"On Thursday, winter and summer windie; a rainie harveste: therefore wee shall have overflowings: much fruite: plentie of honey: yet flesh shall be deare: cattell in general shall dye: great trouble; warres, etc.: with a licencious life of the feminine sexe.
"On Friday, winter stormie: summer scant and pleasant: harvest indifferent: little store of fruite, of wine and honey: corne deare: many bleare eyes: youth shall dye: earthquakes are perceived in many places: plentie of thunders, lightnings and tempestes: with a sudden death of cattell.
"On Saturday, a mean winter: summer very hot: a late harvest: good cheape garden hearbs: much burning: plentie of hempe, flax and honey. Old folke shall dye in most places: fevers and tercians shall grieve many people: great muttering of warres: murthers shall be suddenly committed in many places for light matters."
In Scotland the first Monday is kept as a great holiday among servants and children, to whom Handsel Monday, as it is called, is analogous to Boxing Day in England, when all expect some little present in token of affection, or in recognition of services rendered during the past year. In the rural districts Auld Handsel Monday—that is, the first Monday after the twelfth of the month—is kept in preference. It is also a day for hiring servants for another year, and at farm-houses, after a good substantial breakfast, the remainder of the day is spent as a holiday.
Eve of Twelfth Day—Thirteen Fires—Tossing the Cake—Wassailing Apple-Trees—The Eve in Ireland—Twelfth Day, or Epiphany—Carol for the Day—Royal Offerings.
The 5th of January is the eve of the Epiphany, and the Vigil of Twelfth day, which used to be celebrated by the liberal use of the customary wassail bowl. In the Gentleman's Magazine for 1791, p. 116, we get a good account of the customs in Herefordshire on that night. "On the eve of Twelfth day, at the approach of evening, the farmers, their friends, servants, etc., all assemble; and near six o'clock, all walk together to a field where wheat is growing. The highest part of the ground is always chosen, where twelve small fires and one large one are lighted up. The attendants, headed by the master of the family, pledge the company in old cider, which circulates freely on these occasions. A circle is formed round the large fire, when a general shout and hallooing takes place, which you hear answered from all the villages and fields near, as I have myself counted fifty or sixty fires burning at the same time, which are generally placed on some eminence. This being finished, the company all return to the house, where the good housewife and her maids are preparing a good supper, which on this occasion is very plentiful.
"A large cake is always provided, with a hole in the middle. After supper, the company all attend the bailiff (or head of the oxen) to the Wain house, where the following particulars are observed: the master, at the head of his friends, fills the cup (generally of strong ale), and stands opposite the first or finest of the oxen (twenty-four of which I have often seen tied up in their stalls together); he then pledges him in a curious toast; the company then follow his example with all the other oxen, addressing each by their name. This being over, the large cake is produced, and is with much ceremony put on the horn of the first ox, through the hole in the cake; he is then tickled to make him toss his head: if he throws the cake behind, it is the mistress's perquisite; if before (in what is termed the boosy), the bailiff claims the prize. This ended, the company all return to the house, the doors of which are in the meantime locked, and not opened till some joyous songs are sung. On entering, a scene of mirth and jollity commences, and reigns through the house till a late hour the next morning. Cards are introduced, and the merry tale goes round. I have often enjoyed the hospitality, friendship, and harmony I have been witness to on these occasions."
On p. 403 of the same volume another correspondent writes as to the custom on Twelfth day eve in Devonshire. "On the Eve of the Epiphany the farmer, attended by his workmen, with a large pitcher of cyder, goes to the orchard, and there, encircling one of the best-bearing trees, they drink the following toast three several times:—
"Here's to thee, old apple tree, Whence thou may'st bud, and whence thou may'st blow! And whence thou may'st bear apples enow! Hats full!—Caps full! Bushel,—bushel,—sacks full! And my pockets full, too! Huzza!
"This done, they return to the house, the doors of which they are sure to find bolted by the females, who, be the weather what it may, are inexorable to all entreaties to open them, till some one has guessed at what is on the spit, which is generally some nice little thing difficult to be hit on, and is the reward of him who first names it. The doors are then thrown open, and the lucky clodpole receives the tit-bit as his recompence. Some are so superstitious as to believe that, if they neglect this custom, the trees will bear no apples that year."
