December 25th — Christmas
( Originally Published 1884 )
Looking over your Magazine for December 1810, I find you have inserted "a newly invented Game of Cards for a Winter's Amusement." The Christmas entertainments of the present day differ widely from those of old. Chatterton has given " the Antiquity of Christmas Games," which may amuse those of your Readers who are unacquainted with the Manners of our Ancestors, and with the writings of Chatterton.
" In the days of our Ancestors, Christmas was a period sacred to mirth and hospitality. Though not wholly neglected now, it cannot boast of the honours it once had ; the veneration for religious seasons is fled, and old English hospitality is long since deceased. The antient Christmas gambols were, in my opinion, superior to our modern spectacles and amusements; wrestling, hurling the ball, and dancing in the woodlands, were pleasures for men ; it is true, the conversation of the hearth-side was the tales of superstition : the Fairies, Robin Good-fellow, and Hobgoblins, never failed to make the trembling audience mutter an Ave Maria, and cross their chins ; but the laughable exercises of blindman's buff, riddling, and question and command, sufficiently compensated for the few sudden starts of terror. Add to these amusements the wretched voices of the chanters and sub-chanters ; howling carols in Latin ; the chiming of consecrated bells ; the burning consecrated wax-candles ; curiously representing the Virgin Mary ; praying the Saint whose monastery stood nearest ; the munching consecrated cross-loaves, sold by the monks; all which effectually eradicated the spectres of their terrific stories. Nor were these the only charms against the foul fiends and nightmare ; sleeping cross-legged, like the effigies of Knights Templars and Warriors, and the holy bush and Church-yard yew, were certain antidotes against those invisible beings. After this representation, I may be thought partial to my own hobby-horse, as an Antiquary, in giving the preference to the amusements of the days of old ; but let the sentimental reader consider that the tales of superstition, when believed, affect the soul with a sensation pleasurably horrid : we may paint in more lively colours to the eye ; they spoke to the heart.—The great Barons and Knights usually kept open houses during this season, when their villans or vassals were entertained with bread, beef, and beer, and a pudding, wastol cake, or Christmas kitchel, and a groat in silver at parting; being obliged, in return, to wave the full flaggon round their heads, in honour of the master of the house, Sometimes the festival continued till Twelfth-day, when the baron, or his steward, took the deis, or upper seat of the table, and after dinner gave every man a new gown of his livery, and two Christmas kitchels. This kind of liberality endeared the barons to the common people, and made them ever ready to take up arms under their banners. A register of the nunnery of Keynsham relates, that William, Earl of Gloucester, entertained two hundred knights with tilts and fortunys at his great manor of Keynsham, provided thirty pies of the Eels of Avon, as a curious dainty ; and on the Twelfth-day began the Plays for the knights by the monks; with miracles and maumeries for the henchmen and servants, by minstrels. Here is plainly a distinction ruade between maumeries and miracles, and the more noble representations comprehended under the name Plays. The first were the holiday entertainments of the vulgar; and the other of the Barons and nobility. The private exhibitions at the manors of the Barons were usually family histories; the monk, who represented the master of the family, being arrayed in a tabard (or herald's coat without sleeves) painted with all the hatchments of the names. In these domestic performances, absurdities were unavoidable ; and in a play wrote by Sir Tibbet Gouges, Constance, Countess of Bretagne and Richmond, marries and buries her three husbands in the compass of an hour. Sometimes these pieces were merely relations, and had only two characters of this kind, as that in Weever's Funeral Monuments. None but the patrons of Monasteries had the service of monks in performing plays on holidays ; provided the same contained nothing against God or the Church. The public exhibitions were superior to the private ; the plot, generally, the life- of some Pope, or the founder of the Abbey the Monks belonged to. I have seen several of these pieces, mostly Latin, and cannot think our ancestors so ignorant of dramatic excellence as the. generality of modern writers would represent : they had a good moral in view, and some of the mummeries abound with it, which though low now, was not so then. Minstrels, jesters, and mummers, was the next class of performers ; every knight had two or three minstrels and jesters, who were maintained in his house, to entertain his family in their hours of dissipation ; these Chaucer mentions in the following passages :
" ` Doe comme, he saied, myn mynstrales, And jestours for to tellen us tales,
Anon in mye armyage.
Of Romaunces yatte been royals,
Of Popes and Cardinals,
And eke of love longynge.'
Rime of Sir Thopas.
" ' Of all manere of mynstrales,
And jestours thatte tellen tales,
Both of weepinge and of yame,
And of all thatte longeth unto fame.'
Third Rook of Fame."
CHRISTMAS-WASSAIL. The drinking the Wassail Bowl or cup was in all probability owing to keeping Christmas in the same manner they had before the feast of Jule. There was nothing the northern nations so much delighted in as carousing ale ; especially at this season, when fighting was over. It was likewise the custom at all their feasts for the master of the house to fill a large bowl or pitcher, and drink out of it first himself, and then give it to him that sat next, and so it went round. One custom more should be remembered ; and this is, it was usual some years ago in Christmas time for the poorer people to go from door to door with a wassail cup adorned with ribbons and a golden apple at the top, singing and begging money for it : the original of which was that they also might procure Lamb's wool to fill it, and regale themselves as well as the rich.
ON CHRISTMAS PYE
It's natural to delight in talking of that one loves ; you will there-fore the less wonder at my sending you an Essay on Christmas Pye ; tho' indeed, it falls properly under Female Oeconomy.
I need not say anything of its grateful Flavour, which is so well known; but it seems surprizing there should be such a thing as a Fricasee, or Ragout in the Kingdom ; and that we should be so foolishly fond of Fashions, as to imitate the Cookery of a fantastical Nation, whose natural Scarcity of Provisions puts them upon tossing up the little they have an hundred Ways.
In the Crust may be observed the Regularity of the Figures into which it is usually raised ; which seem to owe their Original to the martial Genius of our Nation. The Rules of military Architecture are observed, and each of them would serve for the Model of a Fortification. It might have been antiently the Amusement of our Heroic British Ladies, while their Spouses and Lovers were engaging their Enemies abroad, to describe in Paste the Draughts of the Towns and Castles besieged, to have the Pleasure of storming them in Effigy.
That this Dish is most in Vogue at this Time of Year, some think is owing to the Barrenness of the Season, and the Scarcity of Fruit and Milk, to make Tarts, Custards, and other Desserts, this being a Compound that furnishes a Dessert itself.
But I rather think it bears a religious kind of Relation to the Festivity from which it takes its Name. Our Tables are always set out with this Dish just at the Time, and probable for the same Reason, that our Windows are adorned with Ivy. I am the more confirm'd in this Opinion, from the Zealous Opposition it meets with from the Quakers, who distinguish their Feasts by an heretical Sort of Pudding, known by their Name, and inveigh against Christmas Pye, as an Invention of the Scarlet Whore of Babylon, an Hodge Podge of Superstition, Popery, the Devil and all his Works.
Another Sort of People who deserve Reproof are those who in dulge themselves in this excellent Food, but would cut out the Clergy from having any Share in it, under Pretence that a sweet Tooth and liquorish Palate, are inconsistent with the Sanctity of their Character. Against such the famous Bickerstaff rose up, and with a becoming Zeal defended the Chaplains of Noblemen in particular, and the Clergy in general. "The Christmas Pye," says he, "is in its own Nature a kind of consecrated Cake, and a Badge of Distinction ; and yet 'tis often forbidden to the Druid of the Family. Strange ! that a Sirloin of Beef, whether boiled or roasted, when entire, is exposed to his utmost Depredations and Incisions ; but if minced into small Pieces, and tossed up with Plumbs and Sugar, changes its Property, and forsooth, is Meat for his Master."
