re also used a lot in fairy tales, especially for secreting ball gowns. Mine just contained nuts.
Gilding walnuts is a Victorian tradition. They decorated their nuts before dangling them off the high boughs of their Christmas trees. And hidden inside each nut, instead of a fancy dress, was a charm or a secret message.
It’s a simple enough process, just a faff. Mainly because I’d skimped on the gold leaf. Instead of getting sheets I’d bought flakes, which got everywhere. I’m pretty sure I inhaled a load after a mis-timed sniff. Anyhow, all I did was crack the shell in half, eat the walnuts, cover the shells in glue then leaf, conceal a charm I’d robbed off a necklace, pop in a looped red ribbon, glue the halves back together, gild over the cracks, and Bob’s your lobster. I would like to say they joined the piggy biscuits on the tree, but they went soft, fell off and got eaten ages ago.
Despite the faff, I decided to make three; one gold, one silver and one bronze. I remember years ago reading a fairy tale with the walnut suitcase motif (F821.2. in Stith Thompson’s Motif- Index of Folk Literature, if you’re interested) where the dresses inside were gold, silver and bronze. Plus those were the colours I’d bought and waste not want not. I can’t quite remember the name of the fairy tale. Best guesses are Donkeyskin or Allerleirauh. But if anyone remembers it, please let me know.
And just like Yule, it’s said that the walnuts should only hang on the tree until 1 January. So today was a little bit Yulish after all.
As always, Sarah took excellent photos, both of us managing to gild while talking to even more folklorists over Zoom. Which reminds me, what’s the collective noun for a bunch of folklorists? A classification? A tale? A whimsy? An argument?
Thompson, S. (1956) Motif-index of Folk-literature. Vol III. F – H, Bloomington, Indiana University Press