A Righte Merrie Christmasse - The Story of Christ-Tide
by John Ashton
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A writer in the Cornhill Magazine, December 1886, thus accounts for the candles on the tree—

"But how came the lights on the Christmas tree?

"In the ninth month of the Jewish year, corresponding nearly to our December, and on the twenty-fifth day, the Jews celebrated the Feast of the Dedication of their Temple. It had been desecrated on that day by Antiochus; it was rededicated by Judas Maccabeus; and then, according to the Jewish legend, sufficient oil was found in the Temple to last for the seven-branched candlestick for seven days, and it would have taken seven days to prepare new oil. Accordingly, the Jews were wont, on the twenty-fifth of Kislen, in every house, to light a candle, on the next day, two, and so on, till on the seventh and last day of the feast, seven candles twinkled in every house. It is not easy to fix the exact date of the Nativity, but it fell, most probably, on the last day of Kislen, when every Jewish house in Bethlehem and Jerusalem was twinkling with lights. It is worthy of notice that the German name for Christmas is Weihnacht, the Night of Dedication, as though it were associated with this feast. The Greeks also call Christmas the Feast of Lights; and, indeed, this also was a name given to the Dedication Festival, Chanuka, by the Jews."

That this pretty Christ-tide custom came to us from Germany there can be no doubt, and all the early notices of it show that it was so. Thus the first mention of it that I can find is in Court and Private Life in the Time of Queen Charlotte, being the Journals of Mrs. Papendiek, vol. ii. 158. Speaking of Christ-tide 1789, she says: "This Christmas Mr. Papendiek proposed an illuminated tree, according to the German fashion, but the Blagroves being at home for their fortnight, and the party at Mrs. Roach's for the holidays, I objected to it. Our eldest girl, Charlotte, being only six the 30th of this November, I thought our children too young to be amused at so much expense and trouble."

A.J. Kempe, Esq., in a footnote to p. 75 of the Losely MSS., edited by him in 1836, says: "We remember a German of the household of the late Queen Caroline making what he termed a Christmas tree for a juvenile party at that festive season. The tree was a branch of some evergreen fastened to a board. Its boughs bent under the weight of gilt oranges, almonds, &c., and under it was a neat model of a farm house, surrounded by figures of animals, &c., and all due accompaniments."

Charles Greville, in his Memoirs, writes thus of Christ-tide 1829 as celebrated at Panshanger. "The Princess Lieven got up a little fete such as is customary all over Germany. Three trees in great pots were put upon a long table covered with pink linen; each tree was illuminated with three circular tiers of coloured wax candles—blue, green, red, and white. Before each tree was displayed a quantity of toys, gloves, pocket handkerchiefs, work boxes, books, and various articles—presents made to the owner of the tree. It was very pretty. Here it was only for the children; in Germany the custom extends to persons of all ages."

One more extract, to show about what time it became popular, and I have done. It is from Mary Howitt, an Autobiography (vol. i. 298). "Our practical knowledge of the Christmas tree was gained in this first winter at Heidelberg. Universal as the custom now is, I believe the earliest knowledge which the English public had of it was through Coleridge in his Biographia Literaria. It had, at the time I am writing of—1840—been introduced into Manchester by some of the German merchants established there. Our Queen and Prince Albert likewise celebrated the festival with its beautiful old German customs. Thus the fashion spread, until now even our asylums, schools, and workhouses have, through friends and benefactors, each its Christmas tree."

Another pretty Christ-tide custom has also come to us from Germany, that of putting presents into stockings left out for the purpose whilst the children sleep on Christmas eve. St. Nicholas (or Santa Claus, as he is now called), the patron of children, ought to get the credit of it. In America the presents are supposed to be brought by a fabulous personage called Krishkinkle, who is believed to come down the chimney laden with good things for those children whose conduct had been exemplary during the past year; for peccant babies the stocking held a birch rod. Krishkinkle is a corruption of Christ-kindlein or Child Christ.

There are some very curious tenures of lands and manors connected with Christmas which must not be passed over. I have taken them from Blount's book on the subject, as being the best authority.

BONDBY, Lincolnshire.—Sir Edward Botiler, knight, and Ann, his wife, sister and heir of Hugh le Despencer, hold the manor of Bondby, in the county of Lincoln, by the service of bearing a white rod before our Lord the King on the Feast of Christmas, if the King should be in that county at the said feast.

BRIDSHALL, Staffordshire.—Sir Philip de Somerville, knight, holdeth of his lord, the Earl of Lancaster, the manor of Briddeshalle by these services, that at such time as his lord holdeth his Christmas at Tutbury, the said Sir Philip shall come to Tutbury upon Christmas Even, and shall be lodged in the town of Tutbury, by the marshal of the Earl's house, and upon Christmas Day he himself, or some other knight, his deputy, shall go to the dresser, and shall sew[82] his lord's mess, and then shall he carve the same meat to his said lord, and this service shall he do as well at supper as at dinner, and, when his lord hath eaten, the said Sir Philip shall sit down in the same place where his lord sat, and shall be served at his table by the steward of the Earl's house. And upon St. Stephen's day, when he hath dined, he shall take his leave of his lord and shall kiss him; and all these services to-fore rehearsed, the said Philip hath done by the space of xlviii years, and his ancestors before him, to his lords, Earls of Lancaster.

[Footnote 82: Place the dishes before him, and remove them.]

BRIMINGTON, Derbyshire.—Geoffery, son of William de Brimington, gave, granted, and confirmed to Peter, son of Hugh de Brimington, one toft with the buildings, and three acres of land in the fields there, with twenty pence yearly rent, which he used to receive of Thomas, son of Gilbert de Bosco, with the homages, etc., rendering yearly to him and his heirs a pair of white gloves, of the price of a halfpenny, at Christmas yearly, for all services.

BROOK HOUSE, Yorkshire.—A farm at Langsett, in the parish of Peniston and county of York, pays yearly to Godfrey Bosville, Esqre., a snowball at Midsummer, and a red rose at Christmas.

BURGE, Derbyshire.—Hugh, son and heir of Philip de Stredley, made fine with the King by two marks for his relief for the Mill of Burge, in the county of Derby, which the said Philip held of the King in capite, by the service of finding one man bearing a heron falcon, every year in season, before the King, when he should be summoned, and to take for performing the said service, at the cost of the King, two robes at Whitsuntide and Christmas.

GREENS-NORTON, Northamptonshire.—This, so named of the Greens (persons famed in the sixteenth century for their wealth), called before Norton-Dauncy, was held of the King in capite by the service of lifting up their right hands towards the King yearly, on Christmas day, wheresoever the King should then be in England.

HAWARDEN AND BOSELE, Cheshire.—The manors of Hawarden and Bosele, with the appurtenances in the county of Cheshire, are held of the King in capite by Robert de Monhault, Earl of Arundel, by being steward of the county of Cheshire, viz. by the service of setting down the first dish before the Earl of Chester at Chester on Christmas day.

HEDSOR, Bucks.—An estate in this parish, called Lambert Farm, was formerly held under the manor by the service of bringing in the first dish at the lord's table on St. Stephen's day, and presenting him with two hens, a cock, a gallon of ale, and two manchets of white bread; after dinner the lord delivered to the tenant a sparrow hawk and a couple of spaniels, to be kept at his costs and charges for the lord's use.

HEMINGSTON, Suffolk.—Rowland le Sarcere held one hundred and ten acres of land in Hemingston by serjeanty; for which, on Christmas day every year, before our sovereign lord the King of England, he should perform altogether, and at once, a leap, puff up his cheeks, therewith making a sound, and let a crack.

LEVINGTON, Yorkshire.—Adam de Bras, lord of Skelton, gave in marriage with his daughter Isabel, to Henry de Percy, eldest son and heir of Joceline de Lovain (ancestor to the present Duke of Northumberland), the manor of Levington, for which he and his heirs were to repair to Skelton Castle every Christmas day, and lead the lady of that castle from her chamber to the chapel to mass, and thence to her chamber again, and after dining with her, to depart.

REDWORTH, Co. Durham.—In the fourth year of Bishop Skirlawe, 1391, John de Redworth died, seised in his demesne, &c. of two messuages and twenty-six acres of land and meadow, with the appurtenances, in Redworth, held of the said Lord Bishop in capite by homage and fealty, and the service of four shillings and ten pence a year, to be paid at the Exchequer at Durham, and the rent of one hen and two parts of a hen to be paid at the same Exchequer yearly at Christmas.

STAMFORD, Lincolnshire.—William, Earl Warren, lord of this town in the time of King John, standing upon the castle walls, saw two bulls fighting for a cow in the Castle Meadow, till all the butchers' dogs pursued one of the bulls (maddened with noise and multitude) clean through the town. This sight so pleased the Earl that he gave the Castle Meadow, where the bulls' duel had begun, for a common to the butchers of the town, after the first grass was mown, on condition that they should find a mad bull the day six weeks before Christmas day, for the continuance of the sport for ever.

