Christmas Day – The Chambers Book of Days

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The festival of Christmas is regarded as the greatest celebration throughout the ecclesiastical year, and so important and joyous a solemnity is it deemed, that a special exception is made in its favour, whereby, in the event of the anniversary falling on a Friday, that day of the week, under all other circumstances a fast, is transformed to a festival.

That the birth of Jesus Christ, the deliverer of the human race, and the mysterious link connecting the transcendent and incomprehensible attributes of Deity with human sympathies and affections, should be considered as the most glorious event that ever happened, and the most worthy of being reverently and joyously commemorated, is a pro-position which must commend itself to the heart and reason of every one of His followers, who aspires to walk in His footsteps, and share in the ineffable benefits which His death has secured to mankind. And so though at one period denounced by the Puritans as superstitious, and to the present day disregarded by Calvinistic Protestants, as unwarranted by Scripture, there are few who will seriously dispute the propriety of observing the anniversary of Christ’s birth by a religious service.

A question, however, which has been long and eagerly agitated, is here brought forward. Is the 25th of December really the day on which our Saviour first shewed himself in human form in the manger at Bethlehem? The evidence which we possess regarding the date is not only traditional, but likewise conflicting and confused. In the earliest periods at which we have any record of the observance of Christmas, we find that some communities of Christians celebrated the festival on the 1st or 6th of January; others on the 29th of March, the time of the Jewish Passover; while others, it is said, observed it on the 29th of September, or Feast of Tabernacles. There can be no doubt, however, that long before the reign of Constantine, in the fourth century, the season of the New Year had been adopted as the period for celebrating the Nativity, though a difference in this respect existed in the practice of the Eastern and Western Churches, the former observing the 6th of January, and the latter the 25th of December. The custom of the Western Church at last prevailed, and both of the ecclesiastical bodies agreed to hold the anniversary on the same day. The fixing of the date appears to have been the act of Julius I, who presided as pope or bishop of Rome, from 337 to 352 A.D. The circumstance is doubted by Mosheim, but is confirmed by St. Chrysostom, who died in the beginning of the fifth century.

This celebrated father of the church informs us, in one of his epistles, that Julius, on the solicitation of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, caused strict inquiries to be made on the subject, and thereafter, following what seemed to be the best authenticated tradition, settled authoritatively the 25th of December as the anniversary of Christ’s birth, the ‘Festorum omnium metropolis,’ as it is styled by Chrysostom. It is true, indeed, that some have represented this fixing of the day to have been accomplished by St. Telesphorus, who was bishop of Rome 128–139 A. D., but the authority for the assertion is very doubtful. Towards the close of the second century, we find a notice of the observance of Christmas in the reign of the Emperor Commodus; and about a hundred years afterwards, in the time of Dioclesiaun an atrocious act of cruelty is recorded of the last named emperor, who caused a church in Nicomedia, where the Christians were celebrating the Nativity, to be set on fire, and by barring every means of egress from the building, made all the worshippers perish in the flames. Since the, end of the fourth century at least, the 25th of December has been uniformly observed as the anniversary of the Nativity by all the nations of Christendom.

Thus far for ancient usage, but it will be readily comprehended that insurmountable difficulties yet exist with respect to the real date of the momentous event under notice. Sir Isaac Newton, indeed, remarks in his Commentary on the Prophecies of Daniel, that the feast of the Nativity, and most of the other ecclesiastical anniversaries, were originally fixed at cardinal points of the year, without any reference to the dates of the incidents which they commemorated, dates which, by the lapse of time, had become impossible to be ascertained. Thus the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary was placed on the 25th of March, or about the time of the vernal equinox; the feast of St. Michael on the 29th of September, or near the autumnal equinox; and the birth of Christ and other festivals at the time of the winter-solstice. Many of the apostles ‘days—such as St. Paul, St. Matthias, and others—were determined by the days when the sun entered the respective signs of the ecliptic, and the pagan festivals had also a considerable share in the adjustment of the Christian year.

To this last we shall shortly have occasion to advert more particularly, but at present we shall content ourselves by remarking that the views of the great astronomer just indicated, present at least a specious explanation of the original construction of the ecclesiastical calendar. As regards the observance of Easter indeed, and its accessory celebrations, there is good ground for maintaining that they mark tolerably accurately the anniversaries of the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord, seeing that we know that the events themselves took place at the period of the Jewish Passover. But no such precision of date can be adduced as regards Christmas, respecting which the generally received view now is, that it does not correspond with the actual date of the nativity of our Saviour. One objection, in particular, has been made, that the incident recorded in Scripture, of shepherds keeping watch by night on the plains of Bethlehem, could not have taken place in the month of December, a period generally of great inclemency in the region of Judea.

Though Christian nations have thus, from an early period in the history of the church, celebrated Christmas about the period of the winter-solstice or the shortest day, it is well known that many, and, indeed, the greater number of the popular festive observances by which it is characterized, are referable to a much more ancient origin. Amid all the pagan nations of antiquity, there seems to have been a universal tendency to worship the sun as the giver of life and light, and the visible manifestation of the Deity. Various as were the names bestowed by different peoples on this object of their worship, he was still the same divinity. Thus, at Rome, he appears to have been worshipped under one of the characters attributed to Saturn, the father of the gods; among the Scandinavian nations he was known under the epithet of Odin or Woden, the father of Thor, who seems after-wards to have shared with his parent the adoration bestowed on the latter, as the divinity of which the ‘sun was the visible manifestation; whilst with the ancient Persians, the appellation for the god of lights was Mithras, apparently the same as the Irish Mithr, and with the Phoenicians or Carthaginians it was Baal or Bel, an epithet familiar to all students of the Bible.

Concurring thus as regards the object of worship, there was a no less remarkable uniformity in the period of the year at which these different nations celebrated a grand festival in his honour. The time chosen appears to have been universally the season of the New Year, or, rather, the winter-solstice, from which the new year was frequently reckoned. This unanimity in the celebration of the festival in question, is to be ascribed to the general feeling of joy which all of us experience when the gradual shortening of the day reaches its utmost limit on the 21st of December, and the sun, recommencing his upward course, announces that mid-winter is past, and spring and summer are approaching. On similar grounds, and with similar demonstrations, the ancient pagan nations observed a festival at mid-summer, or the summer-solstice, when the sun arrives at the culminating point of his ascent on the 21st of June, or longest day.

