[Footnote 15: Bishop of Winchester, died 1684.]
The popular love of Christmas is well exemplified in a little 16mo book, printed in 1678, entitled "The Examination and Tryal of old Father CHRISTMAS; Together with his Clearing by the Jury, at the Assizes held at the Town of Difference, in the County of Discontent." The Jury was evidently a packed one. "Then saith the Clerk to the Cryer, count them—Starve-mouse, one, All-pride, two, Keep-all, three, Love-none, four, Eat-alone, five, Give-little, six, Hoard-corn, seven, Grutch-meat, eight, Knit-gut, nine, Serve-time, ten, Hate-good, eleven, Cold-kitchen, twelve.
"Then saith the Cryer, all you bountiful Gentlemen of the Jury, answer to your names, and stand together, and hear your Charge.
"With that there was such a lamentable groan heard, enough to turn Ice into Ashes, which caused the Judge, and the rest of the Bench, to demand what the matter was; it was replied that the grave old Gentleman, Christmas, did sound (swoon) at the naming of the Jury; then it was commanded that they should give him air, and comfort him up, so that he might plead for himself: and here, I cannot pass by in silence, the love that was expressed by the Country people, some shreeking and crying for the old man; others striving to hold him up, others hugging him, till they had almost broke the back of him, others running for Cordials and strong waters, insomuch that, at last they had called back his wandring spirits, which were ready to take their last farewel."
Christmas challenged this jury, and another was empanelled consisting of Messrs Love-friend, Hate-strife, Free-man, Cloath-back, Warm-gut, Good-work, Neighbour-hood, Open-house, Scorn-use, Soft-heart, Merry-man, and True-love. His Indictment was as follows:
"Christmas, thou art here indicted by the name of Christmas, of the Town of Superstition, in the County of Idolatry, and that thou hast, from time to time, abused the people of this Common-wealth, drawing and inticing them to Drunkenness, Gluttony, and unlawful Gaming, Wantonness, Uncleanness, Lasciviousness, Cursing, Swearing, abuse of the Creatures, some to one Vice, and some to another; all to Idleness: what sayest thou to thy Inditement, guilty or not guilty? He answered, Not guilty, and so put himself to the Trial."
After the witnesses against him were heard, Christmas was asked what he could say in his defence.
"Judge.—Old Christmas, hold up thy head, and speak for thy self. Thou hast heard thy inditement, and also what all these Witnesses have evidenced against thee; what sayest thou now for thy self, that sentence of condemnation should not be pronounced against thee?
"Christmas.—Good my Lord, be favourable to an old man, I am above One thousand six hundred years old, and was never questioned at Sizes or Sessions before: my Lord, look on these white hairs, are they not a Crown of Glory?...
"And first, my Lord, I am wronged in being indited by a wrong name, I am corruptly called Christmas, my name is Christ-tide or time.
"And though I generally come at a set time, yet I am with him every day that knows how to use me.
"My Lord, let the Records be searcht, and you shall find that the Angels rejoyced at my coming, and sung Gloria in excelsis; the Patriarchs and Prophets longed to see me.
"The Fathers have sweetly imbraced me, our modern Divines all comfortably cherisht me; O let me not be despised now I'm old. Is there not an injunction in Magna Charta, that commands men to inquire for the old way, which is the good way; many good deeds do I do, O, why do the people hate me? We are commanded to be given to Hospitality, and this hath been my practice from my youth upward: I come to put men in mind of their redemption, to have them love one another, to impart with something here below, that they may receive more and better things above; the wise man saith There is a time for all things, and why not for thankfulness? I have been the cause that at my coming, Ministers have instructed the people every day in publick, telling the people how they should use me, and other delights, not to effeminate, or corrupt the mind, and bid them abhor those pleasures from which they should not rise bettered, and that they should by no means turn pass-time into Trade: And if that at any time they have stept an Inch into excess, to punish themselves for it, and be ever after the more careful to keep within compass.
"And did also advise them to manage their sports without Passion; they would also tell the people that their feasts should not be much more than nature requires, and grace moderates; not pinching, nor pampering; And whereas they say that I am the cause they sit down to meat, and rise up again graceless, they abundantly wrong me: I have told them that before any one should put his hand in the dish, he should look up to the owner, and hate to put one morsel in his mouth unblessed: I tell them they ought to give thanks for that which is paid for already, knowing that neither the meat, nor the mouth, nor the man, are of his own making: I bid them fill their bellies, not their eyes, and rise from the board, not glutted, but only satisfied, and charge them to have a care that their guts be no hindrances to their brains or hands, and that they should not lose themselves in their feasts, but bid them be soberly merry, and wisely free. I also advise them to get friendly Thrift to be there Caterer, and Temperance to carve at the board, and be very watchful that obscenity, detraction and scurrility be banisht the table; but let their discourse be as savoury as the meat, and so feed as though they did live to eat, and, at last, rise as full of thankfulness, as of food; this hath, this is, and this shall be my continual practice.
"Now, concerning the particulars that these folks charge me with, I cannot answer them, because I do not remember them; my memory is but weak, as old men's use to be; but, methinks, they seem to be the seed of the Dragon; they send forth of their mouths whole floods of impious inventions against me, and lay to my charge things which I am not guilty of, which hath caused some of my friends to forsake me, and look upon me as a stranger: my brother Good-works broke his heart when he heard on it, my sister Charity was taken with the Numb-palsie, so that she cannot stretch out her hand...."
Counsel was heard for him as well as witnesses examined on his behalf, and the Jury "brought him in, Not Guilty, with their own judgement upon it. That he who would not fully celebrate Christmas should forfeit his estate. The Judge being a man of old integrity, was very well pleased, and Christmas was released with a great deal of triumph and exaltation."
Commencement of Christ-tide—"O Sapientia!"—St. Thomas's Day—William the Conqueror and the City of York—Providing for Christmas fare—Charities of food—Bull-baiting—Christ-tide charities—Going "a-Thomassing," etc.—Superstitions of the day.
We take it for granted that in the old times, when Christ-tide was considered so great a festival as to be accorded a Novena—that it began on the 16th December, when, according to the use of Sarum, the antiphon "O Sapientia," is sung. This, as before stated, is pointed out plainly in our English Church Calendar, which led to a curious mistake on the part of Dr. Ellicott, Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol, who on one occasion described it as the Festival of "O Sapientia." The other antiphons which are sung between the 16th December and Christmas Eve are "O Adonai," "O Radix Jesu," "O Clavis David," "O Oriens Splendor," "O Rex Gentium," and "O Emmanuel," and they are commonly called the O's.
But, beyond its being lawful to eat mince pies on the 16th December, I know of nothing noteworthy on the days intervening between that date and the festival of St. Thomas on the 21st December, which is, or was, celebrated in different parts of the country, with some very curious customs. The earliest I can find of these is noted by Drake in his Eboracum, and he says he took the account from a MS. which came into his possession.
[Footnote 16: Ed. 1736, p. 217.]
"William the Conqueror, on the third year of his reign (on St. Thomas's Day), laid siege to the City of York; but, finding himself unable, either by policy or strength, to gain it, raised the siege, which he had no sooner done but by accident he met with two fryers at a place called Skelton, not far from York, and had been to seek reliefe for their fellows and themselves against Christmas: the one having a wallet full of victualls and a shoulder of mutton in his hand, with two great cakes hanging about his neck; the other having bottles of ale, with provisions, likewise of beife and mutton in his wallett.
"The King, knowing their poverty and condition, thought they might be serviceable to him towards the attaining York, wherefore (being accompanied with Sir John Fothergill, general of the field, a Norman born), he gave them money, and withall a promise that, if they would lett him and his soldiers into their priory at a time appointed, he would not only rebuild their priory, but indowe it likewise with large revenues and ample privileges. The fryers easily consented, and the Conqueror as soon sent back his army, which, that night, according to agreement, were let into the priory by the two fryers, by which they immediately made themselves masters of all York; after which Sir Robert Clifford, who was governor thereof, was so far from being blamed by the Conqueror for his stout defence made the preceding days, that he was highly esteemed and rewarded for his valour, being created Lord Clifford, and there knighted, with the four magistrates then in office—viz., Horongate, Talbot (who after came to be Lord Talbott), Lassells, and Erringham.
"The Arms of the City of York at that time was, argent, a cross, gules, viz. St. George's Cross. The Conqueror charged the cross with five lyons, passant gardant, or, in memory of the five worthy captains, magistrates, who governed the city so well, that he afterwards made Sir Robert Clifford governour thereof, and the other four to aid him in counsell; and, the better to keep the City in obedience, he built two castles, and double-moated them about; and, to shew the confidence and trust he put in these old but new-made officers by him, he offered them freely to ask whatsoever they would of him before he went, and he would grant their request; wherefore they (abominating the treachery of the two fryers to their eternal infamy), desired that, on St. Thomas's Day, for ever, they might have a fryer of the priory of St. Peter's to ride through the city on horseback, with his face to the horse's tayle: and that, in his hand, instead of a bridle, he should have a rope, and in the other a shoulder of mutton, with one cake hanging on his back and another on his breast, with his face painted like a Jew; and the youth of the City to ride with him, and to cry and shout 'Youl, Youl!' with the officers of the City riding before and making proclamation, that on this day the City was betrayed; and their request was granted them; which custom continued till the dissolution of the said fryory; and afterwards, in imitation of the same, the young men and artizans of the City, on the aforesaid St. Thomas's day, used to dress up one of their own companions like a fryer, and call him Youl, which custom continued till within these threescore years, there being many now living which can testify the same. But upon what occasion since discontinued, I cannot learn; this being done in memory of betraying the City by the said fryers to William the Conqueror."
St. Thomas's day used to be utilised in laying in store of food at Christ-tide for the purpose of properly keeping the feast of the Nativity. In the Isle of Man it was the custom for the people to go on that day to the mountains in order to capture deer and sheep for the feast; and at night bonfires blazed on the summit of every "fingan," or cliff, to provide for which, at the time of casting peats, every person put aside a large one, saying, "Faaid mooar moaney son oie'l fingan"—that is, A large turf for Fingan's Eve.