This must be allow'd unfair Treatment. But if in the Composition the Neat's Tongue be used instead of the Sirloin, and if that Part of our Bodies receives a greater Proportion of the Nutriment, which answers to that Part of the Creature whereof we eat, then this Sort of Food is the properest in the World for the Clergy, as it must be a Strengthner of the great Instrument of Speech, the Volubility of whose Motion is of the greatest Consequence both to themselves and the Publick ; but when improved with Plumbs, etc., it must sweeten the Speech into the most perswasive Eloquence.
Now, if the Ladies think I have invaded their Province, they may take their Revenge of me, and bring my Dissertation nearer to its Subject, by putting it under the next Christmas-Pye they make.
CHRISTMAS IN YORKSHIRE
According to my promise, I have sent you an extract from the journal of a deceased friend, which relates the manner in which the inhabitants of the North Riding of Yorkshire celebrate Christmas. The account, though written in a familiar style, yet in every point will be found true.
"- Here, and in the neighbouring villages, I spent my Christmas, and a happy Christmas too. I found the antient manners of our ancestors practised in every cottage : the thoughts of welcome-coming Christmas seem to fill the breast of every one with joy, whole months before its arrival. About 6 o'clock on Christmas Day, I was awakened by a sweet singing under my window ; surprised at a visit so early and unexpected, I arose, and looking out of the window I beheld 6 young women, and 4 men, welcoming with sweet music the blessed morn. I went to Church about 11 o'clock, where every thing was performed in a most solemn manner. The windows and pews of the Church (and also the windows of houses) are adorned with branches of holly, which remain till Good Friday. From whence this custom arose I know not, unless it be as a lasting memorial of the blessed season.
" Happy was I to find that not only the rich, but also the poor, shared the festivity of Christmas ; for it is customary for the clergymen and gentlemen to distribute to the poorest people of their own village or parish, whole oxen and sheep, and to each a pint of ale also. Such was the hospitality of our ancestors ; would that such customs were still practised among us !
" In the North Riding of Yorkshire it is customary for a party of singers, mostly consisting of women, to begin, at the feast of St. Martin, a kind of peregrination round the neighbouring villages, carrying with them a small waxen image of our Saviour, adorned with box and other evergreens, and singing at the same time a hymn, which, though rustic and uncouth, is, nevertheless, replete with the sacred story of the Nativity. This custom is yearly continued till Christmas Eve, when their feasting, or as they usually call it `good living,' commences. Every rustic dame produces a cheese preserved for the sacred festival, upon which, before any part of it is tasted, according to an old custom, the origin of which may easily be traced, she, with a sharp knife, makes rude incisions to represent the cross. With this, and furmity, made of barley and meal, the cottage affords uninterrupted hospitality. A large fire (on Christmas eve) is made, on which they pile large logs of wood, commonly called ` yule clog ;' a piece of this is yearly preserved by each prudent housewife : I have seen no less than thirty remnants of these logs kept with the greatest care.
" On the feast of St. Stephen large goose pies are made, all which they distribute among their needy neighbours, except one which is carefully laid up and not tasted till the Purification of the Virgin, called Candlemas.
" On the feast of St. Stephen also, 6 youths (called sword-dancers, from their dancing with swords), clad in white, and bedecked with ribbands, attended by a fiddler, and another youth curiously dressed, who generally has the name of 'Bessy,' and also by one who personates a Doctor, begin to travel from village to village, performing a rude dance, called the sword-dance. One of the 6 above-mentioned acts the part of king in a kind of farce which consists of singing and dancing, when 'the Bessy' interferes while they are making a hexagon with their swords, and is killed. These froIicks they continue till New Year's Day, when they spend their gains at the ale-house with the greatest innocence and mirth, having invited all their rustic acquaintance.
"There is in this part of Yorkshire a custom, which has been by the country people more or less revived, ever since the alteration in the Style and Calendar: namely, the watching, in the midnight of the New and Old Christmas Eve, by Bee-hives, to determine upon the right Christmas, from the humming noise which they suppose the bees will make when the birth of our Saviour took place. Disliking innovations, the utility of which they understand not, the oracle, they affirm, always prefers the more antient custom.
"Another strange custom also prevails : that those who have not the common materials of making a fire, generally sit without one, on New Year's Day ; for none of their neighbours, although hospitable at other times, will suffer them to light a candle at their fires. If they do, they say that some one of the family will die within the year.—D—d R—e."
CHRISTMAS DRAMA OF ST. GEORGE IN CORNWALL.
I send you an account of the Christmas drama of " St. George," as acted in Cornwall. I thereby vouch for the authenticity of what I send you. Having many friends and relations in the West, at whose houses I have had frequent opportunities of seeing the festivities, and mixing in the sports, you may be sure that " St. George," with his attendants, were personages too remarkable not to attract much of my attention, and I have seen their adventures represented frequently.
From different versions so obtained, I am enabled to state that the performance in different parishes varies only in a slight degree from each other.
St. George and the other tragic performers are dressed out somewhat in the style of Morris dancers, in their shirt sleeves and white trowsers, much decorated with ribbons and handkerchiefs, each carrying a drawn sword in his hand, if they can be procured, otherwise a cudgel. They wear high caps of pasteboard, adorned with beads, small pieces of looking-glass, coloured paper, etc. ; several long pieces cf pith generally hang down from the top, with small pieces of different coloured cloth strung on them ; the whole has a very smart effect.
Father Christmas is personified in a grotesque manner, as an ancient man, wearing a large mask, a wig, and a huge club, where-with he keeps the bystanders in order.
The Doctor, who is generally the Merry Andrew of the piece, is dressed in a very ridiculous manner, with a wig, three-cornered hat, and painted face.
The other comic characters are dressed according to fancy.
The Female, when there is one, is usually in the dress worn half a century ago.
The Hobby Horse, which is a character sometimes introduced, wears a representation of a horse's hide.
The Christmas play, it appears, was in vogue also in the north of England, as well as in Scotland. A correspondent of yours has already given an interesting account of that of Scotland. By some the play is considered to have reference to the time of the Crusaders, and to have been introduced on the return of the adventurers from the Holy Land, as typifying their battles.
Before proceeding with our drama in the \Vest, I have merely to observe, that the old fashion was to continue many of the Christmas festivities till Candlemas Day, and then " throw Cards and Candle-sticks away."
BATTLE OF ST. GEORGE. One of the party steps in, crying out,
" Room, a room, brave gallants, room ! Within this Court
I do resort,
To show some sport
Gentlemen and Ladies, in the Christmas time."
After this note of preparation, old Father Christmas capers into the room, saying,
" Here come I, old Father Christmas, Welcome or welcome not ;
I hope old Father Christmas
Will never be forgot.
" I was born in a rocky country, where there was no wood to make me a cradle. I was rocked in a stouring bowl, which made me round-shouldered then, and I am round-shouldered still."
He then frisks about the room until he thinks he has sufficiently amused the spectators, when he makes his exit with this speech :
" Who went to the orchard to steal apples, to make gooseberry pies against Christmas ?"
These prose speeches, you may suppose, depend much upon the imagination of the actor.
Enter Turkish Knight.
Here comes I, a Turkish knight, Come from the Turkish land to fight, And if St. George do meet me here, I'll try his courage without fear.
Enter St. George.
Here comes I, St. George,
That worthy champion bold, And with my sword and spear
I won three crowns of gold. I fought the Dragon bold,
And brought him to the slaughter,
By that I gained fair Sabra,
The King of Egypt's daughter.
