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[Illustration: THE WAITS.]

 

KING GEORGE THE THIRD

came to the throne on the death of his grandfather, George II. (October 25, 1760), and the first Christmas of his reign "was a high festival at Court, when his Majesty, preceded by heralds, pursuivants, &c., went with their usual state to the Chapel Royal, and heard a sermon preached by his Grace the Archbishop of York; and it being a collar day, the Knights of the Garter, Thistle and Bath, appeared in the collars of their respective orders.

After the sermon was over, his Majesty, Prince Edward and Princess Augusta went into the Chapel Royal, and received the sacrament from the hands of the Bishop of Durham; and the King offered the byzant, or wedge of gold, in a purse, for the benefit of the poor, and the royal family all made offerings. His Majesty afterwards dined with his royal mother at Leicester House, and in the evening returned to St. James's."[79]

 

At this period

THE FAVOURITE CHRISTMAS DIVERSION

was card-playing. The King himself spent a great deal of his time in playing at cards with the ladies and gentlemen of his court. In doing so, however, he was but following the example of George II., of whom the biographer already quoted (Mr. Huish) says:--

"After the death of Queen Caroline, the King was very fond of a game at cards with the Countess of Pembroke, Albemarle, and other distinguished ladies. His attachment to cards was transferred to his attachment for the ladies, and it was said that what he gained by the one he lost by the other." Cards were very much resorted to at the family parties and other social gatherings held during the twelve days of Christmas. Hone makes various allusions to card-playing at Christmastide, and Washington Irving, in his "Life of Oliver Goldsmith," pictures the poet "keeping the card-table in an uproar." Mrs. Bunbury invited Goldsmith down to Barton to pass the Christmas holidays. Irving regrets "that we have no record of this Christmas visit to Barton; that the poet had no Boswell to follow at his heels, and take notes of all his sayings and doings. We can only picture him in our minds, casting off all care; enacting the Lord of Misrule; presiding at the Christmas revels; providing all kinds of merriment; keeping the card-table in an uproar, and finally opening the ball on the first day of the year in his spring-velvet suit, with the Jessamy Bride for a partner."

From the reprint additions made in the British Museum large paper copy of Brand's "Antiquities," by the late Mr. Joseph Haslewood, and dated January, 1779, we quote the following verses descriptive of the concluding portion of the Christmas festivities at this period:--

TWELFTH DAY.

  Now the jovial girls and boys, Struggling for the cake and plumbs, Testify their eager joys, And lick their fingers and their thumbs.

  Statesmen like, they struggle still, Scarcely hands kept out of dishes, And yet, when they have had their fill, Still anxious for the loaves and fishes.

  Kings and Queens, in petty state, Now their sovereign will declare, But other sovereigns' plans they hate, Full fond of peace--detesting war.

  One moral from this tale appears, Worth notice when a world's at stake; That all our hopes and all our fears, Are but a _struggling for the_ Cake.

Other particulars of the

 

POPULAR CHRISTMAS FESTIVITIES

in the latter part of the eighteenth century are gleaned from contemporary writers:--

"At Ripon, on Christmas Eve, the grocers, send each of their customers a pound or half of currants and raisins to make a Christmas pudding. The chandlers also send large mould candles, and the coopers logs of wood, generally called _Yule clogs_, which are always used on Christmas Eve; but should it be so large as not to be all burnt that night, which is frequently the case, the remains are kept till old Christmas Eve."[80]

In Sinclair's Account of Scotland, parish of Kirkden, county of Angus (1792), Christmas is said to be held as a great festival in the neighbourhood. "The servant is free from his master, and goes about visiting his friends and acquaintance. The poorest must have beef or mutton on the table, and what they call a dinner with their friends. Many amuse themselves with various diversions, particularly with shooting for prizes, called here _wad-shooting_; and many do but little business all the Christmas week; the evening of almost every day being spent in amusement." And in the account of Keith, in Banffshire, the inhabitants are said to "have no pastimes or holidays, except dancing on Christmas and New Year's Day."