By the Romans, this anniversary was celebrated under the title of Saturnalia, or the festival of Saturn, and was marked by the prevalence of a universal license and merry-making. The slaves were permitted to enjoy for a time a thorough freedom in speech and behavior, and it is even said that their masters waited on them as servants. Every one feasted and rejoiced, work and business were for a season entirely suspended, the houses were decked with laurels and evergreens, presents were made by parents and friends, and all sorts of games and amusements were indulged. in by the citizens. In the bleak north, the same rejoicings had place, but in a ruder and more barbarous form. Fires were extensively kindled, both in and out of doors, blocks of wood blazed in honour of Odin and Thor, the sacred mistletoe was gathered by the Druids, and sacrifices, both of men and cattle, were made to the savage divinities. Fires are said, also, to have been kindled at this period of the year by the ancient Persians, between whom and the Druids of Western Europe a relationship is supposed to have existed.

In the early ages of Christianity, its’ ministers frequently experienced the utmost difficulty in inducing the converts to refrain from indulging in the popular amusements which were so largely participated in by their pagan countrymen. Among others, the revelry and license which characterized the Saturnalia called for special animadversion. But at last, convinced partly of the inefficacy of such denunciations, and partly influenced by the idea that the spread of Christianity might thereby be advanced, the church endeavored to amalgamate, as it were, the old and new religious, and sought, by transferring the heathen ceremonies to the solemnities of the Christian festivals, to make them subservient to the cause of religion and piety. A compromise was thus effected between clergy and laity, though it must be admitted that it proved anything but a harmonious one, as we find a constant, though ineffectual, proscription by the ecclesiastical authorities of the favorite amusements of the people, including among others the sports and revelries at Christmas.

Ingrafted thus on the Romani Saturnalia, the Christmas festivities received in Britain further changes and modifications, by having superadded to them, first, the Druidical rites and superstitions, and then, after the arrival of the Saxons, the various ceremonies practiced by the ancient Germans and Scandinavians. The result has been the strange medley of Christian and pagan rites which contribute to make up the festivities of the modern Christmas. Of these, the burning of the Yule log, and the superstitions connected with the mistletoe have already been described under Christmas Eve, and further accounts are given under separate heads, both under the 24th and 25th of December.

The name given by the ancient Goths and. Saxons to the festival of the winter-solstice was Jul or Yule, the latter term forming, to the present day, the designation in the Scottish dialect of Christmas, and preserved also in the phrase of the ‘Yule log.’ Perhaps the etymology of no term has excited greater discussion among antiquaries. Some maintain it to be derived from the Greek, συλσι, or, ισυλσς, the name of a hymn in honor of Ceres; others say it comes from the Latin jubilum, signifying a time of rejoicing, or from its being a festival in honour of Julius Caesar; whilst some also explain its meaning as synonymous with ol or oel, which in the ancient Gothic language denotes a feast, and also the favorite liquor used on such occasion, whence our word ale. But a much more probable derivation of the term in question is from the Gothic giul or hiul, the origin of the modem word wheel, and bearing the same signification. According to this very probable explanation, the Yule festival received its name from its being the turning-point of the year, or the period at which the fiery orb of day made a revolution in his annual circuit, and entered on his northern journey. A confirmation of this view is afforded by the circumstance that in the old clog almanacs, a wheel is the device employed for marking the season of Yule-tide.

Throughout the middle ages, and down to the period of the Reformation, the festival of Christmas, ingrafted on the pagan rites of Yule, continued throughout Christendom to be universally celebrated with every mark of rejoicing. On the adoption of a new system of faith by most of the northern nations of Europe in the sixteenth century, the Lutheran and Anglican churches retained the celebration of Christmas and other festivals, which Calvinists rejected absolutely, denouncing the observance of all such days, except Sunday, as superstitious and unscriptural. In reference to the superstition anciently prevalent in Scotland against spinning on Christmas or Yule day, and the determination of the Calvinistic clergy to put down all such notions, the following amusing passage is quoted by Dr. Jamieson from Jhone Hamilton’s Facile Traictise:

‘The ministers of Scotland—in contempt of the vther halie dayes obseruit be England—cause their wyfis and seruants spin in oppin sicht of the people upon Yeul day; and their affectionnate auditeurs constraines their tennants to yok thair pleuchs on Yeul day in contempt of Christ’s Natiuitie, whilk our Lord has not left vnpunisit: for thair oxin ran wod [mad], and brak their nekis, and leamit [lamed] sum pleugh men, as is notoriously knawin in sindrie partes of Scotland.’

In consequence of the Presbyterian form of church-government, as constituted by John Knox and his coadjutors on the model of the ecclesiastical polity of Calvin, having taken such firm root in Scotland, the festival of Christmas, with other commemorative celebrations retained from the Romish calendar by the Anglicans and Lutherans, is comparatively unknown in that country, at least in the Lowlands. The tendency to mirth and jollity at the close of the year, which seems almost inherent in human nature, has, in North Britain, been, for the most part, transferred from Christmas and Christmas Eve to New-year’s Day and the preceding evening, known by the appellation of Hogmenay. In many parts of the Highlands of Scotland, however, and also in the county of Forfar, and one or two other districts, the day for the great annual merry-making is Christmas.

From a curious old song preserved in the Harleian Manuscripts in the British Museum, we learn that it was considered peculiarly lucky when Christmas-day fell on a Sunday, and the reverse when it occurred on a Saturday. The intermediate days are, for the most part, characterized by a happy uniformity of propitious augury. The versification is of the rudest and most rugged description, but as an interesting specimen of medieval folk-lore, we subjoin the stanzas relating to Sunday and Saturday:

Lordinges, I warne you al beforne,
Yef that day that Cryste was borne,
Falle uppon a Sunday;
That wynter shall be good par fay,
But grete wyndes alofte shalbe,
The somer shall be fayre and drye;
By kynde skylle, wythowtyn lesse,
Throw all londes shalbe peas,
And good tyme all thyngs to don,
But he that stelyth he shalbe fownde sone;
Whate chylde that day borne be,
A great lord he shalbe.

If Crystmas on the Saterday falle,
That wynter ys to be dredden alle,
Hyt shalbe so fulle of grete tempeste
That hyt shall sle bothe man and beste,
Frute and corn shal fayle grete won,
And olde folke dyen many on;

Whate woman that day of chylde travayle
They shalbe borne in grete perelle
And chyldren that be borne that day,
Within half a yere they shall dye par fay,
The summer then shall wete ryghte ylle:
If thou awght stele, hyt shel the spylle;
Thou dyest, yf sekenes take the.’