THURGARTON AND HORSEPOLL, Notts.—The tenants of these manors held their lands by these customs and services. Every native and villein (which were such as we call husbandmen) paid each a cock and a hen, besides a small rent in money, for a toft and one bovate of land, held of the Priory of Thurgarton. These cocks and hens were paid the second day in Christmas, and that day every one, both cottagers and natives, dined in the hall; and those who did not had a white loaf and a flagon of ale, with one mess from the kitchen. And all the reapers in harvest, which were called hallewimen, were to eat in the hall one day in Christmas, or afterwards, at the discretion of the cellarer.

There is a curious custom still carried out at Queen's College, Oxford. On the feast of the Circumcision the bursar gives to every member a needle and thread, adding the injunction, "Take this and be thrifty." It is said, I know not with what truth, that it is to commemorate the name of the founder, Robert Egglesfield—by the visible pun, aiguille (needle) and fil (thread).


Christ-tide Literature—Christmas Cards—Their Origin—Lamplighter's Verses—Watchman's Verses—Christmas Pieces.

The literature specially designed nowadays for Christmas reading is certainly not of a high order, whether we take books—which are issued at this time by the hundred—or the special numbers of magazines and newspapers, all of which have rubbishing stories with some tag in them relating to Christ-tide. Tales of ghosts, etc., were at one time very fashionable, and even Dickens pandered to this miserable style of writing, not enhancing his reputation thereby.

Akin in merit to this literature are the mottoes we find in the bon bon crackers, and the verses on Christmas cards, which are on a par with those which adorned the defunct valentine. When first Christmas cards came into vogue they were expensive and comparatively good; now they are simply rubbish, and generally have no allusion either in the design, or doggrel to Christ-tide, to which they owe their existence. Their origin was thoroughly threshed out in Notes and Queries, and I give the correspondence thereon (6th series, v. 155).

"Christmas cards were first published and issued from Summerly's Home Treasury Office, 12 Old Bond Street, in the year 1846. The design was drawn by J.C. Horsley, R.A., at the suggestion of Sir Henry Cole, K.C.B., and carried out by De la Rue and Co."

(Ib. 376) "Mr. Platt is somewhat in error in stating that the first Christmas card was carried out by De la Rue and Co. This firm republished it last year (1881) in chromo-lithography, but in 1846 it was produced in outline by lithography, and coloured by hand by a colourer of that time named Mason, when it could not have been sold for less than a shilling. Last year chromo-lithography enabled it to be produced for two pence. The original publisher was Mr. Joseph Cundall. It may be well to place the design on record. A trellis of rustic work in the Germanesque style divided the card into a centre and two side panels. The sides were filled by representations of the feeding of the hungry and the clothing of the naked; in the central compartment a family party was shown at table—an old man and woman, a maiden and her young man, and several children,—and they were pictured drinking healths in wine. On this ground certain total abstainers have called in question the morality of Mr. Horsley's design."

The Publishers' Circular, 31st December 1883 (p. 1432), says: "Several years ago, in the Christmas number of The Publishers' Circular, we described the original Christmas card, designed by Mr. J.C. Horsley, R.A., at the suggestion of Sir Henry Cole, and no contradiction was then offered to our theory that this must have been the real and original card. On Thursday, however, Mr. John Leighton, writing under his nom de plume, 'Luke Limner,' comes forward to contest the claim of priority of design, and says: 'Occasional cards of a purely private character have been done years ago, but the Christmas card pure and simple is the growth of our town and our time. It began in 1862, the first attempts being the size of the ordinary gentleman's address card, on which were simply put "A Merry Christmas" and "A Happy New Year"; after that there came to be added robins and holly branches, embossed figures and landscapes. Having made the original designs for these, I have the originals before me now; they were produced by Goodall and Son. Seeing a growing want, and the great sale obtained abroad, this house produced (1868) a "Little Red Riding Hood," a "Hermit and his Cell," and many other subjects in which snow and the robin played a part.' We fail to see how a card issued in 1862 can ante-date the production of 1846, a copy of which is in our possession; and although there is no copyright in an idea, the title to the honour of originating the pretty trifle now so familiar to us seems to rest with Sir Henry Cole."

The Times of 2nd January 1884 has the following letter:—

"SIR—The writer of the article on Christmas Cards in The Times of December 25th is quite right in his assertion. The first Christmas card ever published was issued by me in the usual way, in the year 1846, at the office of Felix Summerly's Home Treasury, at 12 Old Bond Street. Mr. Henry Cole (afterwards Sir Henry) originated the idea. The drawing was made by J.C. Horsley, R.A.; it was printed in lithography by Mr. Jobbins of Warwick Court, Holborn, and coloured by hand. Many copies were sold, but possibly not more than 1000. It was of the usual size of a lady's card. Those my friend Luke Limner speaks of were not brought out, as he says, till many years after.—JOSEPH CUNDALL."

As works of art—compared with the majority of Christmas cards, which are mostly "made in Germany"—the card almanacs presented by tradesmen to their customers are generally of a very superior character.

In the old days, when there were oil lamps in the streets, the lamplighter, like the bellman and the watchman, used annually at Christmas to leave some verses at every house to remind its occupier that Boxing day drew nigh. One example will suffice, and its date is 1758:—


Humbly Presented to all His worthy Masters and Mistresses.

Compos'd by a Lamplighter.

Revolving Time another Glass has run, Since I, last year, this Annual Task begun, And Christmas now beginning to appear (Which never comes, you know, but once a year), I have presum'd to bring my Mite once more, Which, tho' it be but small, is all my Store; And I don't doubt you'll take it in good Part, As 'tis the Tribute of a grateful Heart. Brave Prussia's king, that true Protestant Prince, For Valour Fam'd, endow'd with Martial Sense; Against three mighty Potentates did stand, Who would have plundered him of all his Land: But God, who knew his Cause was Just and Right, Gave him such Courage and Success in Fight: Born to oppose the Pope's malignant clan, He'll do whatever Prince or Hero can; Retrieve that martial Fame by Britons lost, And prove that Faith which graceless Christians boast. O! make his Cause, ye Powers above! your Care; Let Guilt shrink back, and Innocence appear. But, now, with State Affairs I must have done, And to the Business of my Lamps must run; When Sun and Moon from you do hide their Head, Your busy Streets with artful Lights are spread, And gives you Light with great indulgent Care, Makes the dark Night like the bright Day appear; Then we poor useful Mortals nimbly run To light your Lamps before the Day is gone: With strictest Care, we to each Lamp give Fire, The longest Night to burn: you do require Of us to make each Lamp to burn that time, But, oft, we do fall short of that Design: Sometimes a Lamp goes out at Master's Door, This happens once which ne'er did so before: The Lamp-man's blamed, and ask'd the reason why That should go out, and others burning by? Kind, worthy Sirs, if I may be so bold, A truer Tale to you was never told; We trim, we give each Lamp their Oil alike, Yet some goes out, while others keep alight: Why they do so, to you we can't explain, It ne'er did sink into our shallow Brain: Nor have we heard that any one could tell, That secret Place where Life of Fire does dwell, Such various Motions in it we do find, And a hard Task with it to please Mankind. Now, our kind Master, who Contractor is, If a Complaint he hears of Lamps amiss, With strictest Care the Streets looks round about, And views the Lamps, takes Notice which are out; Then, in great Fury, he to us replies, Such Lamps were out, why have I all this Noise? Go fetch those Burners all down here to me, That where the Fault is I may plainly see: Then straight he views them, with Remains of Oil, Crys, ah! I thought you did these Lamps beguile; But now the thing I do more plainly see, The Burning Oil is a great Mystery: Then come, my Boys, to work, make no delay, Keep from Complaints, if possible you may; Clean well each Glass, I'll spare for no Expence Where I contract, to please th' Inhabitants. Since Time still flies, and Life is but a Vapour, 'Tis now high time that I conclude my Paper, And, if my Verses have the Luck to Please, My Mind will be exceedingly at ease; But, if this shouldn't Please, I know what will, And that's with Diligence to serve you still. FINIS.