Boyhood's Christmas Breaking-up is thus described in a poem entitled "Christmas" (Bristol, 1795):--

 "A school there was, within a well-known town, (Bridgwater call'd), in which the boys were wont, At _breaking-up_ for Christmas' lov'd recess, To meet the master, on the happy morn, At early hour; the custom, too, prevail'd, That he who first the seminary reach'd Should, instantly, perambulate the streets With sounding horn, to rouse his fellows up; And, as a compensation for his care, His flourish'd copies, and his chapter-task, Before the rest, he from the master had. For many days, ere breaking-up commenced, Much was the clamour, 'mongst the beardless crowd, Who first would dare his well-warm'd bed forego, And, round the town, with horn of ox equipp'd, His schoolmates call. Great emulation glow'd In all their breasts; but, when the morning came, Straightway was heard, resounding through the streets, The pleasing blast (more welcome far, to them, Than is, to sportsmen, the delightful cry Of hounds on chase), which soon together brought A tribe of boys, who, thund'ring at the doors Of those, their fellows, sunk in Somnus' arms, Great hubbub made, and much the town alarm'd. At length the gladsome, congregated throng, Toward the school their willing progress bent, With loud huzzas, and, crowded round the desk, Where sat the master busy at his books, In reg'lar order, each receiv'd his own, The youngsters then, enfranchised from the school, Their fav'rite sports pursued."

A writer in the _Gentleman's Magazine_ for February, 1795, gives the following account of a Christmas Eve custom at the house of Sir ----Holt, Bart., of Aston, near Birmingham:

"As soon as supper is over, a table is set in the hall. On it is placed a brown loaf, with twenty silver threepences stuck on the top of it, a tankard of ale, with pipes and tobacco; and the two oldest servants have chairs behind it, to sit as judges if they please. The steward brings the servants, both men and women, by one at a time, covered with a winnow-sheet, and lays their right hand on the loaf, exposing no other part of the body. The oldest of the two judges guesses at the person, by naming a name, then the younger judge, and lastly the oldest again. If they hit upon the right name, the steward leads the person back again; but, if they do not, he takes off the winnow-sheet, and the person receives a threepence, makes a low obeisance to the judges, but speaks not a word. When the second servant was brought, the younger judge guessed first and third; and this they did alternately, till all the money was given away. Whatever servant had not slept in the house the preceding night forfeited his right to the money. No account is given of the origin of this strange custom, but it has been practised ever since the family lived there. When the money is gone, the servants have full liberty to drink, dance, sing, and go to bed when they please."

Brand quotes the foregoing paragraph and asks: "Can this be what Aubrey calls the sport of 'Cob-loaf stealing'?"

THE DELIGHTS OF CHRISTMAS.
A New Song by R. P.
(Tune--"Since Love is my Plan.")
_In the Poor Soldier._

  When Christmas approaches each bosom is gay, That festival banishes sorrow away, While Richard he kisses both Susan and Dolly, When tricking the house up with ivy and holly; For never as yet it was counted a crime, To be merry and cherry at that happy time. For never as yet, &c.

  Then comes turkey and chine, with the famous roast beef, Of English provisions still reckon'd the chief; Roger whispers the cook-maid his wishes to crown, O Dolly! pray give me a bit of the brown; For never as yet it was counted a crime, To be merry and cherry at that happy time. For never as yet, &c.

  The luscious plum-pudding does smoking appear, And the charming mince pye is not far in the rear, Then each licks his chops to behold such a sight, But to taste it affords him superior delight; For never as yet it was counted a crime, To be merry and cherry at that happy time. For never as yet, &c.

  Now the humming October goes merrily round, And each with good humour is happily crown'd, The song and the dance, and the mirth-giving jest, Alike without harm by each one is expressed; For never as yet it was counted a crime, To be merry and cherry at that happy time. For never as yet, &c.

  Twelfth Day next approaches, to give you delight, And the sugar'd rich cake is display'd to the sight, Then sloven and slut and the king and the queen, Alike must be present to add to the scene; For never as yet it was counted a crime, To be merry and cherry at that happy time. For never as yet, &c.

