A Righte Merrie Christmasse - The Story of Christ-Tide
by John Ashton
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A righte Merrie Christmasse!!!

The Story of Christ-tide

By John Ashton. Copperplate Etching of "The Wassail Song," by Arthur C. Behrend.

London: published by the Leadenhall Press, Ltd., 50 Leadenhall Street; Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co., Ltd. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 153-157 Fifth Avenue.

The Leadenhall Press Ltd. London [1894]

[Transcriber's Notes:

This text contains passages using the Anglo-Saxon thorn ( or , equivalent of "th"), which should display properly in most text viewers. The Anglo-Saxon yogh (equivalent of "y," "i," "g," or "gh") will display properly only if the user has the proper font, so to maximize accessibility, the character "3" is used in this e-text to represent the yogh.

Characters with a macron are preceded by an equal sign and enclosed in square brackets, e.g., ā.

Superscripted characters are preceded by a carat and enclosed in curly brackets, e.g., y^{t}.]


I do not craue mo thankes to haue, than geuen to me all ready be; but this is all, to such as shall peruse this booke. That, for my sake, they gently take what ere they finde against their minde, when he, or she, shal minded be therein to looke.


A righte Merrie Christmasse!!!


It is with a view of preserving the memory of Christmas that I have written this book.

In it the reader will find its History, Legends, Folk-lore, Customs, and Carols—in fact, an epitome of Old Christ-tide, forming a volume which, it is hoped, will be found full of interest.


A righte Merrie Christmasse!!!



Date of Christ's Birth discussed—Opinions of the Fathers—The Eastern Church and Christ-tide—Error in Chronology—Roman Saturnalia—Scandinavian Yule—Duration of Christ-tide 1


Historic Christ-tides in 790, 878, and 1065—William I., 1066-1085—William II.—Henry I., 1127—Stephen—Henry II., 1158-1171—Richard I., 1190—John, 1200—Henry III., 1253—Edwards I., II., and III.—Richard II., 1377-1398—Henry IV.-V., 1418—Henry VIII., his magnificent Christ-tides 9


Historic Christ-tides—Edward VI., 1551—Mary—Elizabeth—James I.—The Puritans—The Pilgrim Fathers—Christmas's Lamentation—Christ-tide in the Navy, 1625 19


Attempts of Puritans to put down Christ-tide—Attitude of the people—Preaching before Parliament—"The arraignment, etc., of Christmas" 26


The popular love of Christmas—Riots at Ealing and Canterbury—Evelyn's Christmas days, 1652, '3, '4, '5, '7, Cromwell and Christ-tide—The Restoration—Pepys and Christmas day, 1662—"The Examination and Tryal of old Father Christmas" 34


Commencement of Christ-tide—"O Sapientia!"—St. Thomas's day—William the Conqueror and the City of York—Providing for Christmas fare—Charities of food—Bull-baiting—Christ-tide charities—Going "a-Thomassing," etc.—Superstitions of the day 45


Paddington Charity (Bread and Cheese Lands)—Barring-out at Schools—Interesting narrative 53


The Bellman—Descriptions of him—His verses. The Waits—Their origin—Ned Ward on them—Corporation Waits—York Waits (17th century)—Essay on Waits—Westminster Waits—Modern Waits 63


Christ-tide Carols—The days of Yule—A Carol for Christ-tide—"Lullaby"—The Cherry-tree Carol—Dives and Lazarus 70


Christmas Eve—Herrick thereon—The Yule Log—Folk-lore thereon—The Ashen Faggot—Christmas Candles—Christmas Eve in the Isle of Man—Hunting the Wren—Divination by Onions and Sage—A Custom at Aston—"The Mock"—Decorations and Kissing Bunch—"Black Ball"—Guisers and Waits—Ale Posset 75


Christmas Eve in North Notts—Wassailing the Fruit Trees—Wassail Songs—Wassailing in Sussex—Other Customs—King at Downside College—Christ-tide Carol—Midnight Mass—The Manger—St. Francis of Assisi 84


Decorating with Evergreens—Its Origin and Antiquity—Mistletoe in Churches—The permissible Evergreens—The Holly—"Holly and Ivy"—"Here comes Holly"—"Ivy, chief of Trees"—"The Contest of the Ivy and the Holly"—Holly Folk-lore—Church Decorations—To be kept up till Candlemas day 91


Legends of the Nativity—The Angels—The Birth—The Cradles—The Ox and Ass—Legends of Animals—The Carol of St. Stephen—Christmas Wolves—Dancing for a Twelve-months—Underground Bells—The Fiddler and the Devil 97


The Glastonbury Thorn, its Legend—Cuttings from it—Oaks coming into leaf on Christmas day—Folk-lore—Forecast, according to the days of the week on which Christmas falls—Other Folk-lore thereon 105


Withholding Light—"Wesley Bob"—Wassail Carol—Presents in Church—Morris Dancers—"First Foot"—Red-haired Men—Lamprey Pie—"Hodening"—Its Possible Origin—The "Mari Lhoyd" 111


Curious Gambling Customs in Church—Boon granted—Sheaf of Corn for the Birds—Crowning of the Cock—"The Lord Mayor of Pennyless Cove"—"Letting in Yule"—Guisards—Christmas in the Highlands—Christmas in Shetland—Christmas in Ireland 117


Ordinance against out-door Revelry—Marriage of a Lord of Misrule—Mummers and Mumming—Country Mummers—Early Play—Two modern Plays 125


A Christmas jest—Ben Jonson's Masque of Christmas—Milton's Masque of Comus—Queen Elizabeth and the Masters of Defence 138


The Lord of Misrule—The "Emperor" and "King" at Oxford—Dignity of the Office—Its abolition in the City of London—The functions of a Lord of Misrule—Christmas at the Temple—A grand Christmas there 143


A riotous Lord of Misrule at the Temple—Stubbes on Lords of Misrule—The Bishops ditto—Mumming at Norwich 1440—Dancing at the Inns of Court—Dancing at Christmas—The Cushion Dance 155


Honey Fairs—Card-playing at Christmas—Throwing the Hood—Early Religious Plays—Moralities—Story of a Gray's Inn Play—The first Pantomime—Spectacular drama—George Barnwell—Story respecting this Play 162


Profusion of Food at Christ-tide—Old English Fare—Hospitality—Proclamations for People to spend Christ-tide at their Country Places—Roast Beef—Boar's Head—Boar's Head Carol—Custom at Queen's College, Oxon.—Brawn—Christmas Pie—Goose Pie—Plum Pudding—Plum Porridge—Anecdotes of Plum Pudding—Large one—Mince Pies—Hackin—Folk-lore—Gifts at Christ-tide—Yule Doughs—Cop-a-loaf—Snap-dragon 169


The First Carol—Anglo-Norman Carol—Fifteenth-Century Carol—"The Twelve Good Joys of Mary"—Other Carols—"A Virgin most Pure"—Carol of Fifteenth Century—"A Christenmesse Carroll" 180


Christmas Gifts forbidden in the City of London—Charles II. and Christmas Gifts—Christmas Tree—Asiatic Descent—Scandinavian Descent—Candles on the Tree—Early Notices of in England—Santa Claus—Krishkinkle—Curious Tenures of Land at Christmas 186


Christ-tide Literature—Christmas Cards—Their Origin—Lamplighter's Verses—Watchman's Verses—Christmas Pieces 194


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 201


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 207


New Year's Eve—Wassail—New Year's Eve Customs—Hogmany—The Clāvie—Other Customs—Weather Prophecy 214


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 220


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 232


"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" 238


St. Distaff's Day—Plough Monday—Customs on the Day—Feast of the Purification 246


Date of Christ's Birth discussed—Opinions of the Fathers—The Eastern Church and Christ-tide—Error in Chronology—Roman Saturnalia—Scandinavian Yule—Duration of Christ-tide.

The day on which Jesus Christ died is plainly distinguishable, but the day of His birth is open to very much question, and, literally, is only conjectural; so that the 25th December must be taken purely as the day on which His birth is celebrated, and not as His absolute natal day. In this matter we can only follow the traditions of the Church, and tradition alone has little value.

In the second and early third centuries of our aera, we only know that the festivals, other than Sundays and days set apart for the remembrance of particular martyrs, were the Passover, Pentecost, and the Epiphany, the baptism or manifestation of our Lord, when came "a voice from Heaven saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." This seems always to have been fixed for the 6th of January, and with it was incorporated the commemoration of His birth.

Titus Flavius Clemens, generally known as Clemens of Alexandria, lived exactly at this time, and was a contemporary of Origen. He speaks plainly on the subject, and shows the uncertainty, even at that early epoch of Christianity, of fixing the date:[1] "There are those who, with an over-busy curiosity, attempt to fix not only the year, but the date of our Saviour's birth, who, they say, was born in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus, on the 25th of the month Pachon," i.e. the 20th of May. And in another place he says: "Some say that He was born on the 24th or 25th of the month Pharmuthi," which would be the 19th or 20th of April.

[Footnote 1: Stromat., L. 1, pp. 407-408, ed. Oxon., 1715.]

But, perhaps, the best source of information is from the Memoires pour servir a l'histoire ecclesiastique des six premiers Siecles, by Louis Sebastian le Nain de Tillemont, written at the very commencement of the eighteenth century,[2] and I have no hesitation in appending a portion of his fourth note, which treats "Upon the day and year of the birth of Jesus Christ."