Hone, in his Every-Day Book (vol. i. p. 1627), gives, date 1823:—


presented to the


By their Humble Servants, the late Watchmen,


Your pardon, Gentles, while we thus implore, In strains not less awakening than of yore, Those smiles we deem our best reward to catch, And, for the which, we've long been on the Watch; Well pleas'd if we that recompence obtain, Which we have ta'en so many steps to gain. Think of the perils in our calling past, The chilling coldness of the midnight blast, The beating rain, the swiftly-driving snow, The various ills that we must undergo, Who roam, the glow-worms of the human race, The living Jack-a-Lanthorns of the place. 'Tis said by some, perchance to mock our toil, That we are prone to "waste the midnight oil!" And that a task thus idle to pursue Would be an idle waste of money, too! How hard that we the dark designs should rue Of those who'd fain make light of all we do! But such the fate which oft doth merit greet, And which now drives us fairly off our beat! Thus it appears from this, our dismal plight, That some love darkness rather than the light. Henceforth, let riot and disorder reign, With all the ills that follow in their train; Let TOMS and JERRYS unmolested brawl (No Charlies have they now to floor withal). And "rogues and vagabonds" infest the Town, Far cheaper 'tis to save than crack a crown. To brighter scenes we now direct our view— And, first, fair Ladies, let us turn to you. May each NEW YEAR new joys, new pleasures bring, And Life for you be one delightful spring! No summer's sun annoy with fev'rish rays, No winter chill the evening of your days! To you, kind Sirs, we next our tribute pay: May smiles and sunshine greet you on your way! If married, calm and peaceful be your lives; If single, may you, forthwith, get you wives! Thus, whether Male or Female, Old or Young Or Wed, or Single, be this burden sung: Long may you live to hear, and we to call, "A Happy Christmas and New Year to all."

The present generation has never seen, and probably never heard of, "Christmas pieces," or specimens of handwriting, which went out of vogue fifty years ago. It was very useful, as the boy took great pride in its writing, and parents could judge of their children's proficiency in penmanship. Sometimes these sheets were surrounded with elaborate flourishings of birds, pens, scrolls, etc., such as the writing-master of the last century delighted in; others were headed with copper-plate engravings, sometimes coloured. Here are a few of the subjects: Ruth and Boaz, Measuring the Temple (Ezekiel), Philip Baptising the Eunuch, The Good Samaritan, Joshua's Command, John the Baptist Preaching in the Wilderness, The Seven Wonders of the World, King William III., St. Paul's Shipwreck, etc., etc.

A publisher, writing to Notes and Queries in 1871 (4 series, vi. 462) about these "Christmas Pieces," says: "As a youngster, some thirty years ago, in my father's establishment, the sale of 'school pieces,' or 'Christmas pieces,' as they were called, was very large. My father published some thirty different subjects (a new one every year, one of the old ones being let go out of print). There were also three other publishers of them. The order to print used to average about 500 of each kind, but double of the Life of our Saviour. Most of the subjects were those of the Old Testament. I only recollect four subjects not sacred. Printing at home, we generally commenced the printing in August from the copper-plates, as they had to be coloured by hand. They sold, retail, at sixpence each, and we used to supply them to the trade at thirty shillings per gross, and to schools at three shillings and sixpence per dozen, or two dozen for six shillings and sixpence. Charity boys were large purchasers of these pieces, and at Christmas time used to take them round their parish to show, and, at the same time, solicit a trifle. The sale never began before October in the country, and December in London; and early in January the stock left used to be put by until the following season. It is over fifteen years since any were printed by my firm, and the last new one I find was done in lithography."


Carol for St. Stephen's Day—Boxing Day—Origin of Custom—Early Examples—The Box—Bleeding Horses—Festivity on this Day—Charity at Bampton—Hunting the Wren in Ireland—Song of the Wren Boys.

On the day succeeding Christmas day the Church commemorates the death of the proto-martyr Stephen, and in honour of this festival the following carol is sung:—

In friendly Love and Unity, For good St. Stephen's Sake, Let us all, this blessed Day, To Heaven our Prayers make: That we with him the Cross of Christ May freely undertake. And Jesus will send you his Blessing.

Those accursed Infidels That stoned him to Death, Could not by their cruelties Withhold him from his Faith, In such a godly Martyrdom Seek we all the Path. And Jesus, etc.

And whilst we sit here banqueting, Of dainties having Store, Let us not forgetful be To cherish up the Poor; And give what is convenient To those that ask at Door. And Jesus, etc.

For God hath made you Stewards here, Upon the Earth to dwell; He that gathereth for himself, And will not use it well, Lives far worse than Dives did, That burneth now in Hell. And Jesus, etc.

And, now, in Love and Charity, See you your Table spread, That I may taste of your good Cheer, Your Christmas Ale and Bread: Then I may say that I full well For this, my Carol, sped. And Jesus, etc.

For Bounty is a blessed Gift, The Lord above it sends, And he that gives it from His Hands, Deserveth many Friends: I see it on my Master's Board, And so my Carol ends. Lord Jesus, etc.

But St. Stephen's day is much better known in England as "Boxing Day," from the kindly custom of recognising little services rendered during the year by giving a Christmas box—a custom which, of course, is liable to abuse, and especially when, as in many instances, it is regarded as a right, in which case it loses its pleasant significance. No one knows how old this custom is, nor its origin. Hutchinson, in his History of Northumberland (vol. ii. p. 20), says: "The Paganalia of the Romans, instituted by Servius Tullius, were celebrated in the beginning of the year; an altar was erected in each village, where all persons gave money." There is a somewhat whimsical account of its origin in the first attempt at Notes and Queries, The Athenian Oracle, by John Dunton (1703, vol. i. 360).

"Q. From whence comes the custom of gathering of Christmas Box Money? And how long since?

"A. It is as Ancient as the word Mass, which the Romish Priests invented from the Latin word Mitto, to send, by putting People in Mind to send Gifts, Offerings, Oblations, to have Masses said for everything almost, that a Ship goes not out to the Indies, but the Priest have a Box in that Ship, under the Protection of some Saint. And for Masses, as they Cant, to be said for them to that Saint, etc., the Poor People must put something into the Priest's Box, which is not to be Opened till the Ship Return. Thus the Mass at that time was called Christ's Mass, and the Box, Christ's Mass Box, or Money gathered against that time, that Masses might be made by the Priests to the Saints, to forgive the People the Debaucheries of that time; and from this, Servants had the Liberty to get Box-money, because they might be able to pay the Priest for his Masses, because No Penny, No Paternoster."

At all events, the Christmas box was a well-known institution in the early seventeenth century. We have already seen Pepys "dropping money" here and there at Christ-tide, and on 28th December 1668 he notes: "Called up by drums and trumpets; these things and boxes having cost me much money this Christmas already, and will do more." Yet the custom must have been much older, for in the accounts of Dame Agnes Merett, Cellaress of Syon Monastery, at Isleworth, in 29 Henry VIII., 1537-38 (Record Office Roll, T.G. 18,232), the following are entered among the Foreigne Paymentes: "Reward to the servauntes at Crystemas, with their aprons xxs. Reward to the Clerk of the Kechyn, xiijs. iiijd. Reward to the Baily of the Husbandry, vis. viijd. Reward to the Keeper of the Covent Garden, vis. viijd."

As time went on we find increasing notices of Christmas boxes. In Beaumont and Fletcher's Wit without Money (Act ii. sc. 2) "A Widow is a Christmas box that sweeps all."

Swift, in his Journal to Stella, mentions them several times. 26th December 1710: "By the Lord Harry, I shall be undone here with Christmas boxes. The rogues at the Coffee-house have raised their tax, every one giving a crown, and I gave mine for shame, besides a great many half-crowns to great men's porters," etc.

24th December 1711: "I gave Patrick half a crown for his Christmas box, on condition he would be good; and he came home drunk at midnight."

2nd January 1712: "I see nothing here like Christmas, excepting brawn and mince pies in places where I dine, and giving away my half crowns like farthings to great men's porters and butlers."

Gay, in his Trivia, thus mentions it:—

Some boys are rich by birth beyond all wants, Belov'd by uncles, and kind, good, old aunts; When Time comes round, a Christmas Box they bear, And one day makes them rich for all the year.

But the Christmas box was an entity, and tangible; it was a saving's box made of earthenware, which must be broken before the cash could be extracted, as can be proved by several quotations, and the gift took its name from the receptacle for it.

In Mason's Handful of Essaies 1621: "Like a swine, he never doth good till his death; as an apprentice's box of earth, apt he is to take all, but to restore none till hee be broken."

In the frontispiece to Blaxton's English Usurer, 1634, the same simile is used:—

Both with the Christmas Boxe may well comply, It nothing yields till broke; they till they die.

And again, in Browne's Map of the Microcosme, 1642, speaking of a covetous man, he says, he "doth exceed in receiving, but is very deficient in giving; like the Christmas earthen Boxes of apprentices, apt to take in money, but he restores none till hee be broken, like a potter's vessell, into many shares."

Aubrey, in his Wiltshire Collections, circ. 1670 (p. 45), thus describes a trouvaille of Roman coins. "Among the rest was an earthen pott of the colour of a Crucible, and of the shape of a prentice's Christmas Box, with a slit in it, containing about a quart, which was near full of money. This pot I gave to the Repository of the Royal Society at Gresham College."

And, to wind up these Christmas box notices, I may quote a verse from Henry Carey's "Sally in our Alley" (1715?).

When Christmas comes about again, Oh! then I shall have money; I'll hoard it up, and box and all, I'll give it to my honey.