Beef was sometimes left to the parish by deceased benefactors, as in the case of Boteler's Bull Charity at Biddenham, Bedfordshire, of which Edwards says: "This is an ancient annual payment of L5 out of an estate at Biddenham, formerly belonging to the family of Boteler, and now the property of Lord Viscount Hampden, which is due and regularly paid on St. Thomas's Day to the overseers of the poor, and is applicable by the terms of the original gift (of which no written memorial is to be found), or by long-established usage, to the purchase of a bull, which is killed and the flesh thereof given among the poor persons of the parish.
[Footnote 17: A Collection of Old English Customs and Curious Bequests and Charities, London, 1842, p. 64.]
"For many years past, the annual fund being insufficient to purchase a bull, the deficiency has been made good out of other charities belonging to the parish. It was proposed some years ago by the vicar that the L5 a year should be laid out in buying meat, but the poor insisted on the customary purchase of a bull being continued, and the usage is, accordingly, kept up. The price of the bull has varied of late years from L9 to L14. The Churchwardens, Overseers, and principal inhabitants assist at the distribution of the meat."
He gives another instance of a gift of beef and barley at Nevern, Pembrokeshire: "William Rogers, by will, June 1806, gave to the Minister and Churchwardens of Nevern and their successors L800 three per cent. Consols, to be transferred by his executors within six months after his decease; and it was his will that the dividends should be laid out annually, one moiety thereof in good beef, the other moiety in good barley, the same to be distributed on every St. Thomas's Day in every year by the Minister and Churchwardens, to and among the poor of the said parish of Nevern.
[Footnote 18: A Collection of Old English Customs and Curious Bequests and Charities, London, 1842, p. 24.]
"After the payment of L1 to a solicitor in London, and a small amount for a stamp and postage, the dividends (L24) are expended in the purchase of beef and barley, which is distributed by the Churchwarden on 21st December to all the poor of the parish, in shares of between two and three gallons of barley, and between two and three pounds of beef."
Yet another example of Christmas beef for the poor—this time rather an unpleasant one: "The cruel practice of bull-baiting was continued annually on St. Thomas's Day in the quaint old town of Wokingham, Berks, so lately as 1821. In 1822, upon the passing of the Act against cruelty to Animals, the Corporation resolved on abolishing the custom. The alderman (as the chief Magistrate is called there) went with his officers in procession and solemnly pulled up the bull-ring, which had, from immemorial time been fixed in the market-place. The bull-baiting was regarded with no ordinary attachment by 'the masses'; for, besides the love of 'sport,' however barbarous, it was here connected with something more solid—the Christmas dinner.
[Footnote 19: Notes and Queries, second series, v. 35.]
"In 1661, George Staverton gave by will, out of his Staines house, four pounds to buy a bull for the use of the poor of Wokingham parish, to be increased to six pounds after the death of his wife and her daughter; the bull to be baited, and then cut up, 'one poor's piece not exceeding another's in bigness.' Staverton must have been an amateur of the bull-bait; for he exhorts his wife, if she can spare her four pounds a-year, to let the poor have the bull at Christmas next after his decease, and so forward.
"Great was the wrath of the populace in 1822 at the loss, not of the beef—for the corporation duly distributed the meat—but of the baiting. They vented their rage for successive years in occasional breaches of the peace. They found out—often informed by the sympathising farmer or butcher—where the devoted animal was domiciled; proceeded at night to liberate him from stall or meadow, and to chase him across the country with all the noisy accompaniments imaginable. So long was this feeling kept alive, that thirteen years afterwards—viz. in 1835—the mob broke into the place where one of the two animals to be divided was abiding, and baited him, in defiance of the authorities, in the market-place; one enthusiastic amateur, tradition relates, actually lying on the ground and seizing the miserable brute by the nostril, more canino, with his own human teeth! This was not to be endured, and a sentence of imprisonment in Reading Gaol gave the coup de grace to the sport. The bequest of Staverton now yields an income of L20, and has for several years past been appropriated to the purchase of two bulls. The flesh is divided, and distributed annually on St. Thomas's Day, by the alderman, churchwardens, and overseers to nearly every poor family (between 200 and 300), without regard to their receiving parochial relief. The produce of the offal and hides is laid out in the purchase of shoes and stockings for the poor women and children. The bulls' tongues are recognised by courtesy as the perquisites of the alderman and town-clerk."
But there were other kindly gifts to the poor, vide one at Farnsfield, Nottinghamshire, where Samuel Higgs, by his will dated May 11, 1820 (as appears from the church tablet), gave L50 to the vicar and churchwardens of this parish, and directed that the interest should be given every year on 21st December, in equal proportions, to ten poor men and women who could repeat the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments before the vicar or such other person as he should appoint to hear them. The interest is applied according to the donor's orders, and the poor persons appointed to partake of the charity continue to receive it during their lives.
[Footnote 20: Edwards, p. 209.]
Take another case, at Tainton, Oxfordshire, where a quarter of barley meal is provided annually at the expense of Lord Dynevor, the lord of the manor, and made into loaves called cobbs. These used to be given away in Tainton Church to such of the poor children of Burford as attended. A sermon is preached on St. Thomas's Day, according to directions supposed to be contained in the will of Edmund Harman, 6s. 8d. being also paid out of Lord Dynevor's estate to the preacher. The children used to make so much riot and disturbance in the church, that about 1809 it was thought better to distribute the cobbs in a stable belonging to one of the churchwardens, and this course has been pursued ever since.
[Footnote 21: Ibid., p. 25.]
At Slindon, Sussex, a sum of L15 was placed in the Arundel Savings Bank, in the year 1824, the interest of which is distributed on St. Thomas's Day. It is said that this money was found many years since on the person of a beggar, who died by the roadside, and the interest of it has always been appropriated by the parish officers for the use of the poor.
[Footnote 22: Ibid., p. 129.]
Where these gifts were not distributed, as a rule, the poor country folk went round begging for something wherewith to keep the festival of Christ-tide; and for this they can scarcely be blamed, for agricultural wages were very low, and mostly paid in kind, so that the labourer could never lay by for a rainy day, much less have spare cash to spend in festivity. Feudality was not wholly extinct, and they naturally leaned upon their richer neighbours for help—especially at this season of rejoicing throughout all England—a time of feasting ever since the Saxon rule. So, following the rule of using St. Thomas's Day as the day for providing the necessaries for the Christmas feast, they went about from farm-house to mansion soliciting gifts of food. In some parts, as in Derbyshire, this was called "going a-Thomassing," and the old and young folks would come home laden with gifts of milk, cheese, wheat, with which to make furmity or furmenty, oatmeal, flour, potatoes, mince pies, pigs' puddings, or pork pies, and other goodies. This collection went by the same name in Cheshire and neighbouring counties, where the poor generally carried a bag and a can into which they might put the flour, meal, or corn that might be given them.
In other places, such as Northamptonshire, Kent, Sussex, Herefordshire, Worcestershire, it went under the name of "Going a Gooding," and in some cases the benefactions were acknowledged by a return present of a sprig of holly or mistletoe or a bunch of primroses. In some parts of Herefordshire they "called a spade a spade," and called this day "Mumping," or begging day; and in Warwickshire, where they principally received presents of corn, it was termed "going-a-corning"; and in that home of orchards Worcestershire, this rhyme used to be sung—
Wissal, wassail through the town, If you've got any apples throw them down; Up with the stocking, and down with the shoe, If you've got no apples money will do. The jug is white, and the ale is brown, This is the best house in the town.
"Cuthbert Bede" (the Rev. Edward Bradley) writes—"In the Staffordshire parish whence I write, S. Thomas's Day is observed thus:—Not only do the old women and widows, but representatives also from each poorer family in the parish, come round for alms. The clergyman is expected to give one shilling to each person, and, as no 'reduction is made on taking a quantity' of recipients, he finds the celebration of the day attended with no small expense. Some of the parishioners give alms in money, others in kind. Thus, some of the farmers give corn, which the miller grinds gratis. The day's custom is termed 'Gooding.' In neighbouring parishes no corn is given, the farmers giving money instead; and in some places the money collected is placed in the hands of the clergyman and churchwardens, who, on the Sunday nearest to S. Thomas's Day, distribute it at the vestry. The fund is called S. Thomas's Dole, and the day itself is termed Doleing Day."
[Footnote 23: Notes and Queries, 2 series, iv. 487.]
There is very little folk-lore about this day. Halliwell says that girls used to have a method of divination with a "S. Thomas's Onion," for the purpose of finding their future husbands. The onion was peeled, wrapped in a clean handkerchief, and then being placed under their heads, the following lines were said:
Good S. Thomas, do me right, And see my true love come to-night, That I may see him in the face, And him in my kind arms embrace.
A writer in Notes and Queries says, "A Nottinghamshire maid-servant tells me:—'One of my mistresses was brought up at Ranskill, or not far from there. She used to say that when she and her sister were children they always hid under the nurse's cloak if they went out to a party on S. Thomas's Day. They were told that S. Thomas came down at that time and sat on the steeple of the church.'"
[Footnote 24: 7 series, x. p. 487.]
Paddington Charity (Bread and Cheese Lands)—Barring-out at Schools—Interesting narrative.
Until Christmas eve there is nothing remarkable about this Novena of Christ-tide, excepting a curious charitable custom which used to obtain in the parish of Paddington, which may be well described by a quotation from the London Magazine (December 1737, p. 705).
"Sunday, December 18, 1737. This day, according to annual custom, bread and cheese were thrown from Paddington steeple to the populace, agreeable to the will of two women, who were relieved there with bread and cheese when they were almost starved; and Providence afterwards favouring them, they left an estate in that parish to continue the custom for ever on that day."
Three pieces of land situated in the parish were certainly left by two maiden ladies, whose names are unknown, and their charity was distributed as described until the Sunday before Christmas 1834, when the bread and cheese (consisting of three or four dozen penny rolls, and the same quantity of pieces of cheese) were thrown for the last time from the belfry of St. Mary's Church by Mr. Wm. Hogg, the parish clerk. After that date the rents arising from these "bread and cheese lands," as they are called, were distributed in the shape of bread, coals, and blankets, to poor families inhabiting the parish, of whom a list was made out annually for the churchwardens, stating their residence and occupation, and the number of children under ten years of age. Subsequently the Court of Chancery assented to a scheme whereby the rents are portioned amongst the national schools, etc.