St. George, I pray be not too bold,
If thy blood is hot I'll soon make it cold.
Thou Turkish Knight, I pray forbear,
I'll make thee dread my sword and spear.
They fight until the Turkish Knight falls. St. George.
I have a little bottle which goes by the name of Elecampane, If the man is alive let him rise and fight again.
The Knight here rises on one knee, and endeavours to continue the fight, but is again struck down.
Oh, pardon nie, St. George ! Oh, pardon me, I crave ! Oh, pardon me this once, and I will be your slave.
The Knight gets up, and they again fight, till the Knight receives a heavy blow, and then drops on the ground as dead.
Is there a Doctor to be found,
To cure a deep and deadly wound ?
Oh yes, there is a Doctor to be found, To cure a deep and deadly wound.
St. George. What can you cure ?
I can cure the Itch, the Palsy, and Gout, If the Devil is in him I'll pull him out.
The Doctor here performs the cure with sundry grimaces, and St. George and the Knight again fight, when the latter is knocked down, and left for dead.
Then another performer enters, and on seeing the dead body, says,
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,
If uncle Tom Pearce won't have him, Molly must.
The Hobby Horse here capers in, and takes off the body. Enter Old Squire.
Here comes I, Old Squire, As black as any Friar,
As ragged as a colt,
To have fine clothes for malt.
Enter Rub a Bub.
Here comes I, Old Rub, Bub, Bub, Bub ; Upon my shoulders I carries a club, And in my hand a frying-pan,
So am not I a valiant man?
These characters serve as a sort of burlesque on St. George and the other hero, and may be regarded in the light of an anti-masque.
Enter the Boxholder.
Here comes I, great head and little wit,
Put your hand in your pockit,
And give what you think fit.
Gentlemen and Ladies, sitting down at your ease,
Put your hand in your pockets, give me what you please.
Gentlemen and Ladies, the sport is almost ended ; Come pay to the box, it is highly commended. The box it would speak, if it had but a tongue ; Come throw in your money, and think it no wrong.
The characters now generally finish with a dance, or sometimes a song or two are introduced. In some of the performances, two or three other tragic heroes are brought forward, as the King of Egypt and his son, etc. ; but they are all of them much in the style of thatI have just described, varying somewhat in length and number of characters.
CHRISTMAS FESTIVITIES IN HOLMSDALE, SURREY
About a week before Christmas Day it is the annual custom of the native minstrels in Holmsdale to serenade the inhabitants every morning at an early hour : then many a delusive dream is broken by " the concord of sweet sounds." The instrumental harmonists are welcomed from house to house, and hailed as the harbingers of joyous hours to come. I remember with what regularity, in the days of my youth, at this propitious period of the year, " duly as morning rose," the rousing music of the waits burst through the whistling of the wintry wind and startled me from the pillow at once dissipating the gloom of darkness, recalling the soul from visionary wanderings, and awakening the animal spirits to an active sense of earthly existence. How can I forgot such mornings as these ! When I peeped through the chamber window externally beautified by the glittering frost-work, there stood the venerable figure of Richard Dove, an established musician of the neighbourhood, fiddling with all his might, his head and foot beating time, while every string exulted aloud in " The Downfall of Paris," and every note tingled in the ear, crying shame to the drowsy sleeper !
In the morning of Christmas Day, it is customary to rise at an early hour, and kindle the powerful fire by which the sirloin and the plum-pudding are to be prepared for the festive circle and then may be seen the windows, the mantel-pieces, and the well-arranged kitchen shelves, clothed in the green holly with its scarlet berry, while in the hall of the hospitable mansion, in the farm house, and even in the humble labourer's cottage, the mystic mistletoe has its share of attraction frequently being suspended from the ceiling, in a large cluster of boughs rich in green leaves and white berries the mirth exciting challenger of youth, and the test of maiden coyness. Every kiss beneath it is entitled to the forfeiture of a berry fresh plucked from the bough ; and it sometimes happens that ere the Christmas holidays are over the branches and the leaves are all that can be seen of the mistletoe !
Within the happy dwellings of Holmsdale, the entertainments and the sports of Christmas are so similar to those which are the most prevalent in every part of the kingdom, that I deem it altogether unnecessary to give a minute description of them. They are visited by the provincial vocalist with songs adapted to the occasion not always indeed with voices adapted to music but if there happen to be defective melody, the fault is imputed to nature, the will is readily taken for the deed, and the offering is well received when every heart is attuned to joy. The cake and the nut-brown ale, the toast and the rich elder wine, are freely dispensed to every visitor, and the usual distinctions of rank are in a great degree forgotten amid the general hilarity of the season. It is the holiday of every class, and mirth and good-fellowship reign without control. Of these delightful scenes I have often been a witness, and although I may never personally enjoy them again, I still treasure them in my memory. There may be some in my favourite dale who may peruse this little sketch, and feel pleasure in recalling the happy winter hours I have passed in their society :—by them I would be long remembered ; and, as a memorial of retrospective enjoyments, I present them with
A SONG FOR CHRISTMAS
" Christmas comes but once a year, Old wrinkled care to bury--
May Friendship banish Sorrow's tear, And every heart be merry !
" Christmas comes but once a year May no distress annoy us !
Untried by Fortune's frown severe, May every mind be joyous !
" Christmas comes but once a year, The social hours beguiling--Let harmony and love appear, And every face be smiling !
" Christmas comes but once a year, Crown'd with the scarlet berry—May Friendship banish Sorrow's tear, And every heart be merry !"
Gentle or ungentle reader ! didst thou ever know a sequestered English valley destitute of legendary lore ? Holmsdale is not without an ample share :—the loveliest scenes are visited by the ancient tribes of the fairy and the spectre, and for centuries have they "play'd fantastic tricks" in this sylvan dale. As the long evenings of the present season are usually productive of varied converse, and frequently such as gives rise not only to the loud laugh of glee, but to the introduction of narratives calculated to excite amazement, or to affect the deepest sensibilities of the heart, I will contribute to the general store by the following romantic tale; but I cannot undertake to vouch for the accuracy of the story in all its details. Oral tradition, as it has descended from age to age, is my only authority; and I have diligently sought in vain for any historical record. Having,however, been personally acquainted with the spot for more than thirty years, and having often heard the outline of the narrative, and the most striking of the incidents, related " with fear and trembling," by the oldest and most stedfast believers among the natives, I will faithfully repeat what has been related to me.
The road from Reigate to Dorking leads through a lonely lane, of considerable length, into the village of Buckland. In the most obscure part of this lane a little stream of beautifully clear water crosses the way. By the side of this very stream laid a large stone for I know not how many years perhaps for centuries. That mysterious stone and the little stream will form the foundation of our wondrous tale. " Once on a time," a lovely blue-eyed girl, whose father was a substantial yeoman in the neighbourhood, was wooed and won by the subtle arts of the opulent owner of the manor house of Buckland. In the silence of the evening the lane was their accustomed walk the scene of her devoted love and of his deceitful vows. Here he swore eternal fidelity ; and the gentle unsuspecting maid heard his earnest protestations with all the confiding affection of the female heart in its native simplicity, and confessed the power of his eloquence while her soul was absorbed in tenderness. At such a moment as this, how often has the guileless mind of youth been led astray from the path of virtue It was now that for the first time the wily seducer cautiously communicated to the yeoman's daughter the real nature of his designs. The lovely Moon was the witness of his perfidy and of her distress. She heard the avowal in tremulous silence but her deadly paleness, and her expressive look of mingled reproach and terror while still on her fair countenance the lineaments of tenderness lingered created alarm even in the mind of the villain ; and he hastily endeavoured to recall the fatal declaration : but it was too late the stricken deer was already too deeply wounded she sprang from his agitated grasp, and with a sigh of agony her pure spirit escaped she fell dead at his feet ! When the wretch beheld the work of his iniquity, he was seized with distraction and, drawing a dagger from his bosom, he plunged it into his own false heart, and lay stretched by the side of the lovely blossom he had so basely destroyed. On the morrow the traveller through the lane passed over a beautiful little stream, the emblem of innocence and saw a dark stone, the appropriate symbol of hardened wickedness, with drops of blood trickling from its heart into the bosom of that pure limpid stream l From that day the little stream has lived in its untainted purity, and the stone has still continued its sacrifice of blood !