Referring to these customs, Cuthbert Bede remarks (Notes and Queries, 2 ser. viii. 448): "A farmer's wife told me that where she had lived in Herefordshire, twenty years ago, they were wont, on Twelfth Night Eve, to light in a wheat field twelve small fires, and one large one.... She told me that they were designed to represent the blessed Saviour and his twelve Apostles. The fire representing Judas Iscariot, after being allowed to burn for a brief time, was kicked about, and put out.... The same person also told me that the ceremony of placing the twelfth cake on the horn of the ox was observed in all the particulars.... It was twenty years since she had left the farm, and she had forgotten all the words of the toast used on that occasion: she could only remember one verse out of three or four:—
"Fill your cups, my merry men all! For here's the best ox in the stall; Oh! he's the best ox, of that there's no mistake, And so let us crown him with the Twelfth Cake."
The Derby and Chesterfield Reporter of 7th January 1830 gives the following notice of the Herefordshire customs: "On the eve of Old Christmas day there are thirteen fires lighted in the cornfields of many of the farms, twelve of them in a circle, and one round a pole, much longer and higher than the rest, in the centre. These fires are dignified by the names of the Virgin Mary and the Twelve Apostles, the lady being in the middle; and while they are burning, the labourers retire into some shed or out-house, where they can behold the brightness of the Apostolic flame. Into this shed they lead a cow, on whose horn a large plum cake has been stuck, and having assembled round the animal, the oldest labourer takes a pail of cider, and addresses the following lines to the cow with great solemnity; after which the verse is chaunted in chorus by all present:—
"Here's to thy pretty face and thy white horn, God send thy master a good crop of corn, Both wheat, rye, and barley, and all sorts of grain, And, next year, if we live, we'll drink to thee again.
"He then dashes the cider in the cow's face, when, by a violent toss of her head, she throws the plum cake on the ground; and if it falls forward, it is an omen that the next harvest will be good; if backward, that it will be unfavourable. This is the ceremony at the commencement of the rural feast, which is generally prolonged to the following morning."
In Ireland, "on Twelve Eve in Christmas, they use to set up, as high as they can, a sieve of oats, and in it a dozen of candles set round, and in the centre one larger, all lighted. This is in memory of our Saviour and His Apostles—lights of the world."
[Footnote 88: Vallancey's Collectanea de Rebus Hibernicis, vol. i. No. 1. p. 124.]
The 6th of January, or twelfth day after Christmas, is a festival of the Church, called the Epiphany (from a Greek word signifying "appearance"), or Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles; and it arises from the adoration of the Wise Men, or Magi, commonly known as "the Three Kings," Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, who were led by the miraculous star to Bethlehem, and there offered to the infant Christ gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The following carol is in the Harl. MSS. British Museum, and is of the time of Henry VII.:—
Now is Christmas i-come, Father and Son together in One, Holy Ghost as ye be One, In fere-a; God send us a good new year-a.
I would now sing, for and I might, Of a Child is fair to sight; His mother bare him this enders night, So still-a; And as it was his will-a.
There came three kings from Galilee To Bethlehem, that fair citie, To see Him that should ever be By right-a, Lord, and King, and Knight-a.
As they came forth with their offering, They met with Herod, that moody king, He asked them of their coming This tide-a; And thus to them he said-a:
"Of whence be ye, you kings three?" "Of the East, as you may see, To seek Him that should ever be By right-a, Lord, and King, and Knight-a."
"When you to this Child have been, Come you home this way again, Tell me the sights that ye have seen, I pray-a; Go not another way-a."
They took their leave, both old and young, Of Herod, that moody king; They went forth with their offering, By light-a Of the Star that shone so bright-a.
Till they came into the place Where Jesus and his mother was, There they offered with great solace, In fere-a, Gold, incense, and myrrh-a.
When they had their offering made, As the Holy Ghost them bade, Then were they both merry and glad, And light-a; It was a good fair sight-a.
Anon, as on their way they went, The Father of Heaven an Angel sent, To those three kings that made present, That day-a, Who thus to them did say-a:
"My Lord hath warned you every one, By Herod King ye go not home, For, an' you do, he will you slone And strye-a, And hurt you wonderly-a."
So forth they went another way, Through the might of God, His lay, As the Angel to them did say, Full right-a, It was a fair good sight-a.
When they were come to their countree, Merry and glad they were all three, Of the sight that they had see By night-a; By the Star's shining light-a.