Somewhat akin to the notions above inculcated, is the belief in Devonshire that if the sun shines bright at noon on Christmas-day, a plentiful crop of apples may be expected in the following year.

From the Diary of that rare old gossip, Mr. Pepys, we extract the following entries relative to three Christmas-days of two hundred years ago:

‘Christmas-day (1662).—Had a pleasant walk to Whitehall, 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 Eighth’s Voyage to Bullaen; marking the great difference between those built then and now. By and by, down to the chapel again, where Bishop Morley preached on the song of the angels, “Glory to God on high, on earth peace and good-will towards men.” Bethought 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 those days. Particularised concerning their excess in plays and gaming, saying that he whose device it is to keep the gamesters in order and within bounds, serves but for a second rather in a duel, meaning the groomer 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 groat to the poor himself. The sermon done, a good anthem followed with vials, and the king came down to receive the sacrament.

‘Christmas-day (1668).—To church in the morning, and there saw a wedding in the church, which I have not seen many a day; and the young people so merry one with another, and strange to see what delight we married people have to see these poor fools decoyed into our condition, every man and woman gazing and smiling at them.

‘Christmas-day (1668).—To dinner alone with any wife, who, poor wretch ! sat undressed all day till ten at night, altering and lacing of a noble petticoat; while I by her making the boy read to me the Life of Julius Ceasar, and Des Cartes’s book of Music.’

The geniality and joyousness of the Christmas season in England, has long been a national characteristic. The following poem or carol, by George Wither, who belongs to the first-half of the seventeenth century, describes with hilarious animation the mode of keeping Christmas in the poet’s day:


‘So now is come our joyful feast;
Let every man be jolly;
Each room with ivy leaves is drest,
And every post with holly.
Though some churls at our mirth repine,
Round your foreheads garlands twine;
Drown sorrow in a cup of wine,
And let us all be merry.

Now all our neighbours’ chimneys smoke,
And Christmas blocks are burning;
Their ovens they with baked meat choke,
And all their spits are turning.
Without the door let sorrow lye;
And if for cold it hap to die,
We’ll bury’t in a Christmas-pie,
And evermore be merry.

Now every lad is wond’rous trim,
And no man minds his labour;
Our lasses have provided them
A bagpipe and a tabor;
Young men and maids, and girls and boys,
Give life to one another’s joys;
And you anon shall by their noise
Perceive that they are merry.

Rank misers now do sparing shun;
Their hall of music soundeth;
And dogs thence with whole shoulders run,
So all things then aboundeth.
The country-folks, themselves advance,
With crowdy-muttons out of France;
And Jack shall pipe and Jyll shall dance,
And all the town be merry.

Ned Squash hath fetcht his bands from pawn,
And all his best apparel
Brisk Nell hath bought a ruff of lawn
With dropping of the barrel.
And those that hardly all the year
Had bread to eat, or rags to wear,
Will have both clothes and dainty fare,
And all the day be merry.

Now poor men to the justices
With capons make their errants;
And if they hap to fail of these,
They plague them with their warrants:
But now they feed them with good cheer,
And what they want, they take in beer,
For Christmas comes but once a year,
And then they shall be merry.

Good farmers in the country nurse
The poor, that else were undone;
Some landlords spend their money worse,
On lust and pride at London.
There the roysters they do play,
Drab and dice their lands away,
Which may be ours another day,
And therefore let’s be merry.

The client now his suit forbears;
The prisoner’s heart is eased;
The debtor drinks away his cares,
And for the time is pleased.
Though others’ purses be more fat,
Why should we pine or grieve at that?
Hang sorrow! care will kill a cat,
And therefore let’s be merry.

Hark! now the wags abroad do call,
Each other forth to rambling;
non you’ll see them in the hall,
For nuts and apples scrambling.
Hark! how the roofs with laughter sound,
Anon they’ll think the house goes round,
For they the cellar’s depth have found,
And there they will be merry.

The wenches with their wassel-bowls
About the streets are singing;
The boys are come to catch the owls,
The wild mare in it bringing,
our kitchen-boy hath broke his box,
And to the dealing of the ox,
Our honest neighbors come by flocks,
And here they will be merry.

Now kings and queens poor sheepcotes have,
And mate with every body;
The honest now may play the knave,
And wise men play the noddy.
Some youths will now a mumming go,
Some others play at Rowland-ho,
And twenty other game boys mo,
Because they will be merry.

Then, wherefore in these merry daies,
Should we, I pray, be duller?
No, let us sing some roundelayes,
To make our mirth the fuller.
And, while thus inspired we sing,
Let all the streets with echoes ring;
Woods and hills and every thing,
Bear witness we are merry.’

At present, Christmas-day, if somewhat shorn of its ancient glories, and unmarked by that boisterous jollity and exuberance of animal spirits which distinguished it in the time of our ancestors, is, nevertheless, still the holiday in which of all others throughout the year, all classes of English society most generally participate. Partaking of a religious character, the forenoon of the day is usually passed in church, and in the evening the re-united members of the family assemble round the joyous Christmas-board. Separated as many of these are during the rest of the year, they all make an effort to meet together round the Christmas-hearth. The hallowed feelings of domestic love and attachment, the pleasing remembrance of the past, and the joyous anticipation of the future, all cluster round these family-gatherings, and in the sacred associations with which they are intertwined, and the active deeds of kindness and benevolence which they tend to call forth, a realization may almost be found of the angelic message to the shepherds of Bethlehem—’Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will toward men.’

Christmas Carols

Amid so many popular customs at Christmas, full of so much sweet and simple poetry, there is perhaps none more charming than that of the Christmas carols, which celebrate in joyous and yet devout strains the Nativity of the Saviour. The term is believed to be derived from the Latin cantare (to sing), and rola! an interjection expressive of joy. The practice appears to be as ancient as the celebration of Christmas itself, and we are informed that in the early ages of the church, the bishops were accustomed to sing carols on Christmas-day among their clergy. The quaint and inestimable Jeremy Taylor, referring in his Great Exemplar to the Gloria in Excelsis, or hymn sung by the angels on the plains of Bethlehem, says:

‘As soon as these blessed choristers had sung their Christmas Carol, and taught the Church a hymn to put into her offices for ever in the anniversary of this festivity, the angels returned into heaven.’