This legend has, perhaps naturally, raised a local spectre. At the dreary hour of midnight a terrific object has been seen lingering about the spot. He first took his station upon the bleeding stone; but from this apparently rightful possession he was ousted, some years ago, by the father of the present lord of the manor (by-the-bye, a relative of mine by marriage, but he does not inherit the heart of any wicked ancestor), who removed the mysterious stone to his own premises, to satisfy the timid minds of his neighbours. The stone, however, still continued to bleed, and I believe it oozes forth its crimson drops even to the present day. Its :removal did not remove or intimidate the spectre. He has since visited the lane, and the adjoining meadow, through which is a footpath to the village. Connected with this alarming midnight visitor, I remember a circumstance related to me by those who were actually acquainted with the facts, and with the person to whom they refer. An inhabitant of Buckland, who had attended Reigate Market and become exceedingly intoxicated, was joked by a companion upon the subject of "Buckland Shag" (the name by which the goblin is familiarly called as he has generally appeared in the shape of a four-footed beast with a shaggy coat), whereupon, being pot-valiant, he laid a wager that if Shag appeared in his path that night he would fight him with his trusty haw-thorn. With this promise he set forth, and arrived at the hour of midnight in the meadow. The spectre stood in his path in his thoughtless fit of drunkenness he raised his stick and struck with all his strength ; but it made no impression nor did the goblin move. The stick fell as upon a blanket (so the man described it), and he instantly became sober, while a cold tremor ran through every nerve of his athletic frame. He hurried on, and the spectre followed ! He hastened to the end of the meadow, and passed over a stile the spectre followed at his heels ! He had yet two fields to cross, and he went quickly forward still the mysterious being followed ! At length he arrived at his own door then, and not till then, the spectre vanished, and the poor affrighted man fell in a state of complete exhaustion upon the threshold of his cottage. He was carried to his bed, and from that bed he never rose again he died in a week ! Such is the account related to me as perfectly correct. I have seen the cottage, and frequently heard the tale from persons whose veracity I have no reason to doubt. It is by no means unreasonable to believe that an affright of such a nature, powerfully operating upon the imagination, might produce such fatal effects.
Those who have wandered through the thousand tales of ghosts and hobgoblins will recollect that horses are endowed with a wonderful quickness of sight on these mysterious occasions, and that, when their visionary powers are attracted by supernatural appearances, they instantly lose their courage, their muscular strength, and all the energies of their noble nature. About twenty-six years ago (I was then living near the spot), a team of four horses had been from Reigate to Dorking with a load of corn. They were returning in the night, and about midnight were passing through Buckland Lane with the empty waggon. When they came to the bleeding-stone and the little stream, they suddenly stopped. The waggoners cheered, and whipped,"put their shoulders to the wheel," in vain nothing could prevail upon the horses to draw the empty waggon over the stream, although its width was not more than two feet, and its depth would not even reach their fetlocks ! They stood trembling in every limb, and perspiring from every pore, with evident fear and agony. What they saw was never correctly ascertained, but it was easy for their biped companions to guess—" it stood to reason," they said, that they must have seen something; and who that knows anything of " haunted streams," can question the fact ? The horses were taken from the vehicle, after two hours' delay, and were at length persuaded to walk home without it. When the next morning's sun had glistened upon the little stream, and the night-spell had thus been broken, one horse drew away with ease the waggon that four were unable to move in the preceding night. Who can doubt the power of the midnight spectre !
CHRISTMAS CUSTOMS IN MONMOUTHSHIRE
At Christmas there is a custom in the neighbourhood of Monmouth of carrying round from house to house the Merry Lewid. This is a representation, generally very well executed, of the head and neck of a white horse. The neck has some black stripes on it, so as to bear some resemblance to a zebra, and from it depends a sheet, beneath which is a man carrying the Merry Lewid elevated on a pole. The pole, swayed backwards and forwards, gives the movements of a prancing and rearing horse.
The etymology of the name I am not Welchman enough to discover; but some of your more learned readers may be able to enlighten me. I suspect the latter word to be a corruption of Loyd, which means grey, I believe ; and the former, from the mirth occasioned to the actors, a corrupt application of an understood term to express some word of similar sound, the meaning of which was unknown to the Sassenachs of Monmouth.
But no custom ever more fully exemplified the fable of the boys and the frogs. On one occasion, after a ring of the door-bell in the evening of Christmas Day, I heard some alarm and confusion in the hall ; and going hastily out, saw what was really startling enough to anyone, much more so to a stranger, as the servant was. In the doorway, with the outline well defined in the strong moonlight, stood erect a great white horse, furiously tossing his head about. Whatever fun, therefore, the boys may derive, you may well imagine, Mr. Urban, that strangers, particularly females, would be very much alarmed thereat.
I find, in Sir H. Ellis's edition of " Brand's Antiquities," mention of the hobby horse at Christmas,tooke upon him to controll and finde fault with this and that, as the coming into the hall of the hobby horse in Christmas ;" and again, in the account of the " Lord of Misrule," p. 273 : "Thinges sette in order, they have their hobble horses and dragons, and other antiques, together with their pipers and thunderyng drummers to strike up the deville's daunce withall. Then marche these heathen companie . . . . their hobble horses, and other monsters, skyrmishyng amongest the throng." At p. 266, in a "Christmas carroll," enumerating the customs of that season, is the following quatrain :
" The wenches, with their wassell-bowles,
About the streets are singing ;
The boyes are come to catch the owles,
The wild mare in is bringing."
There are also various allusions to the shoeing of the wild mare; but this, I apprehend, is a different custom altogether. There is no explanation of it given by Sir H. Ellis; but, if my boyish recollections be correct, this game is played by a number standing in a ring, holding hands, with one outside the ring, who drops a handkerchief behind anyone he pleases ; and the point is, to be sharp in observing if it be dropped behind you, and then to be quick in overtaking the dropper before he arrives at your place the only practical allusion to a horse being in the activity, as in these allusions in Sir Henry's notes, p. 268 : " The adventurous youth shew their agility in shooting (qu. shoeing ?) the wild mare ;" and, p. 274, ' Thus at active games and gambols of hot cockles, shoeing the wild mare, and the like harmless sports, the night was spent."
At the risk of being thought tedious, I will mention another custom of the same neighbourhood. On New Year's Day the little boys carry in their hands, to excite the admiration and liberality of their richer neighbours, pretty devices, made and adorned in the following way. A strip of deal stands perpendicularly, being, as it were, the stem of a tree. From this, at intervals, other pieces branch off horizontally : the extremities of these branches are adorned with apples some gilded, some covered with silver tissue, some with flour, and stuck over with black and white oats, arranged in different figures. The whole is surmounted by a branch of the box-tree, to the leaves of which are attached hazel-nuts, by inserting the leaf into the smaller end of the nut, which is slightly opened, and which immediately collapses. The whole has the appearance of a gay and pretty shrub, and makes a rattling noise when moved by the clashing of the nuts.