[Footnote 2: Translated by T. Deacon in 1733-35, pp. 335-336.]

"It is thought that Jesus Christ was born in the night, because it was night when the angel declared His birth to the shepherds: in which S. Augustin says that He literally fulfilled David's words, Ante luciferum genuite.

"The tradition of the Church, says this father, is that it was upon the 25th of December. Casaubon acknowledges that we should not immediately reject it upon the pretence that it is too cold a season for cattle to be at pasture, there being a great deal of difference between these countries and Judaea; and he assures us that, even in England, they leave the cows in the field all the year round.

"S. Chrysostom alleges several reasons to prove that Jesus Christ was really born upon the 25th of December; but they are weak enough, except that which he assures of, that it has always been the belief of the Western Churches. S. Epiphanius, who will have the day to have been the 6th of January, places it but at twelve days' distance. S. Clement of Alexandria says that, in his time, some fixed the birth of Jesus Christ upon the 19th or 20th April; others, on the 20th of May. He speaks of it as not seeing anything certain in it.

"It is cited from one John of Nice, that it was only under Pope Julius that the Festival of the Nativity was fixed at Rome upon the 25th of December. Father Combesisius, who has published the epistle of this author, confesses that he is very modern: to which we may add that he is full of idle stories, and entirely ignorant of the history and discipline of antiquity. So that it is better to rest upon the testimony of S. Chrysostom, who asserts that, for a long time before, and by very ancient tradition, it was celebrated upon the 25th of December in the West, that is, in all the countries which reach from Thrace to Cadiz, and to the farthest parts of Spain. He names Rome particularly; and thinks that it might be found there that this was the true day of our Saviour's birth, by consulting the registers of the description of Judaea made at that time, supposing them still to be preserved there. We find this festival placed upon the 25th of December in the ancient Roman Calendar, which was probably made in the year 354....

"We find by S. Basil's homily upon the birth of our Lord that a festival in commemoration of it was observed in Cappadocia, provided that this homily is all his; but I am not of opinion that it appears from thence either that this was done in January rather than December or any other month in the year, or that this festival was joined with that of the Baptism. On the contrary, the Churches of Cappadocia seem to have distinguished the Feast of the Nativity from that of the Epiphany, for S. Gregory Nazianzen says, that after he had been ordained priest, in the year 361, upon the festival of one mystery, he retired immediately after into Pontus, on that of another mystery, and returned from Pontus upon that of a third. Now we find that he returned at Easter, so that there is all imaginable reason to believe that he was ordained at Christmas, and retired upon the Epiphany. S. Basil died, in all probability, upon the 1st of January in the year 379, and S. Gregory Nyssen says that his festival followed close upon those of Christmas, S. Stephen, S. Peter, S. James, and S. John. We read in an oration ascribed to S. Amphilochius, that he died on the day of the Circumcision, between the Nativity of Jesus Christ and His Baptism. S. Gregory Nyssen says that the Feast of Lights, and of the Baptism of Jesus Christ, was celebrated some days after that of His Nativity. The other S. Gregory takes notice of several mysteries which were commemorated at Nazianzium with the Nativity, the Magi, etc., but he says nothing, in that place, of the Baptism. And yet, if the festival of Christmas was observed in Cappadocia upon the 25th of December, we must say that S. Chrysostom was ignorant of it, since he ascribes this practice only to Thrace and the more Western provinces....

"In the year 377, or soon after, some persons who came from Rome, introduced into Syria the practice of celebrating our Lord's Nativity in the month of December, upon the same day as was done in the West; and this festival was so well received in that country that in less than ten years it was entirely established at Antioch, and was observed there by all the people with great solemnity, though some complained of it as an innovation. S. Chrysostom, who informs us of all this, speaks of it in such a manner as to make Father Thomassin say, not that the birth of Jesus Christ had till then been kept upon a wrong day, but that absolutely it had not been celebrated there at all.

"S. Chrysostom seems to say, that this festival was received at the same time by the neighbouring provinces to Antioch; but this must not be extended as far as to Egypt, as we learn from a passage in Cassian. This author seems to speak only of the time when he was in Scetae (about 399), but also of that when he wrote his tenth conference (about the year 420 or 425). But it appears that, in the year 432, Egypt had likewise embraced the practice of Rome: for Paul of Emesa, in the discourse which he made then at Alexandria upon the 29th of Coiac, which is the 25th of December, says it was the day on which Jesus Christ was born. S. Isidore of Pelusium, in Egypt, mentions the Theophany and the Nativity of our Saviour, according to the flesh, as two different festivals. We were surprised to read in an oration of Basil of Seleucia, upon S. Stephen, that Juvenal of Jerusalem, who might be made bishop about the year 420, was the first who celebrated there our Saviour's Nativity."

The Armenian Church still keeps up the eastern 6th of January as Christmas day—and, as the old style of the calendar is retained, it follows that they celebrate the Nativity twenty-four days after we do: and modern writers make the matter more mixed—for Wiesseler thinks that the date of the Nativity was 10th January, whilst Mr. Greswell says it occurred on the 9th April B.C. 4.

It is not everybody that knows that our system of chronology is four years wrong—i.e. that Jesus Christ must have been born four years before Anno Domini, the year of our Lord. It happened in this way. Dionysius Exiguus, in 533, first introduced the system of writing the words Anno Domini, to point out the number of years which had elapsed since the Incarnation of our Lord; in other words he introduced our present chronology. He said the year 1 was the same as the year A.U.C. (from the building of Rome) 754; and this statement he based on the fact that our Saviour was born in the twenty-eighth year of the reign of Augustus; and he reckoned from A.U.C. 727, when the emperor first took the name of Augustus. The early Christians, however, dated from the battle of Actium, which was A.U.C. 723, thus making the Nativity 750. Now we believe that that event took place during Herod's reign, and we know that Herod died between the 13th March and 29th March, on which day Passover commenced, in A.U.C. 750, so that it stands to reason that our chronology is wrong.

Some think that the date of 25th December, which certainly began in the Roman Church, was fixed upon to avoid the multiplication of festivals about the vernal equinox, and to appropriate to a Christian use the existing festival of the winter solstice—the returning sun being made symbolical of the visit of Christ to our earth; and to withdraw Christian converts from those pagan observances with which the closing year was crowded, whilst the licence of the Saturnalia was turned into the merriment of Christmas.

This festival of the Saturnalia (of which the most complete account is given by Macrobius in his Conviviorum Saturnaliorum) dated from the remotest settlement of Latium, whose people reverenced Saturnus as the author of husbandry and the arts of life. At this festival the utmost freedom of social intercourse was permitted to all classes; even slaves were allowed to come to the tables of their masters clothed in their apparel, and were waited on by those whom they were accustomed to serve. Feasting, gaming, and revelry were the occupations of all classes, without discrimination of age, or sex, or rank. Processions crowded the streets, boisterous with mirth: these illuminated the night with lighted tapers of wax, which were also used as gifts between friends in the humbler walks of life. The season was one for the exchange of gifts of friendship, and especially of gifts to children. It began on the 17th December, and extended virtually, to the commencement of the New Year.

Prynne[3] speaks thus of Christmas: "If we compare our Bacchanalian Christmasses and New Year's Tides with these Saturnalia and Feasts of Janus, we shall finde such near affinytie betweene them both in regard of time (they being both in the end of December and on the first of January), and in their manner of solemnizing (both of them being spent in revelling, epicurisme, wantonesse, idlenesse, dancing, drinking, stage playes, and such other Christmas disorders now in use with Christians), were derived from these Roman Saturnalia and Bacchanalian Festivals; which should cause all pious Christians eternally to abominate them."

[Footnote 3: Histrio Mastix, ed. 1633, p. 757.]

The Anglo-Saxons and early English knew not the words either of Christmas or Christ-tide. To them it was the season of Yule. Bede (de temporum ratione, c. 13), regards it as a term for the winter solstice. "Menses Giuli a conversione solis in auctum dici, quia unus eorum praecedit, alius subsequitur, nomina acceperunt": alluding to the Anglo-Saxon Calendar, which designated the months of December and January as aeerre-geola and aeftera-geola, the former and the latter Yule. Both Skeat and Wedgwood derive it from the old Norse jol, which means feasting and revelry. Mr. J.F. Hodgetts, in an article entitled "Paganism in Modern Christianity" (Antiquary, December 1882, p. 257), says:—

"The ancient name (Yule) for Christmas is still used throughout all Scandinavia. The Swedes, Danes, and Norwegians wish each other a 'glad Yule,' as we say 'A merry Christmas to you.' This alone would serve to draw our attention to Scandinavia, even if no other reason existed for searching there for the origin of our great Christian Feast. The grand storehouses of Pagan lore, as far as the Northern nations of Teutonic race are concerned, are the two Eddas, and if we refer to the part, or chapter, of Snorri Sturlson's Edda, known as Gylfa Ginning, we shall find the twelfth name of Odin, the Father of the Gods, or Allfather, given as Ialg or Ialkr (pronounced yolk or yulg). The Christmas tree, introduced into Russia by the Scandinavians, is called elka (pronounced yolka), and in the times just preceding, and just after, the conquest of Britain by the English, this high feast of Odin was held in mid-winter, under the name of Ialka tid, or Yule-tide. It was celebrated at this season, because the Vikings, being then unable to go to sea, could assemble in their great halls and temples and drink to the gods they served so well. Another reason was, that it fell towards the end of the twelve mystic months that made up the mythical, as well as the cosmical, cycle of the year, and was therefore appropriately designated by the last of the names by which Odin is called in the Edda."