Kneel we now all here adown To that Lord of great renown, And pray we in good devotion For grace-a, In Heaven to have a place-a.
[Footnote 89: Last.]
[Footnote 90: Slay.]
[Footnote 91: Stay, hinder.]
[Footnote 92: Law.]
This festival was held in high honour in England; and up to the reign of George III. our Kings and Queens, attended by the Knights of the three great Orders—the Garter, the Thistle, and the Bath—were wont to go in state to the Chapel Royal, St. James's, and there offer gold, frankincense, and myrrh, in commemoration of the Magi; but when George III. was incapacitated, mentally, from performing the functions of royalty, it was done by proxy, and successive sovereigns have found it convenient to perform this act of piety vicariously.
It must have been a magnificent function in the time of Henry VII., as we learn by Le Neve's Royalle Book. "As for Twelfth Day, the King must go crowned, in his royal robes, kirtle, surtout, his furred hood about his neck, his mantle with a long train, and his cutlas before him; his armills upon his arms, of gold set full of rich stones; and no temporal man to touch it but the King himself; and the squire for the body must bring it to the King in a fair kerchief, and the King must put them on himself; and he must have his sceptre in his right hand, and the ball with the cross in his left hand, and the crown upon his head. And he must offer that day gold, myrrh, and sense; then must the Dean of the Chapel send unto the Archbishop of Canterbury, by clerk, or priest, the King's offering that day; and then must the Archbishop give the next benefice that falleth in his gift to the same messenger. And then the King must change his mantle when he goeth to meat, and take off his hood, and lay it about his neck; and clasp it before with a great rich ouche; and this must be of the same colour that he offered in. And the Queen in the same form as when she is crowned."
Now the ceremonial is as simple as it can be made. In the Chapel Royal, St. James's, after the reading of the sentence at the offertory, "Let your light so shine before men," etc., while the organ plays, two members of Her Majesty's household, wearing the royal livery, descend from the royal pew, and, preceded by the usher, advance to the altar rails, where they present to one of the two officiating clergymen a red bag, edged with gold lace or braid, which is received in an alms dish, and then reverently placed upon the altar. This bag, or purse, is understood to contain the Queen's offering of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
"The King of the Bean"—Customs on Twelfth Day—Twelfth Cakes—Twelfth Night Characters—Modern Twelfth Night—The Pastry Cook's Shops—Dethier's Lottery—The Song of the Wren—"Holly Night" at Brough—"Cutting off the Fiddler's Head."
But another sovereign had a great deal to do with Twelfth day, "The King of the Bean," who takes his title from a bean, or a silver penny, baked in a cake, which is cut up and distributed, and he is king in whose slice the bean is found. Naogeorgus gives us the following account of Twelfth day:—
The wise men's day here foloweth, who out from Persia farre, Brought giftes and presents unto Christ, conducted by a starre. The Papistes do beleeve that these were kings, and so them call, And do affirme that of the same there were but three in all. Here sundrie friendes togither come, and meete in companie, And make a king amongst themselves by voyce, or destinie: Who, after princely guise, appoyntes his officers alway. Then, unto feasting doe they go, and long time after play: Upon their hordes, in order thicke, the daintie dishes stande, Till that their purses emptie be, and creditors at hande. Their children herein follow them, and choosing princes here, With pompe and great solemnitie, they meete and make good chere: With money eyther got by stealth, or of their parents eft, That so they may be traynde to knowe, both ryot here and theft. Then also every housholder, to his abilitie, Doth make a mightie Cake, that may suffice his companie: Herein a pennie doth he put, before it comes to fire, This he devides according as his housholde doth require. And every peece distributeth, as round about they stand, Which, in their names, unto the poore, is given out of hand: But, who so chaunceth on the peece wherin the money lies, Is counted king amongst them all, and is, with showtes and cries, Exalted to the heavens up, who, taking chalke in hande, Doth make a crosse on every beame, and rafters as they stande: Great force and powre have these agaynst all injuryes and harmes Of cursed devils, sprites, and bugges, of coniurings and charmes. So much this king can do, so much the Crosses brings to passe, Made by some servant, maide, or childe, or by some foolish asse. Twise sixe nightes then from Christmasse, they do count with diligence Wherein eche maister, in his house, doth burne up Franckensence: And on the Table settes a loafe, when night approcheth nere, Before the Coles, and Franckensence, to be perfumed there: First bowing downe his heade he standes, and nose, and eares, and eyes He smokes, and with his mouth receyve the fume that doth arise: Whom followeth streight his wife, and doth the same full solemly, And of their children every one, and all their family: Which doth preserve, they say, their teeth, and nose, and eyes, and eare, From every kind of maladie, and sicknesse all the yeare. When every one receyved hath this odour, great