A curious custom used to obtain in some schools just before the Christmas holidays, of barring-out the master, and keeping him out of the schoolroom until the boys' grievances had been listened to and promise of redress given; and the best account of this custom that I have ever met with is in the Gentleman's Magazine for 1828, vol. ii. p. 404, etc.
"It was a few days before the usual period of the Christmas Holidays arrived, when the leading scholars of the head form determined on reviving the ancient but obsolete custom of barring-out the master of the school. Many years had elapsed since the attempt had succeeded; and many times since that period had it been made in vain. The scholars had heard of the glorious feats of their forefathers in their boyish years, when they set the lash of the master at defiance for days together. Now, alas! all was changed; the master, in the opinion of the boys, reigned a despot absolute and uncontrolled; the merciless cruelty of his rod, and the heaviness of his tasks, were insupportable. The accustomed holidays had been rescinded; the usual Christmas feast reduced to a non-entity, and the chartered rights of the scholars were continually violated. These grievances were discussed seriatim; and we were all unanimously of opinion that our wrongs should, if possible, be redressed. But how the object should be effected was a momentous and weighty affair. The master was a clergyman of the old school, who for the last forty years had exercised an authority hitherto uncontrolled, and who had no idea of enforcing scholastic discipline without the exercise of the whip. The consequences of a failure were terrible to think upon; but then the anticipation of success, and the glory attendant upon the enterprise, if successful, were sufficient to dispel every fear.
"At the head of the Greek class was one whose very soul seemed formed for the most daring attempts. He communicated his intentions to a chosen few, of which the writer was one, and offered to be the leader of the undertaking if we would promise him our support. We hesitated; but he represented the certainty of success with such feeling eloquence that he entirely subdued our opposition. He stated that Addison had acquired immortal fame by a similar enterprise. He told us that almost every effort in the sacred cause of freedom had succeeded. He appealed to our classical recollections:—Epaminondas and Leonidas were worthy of our example; Tarquin and Caesar, as tyrants, had fallen before the united efforts of freedom; we had only to be unanimous, and the rod of this scholastic despot would be for ever broken. We then entered enthusiastically into his views. He observed that delays were dangerous; 'the barring-out,' he said, 'should take place the very next morning to prevent the possibility of being betrayed.' On a previous occasion (he said), some officious little urchin had told the master the whole plot, several days having been allowed to intervene between the planning of the project and its execution, and, to the astonishment of the boys, it appeared they found the master at his desk two hours before his usual time, and had the mortification of being congratulated on their early attendance, with an order to be there every morning at the same hour!
"To prevent the occurrence of such a defeat we determined on organising our plans that very night. The boys were accordingly told to assemble after school hours at a well-known tombstone in the neighbouring Churchyard, as something of importance was under consideration. The place of meeting was an elevated parallelogram tombstone, which had always served as a kind of council table to settle our little disputes as well as parties of pleasure. Here we all assembled at the appointed time. Our leader took his stand at one end of the stone, with the head boys who were in the secret on each side of him. 'My boys (he laconically observed), to-morrow morning we are to bar-out the flogging parson, and to make him promise that he will not flog us hereafter without a cause, nor set us long tasks or deprive us of our holidays. The boys of the Greek form will be your Captains, and I am to be your Captain-General. Those that are cowards had better retire and be satisfied with future floggings; but you, who have courage, and know what it is to have been flogged for nothing, come here and sign your names.' He immediately pulled out a pen and a sheet of paper; and having tied some bits of thread round the finger-ends of two or three boys, with a pin he drew blood to answer for ink, and to give more solemnity to the act. He signed the first, the Captains next, and the rest in succession. Many of the lesser boys slunk away during the ceremony; but on counting the names we found we mustered upwards of forty—sufficient, it was imagined, even to carry the school by storm. The Captain-General then addressed us: 'I have the key of the school, and shall be there at seven o'clock. The old Parson will arrive at nine, and every one of you must be there before eight to allow us one hour for barricading the doors and windows. Bring with you as much provision as you can; and tell your parents that you have to take your dinners in school. Let every one of you have some weapon of defence; you who cannot obtain a sword, pistol, or poker, must bring a stick or cudgel. Now, all go home directly, and be sure to arrive early in the morning.'
"Perhaps a more restless and anxious night was never passed by young recruits on the eve of a general battle. Many of us rose some hours before the time; and at seven o'clock, when the school door was opened, there was a tolerably numerous muster. Our Captain immediately ordered candles to be lighted, and a rousing fire to be made (for it was a dark December's morning). He then began to examine the store of provisions, and the arms which each had brought. In the meantime, the arrival of every boy with additional material was announced by tremendous cheers.
"At length the Church Clock struck eight. 'Proceed to barricade the doors and windows,' exclaimed the Captain, 'or the old lion will be upon us before we are prepared to meet him.' In an instant the old oaken door rang on its heavy hinges. Some, with hammers, gimlets, and nails, were eagerly securing the windows, while others were dragging along the ponderous desks, forms, and everything portable, to blockade, with certain security, every place which might admit of ingress. This operation being completed, the Captain mounted the master's rostrum, and called over the list of names, when he found only two or three missing. He then proceeded to classify them into divisions, or companies of six, and assigned to each its respective Captain. He prescribed the duties of each company. Two were to guard the large casement window, where, it was expected, the first attack would be made; this was considered the post of honour, and, consequently, the strongest boys, with the most formidable weapons, were selected, whom we called Grenadiers. Another company, whom we considered as the Light Infantry, or Sharp Shooters, were ordered to mount a large desk in the centre of the School; and, armed with squibs, crackers, and various missiles, they were to attack the enemy over the heads of the Combatants. The other divisions were to guard the back windows and door, and to act according to the emergency of the moment. Our leader then moved some resolutions (which, in imitation of Brutus, he had cogitated during the previous night), to the effect that each individual should implicitly obey his own Captain; that each Captain should follow the orders of the Captain-general, and that a corps de reserve should be stationed in the rear, to enforce this obedience, and prevent the combatants from taking to flight. The resolutions were passed amid loud vociferations.
"We next commenced an examination of the various weapons, and found them to consist of one old blunderbuss, one pistol, two old swords, a few rusty pokers, and sticks, stones, squibs, and gunpowder in abundance. The firearms were immediately loaded with blank powder; the swords were sharpened, and the pokers heated in the fire. These weapons were assigned to the most daring company, who had to protect the principal window. The missiles were for the light infantry, and all the rest were armed with sticks.
"We now began to manoeuvre our companies, by marching them into line and column, so that every one might know his own situation. In the midst of this preparation, the sentinel whom we had placed at the window, loudly vociferated, 'The parson! The parson's coming!'
"In an instant all was confusion. Every one ran he knew not where; as if eager to fly, or screen himself from observation. Our captain immediately mounted a form, and called to the captains of the two leading companies to take their stations. They immediately obeyed; and the other companies followed their example; though they found it much more difficult to manoeuvre when danger approached than they had a few minutes before! The well-known footstep, which had often struck on our ears with terror, was now heard to advance along the portico. The muttering of his stern voice sounded in our ears like the lion's growl. A death-like silence prevailed: we scarcely dared to breathe: the palpitations of our little hearts could, perhaps, alone be heard. The object of our dread then went round to the front window, for the purpose of ascertaining whether any one was in the school. Every footstep struck us with awe: not a word, not a whisper was heard. He approached close to the window; and with an astonished countenance stood gazing upon us, while we were ranged in battle array, motionless statues, and silent as the tomb. 'What is the meaning of this?' he impatiently exclaimed. But no answer could he obtain, for who would then have dared to render himself conspicuous by a reply? Pallid countenances and livid lips betrayed our fears. The courage, which one hour before was ready to brave every danger, appeared to be fled. Every one seemed anxious to conceal himself from view: and there would, certainly, have been a general flight through the back windows had it not been for the prudent regulation of a corps de reserve, armed with cudgels, to prevent it.
"'You young scoundrels, open the door instantly,' he again exclaimed; and, what added to our indescribable horror, in a fit of rage he dashed his hand through the window, which consisted of diamond-shaped panes, and appeared as if determined to force his way in.
"Fear and trepidation, attended by an increasing commotion, now possessed us all. At this critical moment every eye turned to our captain, as if to reproach him for having brought us into this terrible dilemma. He alone stood unmoved; but he saw that none would have courage to obey his commands. Some exciting stimulus was necessary. Suddenly waving his hand, he exclaimed aloud, 'Three cheers for the barring-out, and success to our cause!' The cheers were tremendous; our courage revived; the blood flushed in our cheeks; the parson was breaking in; the moment was critical. Our Captain, undaunted, sprang to the fire-place—seized a heated poker in one hand, and a blazing torch in the other. The latter he gave to the captain of the sharp shooters, and told him to prepare a volley; when, with red-hot poker, he fearlessly advanced to the window seat; and, daring his master to enter, he ordered an attack—and an attack, indeed, was made, sufficiently tremendous to have repelled a more powerful assailant. The missiles flew at the ill-fated window from every quarter. The blunderbuss and the pistol were fired; squibs and crackers, inkstands and rulers, stones, and even burning coals, came in showers about the casement, and broke some of the panes into a thousand pieces; while blazing torches, heated pokers, and sticks, stood bristling under the window. The whole was scarcely the work of a minute: the astonished master reeled back in dumb amazement. He had, evidently, been struck with a missile or with the broken glass; and probably fancied that he had been wounded by the firearms. The schools now rang with the shouts of 'Victory,' and continued cheering. 'The enemy again approaches,' cried the captain; 'fire another volley;—stay, he seeks a parley—hear him.' 'What is the meaning, I say, of this horrid tumult?' 'The barring-out, the barring-out!' a dozen voices instantly exclaimed. 'For shame,' says he, in a tone evidently subdued; what disgrace are you bringing upon yourselves and the schools. What will the Trustees—what will your parents say? William,' continued he, addressing the captain, 'open the door without further delay.' 'I will, Sir,' he replied, 'on your promising to pardon us, and give us our lawful holidays, of which we have lately been deprived; and not set us tasks during the holidays.' 'Yes, yes,' said several squealing voices, 'that is what we want; and not to be flogged for nothing.' 'You insolent scoundrels! you consummate young villains!' he exclaimed, choking with rage, and at the same time making a furious effort to break through the already shattered window, 'open the door instantly, or I'll break every bone in your hides.' 'Not on those conditions,' replied our Captain, with provoking coolness;—'Come on, my boys, another volley.' No sooner said than done, and even with more fury than before. Like men driven to despair, who expect no quarter on surrendering, the little urchins daringly mounted the window seat, which was a broad, old-fashioned one, and pointed the fire arms and heated poker at him; whilst others advanced with the squibs and missiles. 'Come on, my lads,' said the captain, 'let this be our Thermopylae, and I will be your Leonidas.' And, indeed, so daring were they, that each seemed ready to emulate the Spartans of old. The master, perceiving their determined obstinacy, turned round, without further remonstrance, and indignantly walked away.