  May each be found thus as the year circles round, With mirth and good humour each Christmas be crown'd, And may all who have plenty of riches in store With their bountiful blessings make happy the poor; For never as yet it was counted a crime, To be merry and cherry at that happy time. For never as yet, &c.[81]

 

CHARLES LAMB ON CHRISTMAS.

In his essay on "Recollections of Christ's Hospital," Charles Lamb thus refers to the Christmas festivities of his schoolboy days:--

"Let me have leave to remember the festivities at Christmas, when the richest of us would club our stock to have a gaudy day, sitting round the fire, replenished to the height with logs, and the penniless, and he that could contribute nothing, partook in all the mirth, and in some of the substantialities of the feasting; the carol sung by night at that time of the year, which, when a young boy, I have so often lain awake to hear from seven (the hour of going to bed) till ten when it was sung by the older boys and monitors, and have listened to it, in their rude chaunting, till I have been transported in fancy to the fields of Bethlehem, and the song which was sung at that season, by angels' voices to the shepherds."

In a sonnet sent to Coleridge, in 1797, Lamb says:--

 "It were unwisely done, should we refuse To cheer our path, as featly as we may--Our lonely path to cheer, as travellers use, With merry song, quaint tale, or roundelay. And we will sometimes talk past troubles o'er, Of mercies shown, and all our sickness heal'd, And in His judgments God remembering love: And we will learn to praise God evermore, For those 'glad tidings of great joy,' reveal'd By that sooth messenger, sent from above."

 

[Illustration: THE CHRISTMAS PLUM-PUDDING. (_From an old print._)]

Writing to Southey, in 1798, Lamb tells the poet that Christmas is a "glorious theme"; and addressing his "dear old friend and absentee," Mr. Manning, at Canton, on December 25, 1815, Lamb says:--"This is Christmas Day, 1815, with us; what it may be with you I don't know, the 12th of June next year perhaps; and if it should be the consecrated season with you, I don't see how you can keep it. You have no turkeys; you would not desecrate the festival by offering up a withered Chinese bantam, instead of the savoury grand Norfolcian holocaust, that smokes all around my nostrils at this moment from a thousand firesides. Then what puddings have you? Where will you get holly to stick in your churches, or churches to stick your dried tea-leaves (that must be the substitute) in? Come out of Babylon, O my friend."

[Illustration: ITALIAN MINSTRELS IN LONDON, AT CHRISTMAS, 1825. (_From a sketch of that period._)]

 "Ranged in a row, with guitars slung Before them thus, they played and sung: Their instruments and choral voice Bid each glad guest still more rejoice; And each guest wish'd again to hear Their wild guitars and voices clear."[82]

THE CHRISTMAS GAMES

at the beginning of the nineteenth century include the old Christmas game of _Forfeits_, for every breach of the rules of which the players have to deposit some little article as a forfeit, to be redeemed by some sportive penalty, imposed by the "Crier of the Forfeits" (usually a bonnie lassie). The "crying of the forfeits" and paying of the penalties creates much merriment, particularly when a bashful youth is sentenced to "kiss through the fire-tongs" some beautiful romp of a girl, who delights playing him tricks while the room rings with laughter.

Some of the old pastimes, however, have fallen into disuse, as, for instance, the once popular game of _Hot Cockles_, _Hunt the Slipper_, and "the vulgar game of _Post and Pair_"; but _Cards_ are still popular, and Snapdragon continues such Christmas merriment as is set forth in the following verses:--

SNAP DRAGON.

 "Here he comes with flaming bowl, Don't he mean to take his toll, Snip! Snap! Dragon! Take care you don't take too much, Be not greedy in your clutch, Snip! Snap! Dragon!

  With his blue and lapping tongue Many of you will be stung, Snip! Snap! Dragon! For he snaps at all that comes Snatching at his feast of plums, Snip! Snap! Dragon!

  But old Christmas makes him come, Though he looks so fee! fa! fum! Snip! Snap! Dragon! Don't 'ee fear him, be but bold--Out he goes, his flames are cold, Snip! Snap! Dragon!"