There seem to be allusions to this custom in the notes to New Year's Day, pp. 8, 9 ; a gilded apple and black oats being very good substitutes for oranges and cloves. " An orange stuck with cloves appears to have been a New Year's gift. So Ben Jonson, in his Christmas Masque : ' He has an orange and rosemary, but not a clove to stick in it." And among " Merry Observations upon every Month and every remarkable Day throughout the whole Year," under January, it is said, "On the first day of this month will be given many gifts. . . . Children, to their inexpressible joy, will be drest in their best bibs and aprons, and may be seen handed along streets, some bearing Kentish pippins, others oranges stuck with cloves, in order to crave a blessing of their godfathers and godmothers."
Should the above appear worthy of your Magazine, I may, in the following month, trouble you with some notices of old customs, and matters of ancient faith, which still linger amongst the country people of this vicinity.
THE MERRY LEWID.
Believing that Mr. Dyke's remarks, in your January number, on the custom said to prevail in the neighbourhood of Monmouth, of carrying round a horse's head under the name of the Merry Lewid, may admit of a simple explanation, I venture to offer the following observations.
It is described as the head and neck of a white horse, with zebra-like stripes of black. This mixture of black and white may have been originally intended for the grey colour, which in Welsh is llwyd (pronounced lewid); and the word march (pronounced markh) signifying a male horse, seems to me very easily corrupted into 'marry' or 'merry'; and thus the words correspond with the fact of its being a representation of a grey horse's head, etc.
With regard to the origin of the custom, it must remain, I suppose, a doubtful question ; but I suspect it takes its rise in a source of heraldic chivalry, based upon the mythology of very ancient date. Three white horses' heads erased, two and one, on a sable shield, were borne by Cadell Deyrnllug, first king of Powys, as his family arms (for the arms of the state, according to Warrington, were a lion rampant) ; and I believe are borne by some of his descendants to this day.
Now, it is very possible that some may have borne reins on these horses' necks, which may have misled some heraldic painters to re-present them as striped, till they got blazoned as bendy sinister argent and sable, which would have just the effect of these zebra heads.
As the subject of the "horse's head" or "merry llwyd" has lately been discussed in your pages, I beg to furnish an instance of it, which none of your correspondents have yet adduced. In the "Personal Recollections " of Charlotte Elizabeth (an interesting volume on many accounts) there is a description of the great festival of the Irish peasantry, St. John's Eve, which the authoress witnessed in King's County :
"It is the custom at sunset on that evening to kindle numerous immense fires throughout the country, built, like our bonfires, to a great height, the pile being composed of turf, bogwood, and such other combustibles as they can gather. The turf yields a steady substantial body of fire, the bogwood a most brilliant flame ; and the effect of these great beacons blazing on every hill, sending up volumes of smoke from every point of the horizon, is very remarkable. . . But something was to follow that puzzled me not a little when the fire had burned for some hours and got low, an indispensable part of the ceremony commenced. Every one present of the peasantry passed through it, and several children were thrown across the sparkling embers, while a wooden frame of some eight feet long, with a horse's head fixed to one end, and a large white sheet thrown over it, concealing the wood and the man on whose head it was carried, made its appearance. This was greeted with loud shouts of ' The white horse !' and, having been safely carried by the skill of its bearer several times through the fire with a bold leap, it pursued the people, who ran screaming and laughing in every direction. I asked what the horse was meant for, and was told it represented all cattle."
Persons who have seen " Merry " or " Merrick Llwyd," in Monmouthshire, will at once recognise the justness of the description, " a wooden frame (pole) of some eight feet long, with a horse's head fixed to one end, and a large white sheet thrown over it, concealing the wood and the man on whose head it was carried." I do not, however, imagine that the horse's head is used in Wales with any lustral or piacular intention, as appears to be the case at the Irish festival. How far this signification is still understood by the persons who practise the ceremony, it may be difficult to say. Such usages often linger in popular habits and customs long after their original meaning is exploded.
Be this as it may, it is curious to find an Irish custom explained in the writings of a Jewish rabbi, a circumstance which widely opens the door to conjecture. Maimonides, in his " More Nevochim," or " Instructor of the Perplexed," has a passage on the subject of passing through the fire, which explains the quotation given above with sufficient clearness.
"In enumerating the things against which we are thus warned, it is important to remark that the advocates of those opinions which are destitute of foundation or utility, in order to confirm their superstitions, and to induce belief in them, artfully intimate that those who do not perform the actions by which their superstitions are confirmed are always punished by some misfortune or other ; and therefore, when any evil accidentally happens, they extol such actions or rather superstitions as they wish to practise, hoping thereby to induce him to embrace their opinions. Thus, since it is well known, from the very nature of man, that there is nothing of which men are more afraid than of the loss of their property and children, therefore the worshippers of fire declared and circulated the opinion, that, if they did not cause their sons or daughters to pass through the fire, all their children would die ; there can be no doubt, therefore, but that every one would hasten diligently to perform it, both from their great love to their children, and fear of losing them, and because of the facility of the art, nothing more being required than to lead the child through the fire, the performance of which was rendered still more probable by the children being committed to the care of the women, of whose intellectual weakness and consequent credence in such things no one is ignorant. Hence the Scripture vehemently opposes the action, and uses such arguments against it as against no other kind of idolatry whatever: 'He hath given of his seed to Moloch, to defile my sanctuary, and to profane my Holy Name' (Levit. xx. 3). Moses therefore declares in the name of God, that, by that very act by which they expected to preserve the lité of their children, by that act they shall destroy it ; because God will exterminate both him who commits the crime, and also his family : 'I will set my face against that man, and against his family, and will cut him off' (Lev. xx. 5). Nevertheless, traces of this species of superstition are still existing; for we see midwives take new-born children wrapped in swaddling clothes, and wave them to and fro in the smoke of herbs of an unpleasant odour thrown into the fire, a relict, no doubt, of this passing through the fire, and one which ought not to be suffered. From this we may discover the perverse cunning of those men who propagated and established their error with such persuasive energy, that, although it has been combated by the law for more than two thousand years, yet vestiges of it are still remaining."—Townley's "Maimonides
The origin of this practice may obviously be traced to the fact of the atmosphere's being purified by fire, and infectious disorders thereby kept off. The next step, which was from truth to superstition, would be to suppose that fire would act as a preventive by anticipation. Afterwards ensued those horrid practices of burning children in the fires of Moloch, with which every reader of the Carthaginian history is familiar. (See particularly the articles "Moloch" and "Tophet" in the "Dictionnaire Mythologique" of M. Noël, 2 vols. 8vo. Paris, 1823, 4th edition.)
Arthur Young (father of the celebrated agriculturist) has collected several classical illustrations of this practice, in his work on " Idolatrous Corruptions in Religion," p. 117, and the passage is given at length by Mr. Townley, p. 360, note xl., without, however, correcting the slight mistake of " the Council of Trullo " to in Trullo, as he might have done. Mr. Townley also notices similar customs at Athens, in Scotland in the time of James I. (or 6th in the Scottish succession), and in Cornwall, but without adverting to that in Leland. M. de Sainmore, in his " Histoire de Russie " (written to accompany the plates of M. David), mentions this practice as still existing in Russia, when speaking of the idol Koupalo. [See note 25.]