"Relieved from our terrors, we now became intoxicated with joy. The walls rang with repeated hurrahs! In the madness of enthusiasm, some of the boys began to tear up the forms, throw the books about, break the slates, locks, and cupboards, and act so outrageously that the captain called them to order; not, however, before the master's desk and drawers had been broken open, and every play thing which had been taken from the scholars restored to its owner.
"We now began to think of provisions. They were all placed on one table and dealt out in rations by the Captains of each company. In the meantime, we held a council of war, as we called it, to determine on what was to be done.
"In a recess at the east end of the school there stood a large oak chest, black with age, whose heavy hinges had become corroded with years of rust. It was known to contain the records and endowments of the school; and, as we presumed, the regulations for the treatment of the scholars. The oldest boy had never seen its inside. Attempts, dictated by insatiable curiosity, had often been made to open it; but it was deemed impregnable. It was guarded by three immense locks, and each key was in the possession of different persons. The wood appeared to be nearly half a foot thick, and every corner was plaited with iron. All eyes were instinctively directed to this mysterious chest. Could any means be devised for effecting an entrance? was the natural question. We all proceeded to reconnoitre; we attempted to move it, but in vain: we made some feeble efforts to force the lid; it was firm as a block of marble. At length, one daring urchin brought, from the fire-place, a red-hot poker, and began to bore through its sides. A universal shout was given. Other pokers were brought, and to work they went. The smoke and tremendous smell which the old wood sent forth rather alarmed us. We were apprehensive that we might burn the records instead of obtaining a copy of them. This arrested our progress for a few minutes.
"At this critical moment a shout was set up that the parson and a constable was coming! Down went the pokers; and, as if conscience-stricken, we were all seized with consternation. The casement window was so shattered that it could easily be entered by any resolute fellow. In the desperation of the moment we seized the desks, forms, and stools to block it up; but, in some degree, our courage had evaporated, and we felt reluctant to act on the offensive. The old gentleman and his attendant deliberately inspected the windows and fastenings: but, without making any attempt to enter, they retreated for the purpose, we presumed, of obtaining additional assistance. What was now to be done? The master appeared obdurate, and we had gone too far to recede. Some proposed to drill a hole in the window seat, fill it with gunpowder, and explode it if any one attempted to enter. Others thought we had better prepare to set fire to the school sooner than surrender unconditionally. But the majority advised what was, perhaps, the most prudent resolution, to wait for another attack; and, if we saw no hopes of sustaining a longer defence, to make the best retreat we could.
"The affair of the Barring Out had now become known, and persons began to assemble round the windows, calling out that the master was coming with assistance, and saying everything to intimidate us. Many of us were completely jaded with the over-excitement we had experienced since the previous evening. The school was hot, close, and full of smoke. Some were longing for liberty and fresh air; and most of us were now of opinion that we had engaged in an affair which it was impossible to accomplish. In this state of mind we received another visit from our dreaded master. With his stick he commenced a more furious attack than before; and, observing us less turbulent, he appeared determined to force his way in spite of the barricadoes. The younger boys thought of nothing but flight and self-preservation, and the rush to the back windows became general. In the midst of this consternation our Captain exclaims, 'Let us not fly like cowards; if we must surrender, let the gates of the citadel be thrown open: the day is against us; but let us bravely face the enemy, and march out with the honours of war.' Some few had already escaped; but the rest immediately ranged themselves on each side of the school, in two extended lines, with their weapons in hand. The door was thrown open—the master instantly entered, and passed between the two lines, denouncing vengeance on us all. But, as he marched in we marched out in military order; and, giving three cheers, we dispersed into the neighbouring fields.
"We shortly met again, and, after a little consultation, it was determined that none of the leaders should come to school until sent for, and a free pardon given.
"The defection, however, was so general that no corporal punishments took place. Many of the boys did not return till after the holidays: and several of the elder ones never entered the school again."
This curious custom can hardly be considered as dead, for a writer, mentioning it in Notes and Queries for December 22, 1888 (7th series, vi. p. 484), says: "This old custom, strange to say, still exists, in spite of the schoolmaster and the Board School. It may be of interest to some of your readers if I give an extract from a letter to the Dalston (Carlisle) School Board in reference to this subject, received at their last meeting on December 7th. 'I would ask the sanction of the Board for the closing of the school for the Vacation on the evening of Thursday the 20th. If we open on the Friday we shall, most likely, have a poor attendance. My principal reason for asking is that we should be thus better able to effectually put a stop to the old barbarous custom of Barring Out. Some of the children might possibly be persuaded by outsiders to make the attempt on Friday, and in such a case I should feel it my duty to inflict an amount of castigation on offenders such as neither they nor myself would relish.'
"The majority of the Board sympathised with the Master's difficulty and granted his request; though as Chairman I expressed my curiosity to see the repetition of a custom I had heard so much about."
The Bellman—Descriptions of him—His verses. The Waits—Their origin—Ned Ward on them—Corporation Waits—York Waits (17th Century)—Essay on Waits—Westminster Waits—Modern Waits.
Before the advent of Christmas the Bellman, or Watchman, left at each house a copy of verses ostensibly breathing good-will and a happy Christmas to the occupants, but in reality as a reminder to them of his existence, and that he would call in due time for his Christmas box. The date of the institution of the Bellman is not well defined. In Tegg's Dictionary of Chronology, 1530 is given, but no authority for the statement is adduced; Machyn, in his diary, is more definite "[the xij. day of January 1556-7, in Alderman Draper's ward called] chordwenerstrett ward, a belle man [went about] with a belle at evere lane, and at the ward [end to] gyff warnyng of ffyre and candyll lyght, [and to help the] poure, and pray for the ded." Their cry being, "Take care of your fire and candle, be charitable to the poor, and pray for the dead."
Shakespeare knew him, for in Macbeth (Act II. sc. 2) he says:
It was the owl that shriek'd, the fatal bell man, Which gives the stern'st good night.
And Milton mentions him in Il Penseroso:
Or the bellman's drowsy charm, To bless the doors from nightly harm.
Herrick also celebrates The Bellman:
From noise of Scare-fires rest ye free, From Murders Benedicite. From all mischances, that may fright Your pleasing slumbers in the night; Mercie secure ye all, and keep The Goblin from ye, while ye sleep. Past one o'clock, and almost two, My Masters all, Good day to you.
On the title page of Decker's Belman of London (ed. 1608) we have a woodcut giving a vivid portrait of the Bellman going his nightly rounds with his pike upon his shoulder, a horn lanthorn, with a candle inside, in one hand, and his bell, which is attached by a strap to his girdle, in the other hand, his faithful dog following him in his nightly rounds. In his Lanthorne and Candle light; or The Bell-man's second Night's walke, ed. 1608, the title page gives us a totally different type of Bellman, carrying both bell and lanthorn, but bearing no pike, nor is he accompanied by a dog. In his O per se O, ed. 1612, is another type of Bellman, with lanthorn, bell, and brown bill on his shoulder, but no dog. And in his Villanies Discovered by Lanthorne and Candle Light, etc., ed. 1620, we have two more and yet different Bellmen, one with bell, lanthorn, and bill, followed by a dog; the other (a very rough wood cut) does not give him his four-footed friend. This is the heading to the "Belman's Cry":
Men and Children, Maides and Wives, 'Tis not late to mend your lives:
* * * * *
When you heare this ringing Bell, Think it is your latest knell: When I cry, Maide in your Smocke, Doe not take it for a mocke: Well I meane, if well 'tis taken, I would have you still awaken: Foure a Clocke, the Cock is crowing I must to my home be going: When all other men doe rise, Then must I shut up mine eyes.
He was a person of such importance, that in 1716 Vincent Bourne composed a long Latin poem in praise of one of the fraternity: "Ad Davidem Cook, Westmonasterii Custodem Nocturnum et Vigilantissimum," a translation of which runs thus, in the last few lines:
Should you and your dog ever call at my door, You'll be welcome, I promise you, nobody more. May you call at a thousand each year that you live, A shilling, at least, may each householder give; May the "Merry Old Christmas" you wish us, befal, And your self, and your dog, be the merriest of all!
At Christ-tide it was their custom to leave a copy of verses, mostly of Scriptural character, and generally very sorry stuff, at every house on their beat, with a view to receiving a Christmas box; and this was an old custom, for Gay notices it in his Trivia (book ii.) written in 1715:
Behold that narrow street which steep descends, Whose building to the slimy shore extends; Here Arundel's fam'd structure rear'd its frame, The street, alone, retains the empty name; Where Titian's glowing paint the canvass warm'd, And Raphael's fair design, with judgment, charm'd, Now hangs the bellman's song, and pasted here The coloured prints of Overton appear.
Another ante-Christmas custom now falling into desuetude is the waits, who originally were musical watchmen, who had to give practical evidence of their vigilance by playing on the hautboy, or flageolet, at stated times during the night. In the household of Edward IV. there is mentioned in the Liber niger Domus Regis, "A Wayte, that nightely from Mychelmas to Shreve Thorsdaye, pipe the watch within this courte fowere tymes; in the Somere nightes three tymes, and maketh bon gayte at every chambre doare and offyce, as well for feare of pyckeres and pillers."