There are different opinions as to the duration of Christ-tide. The Roman Church holds that Christmas properly begins at Lauds on Christmas Eve, when the Divine Office begins to be solemnised as a Double, and refers directly to the Nativity of our Lord. It terminates on the 13th of January, the Octave day of the Epiphany. The evergreens and decorations remain in churches and houses until the 2nd of February, the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

But I think that if we in England are bound by ecclesiastical law as to the keeping of Christ-tide, it should, at least, be an English use—such as was observed before the domination of Rome in England. And, previous to the Natale, or Festival of the Nativity, the early Church ordained a preparatory period of nine days, called a Novena. These take the commencement of Christ-tide back to the 16th December, on which day the Sarum use ordained the Anthem, which commences, "O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodidisti," and at the present time this day is marked in the Calendar of the English Church Service Book as "O Sapientia." That this was commonly considered the commencement of Christ-tide is shown by the following anecdote of the learned Dr. Parr:—A lady asked him when Christmas commenced, so that she might know when to begin to eat mince pies. "Please to say Christmas pie, madam," replied the Doctor. "Mince pie is Presbyterian." "Well, Christmas pie—when may we begin to eat them?" "Look in your Prayer-book Calendar for December and there you will find 'O Sapientia.' Then Christmas pie—not before."

The Festival was considered of such high importance by the Anglo-Saxons that the ordinary Octave was not good enough; it must be kept up for twelve days. And Collier (Eccl. Hist., 1840, vol. i. p. 285) says that a law passed in the days of King Alfred, "by virtue of which the twelve days after the Nativity of our Saviour are made festivals." This brings us to the feast of the Epiphany, 6th January, or "Twelfth Day," when Christmas ends—for the Epiphany has its own Octave to follow, and I think the general consensus of opinion is in favour of this ending.


Historic Christ-tides in 790, 878, and 1065—William I., 1066-1085—William II.—Henry I., 1127—Stephen—Henry II., 1158-1171—Richard I., 1190—John, 1200—Henry III., 1253—Edwards I., II., and III.—Richard II., 1377-1398—Henry IV.-V., 1418—Henry VIII., his magnificent Christ-tides.

The earliest historic Christmas in England was 790, when the Welsh suddenly attacked the soldiers of Offa, King of Mercia, who were celebrating Christ-tide, and slew many of them; and in 878, when Alfred was doing likewise at Chippenham, that Guthrum and his Danes fell upon him, destroyed his forces, and sent him a fugitive. In 1065, at this season, Westminster Abbey was consecrated, but King Edward was not there, being too ill. Next year, in this same Church of St. Peter, was William I. crowned on Christmas day by Aldred, archbishop of York; for he would not receive the crown at the hands of Stigand, archbishop of Canterbury, "because he was hated, and furthermore judged to be a verie lewd person, and a naughtie liver." In 1085 he kept his Christ-tide at Gloucester, where he knighted his son Henry.

William II. followed the example of his father, and kept the festival in state; as did Henry I. at Westminster, Windsor, and elsewhere. But that of 1127 at Windsor was somewhat marred by a quarrel between two prelates. It seems that Thurston, archbishop of York (in prejudice of the right of William, archbishop of Canterbury), would have set the crown on the king's head as he was going to hear Mass, but was pushed back with some violence by the followers of the other archbishop, and his chaplain, who was bearing the archiepiscopal crozier, was ignominiously and contemptuously thrust out of doors, cross and all. The strife did not end there, for both the prelates, together with the bishop of Lincoln, went to Rome to lay their case before the Pope for his decision.

Stephen, for a short time, kept Christ-tide royally; but the internal dissensions of his kingdom prevented him from continuing celebrating the festival in state. Henry II. kept his first Christ-tide at Bermondsey, where, to conciliate his subjects, he solemnly promised to expel all foreigners from England, whereupon some tarried not, but went incontinently. A curious event happened at Christmas 1158, when the king, then at Worcester, took the crown from his head and deposited it on the altar, never wearing it afterwards. In 1171 he spent the feast at Dublin, where, there being no place large enough, he built a temporary hall for the accommodation of his suite and guests, to which latter he taught the delights of civilisation in good cookery, masquings, and tournaments. The most famous Christ-tide that we hear of in the reign of Richard I. is that in 1190, when "the two Kings of England and France held their Christmasse this yeare at Messina, and still the King of England used great liberalitie in bestowing his treasure freelie amongst knights and other men of warre, so that it was thought he spent more in a moneth than anie of his predecessours ever spent in a whole yeare."

John kept Christ-tide in 1200 at Guildford, "and there gave to his servants manie faire liveries and suits of apparell. The archbishop of Canturburie did also the like at Canturburie, seeming in deed to strive with the king, which of them should passe the other in such sumptuous appareling of their men: whereat the king (and not without good cause) was greatlie mooved to indignation against him, although, for a time, he coloured the same." John took a speedy and very curious revenge. "From thence he returned and came to Canturburie, where he held his Easter, which fell that yeare on the day of the Annunciation of our Ladie, at which feast he sat crowned, together with his wife, queen Isabell, the archbishop of Canturburie bearing the charges of them and their trains while they remained there." Next year he held the feast at Argenton in Normandy.

Henry III. celebrated the Nativity right royally in 1253 at York, "whither came Alexander the young King of Scots, and was there made knight by the King of England; and, on Saint Stephan's day, he married the ladie Margaret, daughter to the King of England, according to the assurance before time concluded. There was a great assemblie of noble personages at that feast. The Queene dowager of Scotland, mother to King Alexander, a Frenchwoman of the house of Coucie, had passed the sea, and was present there with a faire companie of lords and gentlemen. The number of knights that were come thither on the King of England's part were reckoned to be at the point of one thousand. The King of Scots had with him three score knights, and a great sort of other gentlemen comparable to knights. The King of Scots did homage to the King of England, at that time, for the realme of Scotland, and all things were done with great love and favour, although, at the beginning, some strife was kindled about taking up of lodgings. This assemblie of the princes cost the archbishop verie deerelie in feasting and banketting them and their traines. At one dinner it was reported he spent at the first course three score fat oxen."

Edward I. had, at two separate times, as Christmas guests Llewellyn of Wales and Baliol of Scotland. Edward II. kept one feast of the Nativity at York in 1311, revelling with Piers Gaveston and his companions; but that of 1326 was spent in prison at Kenilworth, whilst his wife and son enjoyed themselves at Wallingford. Strange and sad guests, too, must the captive King of France and David of Scotland have been at Edward III.'s Christ-tide feast in 1358 at Westminster.

Richard II. came to the throne 21st June 1377, a boy of eleven years, and I think Stow has made a mistake in a year in the following account, because at the date he gives he would have been king instead of prince.

"One other show, in the year 1377, made by the citizens for the disport of the young prince Richard, son to the Black Prince, in the feast of Christmas, in this manner:—On the Sunday before Candlemas, in the night, one hundred and thirty citizens, disguised and well horsed, in a mummery, with sound of trumpets, sackbuts, cornets, shalmes, and other minstrels, and innumerable torch lights of wax, rode from Newgate through Cheape, over the bridge, through Southwarke, and so to Kennington beside Lambheth, where the young prince remained with his mother and the Duke of Lancaster, his uncle, the Earls of Cambridge, Hertford, Warwicke, and Suffolke, with divers other lords. In the first rank did ride forty-eight in the likeness and habit of Esquires, two and two together, clothed in red coats and gowns of say or sandal, with comely visors on their faces; after them came forty-eight Knights, in the same livery of colour and stuff; then followed one richly arrayed like an Emperor; and, after him some distance, one stately attired like a Pope, whom followed twenty-four Cardinals; and, after them, eight or ten with black visors, not amiable, as if they had been legates from some foreign princes. These maskers, after they had entered Kennington, alighted from their horses, and entered the hall on foot; which done, the prince, his mother, and the lords, came out of the chamber into the hall, whom the said mummers did salute, showing by a pair of dice upon the table their desire to play with the prince, which they so handled, that the prince did always win when he cast them. Then the mummers set to the prince three jewels, one after the other, which were a bowl of gold, a cup of gold, and a ring of gold, which the prince won at three casts. Then they set to the prince's mother, the duke, the earls, and other lords, to every one a ring of gold, which they did also win. After which they were feasted, and the music sounded, the prince and lords danced on the one part with the mummers, which did also dance; which jollity being ended, they were again made to drink, and then departed in order as they came."