and small, Then one takes up the pan with Coales, and Franckensence, and all, Another takes the loafe, whom all the rest do follow here, And round about the house they go, with torch or taper clere, That neither bread nor meat do want, nor witch with dreadful charme Have powre to hurt their children, or to do their cattell harme. There are, that three nightes onely do perfourme this foolish geare, To this intent, and thinke themselves in safetie all the yeare. To Christ dare none commit himselfe. And in these dayes beside, They iudge what weather all the yeare shall happen and betide: Ascribing to ech day a month. And, at this present time, The youth in every place doe flocke, and all appareld fine, With Pypars through the streetes they runne, and sing at every dore, In commendation of the man, rewarded well therefore: Which on themselves they do bestowe, or on the Church, as though The people were not plagude with Roges and begging Fryers enough. There Cities are, where boyes and gyrles togither still do runne, About the streete with like, as soone as night beginnes to come, And bring abrode their wassell bowles, who well rewarded bee, With Cakes and Cheese, and great good cheare, and money plentiouslie.
[Footnote 93: Bugbears, goblins.]
The above gives us Twelfth day customs in the sixteenth century. Herrick tells us how it was celebrated a hundred years later, when they had added a queen to the festivities, as they had, previously, given a consort to the Lord of Misrule.
Twelfe night, or King and Queene.
Now, now the mirth comes With the cake full of plums, Where Beane's the King of the sport here; Besides, we must know The Pea also Must revell, as Queene, in the Court here.
Begin, then, to chuse (This night, as ye use), Who shall for the present delight here, Be a King by the lot, And who shall not Be Twelfe-day Queene for the night here.
Which knowne, let us make Joy-sops with the cake; And let not a man then be seen here Who un-urg'd will not drinke To the base, from the brink, A health to the King and the Queene here.
Next, crowne the bowle full With gentle lamb's-wooll; Adde sugar, nutmeg, and ginger, With store of ale too; And thus ye must doe To make the wassaile a swinger.
Give then to the King And Queene wassailing; And though, with ale, ye be whet here, Yet part ye from hence As free from offence As when ye innocent met here.
This custom of having a Twelfth cake and electing a king and queen has now died out, and is only known by tradition; so utterly died out indeed, that in the British Museum Library there is not a single sheet of "Twelfth-night Characters" to show the younger race of students what they were like. The nearest approach to them preserved in that national collection of literature are some Lottery squibs, which imitated them; and Hone, writing in 1838, says: "It must be admitted, however, that the characters sold by the pastry cooks are either commonplace or gross; when genteel, they are inane; when humorous, they are vulgar."
A correspondent in the Universal Magazine for 1774 thus describes the drawing for King and Queen at that date. He says: "I went to a friend's house in the country to partake of some of those innocent pleasures that constitute a merry Christmas. I did not return till I had been present at drawing King and Queen, and eaten a slice of the Twelfth Cake, made by the fair hands of my good friend's consort. After tea, yesterday, a noble cake was produced, and two bowls, containing the fortunate chances for the different sexes. Our host filled up the tickets; the whole company, except the King and Queen, were to be ministers of state, maids of honour, or ladies of the bed-chamber. Our kind host and hostess, whether by design or accident, became king and queen. According to Twelfth-day law, each party is to support their character till midnight."
Here we see they had no sheets of "Twelfth-night Characters" (the loss of which I deplore), but they were of home manufacture. Hone, in his Every-Day Book, vol. i. p. 51, describes the drawing some fifty years later. "First, buy your cake. Then, before your visitors arrive, buy your characters, each of which should have a pleasant verse beneath. Next, look at your invitation list, and count the number of ladies you expect; and, afterwards, the number of gentlemen. Then take as many female characters as you have invited ladies; fold them up, exactly of the same size, and number each on the back, taking care to make the king No. 1 and the queen No. 2. Then prepare and number the gentlemen's characters. Cause tea and coffee to be handed to your visitors as they drop in. When all are assembled, and tea over, put as many ladies' characters in a reticule as there are ladies present; next, put the gentlemen's characters in a hat. Then call a gentleman to carry the reticule to the ladies, as they sit, from which each lady is to draw one ticket, and to preserve it unopened. Select a lady to bear the hat to the gentlemen for the same purpose. There will be one ticket left in the reticule, and another in the hat, which the lady and gentleman who carried each is to interchange, as having fallen to each. Next, arrange your visitors according to their numbers; the king No. 1, the queen No. 2, and so on. The king is then to recite the verse on his ticket; then the queen the verse on hers, and so the characters are to proceed in numerical order. This done, let the cake and refreshments go round, and hey! for merriment!"