There used to be a very curious custom on St. Stephen's day, which Douce says was introduced into this country by Danes—that of bleeding horses. That it was usual is, I think, proved by very different authorities. Tusser says:—

Yer Christmas be passed, let horsse be let blood, For manie a purpose it dooth him much good; The day of S. Steeven old fathers did use; If that do mislike thee, some other day chuse.

And Barnebe Googe, in his translation of Naogeorgus, remarks:—

Then followeth Saint Stephen's day, whereon doth every man His horses iaunt and course abrode, as swiftly as he can; Untill they doe extreemely sweate, and than they let them blood, For this being done upon this day, they say doth do them good, And keepes them from all maladies and secknesse through the yeare, As if that Steuen any time tooke charge of horses heare.

Aubrey, also, in his Remains of Gentilisme, says: "On St. Stephen's day the farrier came constantly, and blouded all our cart horses."

It was occasionally the day of great festivity, even though it came so very closely after Christmas day; and Mr. J.G. Nichols, in Notes and Queries (2 ser. viii. 484), quotes a letter, dated 2nd January 1614, in confirmation. It is from an alderman of Leicester to his brother in Wood Street, Cheapside. "Yow wryte how yow reacayved my lettar on St. Steven's day, and that, I thanke yow, yow esteemed yt as welcoom as the 18 trumpytors; w^{t} in so doing, I must and will esteme yowres, God willing, more wellcoom then trumpets and all the musicke we have had since Christmas, and yet we have had prety store bothe of owre owne and othar, evar since Christmas. And the same day we were busy w^{t} hollding up hands and spoones to yow, out of porredge and pyes, in the remembraunce of yowre greate lyberality of frute and spice, which God send yow long lyffe to contynew, for of that day we have not myssed anny St. Steven this 47 yeare to have as many gas (guests) as my howse will holld, I thank God for yt."

In Southey's Common Place Book it is noted that the three Vicars of Bampton, Oxon., give beef and beer on the morning of St. Stephen's day to those who choose to partake of it. This is called St. Stephen's breakfast. The same book also mentions a singular custom in Wales, that on this day everybody is privileged to whip another person's legs with holly, which is often reciprocated till the blood streams down; and this is corroborated in Mason's Tales and Traditions of Tenby, where it is mentioned as being practised in that town.

We have heard of hunting the wren in the Isle of Man; the same custom obtains in the south of Ireland, only it takes place on St. Stephen's day. There is a tradition which is supposed to account for this animosity against this pretty and harmless little bird. In one of the many Irish rebellions a night march was made by a body of rebels on a party of royalists, and when, about dawn of day, they neared the sleeping out-posts, a slumbering drummer was aroused by a tapping on his drum; and, giving the alarm, the rebels were repulsed. The tapping was caused by a wren pecking at the crumbs left on the drum-head after the drummer's last meal. Henceforward a grudge was nursed against the wren, which has existed until now.

The "wren boys" go round, calling at houses, either having a dead wren in a box, or hung on a holly bush, and they sing a song:—

The Wran, the Wran, the king of all birds, On St. Stephen's day she's cotched in the furze; Although she's but wee, her family's great, So come down, Lan'leddy, and gie us a trate. Then up wi' the kettle, an' down wi' the pan, An' let us ha' money to bury the Wran.

Croker, in his Researches in the South of Ireland (p. 233), gives us more of this song:—

The Wren, the Wren, the King of all birds, St. Stephen's day was caught in the furze; Although he is little, his family's great, I pray you, good landlady, give us a treat.

My box would speak if it had but a tongue, And two or three shillings would do it no wrong; Sing holly, sing ivy—sing ivy, sing holly, A drop just to drink, it would drown melancholy.

And, if you draw it of the best, I hope in Heaven your soul may rest; But, if you draw it of the small, It won't agree with the Wren boys at all, etc. etc.

"A small piece of money is usually bestowed on them, and the evening concludes in merrymaking with the money thus collected."


St. John's Day—Legend of the Saint—Carols for the Day—Holy Innocents—Whipping Children—Boy Bishops—Ceremonies connected therewith—The King of Cockney's Unlucky Day—Anecdote thereon—Carol for the Day.

The 27th December is set apart by the Church to commemorate St. John the Evangelist. Googe, in his translation of Naogeorgus, says:—

Next John the sonne of Zebedee hath his appoynted day, Who once by cruell tyraunts will, constrayned was, they say, Strong poyson up to drinke, therefore the Papistes doe beleeve That whoso puts their trust in him, no poyson them can greeue. The wine beside that hallowed is, in worship of his name, The priestes doe giue the people that bring money for the same. And, after, with the selfe same wine are little manchets made, Agaynst the boystrous winter stormes, and sundrie such like trade. The men upon this solemne day do take this holy wine, To make them strong, so do the maydes, to make them faire and fine.

In explanation of this I may quote from Mrs. Jameson's Sacred and Legendary Art (ed. 1857, p. 159): "He (St. John) bears in his hand the sacramental cup, from which a serpent is seen to issue. St. Isidore relates that at Rome an attempt was made to poison St. John in the cup of the sacrament; he drank of the same, and administered it to the communicants without injury, the poison having, by a miracle, issued from the cup in the form of a serpent, while the hired assassin fell down dead at his feet. According to another version of this story the poisoned cup was administered by order of the Emperor Domitian. According to a third version, Aristodemus, the high priest of Diana at Ephesus, defied him to drink of the poisoned chalice, as a test of the truth of his mission. St. John drank unharmed—the priest fell dead."

Wright gives two very pretty carols for St. John's day.


Amice Christi Johannes.

O glorius Johan Evangelyste, Best belovyd with Jhesu Cryst, In Cena Domini upon hys bryst Ejus vidisti archana.

Chosen thou art to Cryst Jhesu, Thy mynd was never cast frome vertu; Thi doctryne of God thou dydest renu, Per ejus vestigia.

Cryst on the rod, in hys swet passyon, Toke the hys moder as to hyr sone; For owr synnes gett grace and pardon, Per tua sancta merita.

O most nobble of evangelystes all, Grace to owr maker for us thou call, And off swetenesse celestyall, Prebe nobis pocula.

And aftur the cowrs of mortalite, In heven with aungels for to be, Sayyng Ozanna to the Trinitye. Per seculorum secula.


Amici Christi, Johannes.

To the now, Crystys der derlyng, That was a mayd bothe old and 3yng, Myn hert is sett for to syng Amici Christi, Johannes.

For he was so clene a maye, On Crystys brest aslepe he laye, The prevyteys of hevyn ther he saye. Amici Christi, Johannes.

Qwhen Cryst beforne Pilate was browte, Hys clene mayd forsoke hym nowte, To deye with hym was all hys thowte, Amici Christi, Johannes.

Crystys moder was hym betake, Won mayd to be anodyris make, To help that we be nott forsake, Amici Christi, Johannes.

On 28th December the Holy Innocents, or the children slain by order of Herod, are borne in mind. Naogeorgus says of this day:—

Then comes the day that calles to minde the cruell Herode's strife, Who, seeking Christ to kill, the King of everlasting life, Destroyde the little infants yong, a beast unmercilesse, And put to death all such as were of two yeares age or lesse. To them the sinfull wretchesse crie, and earnestly do pray, To get them pardon for their faultes, and wipe their sinnes away. The Parentes, when this day appeares, do beate their children all, (Though nothing they deserve), and servaunts all to beating fall, And Monkes do whip eche other well, or else their Prior great, Or Abbot mad, doth take in hande their breeches all to beat: In worship of these Innocents, or rather, as we see, In honour of the cursed King, that did this crueltee.

In the Rev. John Gregorie's pamphlet, Episcopus Puerorum in die Innocentium (1683, p. 113), he says: "It hath been a Custom, and yet is elsewhere, to whip up the Children upon Innocents' day morning, that the memory of this Murther might stick the closer, and, in a moderate proportion, to act over again the cruelty in kind."

By the way, the Boy Bishop went out of office on Innocents' day, and the learned John Gregorie aforesaid tells us all about him. "The Episcopus Choristarum was a Chorister Bishop chosen by his Fellow Children upon St. Nicholas Day.... From this Day till Innocents' Day at night (it lasted longer at the first) the Episcopus Puerorum was to bear the name and hold up the state of a Bishop, answerably habited with a Crosier, or Pastoral Staff, in his hand, and a Mitre upon his head; and such an one, too, some had, as was multis Episcoporum mitris sumptuosior (saith one), very much richer than those of Bishops indeed.

"The rest of his Fellows from the same time being were to take upon them the style and counterfeit of Prebends, yielding to their Bishop no less than Canonical obedience.