When he came to the throne as Richard II. he had very enlarged ideas on expenditure, and amongst others on Christmas feasts. He held one at Lichfield in 1398, where the Pope's Nuncio and several foreign noblemen were present, and he was obliged to enlarge the episcopal palace in order to accommodate his guests. Stow tells us: "This yeere King Richarde kept his Christmas at Liechfield, where he spent in the Christmas time 200 tunns of wine, and 2000 oxen with their appurtenances." But then he is said to have had 2000 cooks, and cookery was then elevated into a science: so much so, that the earliest cookery book that has come down to us is The Forme of Cury, which "was compiled of the chef Mairt Cok of Kyng Richard the Secunde, Kyng of .nglond[4] aftir the Conquest." Twenty-eight oxen, three hundred sheep, an incredible number of fowls, and all kinds of game were slaughtered every morning for the use of his household. It seems incredible, but see what old John Hardyng, the metrical chronicler, says:—

Truly I herd Robert Ireleffe saye, Clerke of the grene cloth, y^{t} to the household, Came euery daye for moost partie alwaye, Ten thousand folke by his messis tould, That folowed the hous aye as thei would, And in the kechin three hundred seruitours, And in eche office many occupiours;

And ladies faire with their gentilwomen, Chamberers also and launderers, Three hundred of them were occupied then.

[Footnote 4: [Transcriber's Note: ".nglond" appears in the original. An 18th-Century annotated edition of The Forme of Cury notes that in the original manuscript, "E was intended to be prefixed in red ink" in place of the leading period. See Pegge, Samuel, The Forme of Cury, p. 1, note c (London: J. Nichols, 1780) (page image available at]]

Of the Christ-tides of Henry IV. there are no events recorded, except that Stow states that "in the 2nd of his reign, he then keeping his Christmas at Eltham, twelve aldermen and their sons rode in a mumming, and had great thanks," but Henry V. had at least one sweet Christmas day. It was in the year 1418, when he was besieging Rouen, and Holinshed thus describes the sufferings of the garrison. "If I should rehearse (according to the report of diverse writers) how deerelie dogs, rats, mise, and cats were sold within the towne, and how greedilie they were by the poore people eaten and devoured, and how the people dailie died for fault of food, and young infants laie sucking in the streets on their mother's breasts, lieng dead, starved for hunger; the reader might lament their extreme miseries. A great number of poore sillie creatures were put out at the gates, which were by the Englishmen that kept the trenches, beaten and driven backe againe to the same gates, which they found closed and shut against them. And so they laie betweene the wals of the citie and the trenches of the enimies, still crieing for helpe and releefe, for lacke whereof great numbers of them dailie died.

"Howbeit, King Henrie, moved with pitie, upon Christmasse daie, in the honor of Christes Nativitie, refreshed all the poore people with vittels, to their great comfort and his high praise."

There are no notable Christ-tides until we come to the reign of Henry VIII. In the second year of his reign he kept Christmas quietly at Richmond, the queen being near her confinement, which event taking place on the first of January, she was sufficiently recovered to look at the festivities on Twelfth day. "Against the twelfe daie, or the daie of the Epiphanie, at night, before the banket in the hall at Richmond, was a pageant devised like a mounteine, and set with stones; on the top of which mounteine was a tree of gold, the branches and boughes frised with gold, spreading on everie side over the mounteine, with roses and pomegranates, the which mounteine was, with vices, brought up towards the king, and out of the same came a ladie apparelled in cloth of gold, and the children of honour called the henchmen, which were freshlie disguised, and danced a morice before the king; and, that done, re-entered the mounteine, which was then drawen backe, and then was the wassail or banket brought in, and so brake up Christmasse."

However the queen was better next year, and "In this yeare the king kept his Christmasse at Greenewich, where was such abundance of viands served to all comers of anie honest behaviour, as hath beene few times seene. And against New Yeeres night was made in the hall a castell, gates, towers, and dungeon, garnished with artillerie and weapon, after the most warlike fashion: and on the front of the castell was written Le forteresse dangereux, and, within the castell were six ladies cloathed in russet sattin, laid all over with leaves of gold, and everie one knit with laces of blew silke and gold. On their heads, coifs and caps all of gold. After this castell had beene caried about the hall, and the queene had beheld it, in came the king with five other, apparelled in coats, the one half of russet sattin, the other halfe of rich cloth of gold; on their heads caps of russet sattin embrodered with works of fine gold bullion.

"These six assaulted the castell. The ladies seeing them so lustie and couragious, were content to solace with them, and upon further communication to yeeld the castell, and so they came downe and dansed a long space. And after, the ladies led the knights into the castell, and then the castell suddenlie vanished out of their sights. On the daie of the Epiphanie at night, the king, with eleven other, were disguised, after the manner of Italie; called a maske, a thing not seene before, in England; they were apparelled in garments long and broad, wrought all with gold, with visors and caps of gold. And, after the banket done, these maskers came in, with six gentlemen disguised in silke, bearing staffe torches, and desired the ladies to danse: some were content, and some refused. And, after they had dansed, and communed togither, as the fashion of the maske is, they tooke their leave and departed, and so did the queene and all the ladies."

In 1513, "The king kept a solemne Christmasse at Greenwich, with danses and mummeries in most princelie manner. And on the Twelfe daie at night came into the hall a mount, called the rich mount. The mount was set full of rich flowers of silke, and especiallie full of broome slips full of cods, the branches were greene sattin, and the flowers flat gold of damaske, which signified Plantagenet. On the top stood a goodlie beacon giving light; round about the beacon sat the king and five others, all in cotes and caps of right crimsin velvet, embrodered with flat gold of damaske, their cotes set full of spangles of gold. And foure woodhouses (? wooden horses) drew the mount till it came before the queene, and then the king and his companie descended and dansed. Then, suddenlie, the mount opened, and out came six ladies in crimsin sattin and plunket, embrodered with gold and pearle, with French hoods on their heads, and they dansed alone. Then the lords of the mount tooke the ladies and dansed together; and the ladies re-entered, and the mount closed, and so was conveied out of the hall. Then the king shifted him, and came to the queene, and sat at the banket, which was verie sumptuous."

1514, "This Christmasse, on New Yeares night, the king, the Duke of Suffolke, and two other were in mantels of cloath of silver, lined with blew velvet; the silver was pounced in letters, that the velvet might be seene through; the mantels had great capes like to the Portingall slops, and all their hosen, dublets, and coats were of the same fashion cut, and of the same stuffe. With them were foure ladies in gowns, after the fashion of Savoie, of blew velvet, lined with cloath of gold, the velvet all cut, and mantels like tipets knit togither all of silver, and on their heads bonets of burned gold: the foure torch-bearers were in sattin white and blew. This strange apparell pleased much everie person, and in especiall the queene. And thus these foure lords and foure ladies came into the queenes chamber with great light of torches, and dansed a great season, and then put off their visors, and were all well knowne, and then the queene hartily thanked the king's grace for her goodlie pastime and desport.

"Likewise on the Twelve night, the king and the queene came into the hall at Greenewich, and suddenlie entered a tent of cloath of gold; and before the tent stood foure men of armes, armed at all points, with swords in their hands; and, suddenlie, with noise of trumpets entered foure other persons all armed, and ran to the other foure, and there was a great and fierce fight. And, suddenlie, out of a place like a wood, eight wild men, all apparelled in greene mosse, made with sleved silke, with ouglie weapons, and terrible visages, and there fought with the knights eight to eight: and, after long fighting, the armed knights drove the wild men out of their places, and followed the chase out of the hall, and when they were departed, the tent opened, and there came out six lords and six ladies richlie apparelled, and dansed a great time. When they had dansed their pleasure, they entered the tent againe, which was conveied out of the hall: then the king and queene were served with a right sumptuous banket."

In 1515, "The king kept a solemne Christmasse at his manor of Eltham; and on the Twelfe night, in the hall was made a goodlie castell, wounderously set out: and in it certeine ladies and knights; and when the king and queene were set, in came other knights and assailed the castell, where manie a good stripe was given; and at the last the assailants were beaten awaie. And then issued out knights and ladies out of the castell, which ladies were rich and strangelie disguised; for all their apparell was in braids of gold, fret with moving spangles of silver and gilt, set on crimsin sattin, loose and not fastned; the men's apparell of the same sute made like Julis of Hungarie, and the ladies heads and bodies were after the fashion of Amsterdam. And when the dansing was done, the banket was served in of five hundred dishes, with great plentie to everie bodie."

In 1517, "the king kept his Christmasse at his manor of Greenwich, and on the Twelfe night, according to the old custome, he and the queene came into the hall; and when they were set, and the queene of Scots also, there entered into the hall a garden artificiall, called the garden of Esperance. This garden was towred at everie corner, and railed with railes gilt; all the banks were set with flowers artificiall of silke and gold, the leaves cut of green sattin, so that they seemed verie flowers. In the midst of this garden was a piller of antique worke, all gold set with pearles and stones, and on the top of the piller, which was six square, was a lover, or an arch embowed, crowned with gold; within which stood a bush of roses red and white, all of silk and gold, and a bush of pomegranats of the like stuffe. In this garden walked six knights, and six ladies richlie apparelled, and then they descended and dansed manie goodlie danses, and so ascended out of the hall, and then the king was served with a great banket."

In 1518 was the fearful plague of the "sweating sickness," and the chronicler says "this maladie was so cruell that it killed some within three houres, some merrie at dinner, and dead at dinner." It even invaded the sanctity of the Court, and the king reduced his entourage, and kept no Christmas that year.

In 1520, "the king kept his Christmas at Greenwich with much noblenesse and open Court. On Twelfe daie his grace and the earle of Devonshire, with foure aids, answered at the tournie all commers, which were sixteene persons. Noble and rich was their apparell, but in feats of armes the king excelled the rest."