The Twelfth cakes themselves were, in the higher class, almost as beautiful as wedding cakes, but they might be had of all prices, from sixpence to anything one's purse might compass; and the confectioner's (they called them pastry cooks in those days) windows were well worth a visit, and crowds did visit them, sometimes a little practical joking taking place, such as pinning two persons together, etc. Quoting Hone again: "In London, with every pastry cook in the city, and at the west end of the town, it is 'high change' on Twelfth day. From the taking down the shutters in the morning, he and his men, with additional assistants, male and female, are fully occupied by attending to the dressing out of the window, executing orders of the day before, receiving fresh ones, or supplying the wants of chance customers. Before dusk the important arrangement of the window is completed. Then the gas is turned on, with supernumerary argand lamps and manifold waxlights, to illuminate countless cakes, of all prices and dimensions, that stand in rows and piles on the counters and sideboards, and in the windows. The richest in flavour and heaviest in weight and price are placed on large and massy salvers; one, enormously superior in size, is the chief object of curiosity; and all are decorated with all imaginable images of things animate and inanimate. Stars, castles, kings, cottages, dragons, trees, fish, palaces, cats, dogs, churches, lions, milkmaids, knights, serpents, and innumerable other forms in snow-white confectionery, painted with variegated colours, glitter by 'excess of light' from mirrors against the walls, festooned with artificial wonders of Flora."
As the fashion of Twelfth cakes declined, the pastry cooks had to push their sale in every way possible, not being very particular as to overstepping the law, by getting rid of them by means of drawings, raffles, and lotteries, which for a long time were winked at by the authorities, until they assumed dimensions which could not be ignored, and M. Louis Dethier was summoned at Bow Street on 26th December 1860, under the Act 42 Geo. III. cap. 119, sec. 2, for keeping an office at the Hanover Square Rooms for the purpose of carrying on a lottery "under the name, device, and pretence of a distribution of Twelfth cakes." He had brought a similar distribution to a successful conclusion in 1851, but that was the exceptional year of the Great Exhibition, and he was not interfered with; but this was for L10,000 worth of cakes to be drawn for on ten successive days, beginning 26th December—tickets one shilling each. This was an undoubted lottery on a grand scale. The case was completely proved against Dethier, but he was not punished, as he abandoned his scheme, putting up with the loss.
There were some curious customs in different parts of the kingdom on Twelfth day, but I doubt whether many are in existence now. The following, taken from Notes and Queries (3 ser. v. 109), was in vogue in 1864. "It is still the custom in parts of Pembrokeshire on Twelfth night to carry about a wren.
"The wren is secured in a small house made of wood, with door and windows—the latter glazed. Pieces of ribbon of various colours are fixed to the ridge of the roof outside. Sometimes several wrens are brought in the same cage; and oftentimes a stable lantern, decorated as above mentioned, serves for the wren's house. The proprietors of this establishment go round to the principal houses in the neighbourhood, where, accompanying themselves with some musical instrument, they announce their arrival by singing the 'Song of the Wren.' The wren's visit is a source of much amusement to children and servants; and the wren's men, or lads, are usually invited to have a draught from the cellar, and receive a present in money. The 'Song of the Wren' is generally encored, and the proprietors very commonly commence high life below stairs, dancing with the maid-servants, and saluting them under the kissing bush, where there is one. I have lately procured a copy of the song sung on this occasion. I am told that there is a version of this song in the Welsh language, which is in substance very near to the following:—
"THE SONG OF THE WREN.
"Joy health, love, and peace Be to you in this place, By your leave we will sing Concerning our King: Our King is well drest, In silks of the best; With his ribbons so rare, No King can compare. In his coach he does ride, With a great deal of pride; And with four footmen To wait upon him.