"Don't 'ee fear him, be but bold," accords with the advice of a writer in "Pantalogia," in 1813, who says that when the brandy in the bowl is set on fire, and raisins thrown into it, those who are unused to the sport are afraid to take out, but the raisins may be safely snatched by a quick motion and put blazing into the mouth, which being closed, the fire is at once extinguished. The game requires both courage and rapidity of action, and a good deal of merriment is caused by the unsuccessful efforts of competitors for the raisins in the flaming bowl.

 

BLINDMAN'S BUFF.

A favourite game of Christmastide, is thus described by Thomas Miller, in his "Sports and Pastimes of Merry England":--

"The very youngest of our brothers and sisters can join in this old English game: and it is selfish to select only such sports as they cannot become sharers of. Its ancient name is 'hoodman-blind'; and when hoods were worn by both men and women--centuries before hats and caps were so common as they are now--the hood was reversed, placed hind-before, and was, no doubt, a much surer way of blinding the player than that now adopted--for we have seen Charley try to catch his pretty cousin Caroline, by chasing her behind chairs and into all sorts of corners, to our strong conviction that he was not half so well blinded as he ought to have been. Some said he could see through the black silk handkerchief; others that it ought to have been tied clean over his nose, for that when he looked down he could see her feet, wherever she moved; and Charley had often been heard to say that she had the prettiest foot and ankle he had ever seen. But there he goes, head over heels across a chair, tearing off Caroline's gown skirt in his fall, as he clutches it in the hope of saving himself. Now, that is what I call retributive justice; for she threw down the chair for him to stumble over, and, if he has grazed his knees, she suffers under a torn dress, and must retire until one of the maids darn up the rent. But now the mirth and glee grow 'fast and furious,' for hoodman blind has imprisoned three or four of the youngest boys in a corner, and can place his hand on whichever he likes. Into what a small compass they have forced themselves! But the one behind has the wall at his back, and, taking advantage of so good a purchase, he sends his three laughing companions sprawling on the floor, and is himself caught through their having fallen, as his shoulder is the first that is grasped by Blindman-buff--so that he must now submit to be hooded."

[Illustration: BLINDMAN'S BUFF. (_In the last century_.)]

 

THE CHRISTMAS DANCE.

 "Again the ball-room is wide open thrown, The oak beams festooned with the garlands gay; The red dais where the fiddlers sit alone, Where, flushed with pride, the good old tunes they play. Strike, fiddlers, strike! we're ready for the set; The young folks' feet are eager for the dance; We'll trip Sir Roger and the minuet, And revel in the latest games from France."[83]

"Man should be called a dancing animal," said _Old Florentine_; and Burton, in his "Anatomy of Melancholy," says, "Young lasses are never better pleased than when, upon a holiday, after _even-song_, they may meet their sweethearts and dance." And dancing is just as popular at Christmas in the present day, as it was in that mediæval age when (according to William of Malmesbury) the priest Rathbertus, being disturbed at his Christmas mass by young men and women dancing outside the church, prayed God and St. Magnus that they might continue to dance for a whole year without cessation--a prayer which the old chronicler gravely assures us was answered.

[Illustration: THE CHRISTMAS DANCE.]

 

CHRISTMAS EVE IN THE OLDEN TIME.

    And well our Christian sires of old Loved when the year its course had roll'd, And brought blithe Christmas back again, With all his hospitable train. Domestic and religious rite Gave honour to the holy night:

  On Christmas Eve the bells were rung; On Christmas Eve the mass was sung: That only night in all the year, Saw the stoled priest the chalice rear. The damsel donn'd her kirtle sheen; The hall was dress'd with holly green; Forth to the wood did merry-men go, To gather in the mistletoe. Then open'd wide the Baron's hall To vassal, tenant, serf, and all; Power laid his rod of rule aside, And Ceremony doffed his pride. The heir, with roses in his shoes, That night might village partner choose. The lord, underogating, share The vulgar game of "post and pair."

  All hail'd, with uncontroll'd delight, And general voice, the happy night That to the cottage, as the crown, Brought tidings of salvation down!