The next one recorded is that of 1524, when "before the feast of Christmasse, the lord Leonard Graie, and the lord John Graie, brethren to the Marquesse Dorset, Sir George Cobham, sonne to the lord Cobham, William Carie, Sir John Dudleie, Thomas Wiat, Francis Pointz, Francis Sidneie, Sir Anthonie Browne, Sir Edward Seimor, Oliver Manners, Percivall Hart, Sebastian Nudigate, and Thomas Calen, esquiers of the king's houshold, enterprised a challenge of feats of armes against the feast of Christmas, which was proclaimed by Windsore the herald, and performed at the time appointed after the best manners, both at tilt, tourneie, barriers, and assault of a castell erected for that purpose in the tilt-yard at Greenewich, where the king held a roiall Christmasse that yeare, with great mirth and princelie pastime."

Of the next Christ-tide we are told, "In this winter there was great death in London, so that the terme was adjourned: and the king kept his Christmasse at Eltham, with a small number, and therefore it was called the Still Christmasse."

In 1526, "the king kept a solemne Christmasse at Greenewich with revelles, maskes, disguisings and bankets; and the thirtith daie of December, was an enterprise of iusts made at the tilt by six gentlemen, against all commers, which valiantlie furnished the same, both with speare and sword; and like iustes were kept the third daie of Januarie, where were three hundred speares broken. That same night, the king and manie yoong gentlemen with him, came to Bridewell, and there put him and fifteene other, all in masking apparell, and then tooke his barge and rowed to the cardinal's place, where were at supper a great companie of lords and ladies, and then the maskers dansed, and made goodlie pastime; and when they had well dansed, the ladies plucked awaie their visors, and so they were all knowen, and to the king was made a great banket."

This is the last recorded Christ-tide of this reign, and, doubtless, as the king grew older and more sedate, he did not encourage the sports which delighted him in his hot youth.


Historic Christ-tides—Edward VI., 1551—Mary—Elizabeth—James I.—The Puritans—The Pilgrim Fathers—Christmas's Lamentation—Christ-tide in the Navy, 1625.

Only one is noted in the reign of Edward VI., that of 1551, of which Holinshed writes, "Wherefore, as well to remove fond talke out of men's mouths, as also to recreat and refresh the troubled spirits of the young king; who seemed to take the trouble of his uncle[5] somewhat heavilie; it was devised, that the feast of Christ's nativitie, commonlie called Christmasse, then at hand, should be solemnlie kept at Greenwich, with open houshold and frank resorte to Court (which is called keeping of the hall), what time of old ordinarie course there is alwaies one appointed to make sport in the Court, called commonlie lord of misrule: whose office is not unknowne to such as have beene brought up in noble men's houses, and among great house-keepers, which use liberall feasting in that season. There was, therefore, by orders of the Councell, a wise gentleman, and learned, named George Ferrers, appointed to that office for this yeare; who, being of better credit and estimation than commonlie his predecessors had beene before, received all his commissions and warrants by the name of the maister of the king's pastimes. Which gentleman so well supplied his office, both in shew of sundrie sights and devises of rare inventions, and in act of diverse interludes, and matters of pastime plaied by persons, as not onely satisfied the common sort, but, also, were very well liked and allowed by the councell, and others of skill in the like pastimes; but, best of all, by the yoong king himselfe, as appeered by his princelie liberalitie in rewarding that service.

[Footnote 5: The Duke of Somerset had just been condemned to death, and was beheaded the 22nd January following.]

"On mondaie, the fourth of Januarie, the said lord of merie disports came by water to London, and landed at the Tower wharffe, where he was received by Vanse, lord of misrule to John Mainard, one of the shiriffes of London, and so conducted through the citie with a great companie of yoong lords and gentlemen to the house of Sir George Barne, lord maior, where he, with the cheefe of his companie dined, and, after, had a great banket: and at his departure the lord maior gave him a standing cup with a cover of silver and guilt, of the value of ten pounds, for a reward, and also set a hogshed of wine, and a barrell of beere at his gate, for his traine that followed him. The residue of his gentlemen and servants dined at other aldermen's houses, and with the shiriffes, and then departed to the tower wharffe againe, and so to the court by water, to the great commendation of the maior and aldermen, and highlie accepted of the king and councell."

Mary does not seem to have kept up state Christ-tide except on one occasion, the year after her marriage with Philip, when a masque was performed before her.

Elizabeth continued the old tradition, but they are only mentioned and known by the Expenses books. It is said that at Christmas 1559 she was displeased with something in the play performed before her, and commanded the players to leave off. There was also a masque for her amusement on Twelfth Night.

Of James I.'s first Christ-tide in England we have the following in a letter from the Lady Arabella Stuart to the Earl of Shrewsbury, 3rd December 1603:—

"The Queen intendeth to make a mask this Christmass, to which my lady of Suffolk and my lady Walsingham have warrants to take of the late Queen's apparell out of the Tower at their discretion. Certain gentlemen, whom I may not yet name, have made me of theyr counsell, intend another. Certain gentlemen of good sort another. It is said there shall be 30 playes. The king will feast all the Embassadours this Christmass."

The death of the infant Princess Mary in September 1607 did not interfere with James I. keeping Christmas right royally in that year. There were masques and theatricals—nay, the king wanted a play acted on Christmas night—and card-playing went on for high sums, the queen losing L300 on the eve of Twelfth night.

It was, probably, the exceeding license of Christ-tide that made the sour Puritans look upon its being kept in remembrance, as vain and superstitious; at all events, whenever in their power, they did their best to crush it. Take, for instance, the first Christmas day after the landing of the so-called "Pilgrim Fathers" at Plymouth Rock in 1620, and read the deliberate chilliness and studied slight of the whole affair, which was evidently more than the ship's master could bear.

"Munday, the 25 Day, we went on shore, some to fell tymber, some to saw, some to riue, and some to carry, so that no man rested all that day, but towards night, some, as they were at worke, heard a noyse of some Indians, which caused vs all to goe to our Muskets, but we heard no further, so we came aboord againe, and left some twentie to keepe the court of gard; that night we had a sore storme of winde and raine. Munday the 25 being Christmas day, we began to drinke water aboord, but at night, the Master caused vs to have some Beere, and so on board we had diverse times now and then some Beere, but on shore none at all."

That this working on Christmas day was meant as an intentional slight—for these pious gentlemen would not work on the Sunday—is, I think, made patent by the notice by William Bradford, of how they kept the following Christmas.

"One ye day called Christmas-day, ye Gov'r caled them out to worke (as was used), but ye most of this new company excused themselves, and said it went against their consciences to worke on ye day. So ye Gov'r tould them that if they made it a mater of conscience, he would spare them till they were better informed. So he led away y^{e} rest, and left them: but when they came home at noone from their worke, he found them in ye streete at play, openly; some pitching ye barr, and some at stoole ball, and such like sports. So he went to them and tooke away their implements, and told them it was against his conscience that they should play, and others worke. If they made ye keeping of it matter of devotion, let them kepe their houses, but there should be no gameing or revelling in ye streets. Since which time nothing hath been attempted that way, at least, openly."

But we shall hear more of the Puritans and Christ-tide, only my scheme is to treat the season chronologically, and, consequently, there must be a slight digression; and the following ballad, which must have been published in the time of James I., because of the allusion to yellow starch (Mrs. Turner having been executed for the poisoning of Sir Thomas Overbury in 1615), gives us


Christmas is my name, far have I gone, Without regard; without regard. Whereas great men by flocks there be flown, To London-ward—to London Ward. There they in pomp and pleasure do waste That which Old Christmas was wonted to feast, Well a day! Houses where music was wont for to ring, Nothing but bats and owlets do sing. Well a day, Well a day. Well a day, where should I stay?

Christmas beef and bread is turn'd into stones, Into stones and silken rags; And Lady Money sleeps and makes moans, And makes moans in misers' bags; Houses where pleasures once did abound, Nought but a dog and a shepherd is found, Well a day! Places where Christmas revels did keep, Now are become habitations for sheep. Well a day, Well a day, Well a day, where should I stay?

Pan, the shepherds' god, doth deface, Doth deface Lady Ceres' crown, And the tillage doth go to decay, To decay in every town; Landlords their rents so highly enhance, That Pierce, the ploughman, barefoot may dance; Well a day! Farmers that Christmas would still entertain, Scarce have wherewith themselves to maintain, Well a day, etc.

Come to the countryman, he will protest, Will protest, and of bull-beef boast; And, for the citizen, he is so hot, Is so hot, he will burn the roast. The courtier, sure good deeds will not scorn, Nor will he see poor Christmas forlorn? Well a day! Since none of these good deeds will do, Christmas had best turn courtier too, Well a day, etc.

Pride and luxury they do devour, Do devour house keeping quite; And soon beggary they do beget, Do beget in many a knight. Madam, forsooth, in her coach must wheel Although she wear her hose out at heel, Well a day! And on her back wear that for a weed, Which me and all my fellows would feed. Well a day, etc.

Since pride came up with the yellow starch, Yellow starch—poor folks do want, And nothing the rich men will to them give, To them give, but do them taunt; For Charity from the country is fled, And in her place hath nought left but need; Well a day! And corn is grown to so high a price, It makes poor men cry with weeping eyes. Well a day, etc.

