The robin is said to have burned its breast, making it red, by throwing itself onto the wren to stifle the flames which were burning it when it was bringing fire to mankind. The Welsh for robin ‘bronrhuddyn‘ means ‘scorched breast’. Others say that the robin was part of a relay of birds that brought fire from the sun for mankind. The robin held the brand too close to the flames and burned its breast. In Scotland and Cornwall, a game called Robin’s Alight was played. It involved passing a burning brand from hand to hand and the person holding it when the flames went out had to pay a forfeit. Robins were associated with fire rituals, and until recently in Wales it was thought that anyone who killed a robin would have his house burned down.
The lore that surrounds the robin indicates that it was a sacred, protected bird in the past. In Norse myth the robin was sacred to Thor, god of lightening and was under his protection. In Germany it was thought the presence of a robin averted lightening. Legend has it that if a robin finds a dead human body in the woods it will cover it with leaves. Harming a robin is very bad luck and will result in your house being struck by lightning, ills of the hands and legs or even death:
The robin and the lintil, the laverock and the wren,
Them that harries their nests will never thrive again.
In mediaeval times the wassailing ceremony to welcome the New Year involved hanging up gifts of
food for the robins who were good spirits and brought luck for the coming year. When you see the first robin of the year it is still the custom to make a wish, for if the bird flies away before you have decided what you want you will have no luck in the coming year.
The robin is associated with fire, particularly the fire of the sun at the winter solstice. Its red breast marks it as a fire bird in the midst of winter. The French ceremony of spitting the robin on the hazel twig at Imbolc symbolised the banishing of the power of darkness and winter.
© Anna Franklin, Yule, History, Lore and Celebration, Lear Books, 2010