    The fire, with well-dried logs supplied, Went roaring up the chimney wide; The huge hall-table's oaken face, Scrubb'd till it shone, the day to grace Bore then upon its massive board No mark to part the squire and lord.

  Then was brought in the lusty brawn By old blue-coated serving man; Then the grim boar's-head frowned on high, Crested with bays and rosemary. Well can the green-garbed ranger tell How, when, and where the monster fell; What dogs before his death he tore, And all the baiting of the boar. The wassail round in good brown bowls, Garnish'd with ribbons, blithely trowls. There the huge sirloin reek'd; hard by Plum-porridge stood, and Christmas-pye; Nor fail'd old Scotland to produce, At such high tide, her savoury goose. Then came the merry masquers in, And carols roar'd with blithesome din If unmelodious was the song, It was a hearty note, and strong. Who lists may in their mumming see Traces of ancient mystery; White shirts supplied the masquerade, And smutted cheeks the visors made; But oh! what masquers, richly dight, Can boast of bosoms half so light! England was merry England when Old Christmas brought his sports again. 'Twas Christmas broached the mightiest ale, 'Twas Christmas told the merriest tale; A Christmas gambol oft could cheer The poor man's heart through half the year.

  SIR WALTER SCOTT, 1808.

Lyson's "Magna Britannia" (1813) states the following as an

 

OLD ENGLISH CUSTOM.

"At Cumnor the parishioners, who paid vicarial tithes, claimed a custom of being entertained at the vicarage on the afternoon of Christmas Day, with four bushels of malt brewed into ale and beer, two bushels of wheat made into bread, and half a hundred weight of cheese. The remainder was given to the poor the next morning after divine service."

Mason ("Statistical Account of Ireland," 1814) records the following

IRISH CHRISTMAS CUSTOMS:--

"At Culdaff, previous to Christmas, it is customary with the labouring classes to raffle for mutton, when a sufficient number can subscribe to defray the cost of a sheep. During the Christmas holidays they amuse themselves with a game of kamman, which consists in impelling a wooden ball with a crooked stick to a given point, while an adversary endeavours to drive it in a contrary direction."

YORKSHIRE.

A writer in "Time's Telescope" (1822) states that in Yorkshire at eight o'clock on Christmas Eve 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, of 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.

 

SOME SOCIAL FESTIVITIES

of Christmastide are sketched by a contributor to the _New Monthly Magazine_, December 1, 1825, who says:--

"On the north side of the church at M. are a great many holly-trees. It is from these that our dining and bed-rooms are furnished with boughs. Families take it by turns to entertain their friends. They meet early; the beef and pudding are noble; the mince-pies--peculiar; the nuts half play-things and half-eatables; the oranges as cold and acid as they ought to be, furnishing us with a superfluity which we can afford to laugh at; the cakes indestructible; the wassail bowls generous, old English, huge, demanding ladles, threatening overflow as they come in, solid with roasted apples when set down. Towards bed-time you hear of elder-wine, and not seldom of punch. At the manorhouse it is pretty much the same as elsewhere. Girls, although they be ladies, are kissed under the mistletoe. If any family among us happen to have hit upon an exquisite brewing, they send some of it round about, the squire's house included; and he does the same by the rest. Riddles, hot-cockles, forfeits, music, dances sudden and not to be suppressed, prevail among great and small; and from two o'clock in the day to midnight, M. looks like a deserted place out of doors, but is full of life and merriment within. Playing at knights and ladies last year, a jade of a charming creature must needs send me out for a piece of ice to put in her wine. It was evening and a hard frost. I shall never forget the cold, cutting, dreary, dead look of every thing out of doors, with a wind through the wiry trees, and the snow on the ground, contrasted with the sudden return to warmth, light, and joviality.