[Footnote 25: Pickers and stealers.]
These waits afterwards became bands of musicians, who were ready to play at any festivities, such as weddings, etc., and almost every city and town had its band of waits; the City of London had its Corporation Waits, which played before the Lord Mayor in his inaugural procession, and at banquets and other festivities. They wore blue gowns, red sleeves and caps, and every one had a silver collar about his neck. Ned Ward thus describes them in his London Spy (1703).
"At last bolted out from the corner of a street, with an ignis fatuus dancing before them, a parcel of strange hobgoblins, covered with long frieze rugs and blankets, hooped round with leather girdles from their cruppers to their shoulders, and their noddles buttoned up into caps of martial figure, like a Knight Errant at tilt and tournament, with his wooden head locked in an iron helmet; one, armed, as I thought with a lusty faggot-bat, and the rest with strange wooden weapons in their hands, in the shape of clyster pipes, but as long almost as speaking trumpets. Of a sudden they clapped them to their mouths, and made such a frightful yelling that I thought he would have been dissolving, and the terrible sound of the last trumpet to be within an inch of my ears.... 'Why, what,' says he, 'don't you love musick? These are the topping tooters of the town, and have gowns, silver chains and salaries for playing Lilli-borlero to my Lord Mayor's horse through the City.'"
That these Corporation Waits were no mean musicians we have the authority of Morley, who, in dedicating his Consort Lessons to the Lord Mayor and Aldermen in 1599, says:
"As the ancient custom of this most honourable and renowned city hath been ever to retain and maintain excellent and expert musicians to adorn your Honours' favours, feasts and solemn meetings—to these, your Lordships' Wayts, I recommend the same—to your servants' careful and skilful handling."
These concert lessons were arranged for six instruments—viz. two viols (treble and bass), a flute, a cittern (a kind of guitar, strung with wire), a treble lute, and a pandora, which was a large instrument, similar to a lute, but strung with wire in lieu of catgut.
The following is a description of the York Waits, end of seventeenth century:
In a Winter's morning, Long before the dawning, 'Ere the cock did crow, Or stars their light withdraw, Wak'd by a hornpipe pretty, Play'd along York City, By th' help of o'er night's bottle Damon made this ditty.... In a winter's night, By moon or lanthorn light, Through hail, rain, frost, or snow Their rounds the music go; Clad each in frieze or blanket (For either, heav'n be thanked), Lin'd with wine a quart, Or ale a double tankard. Burglars send away, And, bar guests dare not stay; Of claret, snoring sots Dream o'er their pipes and pots,
* * * * *
Candles, four in the pound, Lead up the jolly Round, While Cornet shrill i' th' middle Marches, and merry fiddle, Curtal with deep hum, hum, Cries we come, come, And theorbo loudly answers, Thrum, thrum, thrum, thrum, thrum. But, their fingers frost-nipt, So many notes are o'erslipt, That you'd take sometimes The Waits for the Minster chimes: Then, Sirs, to hear their musick Would make both me and you sick, And much more to hear a roopy fiddler call (With voice, as Moll would cry, "Come, shrimps, or cockles buy"). "Past three, fair frosty morn, Good morrow, my masters all."
With regard to their modern practice of playing during the night-tide, we find the following explanation in an Essay on the Musical Waits at Christmas, by John Cleland, 1766. Speaking of the Druids, he says: "But, whatever were their reasons for this preference, it is out of doubt that they generally chose the dead of night for the celebration of their greatest solemnities and festivals. Such assemblies, then, whether of religion, of ceremony, or of mere merriment, were promiscuously called Wakes, from their being nocturnal. The master of the Revels (Reveils) would, in good old English, be termed the Master of the Wakes. In short, such nocturnal meetings are the Wakes of the Britons; the Reveillons of the French; the Medianoche of the Spaniards; and the Pervigilia of the Romans. The Custom of Wakes at burials (les vigiles des morts) is at this moment, in many parts, not discontinued.
"But, at the antient Yule (or Christmas time, especially), the dreariness of the weather, the length of the night, would naturally require something extraordinary, to wake and rouse men from their natural inclination to rest, and to a warm bed, at that hour. The summons, then, to the Wakes of that season were given by music, going the rounds of invitation to the mirth or festivals which were awaiting them. In this there was some propriety, some object; but where is there any in such a solemn piece of banter as that of music going the rounds and disturbing people in vain? For, surely, any meditation to be thereby excited on the holiness of the ensuing day could hardly be of great avail, in a bed, between sleeping and waking. But such is the power of custom to perpetuate absurdities.
"However, the music was called The Wakeths, and, by the usual tendency of language to euphony, softened into Waits, as workth into wort, or checkths into chess, etc."
Another authority, Jones, in his Welsh Bards, 1794, says: "Waits are musicians of the lower order, who commonly perform on Wind instruments, and they play in most towns under the windows of the chief inhabitants, at midnight, a short time before Christmas; for which they collect a Christmas box, from house to house. They are said to derive their name of Waits, for being always in waiting to celebrate weddings and other joyous events happening within their district. There is a building at Newcastle called Waits' Tower, which was, formerly, the meeting-house of the town band of musicians."
The town waits certainly existed in Westminster as late as 1822, and they were elected by the Court of Burgesses of that city—vide a magazine cutting of that date: "Christmas Waits.—Charles Clapp, Benjamin Jackson, Denis Jelks, and Robert Prinset, were brought to Bow Street Office by O. Bond, the constable, charged with performing on several musical instruments in St. Martin's Lane, at half-past twelve o'clock this morning, by Mr. Munroe, the authorized principal Wait, appointed by the Court of Burgesses for the City and Liberty of Westminster, who alone considers himself entitled, by his appointment, to apply for Christmas boxes. He also urged that the prisoners, acting as Minstrels, came under the meaning of the Vagrant Act, alluded to in the 17th Geo. II.; however, on reference to the last Vagrant Act of the present king, the word 'minstrels' is omitted; consequently, they are no longer cognizable under that Act of Parliament; and, in addition to that, Mr. Charles Clapp, one of the prisoners, produced his indenture of having served seven years as an apprentice to the profession of a musician to Mr. Clay, who held the same appointment as Mr. Munroe does under the Court of Burgesses. The prisoners were discharged, after receiving an admonition from Mr. Halls, the sitting magistrate, not to collect Christmas boxes."
In an article, "Concerning Christmas," in Belgravia (vol. 6, new series, p. 326), we read: "It may not, perhaps, be generally known that, in the year of grace 1871, 'Waits' are regularly sworn before the Court of Burgesses at Westminster, and act under the authority of a warrant, signed by the clerk, and sealed with the arms of the city and liberty; in addition to which they are bound to provide themselves with a silver badge, also bearing the arms of Westminster."
The modern waits have entirely departed from any pretence of allusion to Christ-tide, and play indifferently the last things out in dance music, operatic airs, or music-hall songs; and they act upon people according to their various temperaments, some liking to "hear the waits," whilst others roundly anathematise them for disturbing their slumbers.
Christ-tide Carols—The days of Yule—A Carol for Christ-tide—"Lullaby"—The Cherry-tree Carol—Dives and Lazarus.
The singing of carols is now confined to Christmas day; but it was not always so, appropriate carols being sung during the Christ-tide preceding the day of the Nativity—such, for instance, as the following examples. The first is taken from Sloane MS. 2593, in the British Museum, and in this one I have preserved the old spelling, which is ascribed to the time of Henry VI. It will be seen that Christ-tide is prolonged till Candlemas day, the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is kept on the 2nd of February, on which day all Christ-tide decorations are taken down.
Make we myrth For Crystes byrth, And syng we 3ole tyl Candelmes.
The fyrst day of 3ole have we in mynd, How God was man born of oure kynd: For he the bondes wold onbynd Of all oure synnes and wykednes.
The secund day we syng of Stevene, That stoned and steyyd up even To God that he saw stond in hevyn, And crounned was for hys prouesse.
The iij day longeth to sent Johan, That was Cristys darlyng, derer non, Whom he betok, whan he shuld gon, Hys moder der for hyr clennesse,
The iiij day of the chyldren 3ong, That Herowd to deth had do with wrong, And Crist thei coud non tell with tong, But with ther blod bar hym wytnesse.
The v day longeth to sent Thomas, That as a strong pyller of bras, Held up the chyrch, and sclayn he was, For he sted with ry3twesnesse.
The viij day tok Jhesu hys name, That saved mankynd fro syn and shame, And circumsysed was for no blame, But for ensample of meknesse.
The xij day offerd to hym kynges iij, Gold, myr, and cence, thes gyftes free, For God, and man, and kyng was he, Thus worschyppyd thei his worthynes.
On the xl day cam Mary myld, Unto the temple with hyr chyld, To shew hyr clen that never was fylyd, And therwith endyth Chrystmes.
[Footnote 26: Yule.]
[Footnote 27: St. Thomas a Becket, of Canterbury, was commemorated on 29th December.]
The following is taken from a MS. of the latter half of the fifteenth century, which Mr. Thomas Wright edited for the Percy Society in 1847. The spelling is even more archaic than the above, so that it is modernised, and a gloss given for all those words which may not be easily understood wherever possible:—
This endris night I saw a sight, A star as bright as day; And ever among A maiden sung, Lullay, by by, lullay.
The lovely lady sat and sang, and to her Child said— My son, my brother, my father dear, why lyest Thou thus in hayd. My sweet bird, Thus it is betide Though Thou be King veray; But, nevertheless, I will not cease To sing, by by, lullay.
The Child then spake in His talking, and to His mother said— I bekyd am King, in Crib there I be laid; For Angels bright Down to Me light, Thou knowest it is no nay; And of that sight Thou mays't be light To sing, by by, lullay.
Now, sweet Son, since Thou art King, why art Thou laid in stall? Why not Thou ordained Thy bedding in some great King his hall? Me thinketh it is right That King or Knight Should lie in good array; And then among It were no wrong To sing, by by, lullay.
Mary, mother, I am thy child, though I be laid in stall, Lords and dukes shall worship Me, and so shall Kings all; Ye shall well see That Kings three Shall come the twelfth day; For this behest Give me thy breast And sing, by by, lullay.