Milton also, in the twelfth book of Paradise Lost, thus alludes to what may be regarded as the first Christmas carol:

‘His place of birth a solemn angel tells
To simple shepherds, keeping watch by night;
They gladly thither haste, and by a quire
Of squadron’d angels hear his carol sung.’

In process of time, these Christmas hymns became very much secularized, and latterly, were frequently nothing more than festal chants, sung during the revelries of the Christmas season. The earliest specimen which we possess of the medieval carol, belongs to this class, and is preserved in a manuscript in the British Museum. It is composed in Norman-French, and belongs to the thirteenth century. The same convivial quality characterises a ‘sett of carols,’ the earliest printed edition of these Christmas chants, published by Wynkyn de Worde in 1821. The ‘Boar’s Head‘ song, quoted in a subsequent article, occurs with others of a similar class in the collection referred to.

Children's Carol on Christmas Morning
Children’s Carol on Christmas Morning

As with the generality of our popular ballads, we find the earlier specimens of Christmas carols often extremely rugged and unadorned in point of composition, and perceive them gradually assume a more polished and harmonious form with the progress of education and refinement. This improvement is chiefly to be remarked after the commencement of the sixteenth century.

The following carol, belonging to that period, is frequently sung on Christmas-morning by children, as represented in the accompanying engraving.


‘When Christ was born of Mary free,
In Bethelem, in that fair citie,
Angels sang there with mirth and glee,
In Excelsis Gloria.

This King is come to save mankind,
As in scripture truths we find,
Therefore this song have we in mind,
In Excelsis Gloria,

Then, Lord, for Thy great grace,
Grant us the bliss to see thy face,
Where we may sing to Thy solace,
In Excelsis Gloria.’

Herdsmen beheld these angels bright,
o them appearing with great light,
Who said: “God’s Son is horn this night,”
In Excelsis Gloria.

In his History of English Poetry, Warton notices a license, granted in 1862, to John Tysdale for printing ‘Certayne goodly Carowles to be songe to the glory of God;’ and again ‘Crestenmas Carowles auctorisshed by my lord of London.‘ This may be regarded as a specimen of the endeavors made at the time of the Reformation, to supplant the old popular carols, by compositions of a more devout and less popish character, and in Scotland we find instances of the same policy in the famous Gude and Godly Ballates, and Ane compendious Book of godly and spirituall Sangs; the latter printed at Edinburgh in 1621. The Puritans, indeed, denounced not only the singing of Christmas carols, but the observance of the festival of Christmas itself, as pernicious and unscriptural, and to their influence has been ascribed much of the seriousness characterizing this department of popular poetry in later times.

It will be recollected that Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield, describing the unsophisticated character of his parishioners, says: ‘They kept up the Christmas carol.’ Such a composition as the following might have been sung by these simple swains. It is one of the most popular of the class of chants under notice.

‘God rest you merry, gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
For Jesus Christ our Saviour
Was born upon this day,
To save us all from Satan’s power,
When we were gone astray.
O tidings of comfort and joy!
For Jesus Christ our Saviour
Was born on Christmas-day.

In Bethlehem, in Jewry,
This blessed babe was born,
And laid within a manger
Upon this blessed morn;
The which his mother Mary
Nothing did take in scorn.
O tidings, &c.

From God our Heavenly Father,
A blessed angel came,
And unto certain shepherds,
Brought tidings of the same,
How that in Bethlehem was born,
The Son of God by name.
O tidings, &c.

Fear not, then said the angel,
Let nothing you affright,
his day is born a Saviour
Of virtue, power, and might;
So frequently to vanquish all,
The friends of Satan quite.
O tidings, &c.

The shepherds at those tidings,
Rejoiced much in mind,
And left their flocks a-feeding
In tempest, storm, and wind,
And went to Bethlehem straightway,
This blessed babe to find.
O tidings, &c.

But when to Bethlehem they came,
Whereas this infant lay,
They found Him in a manger,
Where oxen feed on hay,
His mother Mary kneeling,
Unto the Lord did pray.
O tidings, &c.

Now to the Lord sing praises,
All you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood,
Each other now embrace;
This holy tide of Christmas
All others doth deface.
O tidings, &c.’

Another of these carols is presented to the reader. Without laying claim to literary merit of an exalted order, it has all that simplicity and melodiousness which render ballad-poetry so charming:

‘I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas-day, on Christmas-day;
I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas-day in the morning.

And what was in those ships all three,
On Christmas-day, on Christmas-day?
And what was in those ships all three,
On Christmas-day in the morning?

Our Saviour Christ and his Lady,
On Christmas-day, on Christmas-day:
Our Saviour Christ and his Lady,
On Christmas-day in the morning.

Pray whither sailed those ships all three,
On Christmas-day, on Christmas-day?
Pray whither sailed those ships all three,
On Christmas-day in the morning?

On they sailed into Bethlehem,
On Christmas-day, on Christmas-day;
On they sailed into Bethlehem,
On Christmas-day in the morning.

And all the bells on earth shall ring,
On Christmas-day, on Christmas-day;
And all the bells on earth shall ring,
On Christmas-day in the morning.

And all the angels in heaven shall sing,
On Christmas-day, on Christmas-day;
And all the angels in heaven shall sing,
On Christmas-day in the morning.

And all the souls on earth shall sing,
On Christmas-day, on Christmas-day,
And all the souls on earth shall sing,
On Christmas-day in the morning.

Then let us all rejoice amain,
On Christmas-day, on Christmas-day;
Then let us all rejoice amain,
On Christmas-day in the morning.’

The next carol, which we proceed to quote, is of a very different character, being one of those doggerel rhymes sung by children, when they go on a gooding excursion on Christmas-morning. An explanation of the term in italics has been already given in our notice of St. Thomas’s Day, to which such expeditions are more strictly appropriate. The carol, as subjoined, is sung on Christmas-morning by children in Yorkshire, who bear along with them, on the occasion, a Christmas-tree as a badge of their mission. The scene is also pictorially delineated on the following page. (Image Below)

‘Well-a-day! well-a-day!
Christmas too soon goes away,
Then your gooding we do pray,
For the good time will not stay
We are not beggars from door to door,
But neighbours’ children known before,
So gooding pray,
We cannot stay,
But must away,
For the Christmas will not stay,
Well-a-day! well-a-day.’