"And look what service the very Bishop himself with his Dean and Prebends (had they been to officiate) was to have performed. The very same was done by the Chorister Bishop and his Canons upon the Eve and Holiday." Then follows the full ritual of his office, according to the Use of Sarum; and it was provided, "That no man whatsoever, under the pain of Anathema, should interrupt, or press upon these Children at the Procession spoken of before, or in any part of their Service in any ways, but to suffer them quietly to perform and execute what it concerned them to do.

"And the part was acted yet more earnestly, for Molanus saith that this Bishop, in some places, did receive Rents, Capons, etc., during his year; And it seemeth by the statute of Sarum, that he held a kind of Visitation, and had a full correspondency of all other State and Prerogative.... In case the Chorister Bishop died within the Month, his Exequies were solemnized with an answerable glorious pomp and sadness. He was buried (as all other Bishops) in all his Ornaments, as by the Monument in stone spoken of before,[83] it plainly appeareth."

[Footnote 83: A stone monument of a boy bishop found in Salisbury Cathedral.]

Hone, in his Every-Day Book (vol. i. pp. 1559-60), gives a facsimile of this monument from Gregorie's book, and says: "The ceremony of the boy bishop is supposed to have existed, not only in collegiate churches, but in almost every parish in England. He and his companions walked the streets in public procession. A statute of the Collegiate Church of St. Mary Overy, in 1337, restrained one of them to the limits of his own parish. On December 7, 1229, the day after St. Nicholas' Day, a boy bishop in the chapel at Heton, near Newcastle-on-Tyne, said vespers before Edward I. on his way to Scotland, who made a considerable present to him, and the other boys who sang with him. In the reign of King Edward III, a boy bishop received a present of nineteen shillings and sixpence for singing before the king in his private chamber on Innocents' day. Dean Colet, in the statutes of St. Paul's School, which he founded in 1512, expressly ordains that his scholars should, every Childermas Day,[84] 'come to Paulis Churche, and hear the Chylde Bishop's Sermon; and, after, be at hygh masse, and each of them offer a penny to the Chylde-Bishop; and with them, the maisters and surveyors of the Scole.'"

[Footnote 84: The Anglo-Saxons called Innocents' day Childe-mass or Childer-mass.]

By a proclamation of Henry VIII., dated 22nd July 1542, the show of the boy bishop was abrogated, but in the reign of Mary it was revived with other Romish ceremonials. A flattering song was sung before that queen by a boy bishop, and printed. It was a panegyric on her devotion, and compared her to Judith, Esther, the Queen of Sheba, and the Virgin Mary.

The accounts of St. Mary at Hill, London, in the 10th Henry VI., and for 1549 and 1550, contain charges for boy bishops for those years. At that period his estimation in the Church seems to have been undiminished; for on 13th November 1554 the Bishop of London issued an order to all the clergy of his diocese to have boy bishops and their processions; and in the same year these young sons of the old Church paraded St. Andrew's, Holborn, and St. Nicholas, Olaves, in Bread Street, and other parishes. In 1556 Strype says that "the boy bishops again went abroad, singing in the old fashion, and were received by many ignorant but well-disposed persons into their houses, and had much good cheer."

Speaking of the Christmas festivities at Lincoln's Inn, Dugdale[85] says: "Moreover, that the King of Cockneys, on Childermass Day, should sit and have due service; and that he and all his officers should use honest manner and good Order, without any wast or destruction making, in Wine, Brawn, Chely, or other Vitaills."

[Footnote 85: Orig. Jur., p. 246.]

In Chambers's Book of Days we find that, "In consequence probably of the feeling of horror attached to such an act of atrocity, Innocents' Day used to be reckoned about the most unlucky throughout the year, and in former times no one who could possibly avoid it began any work, or entered on any undertaking on this anniversary. To marry on Childermas Day was specially inauspicious. It is said of the equally superstitious and unprincipled monarch, Louis XV., that he would never perform any business or enter into any discussion about his affairs on this day, and to make to him then any proposal of the kind was certain to exasperate him to the utmost. We are informed, too, that in England, on the occasion of the coronation of King Edward IV., that solemnity, which had been originally intended to take place on a Sunday, was postponed till the Monday, owing to the former day being, in that year, the festival of Childermas. The idea of the inauspicious nature of the day was long prevalent, and is even not yet wholly extinct. To the present hour, we understand, the housewives in Cornwall, and probably also in other parts of the country, refrain scrupulously from scouring or scrubbing on Innocents' Day."

At the churches in several parts of the country muffled peals are rung on this day, and with the Irish it is called "La crosta na bliana," or "the cross day of the year," and also, "Diar daoin darg," or "Bloody Thursday," and on that day the Irish housewife will not warp thread, nor permit it to be warped; and the Irish say that anything begun upon that day must have an unlucky ending.

A writer in Notes and Queries (4 ser. xii. 185) says: "The following legend regarding the day is current in the county of Clare. Between the parishes of Quin and Tulla, in that county, is a lake called Turlough. In the lake is a little island; and among a heap of loose stones in the middle of the island rises a white thorn bush, which is called 'Scagh an Earla' (the Earl's bush). A suit of clothes made for a child on the 'Cross day' was put on the child; the child died. The clothes were put on a second and on a third child; they also died. The parents of the children at length put out the clothes on the 'Scag an Earla,' and when the waters fell the clothes were found to be full of dead eels."

Here is a good carol for Innocents' day, published in the middle of the sixteenth century:—


Mark this song, for it is true, For it is true, as clerks tell: In old time strange things came to pass, Great wonder and great marvel was In Israel.

There was one, Octavian, Octavian of Rome Emperor, As books old doth specify, Of all the wide world truly He was lord and governor.

The Jews, that time, lack'd a king, They lack'd a king to guide them well, The Emperor of power and might, Chose one Herod against all right, In Israel.

This Herod, then, was King of Jews Was King of Jews, and he no Jew, Forsooth he was a Paynim born, Wherefore on faith it may be sworn He reigned King untrue.

By prophecy, one Isai, One Isai, at least, did tell A child should come, wondrous news, That should be born true King of Jews In Israel.

This Herod knew one born should be, One born should be of true lineage, That should be right heritor; For he but by the Emperor Was made by usurpage.

Wherefore of thought this King Herod, This King Herod in great fear fell, For all the days most in his mirth, Ever he feared Christ his birth In Israel.

The time came it pleased God, It pleased God so to come to pass, For man's soul indeed His blessed Son was born with speed, As His will was.

Tidings came to King Herod, To King Herod, and did him tell, That one born forsooth is he, Which lord and king of all shall be In Israel.

Herod then raged, as he were wode (mad), As he were wode of this tyding, And sent for all his scribes sure, Yet would he not trust the Scripture, Nor of their counselling.

This, then, was the conclusion, The conclusion of his counsel, To send unto his knights anon To slay the children every one In Israel.

This cruel king this tyranny, This tyranny did put in ure (practice), Between a day and years two, All men-children he did slew, Of Christ for to be sure.

Yet Herod missed his cruel prey, His cruel prey, as was God's will; Joseph with Mary then did flee With Christ to Egypt, gone was she From Israel.

All the while these tyrants, These tyrants would not convert, But innocents young That lay sucking, They thrust to the heart.

This Herod sought the children young, The children young, with courage fell. But in doing this vengeance His own son was slain by chance In Israel.

Alas! I think the mothers were woe, The mothers were woe, it was great skill, What motherly pain To see them slain, In cradles lying still!

But God Himself hath them elect, Hath them elect in heaven to dwell, For they were bathed in their blood, For their Baptism forsooth it stood In Israel.

Alas! again, what hearts had they, What hearts had they those babes to kill, With swords when they them caught, In cradles they lay and laughed, And never thought ill.


New Year's Eve—Wassail—New Year's Eve Customs—Hogmany—The Clāvie—Other Customs—Weather Prophecy.

New Year's eve is variously kept—by some in harmless mirth, by others in religious exercises. Many churches in England have late services, which close at midnight with a carol or appropriate hymn, and this custom is especially held by the Wesleyan Methodists in their "Watch Night," when they pray, etc., till about five minutes to twelve, when there is a dead silence, supposed to be spent in introspection, which lasts until the clock strikes, and then they burst forth with a hymn of praise and joy.

The wassail bowl used to hold as high a position as at Christmas eve, and in Lyson's time it was customary in Gloucestershire for a merry party to go from house to house carrying a large bowl, decked with garlands and ribbons, singing the following wassail song:—

Wassail! Wassail! all over the town, Our toast it is white, our ale it is brown, Our bowl it is made of a maplin tree; We be good fellows all, I drink to thee.

Here's to our horse, and to his right ear, God send our maister a happy New Year; A happy New Year as e'er he did see— With my wassailing bowl I drink to thee.

Here's to our mare, and to her right eye, God send our mistress a good Christmas pye: A good Christmas pye as e'er I did see— With my wassailing bowl I drink to thee.