"Le temple de ce dieu étoit au milieu des campagnes. Il étoit représenté debout sur un piédestal, tenant entre ses mains une espèce de corne remplie de fleurs et de fruits. Cétoit la divinité de l'abondance ; on l'imploroit an milieu des plaisirs, de la joie et des festins. On célébrait sa fête vers le commencement de l'été, c'est-a-dire, le 24 Juin, précisément le même jour et presque de la même manière que nous célébrons la fête de St. Jean Baptiste. De jeunes garcons et de jeunes filles parés de guirlandes de fleurs, la tête couronnée de feuilles nouvelles, formoieut des choeurs de danse et sautoient Iégérement par-dessus les feux qu'on avoit allumés. On n'entendoit partout que les expressions de la joie et du bon-heur, et le nom de KOUPALO étoit mille fois répété dans des chansons.
" Le peuple slave conserve encore, en quelques lieux, l'usage de cette fête. On passe dans les festins la nuit qui précède le jour de la fête. On allume des feux de joie, et l'on danse autour. Le bas peuple, en plusieurs endroits, appelle KOU-PALNITSA, du nom de cette Divinité, Sainte-Agrippine, qu'on invoque le même jour.
M. Noël, in his " Mythological Dictionary " already referred to, says (art. " Feu "),
" Le feu 'est une des principales divinités des Tartares idolâtres. Ils ne se laissent point aborder par des étrangers, sans que ceux-ci se soient purifiés en passant entre deux feux."
And under the same head he observes of the Virginians (who seem to have carried this superstition to the greatest extreme),
"Quand ces peuples reviennent de quelque expedition militaire, on qu'ils se soient heureusement tirés de quelque péril imminent, ils allument un grand feu, et temoignent leur joie en dansait a l'entour avec une gourde ou une sonnette a la main, comme s'ils rendaient grâces a cet element de leur avoir sauvé la vie."
He remarks (art. " Pyromantie "),
" Quelques auteurs mettent au nombre des espèces de pyromantie l'abominable coutume qu'avaient certains peuple orientaux de faire passer leurs enfants par le feu en l'honneur de Moloch. Delrio y comprend aussi la superstition de ceux qui examinaient les symptômes des feux allumés la veille de la Saint Jean-Baptiste, et la coutume de danser a l'entour, ou de sauter par-dessus."
Arthur Young has referred, in illustration of these practices, to Virgil, AEn. xi. 785-9 ; see also a note in the Oxford edition of that classic, 1820 (an edition attributed to Dr. Petit, of Christ Church.)
I will only add, that, as the horse's head represents all cattle in Ireland, the obvious explanation is, that it appears as a substitute for them, and that the supposed benefit is derived to them through it as their representative.
On the introduction of Christianity into the world, and its civil establishment in the fourth century, the festivals held in honour of Bacchus and other heathen deities at this season of the year gradually fell into decay. The primitive teachers of the Christian religion prohibited these scenes of festivity, as being unsuited to the sacred character of their Divine Founder; but on the formation of a regular hierarchy, supported by political power, the introduction of particular festivals, adapted to the respective periods of the Pagan ones, soon became general. Thus by adopting the obsolete feasts of the Greeks and Romans, and adapting them to the most striking events in the lives of the great Founder of Christianity and His followers, the prejudices of the Pagan worshippers were shaken, and numerous converts obtained. Unfortunately these Festival and Saint days at length became so numerous under the papal authority, that the days of the year were not sufficiently numerous for their celebration. However, since the Reformation, the far greater portion have sunk into oblivion, and are only known by referring to the old calendars of the Saints. Yet the principal ones, commemorated in honour of Christ, are still retained, though not celebrated with the same festivity and show as in former times. Among these, Christmas Day, as being the reputed birthday of our Saviour, may be considered the most important ; and here we shall notice its introduction into the country, and some of the peculiar traits of its celebration.
The first festival of this kind ever held in Britain, it is said, was celebrated by King Arthur in the city of York, A.D. 521.* Previously to this year, the 25th of December was dedicated to Satan, or to the heathen deities worshipped during the dynasties of the British, Saxon, and Danish Kings. In the year 521, this chivalrous Monarch gained the sanguinary battle on Badan Hills, when 90,000 of the enemy were slain, and the city of York immediately delivered up to him. He took up his winter quarters at York, and there held the festival of Christmas. The churches which lay levelled to the ground he caused to be rebuilt, and the vices attendant on heathenish feasts were banished from York for ever. This glorious example was soon followed. York served as a beacon of light to the whole empire. The festival of Christmas soon became general, and a moral and religious nation soon succeeded to a Bacchanalian and idolatrous race.
As if in memory of its origin in this county, Yorkshire seems to preserve the festivities of Christmas with more splendour and ancient hospitality than any other part of Great Britain. The din of preparation commences some weeks before, and its sports and carousals generally continue beyond the first month of the new year.
The first intimation of Christmas, in Yorkshire, is by what are there called vessel-cup singers, generally poor old women, who, about three weeks before Christmas, go from house to house, with a waxen or wooden doll, fantastically dressed, and sometimes adorned with an orange, or a fine rosy-tinged apple. With this in their hands, they sing or chant an old carol, of which the following homely stanza forms a part :
The image of the child is, no doubt, intended to represent the infant Saviour; and the vessel-cup is, most probably, the remains of the wassail bowl, which anciently formed a part of the festivities of this season of the year.
Another custom, which commences at the same time as the vessel-cup singing, is that of the poor of the parish visiting all the neighbouring farmers to beg corn, which is invariably given to them, in the quantity of a full pint, at least, to each. This is called mumping, as is the custom which exists in Bedfordshire, of the poor begging the broken victuals the day after Christmas Day.
Christmas Eve is, in Yorkshire, celebrated in a peculiar manner. At eight o'clock in the evening, the bells greet " old Father Christmas " with a merry peal, the children parade the streets with drums, trumpets, bells, or perhaps, in their absence, with the poker and shovel, taken from their humble cottage fire ; the yule candle is lighted and
"— High on the cheerful fire
Is blazing seen th' enormous Christmas brand."
Supper is served, to which one dish, from the lordly mansion to the humblest shed, is, invariably, furmety ; yule-cake, one of which is always made for each individual in the family, and other more substantial viands, are also added. Poor Robin, in his Almanack for the year 1676 (speaking of the winter quarter), says, "and lastly, who would but praise it, because of Christmas, when good cheer doth so abound, as if all the world were made of mince-pies, plum-pudding, and furmety." And Brand says, " on the night of this eve our ancestors were wont to light candles of an enormous size, called Christmas candles." To enumerate all the good cheer which is prepared at this festival is by no means necessary. In Yorkshire, the Christmas pie is still a regular dish, and is regularly served to the higher class of visitants, while the more humble ones are tendered yule-cake, or bread and cheese, in every house which they enter during the twelve days of Christmas. The Christmas pie is one of the good old dishes still retained at a Yorkshire table.* It is not of modern invention. Allan Ramsay, in his poems, tells us, that among other baits by which the good ale-wife drew customers to her house, there never failed to them,and the intelligent and close observer of our customs, Misson, in his travels in England, says, " Dans toutes les familles on fait à Noël un fameux paté qu'on appelle le paté de Noël. C'est une grande science que la composition de ce paté ; c'est un docte hachis de langue de boeuf, de blanc de volaille, d'oeufs, de sucre, des raisins de Corinthe, d'écorce de citron et d'orange, de diverses sortes d'épiceries," etc.
Of the Christmas Plays anciently performed at this season, some remains still exist in the West of England, particularly in Cornwall ; but the representation of these dramatic exhibitions is almost wholly confined to children, or very young persons. The actors are fantastically dressed, decorated with ribands and painted paper, and have wooden swords, and all the equipage necessary to support the several characters they assume. To entertain their auditors, they learn to repeat a barbarous jargon in the form of a drama, which had been handed down from distant generations. War and Love are the general topics; and St. George and The Dragon are always the most prominent characters. Interlude, expostulation, debate, battle, and death, are sure to find a place among this mimicry ; but a physician, who is always at hand, immediately restores the dead to life.