"I remember we had a discussion that time as to what was the great point and crowning glory of Christmas. Many were for mince-pie; some for the beef and plum-pudding; more for the wassail-bowl; a maiden lady timidly said the mistletoe; but we agreed at last, that although all these were prodigious, and some of them exclusively belonging to the season, the _fire_ was the great indispensable. Upon which we all turned our faces towards it, and began warming our already scorched hands. A great blazing fire, too big, is the visible heart and soul of Christmas. You may do without beef and plum-pudding; even the absence of mince-pie may be tolerated; there must be a bowl, poetically speaking, but it need not be absolutely wassail. The bowl may give place to the bottle. But a huge, heaped-up, _over_ heaped-up, all-attracting fire, with a semicircle of faces about it, is not to be denied us. It is the _lar_ and genius of the meeting; the proof positive of the season; the representative of all our warm emotions and bright thoughts; the glorious eye of the room; the inciter to mirth, yet the retainer of order; the amalgamater of the age and sex; the universal relish. Tastes may differ even on a mince-pie; but who gainsays a fire? The absence of other luxuries still leaves you in possession of that; but

 'Who can hold a fire in his hand With thinking on the frostiest twelfth-cake?'

"Let me have a dinner of some sort, no matter what, and then give me my fire, and my friends, the humblest glass of wine, and a few penn'orths of chestnuts, and I will still make out my Christmas. What! Have we not Burgundy in our blood? Have we not joke, laughter, repartee, bright eyes, comedies of other people, and comedies of our own; songs, memories, hopes? [An organ strikes up in the street at this word, as if to answer me in the affirmative. Right thou old spirit of harmony, wandering about in that ark of thine, and touching the public ear with sweetness and an abstraction! Let the multitude bustle on, but not unarrested by thee and by others, and not unreminded of the happiness of renewing a wise childhood.] As to our old friends the chestnuts, if anybody wants an excuse to his dignity for roasting them, let him take the authority of Milton. 'Who now,' says he lamenting the loss of his friend Deodati,--'who now will help to soothe my cares for me, and make the long night seem short with his conversation; while the roasting pear hisses tenderly on the fire, and the nuts burst away with a noise,--

 'And out of doors a washing storm o'erwhelms Nature pitch-dark, and rides the thundering elms?'"

 

CHRISTMAS IN THE HIGHLANDS.

 

From Grant's "Popular Superstitions of the Highlands" Hone gathered the following account:--

"As soon as the brightening glow of the eastern sky warns the anxious house-maid of the approach of Christmas Day, she rises full of anxiety at the prospect of her morning labours. The meal, which was steeped in the _sowans-bowie_ a fortnight ago, to make the _Prechdachdan sour_, or _sour scones_, is the first object of her attention. The gridiron is put on the fire, and the sour scones are soon followed by hard cakes, soft cakes, buttered cakes, brandered bannocks, and pannich perm. The baking being once over, the sowans pot succeeds the gridiron, full of new sowans, which are to be given to the family, agreeably to custom, this day in their beds. The sowans are boiled into the consistence of molasses, when the _Lagan-le-vrich_, or yeast bread, to distinguish it from boiled sowans, is ready. It is then poured into as many bickers as there are individuals to partake of it, and presently served to the whole, old and young. It would suit well the pen of a Burns, or the pencil of a Hogarth, to paint the scene which follows. The ambrosial food is despatched in aspiring draughts by the family, who soon give evident proofs of the enlivening effects of the _Lagan-le-vrich_. As soon as each despatches his bicker, he jumps out of bed--the elder branches to examine the ominous signs of the day,[84] and the younger to enter on its amusements. Flocking to the swing, a favourite amusement on this occasion, the youngest of the family get the first '_shoulder_,' and the next oldest in regular succession. In order to add the more to the spirit of the exercise, it is a common practice with the person in the _swing_, and the person appointed to swing him, to enter into a very warm and humorous altercation. As the swinged person approaches the swinger, he exclaims, _Ei mi tu chal_, 'I'll eat your kail.' To this the swinger replies, with a violent shove, _Cha ni u mu chal_, 'You shan't eat my kail.' These threats and repulses are sometimes carried to such a height, as to break down or capsize the threatener, which generally puts an end to the quarrel.