Briefly for to end, here do I find, I do find so great a vocation, That most great houses seem to attain, To attain a strong purgation; Where purging pills such effects they have shew'd, That forth of doors they their owners have spued; Well a day! And where'er Christmas comes by, and calls, Nought now but solitary and naked walls. Well a day, etc.

Philemon's cottage was turn'd into gold, Into gold, for harbouring Jove: Rich men their houses up for to keep, For to keep, might their greatness move; But, in the city, they say, they do live, Where gold by handfulls away they do give;— I'll away, And thither, therefore, I purpose to pass, Hoping at London to find the Golden Ass. I'll away, I'll away, I'll away, for here's no stay.

A little light upon this ballad may possibly be found in a letter from John Chamberlain to Sir Dudley Carleton (21st December 1627):—"Divers lords and personages of quality have made means to be dispensed withall for going into the Country this Christmas according to the proclamation; but it will not be granted, so that they pack away on all sides for fear of the worst."

As we are now getting near the attempted suppression of Christmas under the Puritan regime, it may be as well to notice the extreme licence to which the season's holiday and festivities had reached—and perhaps a more flagrant case than the following can scarcely be given. On 13th January 1626 the Commissioners of the Navy write to the Duke of Buckingham that they have received information from persons who have been on board the Happy Entrance in the Downs, and the Nonsuch and Garland at Gore-end, that for these Christmas holidays, the captains, masters, boatswains, gunners, and carpenters, were not aboard their ships, nor gave any attendance to the service, leaving the ships a prey to any who might have assaulted them. The Commissioners sent down clothes for the sailors, and there were no officers to take charge of them, and the pressed men ran away as fast as the Commissioners sent them down. If they had beaten up and down, they might have prevented the loss of two English ships taken by the Dunkirkers off Yarmouth.

This, naturally, was a state of things which could not be allowed, and on January 15 the Duke of Buckingham wrote to Sir Henry Palmer as to the officers and men quitting their ships at Christmas time, and called upon him "presently to repair on board his own ship, and to charge the officers of all the ships composing his fleet, not to depart from their ships without order."


Attempts of Puritans to put down Christ-tide—Attitude of the people—Preaching before Parliament—"The Arraignment, etc., of Christmas."

As soon as the Puritans became at all powerful, their iconoclastic zeal naturally attacked Christmas, and the Scotchmen, such as Baillie, Rutherford, Gillespie, and Henderson, in the Westminster Assembly of Divines, tried in 1643 to get the English observance of Christmas abolished—but they only succeeded so far as coming to a resolution that whilst preaching on that day, "withal to cry down the superstition of that day." Next year they were happier in their efforts, as is shortly told in Parliamentary History, December 19, 1644. "The lords and commons having long since appointed a day for a Fast and Humiliation, which was to be on the last Wednesday in every Month, it happening to fall on Christmas day this month, the Assembly of Divine sent to acquaint the lords with it: and, to avoid any inconveniences that might be by some people keeping it as a Feast, and others as a Fast, they desired that the Parliament would publish a Declaration the next Lord's day in the Churches of London and Westminster; that that day might be kept as it ought to be, that the whole kingdom might have comfort thereby. The houses agreed to this proposal, and directed the following Ordinance to be published; which bore this title—


"Whereas some doubts have been raised whether the next Fast shall be celebrated, because it falleth on the day which, heretofore, was usually called the Feast of the Nativity of our Saviour; the lords and commons do order and ordain that public notice be given, that the Fast appointed to be kept on the last Wednesday in every month, ought to be observed until it be otherwise ordered by both houses; and that this day particularly is to be kept with the more solemn humiliation, because it may call to remembrance our sins and the sins of our forefathers, who have turned this Feast, pretending the memory of Christ, into an extreme forgetfulness of him, by giving liberty to carnal and sensual delights; being contrary to the life which Christ himself led here upon earth, and to the spiritual life of Christ in our souls; for the sanctifying and saving whereof Christ was pleased both to take a human life, and to lay it down again.

"The lords ordered That the Lord Mayor of London take care that this Ordinance should be dispersed to all churches and chapels, within the line of communication and the bills of mortality. Afterwards it was made general through the kingdom; in consequence of which Christmas day was no longer observed as a Festival, by law, till the Restoration."

But the popular love of Christmas could not be done away with by restrictive legislation, as the movers therein very well knew, teste Lightfoot, who, in his Journal, says "Some of our members were sent to the houses to desire them to give an order that the next Fast day might be solemnly kept, because the people will be ready to neglect it, being Christmas day."

Nor was anything neglected to repress this Christ-tide, because its keeping was inbred in the people, and they hated this sour puritanical feeling, and the doing away with their accustomed festivities. Richard Kentish told the House of Commons so in very plain language. Said he: "The people of England do hate to be reformed; so now, a prelatical priest, with a superstitious service book, is more desired, and would be better welcome to the generality of England, than the most learned, laborious, conscientious preacher, whether Presbyterian or Independent. These poor simple creatures are mad after superstitious festivals, after unholy holidays."

The houses of Parliament baked their pie for themselves, and deservedly had to eat it; for two red hot gospellers, Calamy and Sedgewick, preached on the iniquity of keeping Christ-tide to the Lords in Westminster Abbey; whilst in the contiguous Church of S. Margaret, Thorowgood and Langley expatiated on the same theme to the Commons, and, as if they could not have enough of so good a thing, all four sermons were printed by order of the Houses.

Calamy in his sermon said, "This day is the day which is commonly called the Feast of Christ's Nativity, or Christmas Day, a day that hath hitherto been much abused in superstition and profaneness. I have known some that have preferred Christmas Day before the Lord's Day, and have cried down the Lord's Day and cried up Christmas Day. I have known those that would be sure to receive the Sacrament on Christmas Day though they did not receive it all the year after. This was the superstition of this day, and the profaneness was as great. There were some that did not play cards all the year long, yet they must play at Christmas. This year, God, by a providence hath buried this Feast in a Fast, and I hope it will never rise again. You have set out, Right Honourable, a strict Order for the keeping of it, and you are here to-day to observe your own Order, and I hope you will do it strictly." And he finished with a prayer, in which he begged they might have grace "to be humbled, especially for the old superstition and profaneness of this Feast."

But although the English people were crushed for a time under the iron heel of the Puritan boot, they had no sympathy with their masters, nor their ways—vide the rebound, immediately after Oliver Cromwell's death, and the return to the old state of things, which has never altered since, except as a matter of fashion. Yet, even then, there were protests against this effacement of Christ-tide, and many have been handed down to us, differing naturally very much in style. One really amusing one has the merit of being short: and when the reader of this book has perused it, I believe he will thank me for having reproduced it. It is—



Conviction and Imprisonment



On S. Thomas Day last,


How he broke out of Prison in the Holidayes and got away, onely left his hoary hair, and gray beard, sticking between two Iron Bars of a Window.


An Hue and Cry after CHRISTMAS, and a Letter from Mr. Woodcock, a Fellow in Oxford, to a Malignant Lady in LONDON.

And divers passages between the Lady and the Cryer, about Old Christmas: And what shift he was fain to make to save his life, and great stir to fetch him back again.

With divers other Witty Passages.

Printed by Simon Minc'd Pye, for Cissely Plum-Porridge; And are to be sold by Ralph Fidler, Chandler, at the signe of the Pack of Cards in Mustard-Alley, in Brawn Street. 1645."

This little Tract commenced with the supposed Letter,


"I Beseech you, for the love of Oxford, hire a Cryer (I will see him paid for his paines), to cry old father Christmas, and keep him with you (if you can meet with him, and stay him), till we come to London, for we expect to be there shortly, and then we will have all things as they were wont, I warrant you; hold up your spirits, and let not your old friends be lost out of your favour, for his sake, who is

"Your ever servant,


"Lady—Honest Crier, I know thou knewest old Father Christmas; I am sent to thee from an honest schollar of Oxford (that hath given me many a hug and kisse in Christmasse time when we have been merry) to cry Christmas, for they hear that he is gone from hence, and that we have lost the poor old man; you know what marks he hath, and how to cry him.

"Cryer—Who shall pay me for my paines?

"Lady—Your old friend, Mr. Woodcock, of Oxford. Wilt thou take his word?

"Cryer—I will cry him, I warrant you, through the Citie and Countrie, and it shall go hard but I will finde him out; I can partly ghesse who can tell some newes of him, if any people in England can, for I am acquainted with all his familiar friends. Trust me in this businesse, I will bring you word within fewe dayes.

Ho-o-o-o-o-o-o yes, ho-o-o-o-o-o yes, ho-o-o-o-o-o yes;

Any man or woman, whether Popish or Prelaticall, Superstitious or Judaicall, or what person so ever, of any Tribe or Trullibub,[6] that can give any knowledge, or tell any tidings of an old, old, old, very old, grey-bearded Gentleman, called Christmas, who was wont to be a verie familiar ghest, and visite all sorts of people, both poor and rich, and used to appear in glittering gold silk and silver in the Court, and in all shapes in the Theater in Whitehall, and had ringing feasts and jollitie in all places, both in the Citie and Countrie for his comming; if you went to the Temple, you might have found him there at In and In, till many a Gentleman had outed all the mony from his pocket, and after all, the Butlers found him locked up in their Boxes: And in almost every house, you might have found him at Cards and Dice, the very boyes and children could have traced him and the Beggers have followed him from place to place, and seen him walking up and downe, and in every house roast Beefe and Mutton, Pies and Plum-porrige, and all manner of delicates round about him, and every one saluting merry Christmas: If you had gone to the Queene's Chappel, you might have found him standing against the wall, and the Papists weeping, and beating themselves before him, and kissing his hoary head with superstitious teares, in a theater exceeding all the plays of the Bull, the Fortune, and the Cock-pit.