It is generally understood that these Christmas Plays derived their origin from the ancient Crusades ; and hence the feats of chivalry, and the romantic extravagance of knight-errantry, that are still preserved in all the varied pretensions and exploits.
Popular superstitions and customs may generally be traced to heathen times; "for on their rites and mysteries were many of the Catholic ceremonies afterwards engrafted, and to the saturnalia we are, or rather our ancestors were, probably indebted for some of our Christmas pastimes. The Reformation first injured their popularity, and the age of Puritanism gave them a fresh shock. It was even ordered by Parliament, December 24, 1652, " that no observation shall be had of the five-and-twentieth day of December, commonly called Christmas Day ; nor any solemnity used or exercised in churches upon that day in respect thereof." They now appear to be neglected in society in proportion to its degree of polish, and in the metropolis and its immediate neighbourhood are but little encouraged by the higher classes, and but partially by the middling ranks, while among the lower portion of the people they frequently degenerate into debauchery; though in the far western and northern counties, Christmas is yet kept up with much spirit ; the yule-log still crackles on the hearth, and the sirloins of beef, the minced pies, the plum porridge, the capons, turkeys, geese, and plum puddings, smoke upon the hospitable board. Each master of a family, like the old courtier in the ballad, appears to have 'A good old fashion, when Christmasse is come,to call in all his old neighbours with bagpipe and drum, With good cheer enough to furnish every old room,And old liquor able to make a cat speak and man dumb.'
It is true that certain strolling minstrels still occasionally disturb our nocturnal slumbers for a few weeks previous to Christmas, calling themselves waites; " but, alas ! alack the day ! instead of playing and singing the good old carol, our ears are saluted with 'Roy's Wife,' 'St. Patrick's Day,' or the latest quadrille tune. In many parts of the country, especially in the west, the carol is still preserved, and is sung in the parish churches on Christmas Day, the singers also going about to the different houses, blithely carolling such cheering tunes as, ' A Child this day is born ;' 'Sit you, merry gentlemen ;' 'I saw three ships sailing in,' etc. In London, except some croaking ballad-singer bawling out, 'God rest you, merry gentlemen,' or a like doggrel, nothing in the shape of carols is heard, though there is a considerable sale of them among the lower classes."
Burton, in his " Anatomy of Melancholy," gives the following list of Christmas amusements, which are now almost superseded by Pope Joan, Blind Man's Buff, etc.: " The ordinary recreations which we have in winter are, cards, table and dice, shovel board, cheese play, the philosopher's game, small trunkes, billiards, musicke, maskes, singing, dancing, ule-games, catches, purposes, questions, merry tales of errant knights, kings, queens, lovers, lords, ladies, giants, dwarfs, thieves, fairies, goblins, friars, witches, and the rest."
" As to mummers, and Christmas plays, unless Grimaldi and the pantomimes be considered as relics, we know not where to find them in or near the metropolis, though formerly a Lord of Misrule, or Christian Prince, was chosen, even in the highest families and most learned establishments ; even our kings used to join in these sports. Mummers, guisardes or guise-dances, commonly called geese-dances, may yet be seen in the country."
A description of mummers, desirous of renewing the Christmas festivals, lately presented themselves in the neighbourhood of Williams-town, in the Sister Island ; but, it appears, instead of inspiring gaiety, they excited considerable alarm. They consisted of fifteen young men, grotesquely attired, in ribands, white shirts outside their clothes, papers and rosettes in their hats, and large sashes round their waists ; and one was dressed in woman's clothes ; two of them carried swords of a very antient appearance; the remainder had sticks. Being noticed by the police landing from a boat, peace-officer Sharpley proceeded to interrogate them ; and considering it necessary to prevent such a formidable body from perambulating the district, immediately despatched a messenger to Mr. Goodison, of the College Street Office, who directed peace officer Cam pain and his party to proceed to Williams town, when they took the whole number into custody as suspicious characters going through the country disguised. They were brought before Mr. Alderman Fleming and Sir Garret Neville, when one of them, Michael Darley, who stated himself to be the king of the party,said, that they came from Raheny, and that they had been out on the Christmas gambols since St. Stephen's Day; that hearing there were a number of gentlemen's seats at the side of the water, he and his subjects undertook a voyage across the bay, to visit the shore of Williamstown and its vicinity. On being asked by Sir Garret Neville where they got the swords, he said he got one from a man of the name of Neill, gardener to Mr. Joy, and the other from a person at Raheny, and that their intentions were entirely harmless; they assembled for the purpose of getting Christmas boxes, according to an ancient custom (in his dominions) at the other side of the water ; and that the King and Hector (one of his guards) were always armed with swords. To a question by the magistrates, he said he was an historian, and his fool was treasurer, and carried a bladder fixed to a long pole ; the party spent whatever they got in drinking, dancing, and other amusements. They got money from Dean Ponsonby, Dean Gore, and many other gentlemen.examination.
Like many of our ancient customs, the celebration of Christmas, according to the manner of our Mediaeval ancestors, is rapidly falling into decay in the Metropolis and all the larger cities and towns of the empire, where the festivities at this period of the year bear little re-semblance to those of olden time, when the " busy housewife " was usually engaged for weeks in the din of preparation before this festal season arrived. In the villages, however, and less populous places of the kingdom, where there is not so much diversity of life to engage or amuse the mind, the spirit of ancient Christmas still remains. Among our agricultural classes in particular, who at this season enjoy a kind of respite from their annual labours, Christmas appears to be peculiarly grateful; and young and old seem to be inspired with the love of mirth and domestic jollity. With them the celebration of Christmas has undergone little variation. Though the forms, wherever refinement prevails, are occasionally different, still the spirit by which this annual rejoicing is actuated, is nearly the same all over England.
Our ancestors considered Christmas in the double light of a holy commemoration and a cheerful festival ; and accordingly distinguished it by vacation from business, merriment, and hospitality. They seemed eagerly bent on making themselves and every one around them happy. The great hall resounded with the tumultuous joys of servants and tenants, and the gambols they played served as amusement to the master of the mansion and his family.
" Masque of Christmas," where he bas personified the season and its attributes. The characters introduced in this farce are Misrule, Carol, Mince Pie, Gambol], Post and Pair, New Year's Gift, Mumming, Wassail Offering, and Babie Coche. Of the conviviality which reigned at this time of the year, a correct estimate .may be formed from a few lines by the author of the " Hesperides," who, in addressing a friend [Sir Simeon Steward] at Christmas, makes the following request.
It is to rustic life we must now look for what remains of the customs practised by our ancestors during this season, There the relics of many of these unobjectionable frolics still remain. The North has its "fool's plough," and the people of Cornwall their "goose dances." The latter continue to exhibit a hunch-a-back man, called the "King of Christmas," and sometimes the Father ; and customs not very dissimilar may be traced at the present moment in several other countries.
In London and all commercial Owns the observances of "Auld lang syne" are much sooner forgotten than in the country; but even in these crowded marts we still meet with remnants of Christmas Gambols. In the pantomimic representations we have shews typical of the ancient Christmas Masques. Blind man's Buff, Hunt the Slipper, the Game of Goose, Snap Dragon, Push Pin, and dancing, form the amusements of the younger part of the assemblage ; whilst cards occupy the elders.