Here's to Fill-pail (cow) and to her long tail, God send our measter us never may fail Of a cup of good beer, I pray you draw near, And our jolly wassail it's then you shall hear.

Be here any maids? I suppose there be some, Sure they will not let young men stand on the cold stone Sing hey, O maids, come trole back the pin, And the fairest maid in the house let us all in.

Come, butler, come bring us a bowl of the best: I hope your soul in heaven will rest: But, if you do bring us a bowl of the small, Then down fall butler, bowl, and all.

Until recently, a similar custom obtained in Nottinghamshire; but, in that case, the young women of the village, dressed in their best, carried round a decorated bowl filled with ale, roasted apples, and toast, seasoned with nutmeg and sugar, the regulation wassail compound. This they offered to the inmates of the house they called at, whilst they sang the following, amongst other verses:—

Good master, at your door, Our wassail we begin; We are all maidens poor, So we pray you let us in, And drink our wassail. All hail, wassail! Wassail! wassail! And drink our wassail.

In Derbyshire, on this night, a cold posset used to be prepared, made of milk, ale, eggs, currants, and spices, and in it is placed the hostess's wedding ring. Each of the party takes out a ladleful, and in so doing tries to fish out the ring, believing that whoever shall be fortunate enough to get it will be married before the year is out. It was also customary in some districts to throw open all the doors of the house just before midnight, and, waiting for the advent of the New Year, to greet him as he approaches with cries of "Welcome!"

At Muncaster, in Cumberland, on this night the children used to go from house to house singing a song, in which they crave the bounty "they were wont to have in old King Edward's time"; but what that was is not known.

It was a custom at Merton College, Oxford, according to Pointer (Oxoniensis Academia, ed. 1749, p. 24), on the last night in the year, called Scrutiny Night, for the College servants, all in a body, to make their appearance in the Hall, before the Warden and Fellows (after supper), and there to deliver up their keys, so that if they have committed any great crime during the year their keys are taken away, and they consequently lose their places, or they have them delivered to them afresh.

On this night a curious custom obtained at Bradford, in Yorkshire, where a party of men and women, with blackened faces, and fantastically attired, used to enter houses with besoms, and "sweep out the Old Year."

Although Christmas is kept in Scotland, there is more festivity at the New Year, and perhaps one of the most singular customs is that which was told by a gentleman to Dr. Johnson during his tour in the Hebrides. On New Year's eve, in the hall or castle of the Laird, where at festal seasons there may be supposed to be a very numerous company, one man dresses himself in a cow's hide, upon which the others beat with sticks. He runs, with all this noise, round the house, which all the company quit in a counterfeited fright, and the door is then shut. On New Year's eve there is no great pleasure to be had out of doors in the Hebrides. They are sure soon to recover sufficiently from their terror to solicit for readmission, which is not to be obtained but by repeating a verse, with which those who are knowing and provident are provided.

In the Orkney Islands it was formerly the custom for bands of people to assemble and pay a round of visits, singing a song which began—

This night it is guid New'r E'en's night, We're a' here Queen Mary's men: And we're come here to crave our right, And that's before our Lady!

In the county of Fife this night was called "Singen E'en," probably from the custom of singing carols then. This day is popularly known in Scotland as Hogmany, and the following is a fragment of a Yorkshire Hagmena song:—

To-night it is the New Year's night, to-morrow is the day, And we are come for our right and for our ray, As we used to do in Old King Henry's day: Sing, fellows! sing, Hagman-ha!

If you go to the bacon flick, cut me a good bit; Cut, cut and low, beware of your maw. Cut, cut and round, beware of your thumb, That me and my merry men may have some: Sing, fellows! sing, Hag-man-ha!

If you go to the black ark (chest), bring me ten marks; Ten marks, ten pound, throw it down upon the ground, That me and my merry men may have some: Sing, fellows! sing, Hog-man-ha!

The meaning of this word "Hogmany" is not clear, and has been a source of dispute among Scottish antiquaries; but two suggestions of its derivation are probable. One is that it comes from Au qui menez (To the mistleto go), which mummers formerly cried in France at Christmas; and the other is that it is derived from Au gueux menez, i.e. bring the beggars—which would be suitable for charitable purposes at such a time. In some remote parts of Scotland the poor children robe themselves in a sheet, which is so arranged as to make a large pocket in front, and going about in little bands, they call at houses for their Hogmany, which is given them in the shape of some oat cake, and sometimes cheese, the cakes being prepared some days beforehand, in order to meet the demand. On arriving at a house they cry "Hogmany," or sing some rough verse, like—

Hogmanay, Trollolay, Give us of your white bread, and none of your grey!

In Notes and Queries (2 ser. ix. 38) a singular Scotch custom is detailed. Speaking of the village of Burghead, on the southern shore of the Moray Frith, the writer says: "On the evening of the last day of December (old style) the youth of the village assemble about dusk, and make the necessary preparations for the celebration of the 'clāvie.' Proceeding to some shop, they demand a strong empty barrel, which is usually gifted at once; but if refused, taken by force. Another for breaking up, and a quantity of tar are likewise procured at the same time. Thus furnished, they repair to a particular spot close to the sea shore, and commence operations.

"A hole, about four inches in diameter, is first made in the bottom of the stronger barrel, into which the end of a stout pole, five feet in length, is firmly fixed; to strengthen their hold, a number of supports are nailed round the outside of the former, and also closely round the latter. The tar is then put into the barrel, and set on fire; and the remaining one being broken up, stave after stave is thrown in, until it is quite full. The 'clāvie,' already burning fiercely, is now shouldered by some strong young man, and borne away at a rapid pace. As soon as the bearer gives signs of exhaustion, another willingly takes his place; and should any of those who are honoured to carry the blazing load meet with an accident, as sometimes happens, the misfortune excites no pity, even among his near relatives.

"In making the circuit of the village they are said to confine themselves to their old boundaries. Formerly the procession visited all the fishing boats, but this has been discontinued for some time. Having gone over the appointed ground, the 'clāvie' is finally carried to a small artificial eminence near the point of the promontory, and, interesting as being a portion of the ancient fortifications, spared, probably on account of its being used for this purpose, where a circular heap of stones used to be hastily piled up, in the hollow centre of which the 'clāvie' was placed, still burning. On this eminence, which is termed the 'durie,' the present proprietor has recently erected a small round column, with a cavity in the centre, for admitting the free end of the pole, and into this it is now placed. After being allowed to burn on the 'durie' for a few minutes, the 'clāvie' is most unceremoniously hurled from its place, and the smoking embers scattered among the assembled crowd, by whom, in less enlightened times, they were eagerly caught at, and fragments of them carried home, and carefully preserved as charms against witchcraft." Some discussion took place on the origin of this custom, but nothing satisfactory was eliminated.

Another correspondent to the same periodical (2 ser. ix. 322) says: "A practice, which may be worth noting, came under my observation at the town of Biggar (in the upper ward of Lanarkshire) on 31st December last. It has been customary there, from time immemorial, among the inhabitants to celebrate what is called 'Burning out the Old Year.' For this purpose, during the day of the 31st, a large quantity of fuel is collected, consisting of branches of trees, brushwood, and coals, and placed in a heap at the 'Cross'; and about nine o'clock at night the lighting of the fire is commenced, surrounded by a crowd of onlookers, who each thinks it a duty to cast into the flaming mass some additional portion of material, the whole becoming sufficient to maintain the fire till next, or New Year's morning is far advanced. Fires are also kindled on the adjacent hills to add to the importance of the occasion."

In Ireland, according to Croker (Researches in the South of Ireland, p. 233), on the last night of the year a cake is thrown against the outside door of each house, by the head of the family, which ceremony is said to keep out hunger during the ensuing year:—

If New Year's Eve night wind blow South, It betokeneth warmth and growth; If West, much milk, and fish in the sea; If North, much cold and storms there will be; If East, the trees will bear much fruit; If North-East, flee it, man and brute.


New Year's Day—Carol—New Year's Gifts—"Dipping"—Riding the "Stang"—Curious Tenures—God Cakes—The "Quaaltagh"—"First-foot" in Scotland—Highland Customs—In Ireland—Weather Prophecies—Handsel Monday.

There is a peculiar feeling of satisfaction that comes over us with the advent of the New Year. The Old Year, with its joys and sorrows, its gains and disappointments, is irrevocably dead—dead without hope of resurrection, and there is not one of us who does not hope that the forthcoming year may be a happier one than that departed.

The following very pretty "Carol for New Year's Day" is taken from Psalmes, Songs, and Sonnets, composed by William Byrd, Lond. 1611:—

O God, that guides the cheerful sun By motions strange the year to frame, Which now, returned whence it begun, From Heaven extols Thy glorious Name; This New Year's season sanctify With double blessings of Thy store, That graces new may multiply, And former follies reign no more. So shall our hearts with Heaven agree, And both give laud and praise to Thee. Amen.