Christmas-morning carol by children in Yorkshire
Christmas-morning carol by children in Yorkshire

Christmas carols are sung on Christmas Eve as well as on the morning of Christmas-day, and indeed the former is regarded by many as the more appropriate occasion. Then the choristers, attached to the village-church, make their rounds to the principal houses throughout the parish, and sing some of those simple and touching hymns. The airs to which they are sung are frequently no less plaintive and melodious than the words, and, are often accompanied by instruments. The writer retains a vivid recollection of a carol which he heard sung, some years ago, on Christmas Eve by a detachment of the village choir, in front of a country-house in Devonshire, where he was at the time a visitor.

The sweet and pathetic melody, which was both remarkably well sung and played, the picturesqueness of the group of singers, whose persons were only rendered visible, in the darkness of the night, by the  light of one or two lanterns which they carried, and the novelty and general interest of the scene, all produced an impression which was never to be forgotten. These Christmas-eve carols are very general in Devonshire, and the usual custom for the singers is to club the money; which they receive on such occasions, and expend it in a social merry-making on Twelfth Day, a fortnight afterwards.

One or two poets of note have essayed carol-writing, among whom may be mentioned Bishop Hall and Robert Herrick, both belonging to the earlier half of the seventeenth century. And here, though we have already quoted so largely, we cannot refrain from introducing the following singularly beautiful effusion of Herrick, forming the first part of a poem, entitled the Star Song, written as a hymn for the Epiphany, but of which the first three stanzas, as here presented, are fully as applicable to Christmas. It glows with an imagery truly oriental:

A flourish of music: then follows the Song.

Tell us, thou clear and heavenly tongue,
Where is the Babe that lately sprung?
Lies he the lily-banks among

Or say, if this new Birth of ours
Sleeps, laid within some ark of flowers,
Spangled with dew-light; thou canst clear
All doubts, and manifest the where.

Declare to us, bright star, if we shall seek
Him in the morning’s blushing cheek,
Or search the beds of spices through,
To find him out?’

These charming verses are introduced in a very beautiful Book of Christmas Carols, published in 1846, adorned with splendid illuminations from manuscripts preserved in the British Museum. The typography of the lyric in question is literally bedded among a most lovely and characteristic group of fruits and flowers.

We find scarcely any traces of the singing of Christmas carols in Scotland, though from time immemorial it has been so universally prevalent, not only in England, but in France, Italy, and other countries of the continent. In England, at one time, it was customary on Christmas-day, more especially at the afternoon-service, to sing carols in churches, instead of the regular psalms and hymns. We are, moreover, informed that at the end of the service it was the usage on such occasions for the clerk in a loud voice to wish all the congregation A Merry Christmas and a Happy New-Year.

The Three Magi

In connection with the birth of the Saviour, and as a pendant to the notice under Twelfth Day, or the Epiphany of the observances commemorative of the visit of the Wise Men of the East to Bethlehem, we shall here introduce some further particulars of the ideas current in medieval times on the subject of these celebrated personages.

The legend of the Wise Men of the East, or, as they are styled in the original Greek of St. Matthew’s gospel, Μλσι (the Magi), who visited the infant Savor with precious offerings, became, under monkish influence, one of the most popular during the middle ages, and was told with increased and elaborated perspicuity as time advanced.

The Scripture nowhere informs us that; these individuals were kings, or their number restricted to three. The legend converts the Magi into kings, gives their names, and a minute account of their stature and the nature of their gifts. Melchior (we are thus told) was king of Nubia, the smallest man of the triad, and he gave the Savior a gift of gold. Balthazar was king of Chaldea, and he offered incense; he was a man of ordinary stature. But the third, Jasper, king of Tarshish, was of high stature, ‘a black Ethiope,’ and he gave myrrh. All came with ‘many rich ornaments belonging to king’s array, and also with mules, camels, and horses loaded with great treasure, and with multitude of people, ‘to do homage to the Saviour, ‘then a little childe of xiii dayes olde.’

The offering of the Magi
The offering of the Magi

The barbaric pomp involved in this legend made it a favourite with artists during the middle ages. Our engraving is a copy from a circular plate of silver, chased in high-relief, and partly gilt, which is supposed to have formed the centre of a morse, or large brooch, used to fasten the decorated cope of an ecclesiastic in the latter part of the fourteenth century. The subject has been frequently depicted by the artists subsequent to this period. Van Eyck, Durer, and the German schools were particularly fond of the theme—the latest and most striking work being that by Rubens, who reveled in such pompous displays. The artists of the Low Countries were, probably, also biased by the fact, that the cathedral of Cologne held the shrine in which the bodies of the Magi were said to be deposited, and to which the faithful made many pilgrimages, greatly to the emolument of the city, a result which induced the worthy burghers to distinguish their shield of arms by three crowns only, and to designate the Magi as ‘the three kings of Cologne.’

It was to the Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, that the religious world was indebted for the discovery of the place of burial of these kings in the far east. She removed their bodies to Constantinople, where they remained in the church of St. Sophia, until the reign of the Emperor Emanuel, who allowed Eustorgius, bishop of Milan, to transfer them to his cathedral. In 1164, when the Emperor Frederick conquered Milan, he gave these treasured relics to Raynuldus, archbishop of Cologne, who removed them to the latter city.

His successor, Philip von Heinsberg, placed them in a magnificent reliquary, enriched with gems and enamels, still remaining in its marble shrine in the cathedral, one of the chief wonders of the noble pile, and the principal ‘sight’ in Cologne. A heavy fee is exacted for opening the doors of the chapel, which is then lighted with lamps, producing a dazzling effect on the mass of gilded and jeweled sculpture, in the centre of which may be seen the three skulls, reputed to be those of the Magi. These relics are enveloped in velvet, and decorated with embroidery and jewels, so that the upper part of each skull only is seen, and the hollow eyes which, as the faithful believe, once rested on the Savior.

The popular belief in the great power of intercession and protection possessed by the Magi, as departed saints, was widely spread in the middle ages. Any article that had touched these skulls was believed to have the power of preventing accidents to the bearer while traveling, as well as to counteract sorcery, and guard against sudden death. Their names were also used as a charm, and were inscribed upon girdles, garters, and finger- rings. We engrave two specimens of such rings, both works of the fourteenth century. The upper one is of silver, with the names of the Magi engraved upon it; the lower one is of lead simply cast in a mould, and sold cheap for the use of the commonalty. They were regarded as particularly efficacious in the case of cramp. Traces of this superstition still linger in the curative properties popularly ascribed to certain rings.