We four were at watch, And all nigh of a match; With powder and ball, We fired at his hall. We have travelled many miles Over hedges and stiles, To find you this King, Which we now to you bring. Now Christmas is past, Twelfth day is the last, Th' Old Year bids adieu; Great joy to the New."
Hone, in his Table Book, p. 26, gives a description of "Holly Night" at Brough, Westmoreland, in 1838. "Formerly the 'Holly Tree' at Brough was really holly, but ash being abundant, the latter is now substituted. There are two head inns in the town, which provide for the ceremony alternately, although the good townspeople mostly lend their assistance in preparing the tree, to every branch of which they fasten a torch. About eight o'clock in the evening it is taken to a convenient part of the town, where the torches are lighted, the town band accompanying, and playing till all is completed, when it is removed to the lower end of the town; and after divers salutes and huzzas from the spectators, is carried up and down the town in stately procession. The band march behind it, playing their instruments, and stopping every time they reach the town bridge and the cross, where the 'holly' is again greeted with shouts of applause. Many of the inhabitants carry lighted branches and flambeaus; and rockets, squibs, etc., are discharged on the joyful occasion. After the tree is thus carried, and the torches are sufficiently burnt, it is placed in the middle of the town, when it is again cheered by the surrounding populace, and is afterwards thrown among them. They eagerly watch for this opportunity; and, clinging to each end of the tree, endeavour to carry it away to the inn they are contending for, where they are allowed their usual quantum of ale and spirits, and pass a merry night, which seldom breaks up before two in the morning."
According to Waldron, in his Description of the Isle of Man, 1859, p. 156, the following singular custom is in force on Twelfth day. In this island there is not a barn unoccupied on the whole twelve days after Christmas, every parish hiring fiddlers at the public charge. On Twelfth day the fiddler lays his head in the lap of some one of the wenches, and the mainstyr fiddler asks who such a maid, or such a maid, naming all the girls one after another, shall marry, to which he answers according to his own whim, or agreeable to the intimacies he has taken notice of during the time of merriment, and whatever he says is absolutely depended upon as an oracle; and if he couple two people who have an aversion to each other, tears and vexation succeed the mirth; this they call "cutting off the fiddler's head," for after this he is dead for a whole year.
St. Distaff's Day—Plough Monday—Customs on the Day—Feast of the Purification.
Here Christ-tide ought to end, and men and women should have returned to their ordinary avocations, but the long holiday demoralised them; and although the women were supposed to set to work on the day succeeding Twelfth day, thence called St. Distaff's day, or Rock day, there was rough play, as Herrick tells us:—
Partly work, and partly play, Ye must, on St. Distaff's day: From the Plough soone free your teame; Then come home and fother them. If the Maides a spinning goe, Burne the flax, and fire the tow: Bring in pails of water then, Let the Maides bewash the men. Give S. Distaffe all the right, Then bid Christmas sport good-night. And, next morrow, every one To his owne vocation.
[Footnote 94: A name for a spinning wheel.]
The men, however, could not settle down to work so speedily, serious work not beginning till after "Plough Monday," or the Monday after Twelfth Day. Tusser says:
Plough Munday, next after that twelf tide is past, Bids out with the plough—the worst husband is last. If plowman get hatchet, or whip to the skrene, Maids loseth their cocke, if no water be seen.
This verse would be rather enigmatical were it not explained in Tusser Redivivus (1744, p. 79). "After Christmas (which, formerly, during the twelve days, was a time of very little work) every gentleman feasted the farmers, and every farmer their servants and task-men. Plough Monday puts them in mind of their business. In the morning, the men and the maid-servants strive who shall show their diligence in rising earliest. If the ploughman can get his whip, his ploughstaff, hatchet, or any thing that he wants in the field, by the fireside before the maid hath got her kettle on, then the maid loseth her Shrove-tide cock, and it belongs wholly to the men. Thus did our forefathers strive to allure youth to their duty, and provided them with innocent mirth as well as labour. On this Plough Monday they have a good supper and some strong drink."