The Yule Clogs and Christmas Candles have, it is true, given way in many instances to blazing coal fires and lights of more moderate dimensions ; but the rites, religious and festive, of Christmas Eve, still continue to be as regularly performed as ever. We have no longer the Yule Song or the Yule Cakes ; but then we have Carols and Mince-pies ; and though the latter are not usually embossed with the figures of the Saviour, we do not fail to remember the religious origin of the ceremonial which has led to their manufacture.
We do not certainly contribute, as in days of yore, our Christmas Boxes to furnish our more indigent brethren with the means of obtaining from the Clergy absolution for the offences of the past year ;* but we bestow them still in order to enable them to procure for themselves and their families a good joint and a pudding for Christmas Day. Neither do we keep open house for the reception of the lame, the halt, and the blind ; yet they are not wholly neglected on these occasions. They are, we believe, usually furnished with coals and blankets, to enable them to meet the inclemencies of the winter season; and in lieu of being provided with the means of indulging in one or two days' drunkenness and debauchery, receive, in most places, an addition to their comforts of a more lasting and solid description than a few hours' wassail and merriment could possibly afford them.
The noisy revels by which our ancestors were wont to distinguish "themselves at Christmas, have now given place to mere family parties, certainly as happy, though perhaps less jovial than those of which they are the archetypes.
Other changes have sprung up during the last century, which have conduced in some measure to abridge the innocent pleasures of this festivous portion of the year. The, following good old Christmas song, preserved in " Poor Robin's " Almanack for 1695, is, however, quite as applicable now as at the time it was written, though method-ism and cant may unite in condemning the sentiments it conveys :
A CHRISTMAS SONG
" Now thrice welcome, Christmas, Which brings u good cheer,
Minc'd pies and plumb-porridge, Good ale and strong beer;
With pig, goose, and capon, The best that may be,
So well doth the Weather
And our stomachs agree.
" Observe how the chimneys
Du smoak all about, The cooks are providing
For dinner, no doubt ; But those on whose tables
No victuals appear,
O may they keep Lent All the rest of the year !
" With holly and ivy
So green and so gay ;
We deck up our houses As fresh as the day,
With bays and rosemary, And lawrel compleat,
And every one now Is a king in conceit.
Notwithstanding the changes which have taken place in our Christmas observances, the same spirit of benevolence and earnest desire to see all our poorer dependants happy about us, still exists with little or no diminution ; and there still continues, at this season of the year, a disposition to works of charity and beneficence, which the selfish refinements of modern manners will, we trust, never entirely dissipate.
In the principal cities and towns on the Continent and Peninsula, the festival of Christmas, as in England, is much altered in its ceremonies ; but in the country towns, a similar spirit to the days of old is still retained.
In the North of Germany there is a Christmas custom described by Coleridge, which cannot be too strongly recommended and encouraged in our own country. The children make little presents to their parents, and to each other; and the parents to their children. For three or four months before Christmas the girls are all busy, and the boys save up their pocket-money to buy these presents. What the present is to be is cautiously kept secret. On the evening before Christmas Day, one of the parlours is lighted up by the children, into which the parents must not go ; a great yew bough is fastened on the table at a little distance from the wall, a multitude of little tapers are fixed in the bough, but not so as to burn it till they are nearly consumed; and coloured paper, etc., hangs and flutters from the twigs. Under this bough the children lay out in great order the presents they mean for their parents, still concealing in their pockets what they intend for each other. Then the parents are introduced, and each presents his little gift ; they then bring out the remainder, one by one, from their pockets, and present them with kisses and embraces. On the next day, in the great parlour, the parents lay out on the table the presents for the children : a scene of more sober joy succeeds ; as on this day, after an old custom, the mother says privately to each of her daughters, and the father to his sons, that which he has observed most praise-worthy, and that which was most faulty in their conduct.
In the smaller towns and villages throughout North Germany (and formerly in the large towns and cities), these presents are sent by the parents to a man who, in high buskins, a white robe, a mask, and an enormous flax wig, personates Knecht Rupert, i.e. the Servant Rupert. On Christmas night he goes round to every house, and says, that Jesus Christ, his master, sent him thither. The parents and elder children receive him with great pomp and reverence, while the little ones are most terribly frightened. He then inquires for the children, and, according to the character which he hears from the parents, he gives them the intended presents, as if they came out of heaven from Jesus Christ. Or, if they should have been bad children, he gives the parents a rod, and, in the name of his Master, recommends them to use it frequently. About seven or eight years old the children are let into the secret, and it is curious how faithfully they keep it.
In Spain it was formerly a general custom, at Christmas, among people of family, to prepare for an almost public exhibition one or two rooms of the house, where, upon a clumsy imitation of rocks and mountains, a great number of baby-houses and clay figures, imitating the commonest actions of life, were placed amongst a multitude of lamps and tapers. A ruinous stable, surrounded by sheep and cattle,was seen in the front of the room, with the figures of Joseph, Mary, and some shepherds, kneeling in adoration of the child in the manger an act which an ass and an ox imitated with the greatest composure. This collection of puppets, called naciemento, were made a pretext for collecting a large party, and passing several nights in dancing, etc. The room being illuminated after sunset, not only the friends of the family were entitled to enjoy the festivities of the evening, but any gentleman, giving his name at thé door, might introduce one or more ladies, who, if but known by sight to the master of the house, would be requested to join in the amusements which followed. These were singing, dancing, and not unfrequently speeches taken from the old Spanish plays, and known by the name of Relaciones. Recitation was considered till lately as an accomplishment both in males and females ; and persons who were known to be skilled in that art stood up, at the request of the company, to deliver a speech, with all the gesticulations of the old school, just as others gratified their friends by performing upon an instrument. A slight refreshment of the Christmas cakes called oxaldres, and sweet wines or home-made liqueurs, was enough to free the house from the imputation of meanness.
The present nacimientos, however, seldom afford amusement to strangers; and, with the exception of singing carols to the sound of the zambomba, little remains of the old festivities. This is general in most parts of Spain at this season, though never used at any other. A slender shoot of reed (arundo donax) is fixed in the centre of a piece of parchment, without perforating the skin, which, softened by moisture, is tied like a drumhead round the mouth of a large earthern jar. The parchment when dry acquires a great tension, and the reed being slightly covered with wax, allows the clenched hand to glide up and down, producing a deep hollow sound of the same kind as that which proceeds from the tambourine when rubbed with the middle finger.
In answer to Junius, concerning the origin of the expression " Hagman Heigh," as I do not know of any book that gives any account of it, I shall take the liberty of giving you what I believe to be the true meaning of it.
The month of December used formerly to be called alia unun, or sacred month, by the monks and friars ; who used on the last day of the year to go about begging, reciting a kind of carol, at the close of every verse of which they introduced the expression of alia unun, alluding to the birth of our Saviour. In some parts of Scotland, and in the North of England, till very lately, it was customary for everybody to make and receive presents amongst their friends on the eve of the new year, which present was called an Hagmenay, and is no other than a corruption of the alia unun.
As a further explanation of Hagmenai, p. 499, you may add, that in Scotland, till very lately (if not in the present time), there was a custom of distributing sweet cakes, and a particular kind of sugared bread, for several days before and after the new year; and on the last night of the old year (peculiarly called Hagmenai) the visitors and company made a point of not "separating till after the clock struck twelve, when they rose, and, mutually kissing each other, wished each other a happy new year. Children and others, for several nights, went about from house to house as guisarts, that is, disguised, or in masquerade dresses, singing;
" Rise up, good wife, and be no' swier (lazy), To deal your bread as long's you're here ; The time will come when you'll be dead, And neither want nor meal nor bread."
Some of those masquerades had a fiddle, and, when admitted into a house, entertained the company with a dramatic dialogue, partly extempore.