Now tell me, sweet Son, I pray Thee, Thou art my love and dear, How should I keep Thee to Thy pay, and make Thee glad of cheer; For all Thy will I would fulfil Thou witest full well, in fay, And for all this I will Thee kiss And sing, by by, lullay.
My dear mother, when time it be, thou take Me up aloft, And set Me upon thy knee, and handle Me full soft; And in thy arm, Thou wilt Me warm, And keep night and day; If I weep, And may not sleep, Thou sing, by by, lullay.
Now, sweet Son, since it is so, that all thing is at Thy will, I pray Thee grant me a boon, if it be both right and skill. That child or man, That will or can Be merry upon my day; To bliss them bring, And I shall sing Lullay, by by, lullay.
[Footnote 28: Last.]
[Footnote 29: True.]
[Footnote 30: I am renowned as.]
[Footnote 31: Manger.]
[Footnote 32: Satisfaction.]
[Footnote 33: Knowest.]
[Footnote 34: In faith.]
[Footnote 35: Reasonable.]
A very popular carol, too, was that of the Legend of the Cherry Tree, which is very ancient, and is one of the scenes in the fifteenth of the Coventry Mysteries, which were played in the fifteenth century, on Corpus Christi Day.
Joseph was an old man, And an old man was he, And he married Mary The Queen of Galilee.
When Joseph was married, And Mary home had brought, Mary proved with child, And Joseph knew it not.
Joseph and Mary walked Through a garden gay, Where the cherries they grew Upon every tree.
O, then bespoke Mary, With words both meek and mild, "O, gather me cherries, Joseph, They run so in my mind."
And then replied Joseph, With his words so unkind, "Let him gather thee cherries, That got thee with child."
O, then bespoke our Savior, All in His mother's womb, "Bow down, good cherry tree, To My mother's hand."
The uppermost sprig Bowed down to Mary's knee, "Thus you may see, Joseph, These cherries are for me."
"O, eat your cherries, Mary, O, eat your cherries now, O, eat your cherries, Mary, That grow upon the bow."
The parable of Dives and Lazarus was a great favourite at Christ-tide, as, presumably, it served to stir up men to deeds of charity towards their poorer brethren; but the following carol, parts of which are very curious, has nothing like the antiquity of the foregoing examples:—
As it fell out upon a day, Rich Dives made a feast, And he invited all his guests, And gentry of the best.
Then Lazarus laid him down, and down, And down at Dives' door, "Some meat, some drink, brother Dives, Bestow upon the poor."
"Thou art none of my brother, Lazarus, That lies begging at my door, No meat, nor drink will I give thee, Nor bestow upon the poor."
Then Lazarus laid him down, and down, And down at Dives' wall, "Some meat, some drink, brother Dives, Or with hunger starve I shall."
"Thou art none of my brother, Lazarus, That lies begging at my wall, No meat, nor drink will I give thee, But with hunger starve you shall."
Then Lazarus laid him down, and down, And down at Dives' gate, "Some meat, some drink, brother Dives, For Jesus Christ, His sake."
"Thou art none of my brother, Lazarus, That lies begging at my gate, No meat, nor drink I'll give to thee, For Jesus Christ, His sake."
Then Dives sent out his merry men, To whip poor Lazarus away, But they had no power to strike a stroke, And flung their whips away.
Then Dives sent out his hungry dogs, To bite him as he lay. But they had no power to bite at all, So licked his sores away.
As it fell upon a day, Poor Lazarus sickened and died, There came an Angel out of heaven, His soul there for to guide.
"Rise up, rise up, brother Lazarus, And come along with me, For there's a place in heaven provided To site on an Angel's knee."
As it fell upon a day, Rich Dives sickened and died, There came a serpent out of hell, His soul there for to guide.
"Rise up, rise up, brother Dives, And come along with me, For there's a place in hell provided, To sit on a serpent's knee."
Then Dives lifting his eyes to heaven, And seeing poor Lazarus blest, "Give me a drop of water, brother Lazarus, To quench my flaming thirst.
"Oh! had I as many years to abide, As there are blades of grass, Then there would be an ending day; But in hell I must ever last.
"Oh! was I now but alive again, For the space of one half hour, I would make my will, and then secure That the devil should have no power."
Christmas Eve—Herrick thereon—The Yule Log—Folk-lore thereon—The Ashen Faggot—Christmas Candles—Christmas Eve in the Isle of Man—Hunting the Wren—Divination by Onions and Sage—A Custom at Aston—"The Mock"—Decorations and Kissing Bunch—"Black Ball"—Guisers and Waits—Ale Posset.
All the festivals of the Church are preceded by a vigil, or eve, and, considering the magnitude of the festival of Christmas, it is no wonder that the ceremonial attaching to the eve of the Nativity outvies all others. What sings old Herrick of it?
Come, bring with a noise, My merrie, merrie boyes, The Christmas Log to the firing; While my good Dame, she Bids ye all be free; And drink to your hearts' desiring.
With the last yeere's brand, Light the new block, And For good successe in his spending, On your Psalterie play, That sweet luck may Come while the Log is teending.
Drink now the strong Beere, Cut the white loafe heere, The while the meat is a shredding; For the rare Mince pie, And the Plums stand by To fill the Paste that's a-kneading.
[Footnote 36: Lighting, burning.]
Bringing in the Yule log, clog, or block—for it is indifferently called by any of these names, was a great function on Christmas eve—and much superstitious reverence was paid to it, in order to insure good luck for the coming year. It had to be lit "with the last yeere's brand," and Herrick gives the following instructions in The Ceremonies for Candlemasse day.
Kindle the Christmas Brand, and then Till Sunne-set, let it burne; Which quencht, then lay it up agen, Till Christmas next returne.
Part must be kept, wherewith to teend The Christmas Log next yeare; And, where 'tis safely kept, the Fiend Can do no mischief there.
But, even if lit with the remains of last year's log, it seems to be insufficient, unless the advice to the maids who light it be followed.
Wash your hands, or else the fire Will not teend to your desire; Unwasht hands, ye Maidens, know, Dead the Fire, though ye blow.
In some parts of Devonshire a curious custom in connection with the Yule log is still kept up, that of burning the Ashton or ashen faggot. It is well described by a writer in Notes and Queries.
[Footnote 37: Sixth series, vol. ii. p. 508.]
"Of the olden customs, so many of which are dying out, that of burning an 'ashen faggot' on Christmas Eve, still holds its own, and is kept up at many farm houses.
"Among the various gleanings of the Devon Association Folk-Lore Committee is recorded a notice of this custom. We are there informed that, on Christmas eve, 1878, the customary faggot was burned at thirty-two farms and cottages in the Ashburton postal district alone.
"The details of the observance vary in different families; but some, being common to all, may be considered as held necessary to the due performance of the rite. For example, the faggot must contain as large a log of ash as possible, usually the trunk of a tree, remnants of which are supposed to continue smouldering on the hearth the whole of the twelve days of Christmas. This is the Yule dog of our forefathers, from which a fire can be raised by the aid of a pair of bellows, at any moment day or night, in token of the ancient custom of open hospitality at such a season. Then the faggot must be bound together with as many binders of twisted hazel as possible. Remembering that the Ash and Hazel were sacred trees with the Scandinavians, their combined presence in forming the faggot may once have contained some mystic signification. Also, as each binder is burned through, a quart of cider is claimed by the Company. By this, some hidden connexion between the pleasures of the party and the loosening bands of the faggot is typified. While the fire lasts, all sorts of amusements are indulged in—all distinction between master and servant, neighbour and visitor, is for the time set aside.
"The heir, with roses in his shoes, That night might village partner choose; The lord, underogating, share The vulgar game of 'post and pair.' All hailed, with uncontrolled delight, And general voice, the happy night, That to the cottage, as the crown, Brought tidings of Salvation down.
"In some houses, when the faggot begins to burn up, a young child is placed on it, and his future pluck foretold by his nerve or timidity. May not this be a remnant of the dedication of children to the Deity by passing them through the sacred fire?
"Different reasons are given for burning Ash. By some, it is said that when our Saviour was born, Joseph cut a bundle of Ash, which, every one knows, burns very well when green; that, by this, was lighted a fire, by which He was first dressed in swaddling clothes.
"The gipsies have a legend that our Saviour was born out in a field like themselves, and brought up by an Ash fire. The holly, ivy, and pine, they say, hid him, and so, now, are always green, whilst the ash and the oak showed where He was hiding, and they remain dead all the winter. Therefore the gipsies burn Ash at Christmas.
"We can well understand how the pleasures of the ashen faggot are looked forward to with delight by the hard-working agricultural labourer, for whom few social enjoyments are provided. The harvest home, in these days of machinery, seems lost in the usual routine of work, and the shearing feast, when held, is confined to the farmer's family, or shepherd staff, and is not a general gathering. Moreover, these take place in the long busy days of summer, when extra hands and strangers are about the farm doing job work. But, with Christmas, things are different. Work is scarce; only the regular hands are on the farm, and there is nothing to prevent following out the good old custom of our ancestors, of feasting, for once, those among whom one's lot is cast.
"England was Merry England, when Old Christmas brought his sports again. 'Twas Christmas broached the mightiest ale; 'Twas Christmas told the merriest tale: A Christmas gambol oft could cheer The poor man's heart through half the year."
To add to the festivity and light, large candles are burnt, the bigger the better; but, as the custom of keeping Christmas descended from "Children of a larger growth" to those of lesser, so did the size of the candles decrease in proportion, until they reached the minimum at which we now know them. In the Isle of Man they had a custom which has, probably, dropped into desuetude, of all going to church on Christmas eve, each bearing the largest candle procurable. The churches were well decorated with holly, and the service, in commemoration of the Nativity, was called Oiel Verry. Waldron, in his Description of the Isle of Man, says, "On the 24th of December, towards evening, all the servants in general have a holiday; they go not to bed all night, but ramble about till the bells ring in all the churches, which is at twelve o'clock: prayers being over, they go to hunt the wren; and, after having found one of these poor birds, they kill her and lay her on a bier, with the utmost solemnity, bringing her to the parish church, and burying her with a whimsical kind of solemnity, singing dirges over her in the Manks language, which they call her knell; after which Christmas begins."