[Footnote 6: This word has an indefinite meaning. Sometimes it is synonymous with entrails—as "tripes and trullibubs"; sometimes it is meant for something very trifling, and then is occasionally spelt "trillibubs." Why introduced here, no one can tell.]

"For age, this hoarie headed man was of great yeares, and as white as snow; he entred the Romish Kallender time out of mind; is old, or very neer, as Father Mathusalem was; one that looked fresh in the Bishops' time, though their fall made him pine away ever since; he was full and fat as any dumb Docter of them all. He looked under the consecrated Laune sleeves as big as Bul-beefe—just like Bacchus upon a tunne of wine, when the grapes hang shaking about his eares; but, since the catholike liquor is taken from him, he is much wasted, so that he hath looked very thin and ill of late; but the wanton women that are so mad after him, do not know how he is metamorphised, so that he is not now like himselfe, but rather like Jack-a-lent.

"But yet some other markes that you may know him by, is that the wanton Women dote after him; he helped them to so many new Gownes, Hatts, and Hankerches, and other fine knacks, of which he hath a pack on his back, in which is good store of all sorts, besides the fine knacks that he got out of their husbands' pockets for household provisions for him. He got Prentises, Servants, and Schollars many play dayes, and therefore was well beloved by them also, and made all merry with Bagpipes, Fiddles, and other musicks, Giggs, Dances, and Mummings, yea, the young people had more merry dayes and houres before him whilst he stayd, which was in some houses 12 dayes, in some 20, in some more, in some lesse, than in all the yeare againe."

* * * * *

"All you, therefore, that by your diligent inquirie, can tell me anie tidings of this ould man called Christmas, and tell me where he may be met withall; whether in any of your streets, or elsewhere, though in never so straitned a place; in an Applewoman's staul or Grocer's Curren Tub, in a Cooke's Oven or the Maide's Porrige pot, or crept into some corner of a Translater's shop, where the Cobler was wont so merrily to chant his Carolls; whosoever can tel what is become of him, or where he may be found, let them bring him back againe into England, to the Crier, and they shall have a Benediction from the Pope, an hundred oaths from the Cavaliers, 40 kisses from the Wanton Wenches, and be made Pursevant to the next Arch Bishop. Malignants will send him a piece of Braune, and everie Prentice boy will give him his point (? pint of wine) next holie Thursday, the good Wives will keepe him in some corners of their mince pies, and the new Nuncio Ireland will returne him to be canonized the next Reformation of the Calender.

"And so Pope save Christmas.

"Cryer—Lady, I am come to tell you what returne I can make you of the crying of old Father Christmas, which I have done, and am now here to give you an answer.

"Lady—Well said, honest Cryer, Mr. Woodcock will remember you for it.

"Cryer—The poor old man upon St. Thomas his day was arraigned, condemned, and after conviction cast into prison amongst the King's Souldiers; fearing to be hanged, or some other execution to be done upon him, and got out at so narrow a passage, between two Iron Bars of a Window, that nothing but onely his old gray beard and hoarie haire of his head stuck there, but nothing else to be seen of him; and, if you will have that, compound for it, lest it be sold among the sequestred goods, or burnt with the next Popish pictures, by the hand of the hangman.

"Lady—But is old, old, good old Christmas gone? Nothing but the hair of his good, grave old head and beard left! Well I will have that, seeing I cannot have more of him, one lock whereof will serve Mr. Woodcock for a token. But what is the event of his departure?

"Cryer—The poor are sory for it, for they go to every door a-begging as they were wont to do (Good Mrs., somewhat against this good Time); but Time was transformed (Away, begone, here is not for you); and so they, instead of going to the Ale-house to be drunk, were fain to work all the Holidayes. The Schollers came into the Hall, where their hungry stomacks had thought to have found good Brawn and Christmas pies, Roast Beef and Plum-porridge; but no such matter. Away, ye prophane, these are superstitious meats; your stomacks must be fed with wholesome doctrine. Alas, poor tallow-faced Chandlers, I met them mourning through the streets, and complaining that they could get no vent for their Mustard, for want of Brawn.

"Lady—Well, if ever the Catholiques or Bishops rule again in England, they will set the Church dores open on Christmas day, and we shall have Masse at the High Altar, as was used when the day was first instituted, and not have the holy Eucharist barred out of School, as School boyes do their Masters against the festival![7] What! shall we have our mouths shut to welcome old Christmas? No, no, bid him come by night over the Thames, and we will have a back door open to let him in. I will, myself, give him his diet for one year, to try his fortune this time twelve month, it may prove better."

[Footnote 7: This Saturnalia of barring out the Schoolmaster at Christmas—just before breaking up—was in use certainly as late as 1888. Vide Notes and Queries, 7th series, vol. vi. p. 484.]


The popular love of Christmas—Riots at Ealing and Canterbury—Evelyn's Christmas days, 1652 '3 '4 '5 '7—Cromwell and Christ-tide—The Restoration—Pepys and Christmas day, 1662—"The Examination and Tryal of old Father Christmas."

And this was the general feeling. Parliament might sit, as we learn by The Kingdome's Weekly Intelligencer, No. 152: "Thursday, December 25, vulgarly known by the name of Christmas Day, both Houses sate. The House of Commons, more especially, debated some things in reference to the privileges of that House, and made some orders therein." But the mass of the people quietly protested against this way of ignoring Christ-tide, and notwithstanding the Assembly of Divines and Parliament, no shops were open in London on that day, in spite of the article published in No. 135 of Mercurius Civicus, or London's Intelligencer, which explained the absurdity of keeping Christmas day, and ordained that all shops should be opened, and that the shopkeepers should see that their apprentices were at work on that day. If they needed a holiday, "let them keep the fift of November, and other dayes of that nature, or the late great mercy of God in the taking of Hereford, which deserves an especiall day of thanks giving." It would not so much have mattered if all the Puritans had followed the example of George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, who, "when the time called Christmas came, when others were feasting and sporting themselves, went from house to house seeking out the poor and desolate, and giving them money."

Parliament, although they did their best by public example to do away with it, sitting every Christmas day from 1644 to 1656, could not extinguish the deep-rooted feeling in favour of its being kept up in the old-fashioned way, and, in London, at Christmas 1646, those who opened their shops were very roughly used, so much so that in 1647 they asked the Parliament to protect them in future. Certainly, in that year, the shops were all closed, but the irrepressible love of Christmas could not be controlled, and the porters of Cornhill bedecked the conduit with "Ivy, Rosmary, and Bays," and similar decorations were exhibited in other parts of the City—a proceeding which sorely exercised the Lord Mayor and the City Marshal, who rode about, with their followings, setting fire to the harmless green stuff—the doing of which occasioned great mirth among the Royalist party.

There were riots about the keeping of Christmas in several parts of the country—notably one at Ealing, in Middlesex; but there was a famous one at Canterbury,[8] the particulars of which are given in a short tract, which I here reprint, as it shows the feeling in the country:

[Footnote 8: "Canterbury Christmas; or, A True Relation of the Insurrection in Canterbury on Christmas Day last, with the great hurt that befell divers persons thereby."]

"Upon Wednesday, Decem. 22, the Cryer of Canterbury by the appointment of Master Major,[9] openly proclaimed that Christmas day, and all other Superstitious Festivals should be put downe, and that a Market should be kept upon Christmas day.

[Footnote 9: Mayor.]

"Which not being observed (but very ill taken by the Country) the towne was thereby unserved with provision, and trading very much hindered; which occasioned great discontent among the people, caused them to rise in a Rebellious way.

"The Major being slighted, and his Commands observed only of a few who opened their Shops, to the number of 12 at the most: They were commanded by the multitude to shut up again, but refusing to obey, their ware was thrown up and down, and they, at last, forced to shut in.

"The Major and his assistants used their best endeavours to qualifie this tumult, but the fire being once kindled, was not easily quenched.

"The Sheriffe laying hold of a fellow, was stoutly resisted; which the Major perceiving, took a Cudgell, and strook the man: who, being now puny, pulled up his courage, and knockt down the Major, whereby his Cloak was much torne and durty, besides the hurt he received.

"The Major hereupon made strict Proclamation for keeping the Peace, and that every man depart to his own house.

"The multitude hollowing thereat, in disorderly manner; the Aldermen and Constables caught two or three of the rout, and sent them to the Jaile, but they soon broke loose, and Jeered Master Alderman.

"Soone after, issued forth the Commanders of this Rabble, with an addition of Souldiers, into the high street, and brought with them two Foot-balls, whereby their company increased. Which the Major and Aldermen perceiving, took what prisoners they had got, and would have carried them to the Jayle. But the multitude following after to the King's Bench, were opposed by Captain Bridg, who was straight knoct down, and had his head broke in two places, not being able to withstand the multitude, who, getting betwixt him and the Jayle, rescued their fellowes, and beat the Major and Aldermen into their houses, and then cried Conquest.