Th' old year, by course, is past and gone, Old Adam, Lord, from us expel; New creatures make us every one, New life becomes the New Year well. As new-born babes from malice keep, New wedding garments, Christ, we crave; That we Thy face in Heaven may see, With Angels bright, our souls to save. So shall our hearts with Heaven agree, And both give laud and praise to Thee. Amen.

The Church takes no notice of the first of January as the beginning of a New Year, but only as the Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord, and consequently, being included in the twelve days of Christ-tide festivity, it was only regarded as one of them, and no particular stress was placed upon it. There were, and are, local customs peculiar to the day, but, with the exception of some special festivity, general good wishes for health and prosperity, and the giving of presents, there is no extraordinary recognition of the day.

Naogeorgus says of it:—

The next to this is New Yeares day, whereon to every frende, They costly presents in do bring, and Newe Yeares giftes do sende. These giftes the husband gives his wife, and father eke the childe, And maister on his men bestowes the like, with favour milde. And good beginning of the yeare, they wishe and wishe againe, According to the auncient guise of heathen people vaine. These eight dayes no man doth require his dettes of any man, Their tables do they furnish out with all the meate they can: With Marchpaynes, Tartes, and Custards great, they drink with staring eyes, They rowte and revell, feede and feast, as merry all as Pyes: As if they should at th' entrance of this newe yeare hap to die, Yet would they have theyr bellyes full, and auncient friendes allie.

The custom of mutual gifts on this day still obtains in England, but is in great force in France. Here it was general among all classes, and many are the notices of presents to Royalty, but nowadays a present at Christmas has very greatly superseded the old custom. We owe the term "pin-money" to the gift of pins at this season. They were expensive articles, and occasionally money was given as a commutation. Gloves were, as they are now, always an acceptable present, but to those who were not overburdened with this world's goods an orange stuck with cloves was deemed sufficient for a New Year's gift.

Among the many superstitious customs which used to obtain in England was a kind of "Sortes Virgilianae," or divination, as to the coming year. Only the Bible was the medium, and the operation was termed "dipping." The ceremony usually took place before breakfast, as it was absolutely necessary that the rite should be performed fasting. The Bible was laid upon a table, and opened haphazard, a finger being placed, without premeditation, upon a verse, and the future for the coming year was dependent upon the sense of the verse pitched upon. A correspondent in Notes and Queries (2 ser. xii. 303) writes: "About eight years ago I was staying in a little village in Oxfordshire on the first day of the year, and happening to pass by a cottage where an old woman lived whom I knew well, I stepped in, and wished her 'A Happy New Year.' Instead of replying to my salutation, she stared wildly at me, and exclaimed in a horrified tone, 'New Year's Day! and I have never dipped.' Not having the slightest idea of her meaning, I asked for an explanation, and gathered from her that it was customary to dip into the Bible before twelve o'clock on New Year's Day, and the first verse that met the eye indicated the good or bad fortune of the inquirer through the ensuing year. My old friend added: 'Last year I dipped, and I opened on Job, and sure enough, I have had nought but trouble ever since.' Her consternation on receiving my good wishes was in consequence of her having let the opportunity of dipping go by for that year, it being past twelve o'clock."

Another singular custom which used to obtain in Cumberland and Westmoreland is noted in a letter in the Gentleman's Magazine for 1791, vol. lxi., part ii. p. 1169: "Early in the morning of the first of January the Faex Populi assemble together, carrying stangs[86] and baskets. Any inhabitant, stranger, or whoever joins not this ruffian tribe in sacrificing to their favourite Saint day, if unfortunate enough to be met by any of the band, is immediately mounted across the stang (if a woman, she is basketed), and carried, shoulder height, to the nearest public-house, where the payment of sixpence immediately liberates the prisoner. No respect is paid to any person; the cobler on that day thinks himself equal to the parson, who generally gets mounted like the rest of his flock; whilst one of his porters boasts and prides himself in having, but just before, got the Squire across the pole. None, though ever so industriously inclined, are permitted to follow their respective avocations on that day."

[Footnote 86: Poles. To ride the stang was a popular punishment for husbands who behaved cruelly to their wives.]

Blount, in his Tenures of Land, etc., gives a very curious tenure by which the Manor of Essington, Staffordshire, was held; the lord of which manor (either by himself, deputy, or steward) oweth, and is obliged yearly to perform, service to the lord of the Manor of Hilton, a village about a mile distant from this manor. The Lord of Essington is to bring a goose every New Year's day, and drive it round the fire, at least three times, whilst Jack of Hilton is blowing the fire. This Jack of Hilton is an image of brass, of about twelve inches high, having a little hole at the mouth, at which, being filled with water, and set to a strong fire, which makes it evaporate like an aeolipole, it vents itself in a constant blast, so strongly that it is very audible, and blows the fire fiercely.

When the Lord of Essington has done his duty, and the other things are performed, he carries his goose into the kitchen of Hilton Hall, and delivers it to the cook, who, having dressed it, the Lord of Essington, or his deputy, by way of farther service, is to carry it to the table of the lord paramount of Hilton and Essington, and receives a dish from the Lord of Hilton's table for his own mess, and so departs.

He also gives a curious tenure at Hutton Conyers, Yorkshire: "Near this town, which lies a few miles from Ripon, there is a large common, called Hutton Conyers Moor.... The occupiers of messuages and cottages within the several towns of Hutton Conyers, Melmerby, Baldersby, Rainton, Dishforth, and Hewick have right of estray for their sheep to certain limited boundaries on the common, and each township has a shepherd.

"The lord's shepherd has a pre-eminence of tending his sheep on any part of the common, and, wherever he herds the lord's sheep, the several other shepherds have to give way to him, and give up their hoofing place, so long as he pleases to depasture the lord's sheep thereon. The lord holds his court the first day in the year, and, to entitle those several townships to such right of estray, the shepherd of each township attends the court, and does fealty by bringing to the court a large apple-pie and a twopenny sweet cake, except the shepherd of Hewick, who compounds by paying sixteenpence for ale (which is drunk as aftermentioned) and a wooden spoon; each pie is cut in two, and divided by the bailiff, one half between the steward, bailiff, and the tenant of a coney warren, and the other half into six parts, and divided amongst the six shepherds of the beforementioned six townships. In the pie brought by the shepherd of Rainton, an inner one is made, filled with prunes. The cakes are divided in the same manner. The bailiff of the manor provides furmety and mustard, and delivers to each shepherd a slice of cheese and a penny roll. The furmety, well mixed with mustard, is put into an earthen pot, and placed in a hole in the ground in a garth belonging to the bailiff's house, to which place the steward of the court, with the bailiff, tenant of the warren, and six shepherds adjourn, with their respective wooden spoons. The bailiff provides spoons for the steward, the tenant of the warren, and himself. The steward first pays respect to the furmety by taking a large spoonful; the bailiff has the next honour, the tenant of the warren next, then the shepherd of Hutton Conyers, and afterwards the other shepherds by regular turns; then each person is served with a glass of ale (paid for by the sixteenpence brought by the Hewick shepherd), and the health of the Lord of the Manor is drunk; then they adjourn back to the bailiff's house, and the further business of the court is proceeded with."

The question was asked (Notes and Queries, 2 ser. ii. 229), but never answered, Whether any reader could give information respecting the ancient custom in the city of Coventry of sending God Cakes on the first day of the year? "They are used by all classes, and vary in price from a halfpenny to one pound. They are invariably made in a triangular shape, an inch thick, and filled with a kind of mince meat. I believe the custom is peculiar to that city, and should be glad to know more about its origin. So general is the use of them on January 1st, that the cheaper sorts are hawked about the streets, as hot Cross buns are on Good Friday in London."

In Nottinghamshire it is considered unlucky to take anything out of a house on New Year's day before something has been brought in; consequently, as early as possible in the morning, each member of the family brings in some trifle. Near Newark this rhyme is sung:—

Take out, and take in, Bad luck is sure to begin; But take in and take out, Good luck will come about.

Train, in his History of the Isle of Man (ed. 1845, vol. ii. 115), says that on 1st January an old custom is observed, called the quaaltagh. In almost every parish throughout the island a party of young men go from house to house singing the following rhyme:—

Again we assemble, a merry New Year To wish to each one of the family here, Whether man, woman, or girl, or boy, That long life and happiness all may enjoy; May they of potatoes and herrings have plenty, With butter and cheese, and each other dainty; And may their sleep never, by night or day, Disturbed be by even the tooth of a flea: Until at the Quaaltagh again we appear, To wish you, as now, all a happy New Year.

When these lines are repeated at the door, the whole party are invited into the house to partake of the best the family can afford. On these occasions a person of dark complexion always enters first, as a light-haired male or female is deemed unlucky to be the first-foot, or quaaltagh, on New Year's morning. The actors of the quaaltagh do not assume fantastic habiliments like the Mummers of England, or the Guisards of Scotland; nor do they, like these rude performers of the Ancient Mysteries, appear ever to have been attended by minstrels playing on different kinds of musical instruments.