Bishop Patrick, in his Reflections on the Devotions of the Roman Church, 1674, asks with assumed naivete how these names of the three Wise Men—Melchior, Balthazar, and Jasper—are to be of service, ‘when another tradition says they were Apellius, Amerus, and Damascus; a third, that they were Megalath, Galgalath, and Sarasin; and a fourth calls them Ator, Sator, and Peratoras; which last I should choose (in this uncertainty) as having the more kingly sound.’

CHRISTMAS CHARITIES

We have already, in commenting on Christmas-day and its observances, remarked on the hallowed feelings of affection and good-will which are generally called forth at the celebration of this anniversary. Quarrels are composed and forgotten, old friendships are renewed and confirmed, and a universal spirit of charity and forgiveness evoked. Nor is this charity merely confined to acts of kindness and generosity among equals; the poor and destitute experience the bounty of their richer neighbors, and are enabled like them to enjoy themselves at the Christmas season. From the Queen downwards, all classes of society contribute their mites to relieve the necessities and increase the comforts of the poor, both as regards food and raiment. Even in the work-houses–those abodes of
short-commons and little ease—the authorities, for once in the year, become liberal in their housekeeping, and treat the inmates on Christmas-day to a substantial dinner of roast-beef and plum-pudding.

It is quite enlivening to read the account in the daily papers, a morning or two afterwards, of the fare with which the inhabitants of the various work-houses in London and elsewhere were regaled on Christmas-day, a detailed chronicle being furnished both of the quality of the treat and the quantity supplied to each individual. Beggars, too, have a claim on our charity at this season, mange all maxims of political economy, and must not be turned from our doors unrelieved. They may, at least, have their dole of bread and meat; and to whatever bad uses they may possibly turn our bounty, it is not probable that the deed will ever be entered to our discredit in the books of the Recording Angel. Apropos of these sentiments, we introduce the following monitory lines by a well-known author and artist:

SCATTER YOUR CRUMBS
BY ALFRED CROWQUILL

Amidst the freezing sleet and snow,
The timid robin comes;
In pity drive him not away,
But scatter out your crumbs.

And leave your door upon the latch
For whosoever comes;
The poorer they, more welcome give,
And scatter out your crumbs.

All have to spare, none are too poor,
When want with winter comes;
The loaf is never all your own,
Then scatter out the crumbs.

Soon winter falls upon your life,
The day of reckoning comes:
Against your sins, by high decree,
Are weighed those scattered crumbs.

In olden times, it was customary to extend the charities of Christmas and the New Year to the lower animals. Burns refers to this practice in ‘The Auld Farmer’s Address to his Mare,’ when presenting her on New-Year’s morning with an extra feed of corn:

A guid New-year, I wish thee, Maggie!
Hae, there’s a ripp to thy auld baggie!’

The great-grandfather of the writer small proprietor in the Carse of Falkirk, in. Scotland, and an Episcopalian—used regularly himself, every Christmas-morning, to carry a special supply of fodder to each individual animal in his stable and cow-house. The old gentleman was wont to say, that this was a morning, of all others in the year, when man and beast ought alike to have occasion to rejoice.

CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS

The decking of churches, houses, and shops with evergreens at Christmas, springs from a period far anterior to the revelation of Christianity, and seems proximately to be derived from the custom prevalent during the Saturnalia of the inhabitants of Rome ornamenting their temples and dwellings with green boughs. From this latter circumstance, we find several early ecclesiastical councils prohibiting the members of the church to imitate the pagans in thus ornamenting their houses. But in process of time, the pagan custom was like others of a similar origin, introduced into and incorporated with the ceremonies of the church itself. The sanction of our Saviour likewise came to be pleaded for the practice, he having entered Jerusalem in triumph amid the shouts of the people, who strewed palm-branches in his way.

It is evident that the use of flowers and green boughs as a means of decoration, is almost instinctive in human nature; and we accordingly find scarcely any nation, civilized or savage, with which it has not become more or less familiar. The Jews employed it in their Feast of Tabernacles, in the month of September; the ancient Druids and other Celtic nations hung up the mistletoe and green branches of different kinds over their doors, to propitiate the woodland sprites; and a similar usage prevailed, as we have seen, in Rome. In short, the feeling thus so universally exhibited, is one of natural religion, and therefore not to be traced exclusively to any particular creed or form of worship.

Stow, that invaluable chronicler, informs us in his Survey of London, that:

‘against the feast of Christmas every man’s house, as also their parish churches, were decked with holme [the evergreen oak], ivy, bayes, and whatsoever the season of the year afforded to be green. The conduits and standards in the streets were likewise garnished: among the which I read, that in the year 1444, by tempest of thunder and lightning, towards the morning of Candlemas-day, at the Leadenhall, in Cornhill a standard of tree, being set up in the midst of the pavement, fast in the ground, nailed full of holme and ivie, for disport of Christmass to the people, was tome up and cast downe by the malignant spirit (as was thought), and the stones of the pavement all about were cast in the streets, and into divers houses, so that the people were sore aghast at the great tempest’

The favorite plants for church decoration at Christmas are holly, bay, rosemary, and laurel. Ivy is rather objectionable, from its associations, having anciently been sacred to Bacchus, and employed largely in the orgies celebrated in honour of the god of wine. Cypress, we are informed, has been sometimes used, but its funereal relations render it rather out of place at a festive season like Christmas. One plant, in special, is excluded —the mystic mistletoe, which, from its antecedents, would be regarded as about as inappropriate to the interior of a church, as the celebration of the old Druidical rites within the sacred building. A solitary exception to this universal exclusion, is mentioned by Dr. Stukeley, who says that it was one time customary to carry a branch of mistletoe, in procession to the high-altar of York Cathedral, and thereafter proclaim a general indulgence and pardon of sins at the gates of the city. ‘We cannot help suspecting that this instance recorded by Stukeley, is to be referred to one of the burlesques on the services of the church, which, under the leadership of the Boy-bishop, or the Lord of Misrule, formed so favourite a Christmas-pastime of the populace in bygone times.

A quaint old writer thus spiritualists the practice of Christmas decorations.