There are many peculiar customs appertaining to Christmas eve. Burton, in his Anatomy of Melancholy, says, "'Tis their only desire, if it may be done by art, to see their husband's picture in a glass; they'll give anything to know when they shall be married; how many husbands they shall have, by Cromnyomantia, a kind of divination, with onions laid on the altar at Christmas eve." This seems to be something like that which we have seen practised on St. Thomas's day—or that described in Googe's Popish Kingdome.
In these same days, young wanton gyrles that meet for marriage be, Doe search to know the names of them that shall their husbands be; Four onyons, five, or eight, they take, and make in every one Such names as they doe fancie most, and best to think upon. Then near the chimney them they set, and that same onyon then That firste doth sproute doth surely beare the name of their good man.
In Northamptonshire another kind of divination, with the same object, used to be practised: the girl who was anxious to ascertain her lot in the married state, went into the garden and plucked twelve sage leaves, under the firm conviction that she would be favoured with a glimpse of the shadowy form of her future husband as he approached her from the opposite end of the ground; but she had to take great care not to damage or break the sage stock, otherwise the consequences would be fearful. But then, in this county, the ghosts of people who had been buried at cross roads had liberty to walk about and show themselves on Christmas eve, so that the country folk did not care to stir out more than necessary on the vigil. At Walton-le-Dale, in Lancashire, the inmates of most of the houses sat up on Christmas eve, with their doors open, whilst one of the party read the narrative of St. Luke, the saint himself being supposed to pass through the house.
A contributor to the Gentleman's Magazine, 7th February 1795, gives the following account of a custom which took place annually on the 24th of December, at the house of a gentleman residing at Aston, near Birmingham. "As soon as supper is over, a table is set in the hall. On it is placed a brown loaf, with twenty silver threepences stuck on the top of it, a tankard of ale, with pipes and tobacco; and the two oldest servants have chairs behind it, to sit as judges, if they please. The steward brings the servants, both men and women, by one at a time, covered with a winnow sheet, and lays their right hand on the loaf, exposing no other part of the body. The oldest of the two judges guesses at the person, by naming a name, then the younger judge, and, lastly, the oldest again. If they hit upon the right person, the steward leads the person back again; but, if they do not, he takes off the winnow sheet, and the person receives a threepence, makes a low obeisance to the judges, but speaks not a word. When the second servant was brought, the younger judge guessed first and third; and this they did alternately, till all the money was given away. Whatever servant had not slept in the house the preceding night forfeited his right to the money. No account is given of the origin of this strange custom, but it has been practised ever since the family lived there. When the money is gone, the servants have full liberty to drink, dance, sing, and go to bed when they please."
In Cornwall, in many villages, Christmas merriment begins on the vigil, when the "mock" or Yule log is lighted by a portion saved from last year's fire. The family gather round the blaze, and amuse themselves with various games; and even the younger children are allowed, as a special favour, to sit up till a late hour to see the fun, and afterwards "to drink to the mock." In the course of the evening the merriment is increased by the entry of the "goosey dancers" (guised dancers), the boys and girls of the village, who have rifled their parents' wardrobes of old coats and gowns and, thus disguised, dance and sing, and beg money to make merry with. They are allowed, and are not slow to take, a large amount of license in consideration of the season. It is considered to be out of character with the time, and a mark of an ill-natured churlish disposition, to take offence at anything they do or say. This mumming is kept up during the week.
A very graphic description of Christmas eve in a Derbyshire cottage is given in Notes and Queries. "For several weeks before Christmas the cottager's household is much busier than usual in making preparations for the great holiday. The fatted pig has been killed, as a matter of course, and Christmas pies, mince pies, and many other good things made from it in readiness for the feast. The house has been thoroughly cleaned, and all made 'spick and span.' The lads of the house, with those of their neighbours, have been learning their parts, and getting ready their dresses for the 'Christmas guising,' and the household daily talk is full flavoured of Christmas.
[Footnote 38: Fifth series, viii. p. 481.]
"The lasses have made their own special preparations, and for two or three days before Christmas Eve have been getting ready the accustomed house decorations—short garlands of holly and other evergreens for the tops of cupboards, pictures, and other furniture—and making up the most important decoration of all, 'the kissing-bunch.'
"This 'kissing-bunch' is always an elaborate affair. The size depends upon the couple of hoops—one thrust through the other—which form its skeleton. Each of the ribs is garlanded with holly, ivy, and sprigs of other greens, with bits of coloured ribbons and paper roses, rosy cheeked apples, specially reserved for this occasion, and oranges. Three small dolls are also prepared, often with much taste, and these represent our Saviour, the mother of Jesus, and Joseph. These dolls generally hang within the kissing-bunch by strings from the top, and are surrounded by apples, oranges tied to strings, and various brightly coloured ornaments. Occasionally, however, the dolls are arranged in the kissing-bunch to represent a manger scene.
"When the preparations are completed, the house is decorated during the day of Christmas eve. Every leaded window-pane holds its sprig of holly, ivy, or box; the ornaments on and over the mantel-shelf receive like attention, and every ledge and corner is loaded with green stuff. Mistletoe is not very plentiful in Derbyshire; but, generally, a bit is obtainable, and this is carefully tied to the bottom of the kissing-bunch, which is then hung in the middle of the house-place, the centre of attraction during Christmas-tide.
"While all this is going on, the housewife is very busy. 'Black-ball' has to be made; the 'elderberry wine' to be got out; 'sugar, spice, and all that's nice' and needful placed handy. The shop has to be visited, and the usual yearly gift of one, two, or three Christmas candles received. With these last, as every one knows, the house is lit up at dusk on Christmas Eve.
"Without the 'black-ball' just mentioned, the Christmas rejoicings in a cottage would not be complete. 'Black-ball' is a delicacy compounded of black treacle and sugar boiled together in a pan, to which, when boiling, is added a little flour, grated ginger, and spices. When it is boiled enough, it is poured into a large shallow dish, and, when partially cooled, is cut into squares and lengths, then rolled or moulded into various shapes. When quite cool, it is very hard, and very toothsome to young Derbyshire.
"After an early tea-meal, the fire is made up with a huge Yule-log; all the candles, oil and fat lamps lit, and everything is bright and merry-looking. The head of the family sits in the chimney corner with pipe and glass of ale, or mulled elder wine. The best table is set out, and fairly loaded with Christmas and mince pies, oranges, apples, nuts, 'black-baw,' wine, cakes, and green cheese, and the whole family, with the guests, if any, set about enjoying themselves. Romping games are the order of the eve, broken only when the 'guisers'—of whom there are always several sets—or waits arrive. The 'guisers' are admitted indoors, and go through the several acts of their play. At the conclusion 'Betsy Belzebub' collects coppers from the company, and glasses of ale and wine are given to the players. The Waits, or 'Christmas Singers' as they are mostly called, sing their carols and hymns outside the house, and during the performance cakes and ale, wine, and other cheer are carried out to them. So the Eve passes on.
"At nine or ten o'clock is brewed a large bowl of 'poor man's punch'—ale posset! This is the event of the night. Ale posset, or milk and ale posset as some call it, is made in this wise. Set a quart of milk on the fire. While it boils, crumble a twopenny loaf into a deep bowl, upon which pour the boiling milk. Next, set two quarts of good ale to boil, into which grate ginger and nutmeg, adding a quantity of sugar. When the ale nearly boils, add it to the milk and bread in the bowl, stirring it while it is being poured in.
"The bowl of ale posset is then placed in the centre of the table. All the single folks gather round, each provided with a spoon. Then follows an interesting ceremony. A wedding ring, a bone button, and a fourpenny piece are thrown into the bowl, and all begin to eat, each dipping to the bottom of the bowl. He or she who brings up the ring will be the first married; whoever brings up the button will be an old maid or an old bachelor; and he or she who brings out the coin will become the richest. As may be imagined, this creates great fun. When seven shilling gold pieces were in circulation, this was the coin always thrown into the posset.
"The games are resumed when the posset is eaten, or possibly all gather round the fire, and sing or tell stories, whiling away the hours till the stroke of twelve, when all go outside the house to listen, whilst the singers, who have gathered at some point in the village, sing 'Christians, awake!' or 'Hark! the Herald Angels Sing'; and so comes to an end the cottager's one hearth-stone holiday of the whole year."
Christmas Eve in North Notts—Wassailing the Fruit Trees—Wassail Songs—Wassailing in Sussex—Other Customs—King at Downside College—A Christ-tide Carol—Midnight Mass—The Manger—St. Francis of Assisi.
As these old customs are fast dying out, and should be chronicled, I must be pardoned if I give another and very similar illustration of how Christmas eve was spent in North Notts fifty years ago.
[Footnote 39: Notes and Queries, seventh series, ii. 501.]
"None keep Christmas nowadays as was the fashion fifty to a hundred years ago in this part of the country. Here and there are to be met the customs, or bits of the customs, which were then observed: but, as a rule, the old ways have given place to new ones. Here in North Notts, every house is more or less decked in the few days before Christmas Day with holly, ivy, and evergreens, nor is mistletoe forgotten, which would scarcely be likely by any one living within a dozen miles of Sherwood Forest, where mistletoe grows in rare profusion on thorn bushes, the oak, and other trees, and under certain conditions may be had for the asking.
"Fifty years ago, at any rate, in all the villages and towns of North Notts, the preparations among farmers, tradesmen, and poor folks for keeping Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were always on a bountiful scale. Fat pigs were killed a week or so previously, portions of which were made into Christmas pies of various kinds. Plum puddings were made, and the mince meat, cunningly prepared some weeks beforehand, was made into mince pies of all sorts, sizes, and shapes. Yule 'clogs,' as they are here called, were sawn or chopped in readiness, and a stock laid in sufficient to last the whole of one or two evenings.