The custom of first-footing is still in vogue in many parts of Scotland, although a very good authority, Chambers's Book of Days (vol. i. p. 28), says it is dying out:—

"Till very few years ago in Scotland the custom of the wassail bowl, at the passing away of the old year, might be said to be still in comparative vigour. On the approach of twelve o'clock a hot pint was prepared—that is, a kettle or flagon full of warm, spiced, and sweetened ale, with an infusion of spirits. When the clock had struck the knell of the departed year, each member of the family drank of this mixture, 'A good health and a happy New Year, and many of them!' to all the rest, with a general hand-shaking, and perhaps a dance round the table, with the addition of a song to the tune of Hey tuttie taitie

"Weel may we a' be, Ill may we never see, Here's to the King And the gude companie! etc.

"The elders of the family would then most probably sally out, with the hot kettle, and bearing also a competent provision of buns and short cakes, or bread and cheese, with the design of visiting their neighbours, and interchanging with them the same cordial greetings. If they met by the way another party similarly bent whom they knew, they would stop, and give and take sips from their respective kettles. Reaching the friends' house, they would enter with vociferous good wishes, and soon send the kettle a-circulating. If they were the first to enter the house since twelve o'clock, they were deemed the first-foot; and, as such, it was most important, for luck to the family in the coming year, that they should make their entry, not empty-handed, but with their hands full of cakes, and bread and cheese; of which, on the other hand, civility demanded that each individual in the house should partake.

"To such an extent did this custom prevail in Edinburgh, in the recollection of persons still living, that, according to their account, the principal streets were more thronged between twelve and one in the morning than they usually were at mid-day. Much innocent mirth prevailed, and mutual good feelings were largely promoted. An unlucky circumstance, which took place on the 1st January of 1812, proved the means of nearly extinguishing the custom. A small party of reckless boys formed the design of turning the innocent festivities of first-footing to account, for the purposes of plunder. They kept their counsel well. No sooner had the people come abroad on the principal thoroughfares of the Old Town, than these youths sallied out in small bands, and commenced the business which they had undertaken. Their previous agreement was—to look out for the white neckcloths, such being the best mark by which they could distinguish, in the dark, individuals likely to carry any property worthy of being taken. A great number of gentlemen were thus spoiled of their watches and other valuables. The least resistance was resented by the most brutal maltreatment. A policeman and a young man of the rank of a clerk in Leith died of the injuries they had received. An affair so singular, so uncharacteristic of the people among whom it happened, produced a widespread and lasting feeling of surprise. The outrage was expiated by the execution of three of the youthful rioters on the chief scene of their wickedness; but from that time it was observed that the old custom of going about with the hot pint—the ancient wassail—fell off.

* * * * *

"There was, in Scotland, a first-footing independent of the hot pint. It was a time for some youthful friend of the family to steal to the door, in the hope of meeting there the young maiden of his fancy, and obtaining the privilege of a kiss, as her first-foot. Great was the disappointment on his part, and great the joking among the family, if, through accident or plan, some half-withered aunt or ancient grand-dame came to receive him instead of the blooming Jenny."

In Sir T.D. Hardy's Memoirs of Lord Langdale (1852, vol. i., p. 55) is the following extract from a letter dated 1st January 1802. "Being in Scotland, I ought to tell you of Scotch customs; and really they have a charming one on this occasion (i.e. New Year's day). Whether it is meant as a farewell ceremony to the old one, or an introduction to the New Year, I can't tell; but on the 31st of December almost everybody has a party, either to dine or sup. The company, almost entirely consisting of young people, wait together till twelve o'clock strikes, at which time every one begins to move, and they all fall to work. At what? why, kissing. Each male is successively locked in pure Platonic embrace with each female; and after this grand ceremony, which, of course, creates infinite fun, they separate and go home. This matter is not at all confined to these, but wherever man meets woman it is the peculiar privilege of this hour. The common people think it necessary to drink what they call hot pint, which consists of strong beer, whisky, eggs, etc., a most horrid composition, as bad or worse than that infamous mixture called fig-one,[87] which the English people drink on Good Friday."

[Footnote 87: Or Fig-sue, which is a mixture of ale, sliced figs, bread, and nutmeg, all boiled together, and eaten hot. This mess is made in North Lancashire, and partaken of on Good Friday, probably by way of mortifying the flesh.]

Pennant tells us, in his Tour in Scotland, that on New Year's day the Highlanders burned juniper before their cattle; and Stewart, in Popular Superstitions of the Highlanders of Scotland, says, as soon as the last night of the year sets in, it is the signal with the Strathdown Highlander for the suspension of his usual employment, and he directs his attention to more agreeable callings. The men form into bands, with tethers and axes, and, shaping their course to the juniper bushes, they return home with mighty loads, which are arranged round the fire to dry until morning. A certain discreet person is despatched to the dead and living ford, to draw a pitcher of water in profound silence, without the vessel touching the ground, lest its virtue should be destroyed, and on his return all retire to rest.

Early on New Year's morning, the usque-cashrichd, or water from the dead and living ford, is drunk, as a potent charm until next New Year's day, against the spells of witchcraft, the malignity of evil eyes, and the activity of all infernal agency. The qualified Highlander then takes a large brush, with which he profusely asperses the occupants of all beds, from whom it is not unusual for him to receive ungrateful remonstrances against ablution. This ended, and the doors and windows being thoroughly closed, and all crevices stopped, he kindles piles of the collected juniper in the different apartments, till the vapour collected from the burning branches condenses into opaque clouds, and coughing, sneezing, wheezing, gasping, and other demonstrations of suffocation ensue. The operator, aware that the more intense the smuchdan, the more propitious the solemnity, disregards these indications, and continues, with streaming eyes and averted head, to increase the fumigation, until, in his own defence, he admits the air to recover the exhausted household and himself. He then treats the horses, cattle, and other bestial stock in the town with the same smothering, to keep them from harm throughout the year.

When the gudewife gets up, and having ceased from coughing, has gained sufficient strength to reach the bottle dhu, she administers its comfort to the relief of the sufferers; laughter takes the place of complaint, all the family get up, wash their faces, and receive the visits of their neighbours, who arrive full of congratulations peculiar to the day. Mu nase choil orst, "My Candlemas bond upon you," is the customary salutation, and means, in plain words, "You owe me a New Year's gift." A point of great emulation is, who shall salute the other first, because the one who does so is entitled to a gift from the person saluted. Breakfast, consisting of all procurable luxuries, is then served, the neighbours not engaged are invited to partake, and the day ends in festivity.

Of New Year's customs in Ireland a correspondent in Notes and Queries (5 ser. iii. 7), writes: "On New Year's day I observed boys running about the suburbs at the County Down side of Belfast, carrying little twisted wisps of straw, which they offer to persons whom they meet, or throw into houses as New Year Offerings, and expect in return to get any small present, such as a little money, or a piece of bread.

"About Glenarm, on the coast of County Antrim, the 'wisp' is not used; but on this day the boys go about from house to house, and are regaled with 'bannocks' of oaten bread, buttered; these bannocks are baked specially for the occasion, and are commonly small, thick, and round, and with a hole through the centre. Any person who enters a house at Glenarm on this day must either eat or drink before leaving it."

It is only natural that auguries for the weather of the year should be drawn from that on which New Year's day falls, and not only so, but, as at Christmas, the weather for the ensuing year was materially influenced, according to the day in the week on which this commencement of another year happened to fall. It is, however, satisfactory to have persons able to tell us all about it, and thus saith Digges, in his Prognosticacion Everlasting, of ryghte goode Effect, Lond., 1596, 4to.

"It is affirmed by some, when New Yeare's day falleth on the Sunday, then a pleasant winter doth ensue: a naturall summer: fruite sufficient: harvest indifferent, yet some winde and raine: many marriages: plentie of wine and honey; death of young men and cattell: robberies in most places: newes of prelates, of kinges; and cruell warres in the end.

"On Monday, a winter somewhat uncomfortable; summer temperate: no plentie of fruite: many fansies and fables opened: agues shall reigne: kings and many others shall dye: marriages shall be in most places: and a common fall of gentlemen.

"On Tuesday, a stormie winter: a wet summer: a divers harvest: corne and fruite indifferent, yet hearbes in gardens shall not flourish: great sicknesse of men, women, and yong children. Beasts shall hunger, starve, and dye of the botch; many shippes, gallies, and hulkes shall be lost; and the bloodie flixes shall kill many men; all things deare, save corne.

"On Wednesday, lo, a warme winter; in the end, snowe and frost: a cloudie summer, plentie of fruite, corne, hay, wine, and honey: great paine to women with childe, and death to infants: good for sheepe: news of kinges: great warres: battell, and slaughter towards the middell.

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