"Where, leaving them to breath a while, they went to one White's, a Barber (a man noted to be a busie fellow), whose windowes they pulled downe to the ground: The like they did to divers others, till night overtook them, and they were forced to depart, continuing peaceable the next day, it being the Saboth.

"On Munday morning, the Multitude comming, the Major set a strong watch with Muskets and Holbards in the City, both at the Gates and at S. Andrews Church, the Captaine of the Guard was White the Barber.

"Till noon, they were quiet, then came one Joyce, a Hackney man, whom White bid stand, the fellow asked what the matter was, and withall called him Roundhead; whereat White being moved, cocked his Pistoll and would have shot him, but the Major wisht him to hold: Neverthelesse he shot, and the fellow fell down, but was not dead. Whence arose a sudden clamour that a man was murdered, whereupon the people came forth with clubs, and the Major and Aldermen made haste away; the Towne rose againe, and the Country came in, took possession of the Gates, and made enquiry for White; they found him in a hay loft, where they broke his head, and drag'd him in the streets, setting open the Prison dores and releasing those that were in hold.

"Next, they vowed vengeance on the Major, pulling up his posts, breaking his windowes; but, at last, being perswaded by Sir William Man, Master Lovelise, Master Harris, and Master Purser, had much adoe to persuade them from taking of his Person; so came tumultuously into the high street, and their demands were so high, that those Gentlemen could not perswade them. Afterward, meeting Master Burly, the Town Clark, demanded the Keyes of the Prison from him, which, being granted, they, with those Gentlemen formerly named, went again to the Town Hall to Treat, and came to an agreement, which was, that forty or fifty of their own men should keep the Town that night, being compleatly armed, which being performed (the morning issued) and they continued in arms till Tuesday morning: There are none as yet dead, but diverse dangerously hurt.

"Master Sheriffe taking White's part, and striving to keep the Peace, was knockt down, and his head fearfully broke; it was God's mercy his braines were not beat out, but it should seem he had a clung[10] pate of his own.

[Footnote 10: Tough or strong.]

"They went also without S. George's gate, and did much injury to Mr. Lee.

"As I am credibly informed, the injuries done are these.

"They have beat down all the windowes of Mr. Major's House, burnt the Stoups at the comming in of his dore, Master Reeves' Windowes were broke, Master Page, and Master Pollen, one Buchurst, Captaine Bridge, Thomas Harris, a busie prating fellow, and others were sorely wounded.

"It is Ordered that Richard White and Robert Hues, being in fetters, be tryed according to the Law, and upon faire Composition, the multitude have delivered their Armes into the Hands of the City, upon engagements of the best of the City that no man shall further question or trouble them."

On this Christmas day, Parliament,[11] "on Saturday, December 25th, commonly called Christmas day, received some complaints of the countenancing of malignant ministers in some parts of London, where they preach and use the Common Prayer Book, contrary to the order of Parliament, and some delinquent Ministers have power given them to examine and punish churchwardens, sequestrators, and others that do countenance delinquent ministers to preach, and commit them, if they see cause; upon which some were taken into Custody." One instance of this is given in Whitelocke's Memorials (p. 286). "Mr. Harris, a Churchwarden of St. Martius, ordered to be committed for bringing delinquents to preach there, and to be displaced from his office of Churchwarden."

[Footnote 11: Rushworth's Historical Collections, pt. iv. vol. ii. p. 944.]

And so it went on, the Parliament and Nonconformists doing their best to suppress Christ-tide, and the populace stubbornly refusing to submit, as is shown in a letter from Sir Thomas Gower to Mr. John Langley, on December 28, 1652.[12] "There is little worth writing, most of the time being spent in endeavouring to take away the esteem held of Christmas Day, to which end, order was made that whoever would open shops should be protected by the State; yet I heard of no more than two who did so, and one of them had better have given L50, his wares were so dirtyed; and secondly, that no sermons should be preached, which was observed (for aught I hear) save at Lincoln's Inn."

[Footnote 12: Hist. MSS. Commission Reports, v. p. 192.]

Evelyn, who was a staunch Episcopalian, writes in deep despondency as to the keeping of Christ-tide. "1652, Dec. 25, Christmas day, no Sermon any where, no church being permitted to be open, so observed it at home. The next day, we went to Lewisham, where an honest divine preached." "1653, Dec. 25, Christmas-day. No churches, or public assembly. I was fain to pass the devotions of that Blessed day with my family at home." "1654, Dec. 25, Christmas-day. No public offices in Churches, but penalties on observers, so as I was constrained to celebrate it at home."

On November 27, 1655, Cromwell promulgated an edict, prohibiting all ministers of the Church of England from preaching or teaching in any schools, and Evelyn sadly notes the fact. "Dec. 25. There was no more notice taken of Christmas day in Churches. I went to London, where Dr. Wild preached the funeral sermon of Preaching,[13] this being the last day; after which, Cromwell's proclamation was to take place, that none of the Church of England should dare either to preach, or administer Sacraments, teach school, etc., on pain of imprisonment or exile. So this was the mournfullest day that in my life I had seen, or the Church of England herself, since the Reformation; to the great rejoicing of both Papist and Presbyter. So pathetic was his discourse, that it drew many tears from the auditory. Myself, wife, and some of our family received the Communion: God make me thankful, who hath hitherto provided for us the food of our souls as well as bodies! The Lord Jesus pity our distressed Church, and bring back the captivity of Zion!"

[Footnote 13: His text was 2 Cor. xiii. 9.]

His next recorded Christ-tide was an eventful one for him, and he thus describes it: "1657, Dec. 25. I went to London with my wife to celebrate Christmas day, Mr. Gunning preaching in Exeter Chapel, on Michah vii. 2. Sermon ended, as he was giving us the Holy Sacrament, the Chapel was surrounded with soldiers, and all the Communicants and assembly surprised and kept prisoners by them, some in the house, others carried away. It fell to my share to be confined to a room in the house, where yet I was permitted to dine with the master of it, the Countess of Dorset, Lady Hatton, and some others of quality who invited me. In the afternoon, came Colonel Whalley, Goffe, and others, from Whitehall, to examine us one by one; some they committed to the Marshal, some to prison. When I came before them, they took my name and abode, examined me why, contrary to the ordinance made, that none should any longer observe the superstitious time of the Nativity (so esteemed by them), I durst offend, and particularly be at Common Prayers, which they told me was but the Mass in English, and particularly pray for Charles Stuart, for which we had no Scripture. I told them we did not pray for Charles Stuart, but for all Christian Kings, Princes, and Governors. They replied, in doing so we prayed for the King of Spain, too, who was their enemy, and a Papist, with other frivolous and ensnaring questions and much threatening; and, finding no colour to detain me, they dismissed me with much pity of my ignorance. These were men of high flight and above ordinances, and spake spiteful things of our Lord's Nativity. As we went up to receive the Sacrament, the miscreants held their muskets against us, as if they would have shot us at the Altar, but yet suffering us to finish the Office of the Communion, as, perhaps, not having instructions what to do, in case they found us in that action. So I got home late the next day: blessed be God!"

Cromwell himself seems to have been somewhat ashamed of these persecutions and severities, for[14] (25th December 1657) "Some Congregations being met to observe this day, according to former solemnity, and the Protector being moved that Souldiers might be sent to repress them, he advised against it, as that which was contrary to the Liberty of Conscience so much owned and pleaded for by the Protector and his friends; but, it being contrary to Ordinances of Parliament (which were also opposed in the passing of them) that these days should be so solemnized, the Protector gave way to it, and those meetings were suppressed by the Souldiers."

[Footnote 14: Whitelock's Memorials, ed. 1682, p. 666.]

But his life was drawing to a close, and with the Restoration of the king came also that of Christ-tide, and there was no longer any need of concealment, as Pepys tells us how he spent his Christmas day in 1662. "Had a pleasant walk to White Hall, where I intended to have received the Communion with the family, but I came a little too late. So I walked up into the house, and spent my time looking over pictures, particularly the ships in King Henry the VIII.ths voyage to Bullaen; marking the great difference between those built then and now. By and by down to the Chapel again, where Bishop Morley[15] preached upon the Song of the Angels, 'Glory to God on high, on earth peace, and good will towards men.' Methought he made but a poor Sermon, but long, and, reprehending the common jollity of the Court for the true joy that shall and ought to be on these days; he particularized concerning their excess in playes and gaming, saying that he whose office it is to keep the gamesters in order and within bounds, serves but for a second rather in a duell, meaning the groome-porter. Upon which it was worth observing how far they are come from taking the reprehensions of a bishop seriously, that they all laugh in the Chapel when he reflected on their ill actions and courses. He did much press us to joy in these public days of joy, and to hospitality; but one that stood by whispered in my eare that the Bishop do not spend one groate to the poor himself. The Sermon done, a good anthem followed with vialls, and the King come down to receive the Sacrament. But I staid not, but, calling my boy from my Lord's lodgings, and giving Sarah some good advice, by my Lord's order, to be sober, and look after the house, I walked home again with great pleasure, and there dined by my wife's bed side with great content, having a mess of brave plum-porridge and a roasted pullet for dinner, and I sent for a mince pie abroad, my wife not being well, to make any herself yet."

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