"In well-regulated houses it was usual to have all the preparations and the housework completed by early in the afternoon of Christmas Eve, and after an early tea in parlour and kitchen—the servants, clean and neat, piled up the Yule clogs in the rooms, getting the large ones well alight, and keeping them going by smaller knots of wood. Long, large, white Christmas Candles were lighted, set in old-fashioned, time-honoured, brass candlesticks, accompanied by equally old and honoured brass snuffers and trays, all bright and shining. Of candles, there was no lack, and when all were fairly going, parlour and kitchen presented a blaze of warm, ruddy light, only seen once in the year. In both rooms the Christmas Eve tables were laid with snowy linen, and set for feasting, with all the good things provided. On each table would be a large piece of beef, and a ham, flanked by the pies and other good things, including a Christmas Cheese.
"About six in the evening, the chief item of the feast was prepared. This was hot spiced ale, usually of a special brew. This was prepared by the gallon in a large kettle, or iron pot, which stood, for the purpose, on the hob. The ale was poured in, made quite hot, but not allowed to boil, and then sugar and spice were added according to taste, some women having a special mode of making the brew. When ready, the hot ale was ladled into bowls,—the large earthenware ones now so rare. A white one, with blue decorations, was used in the parlour, a commoner one, of the yellowish earthenware kind, with rough blue or other coloured bands for ornamentation, being for the kitchen. These, nearly full of the steaming brew, were carried to the tables. Whoever then dropped in, and usually there were many, to see parlour or kitchen company, had to drink from these bowls, lifting the bowl to the lips with both hands, expressing a good seasonable wish, and taking a hearty drink. The visitors then partook of anything on the table they liked, and one and all were treated bountifully. Soon, as the company arrived, the fun increased in parlour and kitchen, particularly in the latter, as the womenkind went through the old-fashioned ceremony under the mistletoe, which was hung aloft from a highly-decorated 'kissing-bunch.'
"All sorts of games and fun went on till about ten o'clock, as a rule, about which time the master, mistress, and family, with the rest of the parlour company, visited the kitchen. Then the steaming ale bowl was refilled, and all, beginning with the master and the mistress, in turn drank from the bowl. This over, the parlour company remained, and entered into the games for a time. There was always some one who could sing a suitable song; and one, if song it can be called, was:
"The Folks' Song.
"When me an' my folks Come to see you an' your folks, Let you an' your folks Treat me an' my folks As kind, as me an' my folks Treated you an' your folks, When you an' your folks Came to see me an' my folks, Sure then! never were such folks Since folks were folks!
"This was sung several times over with the last two lines as a chorus. The proceedings in the kitchen closed with another general sup from the replenished bowl, the parlour folks returning to the parlour. During the evening the proceedings were varied by visits from Christmas singers and the mummers, all of whom were well entertained. Usually, if the weather was fit, the kitchen folks wound up the night with a stroll, dropping in to see friends at other houses. As a rule, soon after midnight the feastings were over, but most folks never thought of retiring till they heard the bands of singers in the distance singing the morning hymn, 'Christians, awake!'"
A very old custom was that of "wassailing" the fruit trees on Christmas eve, although it obtained on other days, such as New Year's day and Twelfth day. Herrick says:
Wassaile the Trees that they may beare You many a Plum and many a Peare; For more or lesse fruits they will bring, As you do give them Wassailing.
This custom of drinking to the trees and pouring forth libations to them differs according to the locality. In some parts of Devonshire it used to be customary for the farmer, with his family and friends, after partaking together of hot cakes and cider (the cakes being dipped in the liquor previous to being eaten), to proceed to the orchard, one of the party bearing hot cake and cider as an offering to the principal apple tree. The cake was formally deposited on the fork of the tree, and the cider thrown over it.
In the neighbourhood of the New Forest the following lines are sung at the wassailing of the trees:
Apples and pears, with right good corn Come in plenty to every one; Eat and drink good cake and hot ale, Give earth to drink, and she'll not fail.
Horsfield, who wrote of Sussex, speaks somewhat at length of this subject, and says that the wassail bowl was compounded of ale, sugar, nutmeg, and roasted apples, the latter called "lambs' wool." The wassail bowl is placed on a small round table, and each person present is furnished with a silver spoon to stir. They then walk round the table as they go, and stirring with the right hand, and every alternate person passes at the same time under the arm of his preceding neighbour. The wassailing (or "worsling," as it is termed in West Sussex) of the fruit trees is considered a matter of grave importance, and its omission is held to bring ill luck, if not the loss of all the next crop. Those who engage in the ceremony are called "howlers."
The farm labourers, or boys (says Horsfield), after the day's toil is ended, assemble in a group to wassail the apple trees, etc. The trumpeter of the party is furnished with a cow's horn, with which he makes sweet music. Thus equipped, they call on the farmer, and inquire, "please, sir, do you want your trees worsled?" They then proceed to the orchard, and encircling one of the largest and best-bearing trees, chant in a low voice a certain doggerel rhyme; and this ended, all shout in chorus, with the exception of the trumpeter, who blows a loud blast. During the ceremony they rap the trees with their sticks. "Thus going from tree to tree, or group to group, they wassail the whole orchard; this finished, they proceed to the house of the owner, and sing at his door a song common on the occasion. They are then admitted, and, placing themselves around the kitchen fire, enjoy the sparkling ale and the festivities of the season."
There are two wassail rhymes in Sussex:
"Stand fast, root; bear well, top; Pray the God send us a good howling crop. Every twig, apples big; Every bough, apples enow. Hats full, caps full, Full quarters, sacks full. Holloa, boys, holloa! Hurrah!"
The other is:
"Here's to thee, old apple tree; May'st thou bud, may'st thou blow, May'st thou bear apples enow! Hats full! Caps full! Bushel, bushel sacks full! And my pockets full, too! Hurrah!"
In the Gentleman's Magazine (January 1820, p. 33) mention is made of "an ancient superstitious custom obtaining at Tretyre, in Herefordshire, upon Christmas Eve. They make a cake, poke a stick through it, fasten it upon the horn of an ox, and say certain words, begging a good crop of corn for the master. The men and boys attending the oxen range themselves around. If the ox throws the cake behind it belongs to the men; if before, to the boys. They take with them a wooden bottle of cyder, and drink it, repeating the charm before mentioned."
There is a curious custom at Downside College, near Bath. On Christmas eve the scholars of this well-known institution proceed to the election of their king and other officers of his household, consisting of the mayor of the palace, etc. His reign lasts fourteen days, during which period there are many good feasts; a room in the college being fitted up in fine style, and used by his Majesty as his palace. At Oxford, too, in pre-Reformation time, at Merton College, they had a king of Christmas, or misrule; at St. John's he was styled lord, and at Trinity he was emperor!
There is a rather rough but pretty west country carol for Christmas eve, which is to be found in Davies Giddy, or Gilbert's Ancient Christmas Carols, etc., and which, he says, was chanted in private houses on Christmas eve throughout the west of England up to the latter part of the last century.
The Lord at first did Adam make Out of the dust and clay, And in his nostrils breathed life, E'en as the Scriptures say. And then in Eden's Paradise He placed him to dwell, That he, within it, should remain, To dress and keep it well. Now let good Christians all begin An holy life to live, And to rejoice and merry be, For this is Christmas Eve.
And then within the garden he Commanded was to stay, And unto him in commandment These words the Lord did say: "The fruit which in the garden grows To thee shall be for meat, Except the tree in the midst thereof, Of which thou shall not eat." Now let good Christians, etc.
"For in the day that thou shall eat, Or to it then come nigh; For if that thou doth eat thereof, Then surely thou shalt die." But Adam he did take no heed Unto the only thing, But did transgress God's holy law, And so was wrapt in sin. Now let good Christians, etc.
Now, mark the goodness of the Lord, Which He for mankind bore, His mercy soon He did extend, Lost man for to restore; And then, for to redeem our souls From death and hellish thrall, He said His own dear Son should be The Saviour of us all. Now let good Christians, etc.
Which promise now is brought to pass, Christians, believe it well; And by the coming of God's dear Son We are redeemed from thrall. Then, if we truly do believe, And do the thing aright; Then, by His merits, we, at last, Shall live in heaven bright Now let good Christians, etc.
And now the Tide is nigh at hand In which our Saviour came; Let us rejoice, and merry be, In keeping of the same. Let's feed the poor and hungry souls, And such as do it crave; Then, when we die, in heaven sure Our reward we shall have. Now let good Christians, etc.
Christmas eve is notable in the Roman Catholic Church for the unique fact that mass is celebrated at midnight. I say, advisably, is celebrated, because, although Cardinal Manning abolished public mass at that hour within the diocese of Westminster about 1867, yet in conventual establishments it is still kept up, and in every church three masses are celebrated. The ancient, and, in fact, the modern use, until interrupted by Cardinal Manning, was to celebrate mass at midnight, at daybreak, and at the third hour (9 a.m.) This use is very old; for Thelesphorus, who was Pope A.D. 127, decreed that three masses should be sung in Festo Nativitatis, to denote that the birth of Christ brought salvation to the fathers of three periods—viz. the fathers before, under, and after the law.
Another Roman Catholic custom on Christmas eve is the preparation of "the Manger," which in some places is a very elaborate affair. The Christ is lying on straw between the ox and ass, Mary and Joseph bending over Him; the shepherds are kneeling in adoration, and the angels, hovering above, are supposed to be singing the gloria in excelsis. A writer in the Catholic World (vol. xxxiv. p. 439) says:—"Christmas Dramas are said to owe their origin to St. Francis of Assisi. Before his death he celebrated the sacred Birth-night in the woods, where a stable had been prepared with an ox and an ass, and a crib for an altar. A great number of people came down from the mountains, singing joyful hymns and bearing torches in their hands; for it was not fitting that a night that had given light to the whole world, should be shrouded in darkness. St. Francis, who loved to associate all nature with his ministry, was filled with joy. He officiated at the Mass as deacon. He sang the Gospel, and then preached in a dramatic manner on the birth of Christ. When he spoke of the Lamb of God, he was filled with a kind of divine frenzy, and imitated the plaintive cry of the sacrificial lamb; and, when he pronounced the sweet name of Jesus, it was as if the taste of honey were on his lips. One soul before the rural altar, that night, with purer eyes than the rest, saw the Divine Babe, radiant with eternal beauty, lying in the manger."