‘So our churches and 100 houses decked with bayes and rosemary, holly and ivy, and other plants which are always green, winter and summer, signify and put us in mind of His Deity, that the child that now was born was God and man, who should spring up like a tender plant, should always be green and flourishing, and live for evermore.’

Festive carols, we are informed, used to be chanted at Christmas in praise of the evergreens, so extensively used at that season. The following is a specimen:

Holly

Here comes holly that is so gent,
To please all men is his intent.
Allelujah!

Whosoever against holly do cry,
In a rope shall be hung full high.
Allelujah!

Whosoever against holly do sing,
He may weep and his hands wring,
Allelnjah!

Ivy

Ivy is soft and meek of speech,
Against all bale she is bliss,
Well is he that may her reach.

Ivy is green, with colours bright,
Of all trees best she is,
And that I prove will now be right.

Ivy beareth berries black,
God grant us all his bliss,
For there shall be nothing lack.’

The decorations remain in the churches from Christmas till the end of January, but in accordance with the ecclesiastical canons, they must all be cleared away before the 2nd of February or Candlemas-day. The same holds good as a custom with regard to private dwellings, superstition in both cases rendering it a fatal presage, if any of these sylvan ornaments are retained beyond the period just indicated. Herrick thus alludes to the popular prejudice.

Down with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bales and mistletoe;
Down with the holly, ivie, all
Wherewith ye drest the Christmas hall;

That so the superstitious find
No one least branch there left behind;
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected there, maids trust to me,
So many goblins you shall see.’

Aubrey informs us that in several parts of Oxford-shire, it was the custom for the maid-servant to ask the man for ivy to decorate the house; and if he refused or neglected to fetch in a supply, the maids stole a pair of his breeches, and nailed them up to the gate in the yard or highway. A similar usage prevailed in other places, when the refusal to comply with such a request incurred the penalty of being debarred from the well-known privileges of the mistletoe.

OLD ENGLISH CHRISTMAS FARE

Christmas boarThe ‘brave days of old’ were, if rude and unrefined, at least distinguished by a hearty and profuse hospitality.

During the Christmas holidays, open-house was kept by the barons and knights, and for a fortnight and upwards, nothing was heard of but revelry and feasting. The grand feast, however, given by the feudal chieftain to his friends and retainers, took place with great pomp and circumstance on Christmas-day.

Among the dishes served up on this important occasion, the boar’s head was first at the feast and foremost on the board. Heralded by a jubilant flourish of trumpets, and accompanied by strains of merry minstrelsy, it was carried—on a dish of gold or silver, no meaner metal would suffice—into the banqueting-hall by the sewer; who, as he advanced at the head of the stately procession of nobles, knights, and ladies, sang:

Caput apri defero,
Reddens Laudes Domino
.
The boar’s head in hand bring I
With garlands gay and rosemary;
I pray you all sing merrily,
Quid estis in convivio.

The boar’s head, I understand,
Is the chief service in this land;
Look wherever it be found,
Service cum cantico.

Be glad, both more and less,
For this hath ordained our steward.,
To cheer you all this Christmas
The boar’s head and mustard!
Caput apri defero,
Reddens laudes Domino.’

The brawner’s head was then placed upon the table with a solemn gravity befitting the dignity of such a noble dish:

‘Sweet rosemary and bays around it spread;
His foaming tusks with some large pippin graced,
Or midst those thundering spears an orange placed,
Sauce, like himself, offensive to its foes,
The roguish mustard, dangerous to the nose.’

The latter condiment was indispensable. An old book of instruction for the proper service of the royal table says emphatically:

‘First set forth mustard with brawn; take your knife in your hand, and cut brawn in the dish as it lieth, and lay on your sovereign’s trencher, and see there be mustard.’

When Christmas, in the time of the Commonwealth, was threatened with extinction by act of parliament, the tallow-chandlers loudly complained that they could find no sale for their mustard, because of the diminished consumption of brawn in the land. Parliament failed to put down Christmas, but the boar’s-head never recovered its old supremacy at the table. Still, its memory was cherished in some nooks and corners of Old England long after it had ceased to rule the roast. The lessee of the tithes of Horn Church, Essex, had, every Christmas, to provide a boar’s-head, which, after being dressed and garnished with bay, was wrestled for in a field adjoining the church. The custom of serving up the ancient dish at Queen’s College, Oxford, to a variation of the old carol, sprung, according to the university legend, from a valorous act on the part of a student of the college in question. While walking in Shot over forest, studying his Aristotle, he was suddenly made aware of the presence of a wild-boar, by the animal rushing at him open-mouthed. With great presence of mind, and the exclamation, ‘Greacum est,’ the collegian thrust the philosopher’s ethics down his assailant’s throat, and having choked the savage with the sage, went on his way rejoicing.

The Lord Jersey of the Walpolian era was a great lover of the quondam Christmas favourite, and also—according to her own account—of Miss Ford, the lady whom Whitehead and Lord Holdernesse thought so admirably adapted for Gray’s friend, Mason, ‘being excellent in singing, loving solitude, and full of immeasurable affectations. ‘Lord Jersey sent Miss Ford a boar’s head, a strange first present, at which the lady laughed, saying she ‘had often had the honour of meeting it at his lordship’s table, and would have ate it had it been eatable! ‘Her noble admirer resented the scornful insinuation, and indignantly replied, that the head in question was not the one the lady had seen so often, but one perfectly fresh and sweet, having been taken out of the pickle that very morning; and not content with defending his head, Lord Jersey revenged himself by denying that his heart had ever been susceptible of the charms of the fair epicure.

Next in importance to the boar’s-head as a Christmas-dish came the peacock. To prepare Argus for the table was a task entailing no little trouble. The skin was first carefully stripped off, with the plumage adhering; the bird was then roasted; when done and partially cooled, it was sewed up again in its feathers, its beak gilt, and so sent to table. Sometimes the whole body was covered with leaf-gold, and a piece of cotton, saturated with spirits, placed in its beak, and lighted before the carver commenced operations. This ‘food for lovers and meat for lords’ was stuffed with spices and sweet herbs, basted with yolk of egg, and served with plenty of gravy; on great occasions, as many as three fat wethers being bruised to make enough for a single peacock.