In many parts of the country it was made a regular festival, but, like all these old customs, it has fallen into desuetude. However, Hone's Every-Day Book was not written so long ago, and he there says: "In some parts of the country, and especially in the North, they draw the plough in procession to the doors of the villagers and townspeople. Long ropes are attached to it, and thirty or forty men, stripped to their clean white shirts, but protected from the weather by waistcoats beneath, drag it along. Their arms and shoulders are decorated with gay coloured ribbons tied in large knots and bows, and their hats are smartened in the same way. They are usually accompanied by an old woman, or a boy dressed up to represent one; she is gaily bedizened, and called the Bessy. Sometimes the sport is assisted by a humourous countryman to represent a fool. He is covered with ribbons, and attired in skins, with a depending tail, and carries a box to collect money from the spectators. They are attended by music and Morris Dancers, when they can be got; but it is always a sportive dance with a few lasses in all their finery, and a superabundance of ribbons. The money collected is spent at night in conviviality."
Chambers's Book of Days also gives an account of this frolic. "A correspondent, who has borne a part (cow-horn blowing) on many a Plough Monday in Lincolnshire, thus describes what happened on these occasions under his own observation:—Rude though it was, the Plough procession threw a life into the dreary scenery of winter as it came winding along the quiet rutted lanes on its way from one village to another; for the ploughmen from many a surrounding thorpe, hamlet, and lonely farm-house united in the celebration of Plough Monday. It was nothing unusual for at least a score of the 'sons of the soil' to yoke themselves with ropes to the plough, having put on clean smock-frocks in honour of the day. There was no limit to the number who joined in the morris dance, and were partners with 'Bessy,' who carried the money box; and all these had ribbons in their hats, and pinned about them, wherever there was room to display a bunch. Many a hard-working country Molly lent a helping hand in decorating her Johnny for Plough Monday, and finished him with an admiring exclamation of—'Lawks, John! thou dost look smart, surely!' Some also wore small bunches of corn in their hats, from which the wheat was soon shaken out by the ungainly jumping which they called dancing. Occasionally, if the winter was severe, the procession was joined by threshers carrying their flails, reapers bearing their sickles, and carters with their long whips, which they were ever cracking to add to the noise, while even the smith and the miller were among the number, for the one sharpened the plough-shares, and the other ground the corn; and Bessy rattled his box, and danced so high that he showed his worsted stockings and corduroy breeches; and, very often, if there was a thaw, tucked up his gown-skirts under his waistcoat and shook the bonnet off his head, and disarranged the long ringlets that ought to have concealed his whiskers. For Bessy is to the procession of Plough Monday what the leading figurante is to the opera or ballet, and dances about as gracefully as the hippopotami described by Dr. Livingstone. But these rough antics were the cause of much laughter, and rarely do we ever remember hearing any coarse jest that could call up an angry blush to a modest cheek.
"No doubt they were called 'plough bullocks' through drawing the plough, as bullocks were formerly used, and are still yoked to the plough in some parts of the country. The rubbishy verses they recited are not worth preserving, beyond the line which graces many a public-house sign, of 'God speed the Plough.' At the large farm-house, besides money, they obtained refreshment; and, through the quantity of ale they thus drank during the day, managed to get what they called 'their load' by night.
"But the great event of the day was when they came before some house which bore signs that the owner was well-to-do in the world, and nothing was given to them. Bessy rattled his box, and the ploughmen danced, while the country lads blew their bullock's horns, or shouted with all their might; but if there was still no sign, no forthcoming of either bread and cheese or ale, then the word was given, the ploughshare driven into the ground before the door or window, the whole twenty men yoked pulling like one, and, in a minute or two, the ground was as brown, barren, and ridgy as a newly ploughed field. But this was rarely done, for everybody gave something, and, were it but little, the men never murmured, though they might talk of the stinginess of the giver afterwards amongst themselves, more especially if the party was what they called 'well off in the world.' We are not aware that the ploughmen were ever summoned to answer for such a breach of the law, for they believe, to use their own expressive language, 'they can stand by it, and no law in the world can touch 'em, 'cause it's an old charter.'
"One of the mummers generally wears a fox's skin in the form of a hood; but, beyond the laughter the tail that hangs down his back awakens by its motion when he dances, we are at a loss to find a meaning. Bessy formerly wore a bullock's tail behind, under his gown, and which he held in his hand while dancing, but that appendage has not been worn of late."
On the 2nd of February—the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary—all Christ-tide decorations are to be taken down, and with them ends all trace of that festive season.
Farwell, Crystmas fayer and fre; Farwell, Newers Day with the; Farwell, the Holy Epyphane; And to Mary now sing we.
"Revertere, revertere, the queen of blysse and of beaute."