The Longue Veille is a historic celebration entirely unique to Guernsey that traditionally took place on December 23rd, and gives islanders and visitors a welcome excuse to begin their festive celebrations a day early.
The origins of La Longue Veille date back to 17th Century, when an Act of Parliament allowed the export of wool from mainland Britain to the Bailiwick to service Guernsey’s woolen industry. Many islanders were engaged in the manufacture of woolen stockings, frock jackets and jumpers, and neighbours would often gather in each other’s homes to work together in the production of garments in a social setting. These industrious assemblies were known as “veilles” or “veillies”, and the wares produced were taken into St Peter Port on a Saturday to be sold at market, with a special market held for them on the day before Christmas, known locally as “surveille”. The evening before, on the night of December 23rd, goods were packed ready to be taken to market and, it being the last market of the year, the opportunity was taken to celebrate the hard work of the last twelve months.
“Masters were in the habit of regaling their servants—merchants treated those with whom they had dealings—and neighbours clubbed together to supply the means of spending a joyous night.”
Edgar MacCulloch, Guernsey Folk Lore
During this period in Guernsey’s history the church took a somber view of any celebrative gathering connected to religious festivals, in an attempt to remove the influence of ancient pagan festivals on their congregation. With no link to a festival, be it Christian or pagan, there could be little objection to this celebration and consequently La Longue Veille became an opportunity for islanders to openly celebrate the festive season without incurring the displeasure of the local clergy. La Longue Veille continued to be a traditional gathering of family, friends and neighbours on the evening of December 23rd long after the importance of the island’s woolen industry and regular veilles had declined. Traditionally, spiced and sweetened mulled wine (known as “vin brûlé) is served in coffee cups, along with cheese and a Guernsey biscuit or galette. If you need an excuse to join us at the Bella’s bar for a mug or two of mulled wine and a cheese board on the night of Friday December 23rd this year, then La Longue Veille is it. We look forward to welcoming you.