The noble bird was not served by common hands; that privilege was reserved for the lady-guests most distinguished by birth or beauty. One of them carried it into the dining-hall to the sound of music, the rest of the ladies following in due order. The bearer of the dish set it down before the master of the house or his most honoured guest. After a tournament, the victor in the lists was expected to shew his skill in cutting up inferior animals. On such occasions, however, the bird was usually served in a pie, at one end of which his plumed crest appeared above the crust, while at the other his tail was unfolded in all its glory. Over this splendid dish did the knights-errant swear to undertake any perilous enterprise that came in their way, and succour lovely woman in distress after the most approved chevalier fashion. Hence Justice Shallow derived his oath of ‘By cock and pie!’ The latest instance of peacock-eating we can call to mind, is that of a dinner given to William IV. when Duke of Clarence, by the governor of Grenada; when his royal highness was astonished by the appearance of the many-hued bird, dressed in a manner that would have delighted a medieval de or Sober.

Geese, capons, pheasants drenched with amber-grease, and pies of carps-tongues, helped to furnish the table in bygone Christmases, but there was one national dish—neither flesh, fowl, nor good red herring—which was held indispensable. This was furmante, frumenty or furmety, concocted—according to the most ancient formula extant—in this wise: ‘Take clean wheat, and bray it in a mortar, that the hulls be all gone off, and seethe it till it burst, and take it up and let it cool; and take clean fresh broth, and sweet milk of almonds, or sweet milk of kine, and temper it all; and take the yolks of eggs. Boil it a little, and set it down and mess it forth with fat venison or fresh mutton. ‘Venison was seldom served without this accompaniment, but furmety, sweetened with sugar, was a favorite dish of itself, the ‘clean broth’ being omitted when a lord was to be the partaker.

Mince-pies were popular under the name of ‘mutton-pies,’ so early as 1596, later authorities all agreeing in substituting neats-tongue in the place of mutton, the remaining ingredients being much the same as those recommended in modern recipes. They were also known as shred and Christmas pies:

‘Without the door let sorrow lie,
And if for cold it hap to die,
We’ll bury it in a Christmas-pie,
And evermore be merry!’

In Herrick’s time it was customary to set a watch upon the pies, on the night before Christmas, lest sweet-toothed thieves should lay felonious fingers on them; the jovial vicar sings:

‘Come guard the Christmas-pie,
That the thief, though ne’er so sly,
With his flesh-hooks don’t come nigh,
To catch it,
From him, who all alone sits there,
Having his eyes still in his ear,
And a deal of nightly fear,
To watch it.’

Selden tells us mince-pies were baked in a coffin-shaped crust, intended to represent the cratch or manger in which the Holy Child was laid; but we are inclined to doubt his statement, as we find our old English cookery-books always style the crust of a pie ‘the coffin.’

When a lady asked Dr. Parr on what day it was proper to commence eating mince-pies, he answered, ‘Begin on O. Sapientia (December 16th), but please to say Christmas-pie, not mince-pie; mince-pie is puritanical. ‘The doctor was wrong at least on the last of these points, if not on both. The Christmas festival, it is maintained by many, does not commence before Christmas Eve, and the mince-pie was known before the days of Praise-God Barebones and his strait-laced brethren, for Ben Jonson personifies it under that name in his Masque of Christmas. Likely enough, the name of ‘Christmas-pie’ was obnoxious to puritanical ears, as the enjoying of the dainty itself at that particular season was offensive to puritan taste:

‘All plums the prophet’s sons deny,
And spice-broths are too hot;
Treason’s in a December-pie,
And death within the pot.’

Or, as another rhymster has it:

‘The high-shoe lords of Cromwell’s making
Were not for dainties—roasting, baking;
The chief est food they found most good in,
Was rusty bacon and bag-pudding;
Plum-broth was popish, and mince-pie—
O that was flat idolatry!’

In after-times, the Quakers took up the prejudice, and some church-going folks even thought it was not meet for clergymen to enjoy the delicacy, a notion which called forth the following remonstrance from Bickerstaffe.—’The Christmas-pie is, in its own nature, a kind of consecrated cake, and a badge of distinction; and yet it is often forbidden, the Druid of the family. Strange that a sirloin of beef, whether boiled or roasted, when entire is exposed to the utmost depredations and invasions; but if minced into small pieces, and tossed up with plumbs and sugar, it changes its property, and forsooth is meat for his master.’

Mortifying as Lord Macartney’s great plum-pudding failure may have been to the diplomatist, he might have consoled himself by remembering that plum-porridge was the progenitor of the pride and glory of an English Christmas. In old times, plum-pottage was always served with the first course of a Christmas-dinner. It was made by boiling beef or mutton with broth, thickened with brown bread; when half-boiled, raisins, currants, prunes, cloves, mace and ginger were added, and when the mess had been thoroughly boiled, it was sent to table with the best meats. Sir. Roger de Coverley thought there was some hope of a dissenter, when he saw him enjoy his porridge at the hall on Christmas-day. Plum-broth figures in Poor Robin’s Almanac for 1750, among the items of Christmas fare, and Mrs. Frazer, ‘sole teacher of the art of cookery in Edinburgh, and several years ‘colleague, and afterwards successor to Mrs. M’Iver,’ who published a cookery-book in 1791, thought it necessary to include plum-pottage among her soups. Brand partook of a tureenful of ‘luscious plum-porridge’ at the table of the royal chaplain in 1801, but that is the latest appearance of this once indispensable dish of which we have any record.

As to plum-pudding, we are thoroughly at fault. Rabisha gives a recipe in his Whole Body of Cookery Dissected (1675), for a pudding to be boiled in a basin, which bears a great resemblance to our modern Christmas favorite, but does not include it in his bills of fare for winter, although ‘a dish of stewed broth, if at Christmas,’ figures therein. It shared honours with the porridge in Addison’s time, however, for the Tatter tells us: ‘No man of the most rigid virtue gives offence by an excess in plum-pudding or plum-porridge, because they are the first parts of the dinner;’ but the Mrs. Frazer above mentioned is the earliest culinary authority we find describing its concoction, at least under the name of ‘plumb-pudding.’

While Christmas, as far as eating was concerned, always had its specialities, its liquor carte was unlimited. A carolist of the thirteenth century sings (we follow Douce’s literal translation):

Lordlings, Christmas loves good drinking,
Wines of Gascoigne, France, Anjou,
English ale that drives out thinking,
Prince of liquors, old or new.
Every neighbour shares the bowl,
Drinks of the spicy liquor deep;
Drinks his fill without control,
Till he drowns his care in sleep.’

And to attain that end every exhilarating liquor was pressed into service by our ancestors.

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