"As the day advances, those minor amusements are terminated at the report of the gun, or the rattle of the ball clubs--the gun inviting the marksman to the '_Kiavamuchd_,' or prize-shooting, and the latter to '_Luchd-vouil_,' or the ball combatants--both the principal sports of the day. Tired at length of the active amusements of the field, they exchange them for the substantial entertainments of the table. Groaning under the '_sonsy haggis_,'[85] and many other savoury dainties, unseen for twelve months before, the relish communicated to the company, by the appearance of the festive board, is more easily conceived than described. The dinner once despatched, the flowing bowl succeeds, and the sparkling glass flies to and fro like a weaver's shuttle. As it continues its rounds, the spirits of the company become more jovial and happy. Animated by its cheering influence, even old decrepitude no longer feels his habitual pains--the fire of youth is in his eye, as he details to the company the exploits which distinguished him in the days of '_auld langsyne_;' while the young, with hearts inflamed with '_love and glory_,' long to mingle in the more lively scenes of mirth, to display their prowess and agility. Leaving the patriarchs to finish those professions of friendship for each other, in which they are so devoutly engaged, the younger part of the company will shape their course to the ball-room, or the card-table, as their individual inclinations suggest; and the remainder of the evening is spent with the greatest pleasure of which human nature is susceptible."

 

SWORD DANCING AT CHRISTMAS.

Hone's "Table Book" (vol. i.), 1827, contains a letter descriptive of the pitmen of Northumberland, which says:--

"The ancient custom of sword-dancing at Christmas is kept up in Northumberland exclusively by these people. They may be constantly seen at that festive season with their fiddler, bands of swordsmen, Tommy and Bessy, most grotesquely dressed, performing their annual routine of warlike evolutions."

And the present writer heard of similar festivities at Christmastide in the Madeley district of Shropshire, accompanied by grotesque imitations of the ancient hobby-horse.

 

CUMBERLAND.

"A. W. R.," writing to Hone's "Year Book," December 8, 1827, says:--

"Nowhere does the Christmas season produce more heart-inspiring mirth than among the inhabitants of Cumberland.

"With Christmas Eve commences a regular series of 'festivities and merry makings.' Night after night, if you want the farmer or his family, you must look for them anywhere but at home; and in the different houses that you pass at one, two, or three in the morning, should you happen to be out so late, you will find candles and fires still unextinguished. At Christmas, every farmer gives two 'feasts,' one called 't' ould foaks neet,' which is for those who are married, and the other 't' young foaks neet,' for those who are single. Suppose you and I, sir, take the liberty of attending one of these feasts unasked (which by the bye is considered no liberty at all in Cumberland) and see what is going on. Upon entering the room we behold several card parties, some at 'whist,' others at 'loo' (there called 'lant'), or any other game that may suit their fancy. You will be surprised on looking over the company to find that there is no distinction of persons. Masters and servants, rich and poor, humble and lofty, all mingle together without restraint--all cares are forgotten--and each one seems to glory in his own enjoyment and in that of his fellow-creatures. It is pleasant to find ourselves in such society, especially as it is rarely in one's life that such opportunities offer. Cast your eyes towards the sideboard, and there see that large bowl of punch, which the good wife is inviting her guests to partake of, with apples, oranges, biscuits, and other agreeable eatables in plenty. The hospitable master welcomes us with a smiling countenance and requests us to take seats and join one of the tables.

"In due time some one enters to tell the company that supper is waiting in the next room. Thither we adjourn, and find the raised and mince pies, all sorts of tarts, and all cold--except the welcomes and entreaties--with cream, ale, &c., in abundance; in the midst of all a large goose pie, which seems to say 'Come and cut again.'

"After supper the party return to the card room, sit there for two or three hours longer, and afterwards make the best of their way home, to take a good long nap, and prepare for the same scene the next night. At these 'feasts' intoxication is entirely out of the question--it never happens.

"Such are the innocent amusements of these people."

 "With gentle deeds and kindly thoughts, And loving words withal, Welcome the merry Christmas in And hear a brother's call."[86]

 

PROVISION FOR THE POOR ON CHRISTMAS DAY.

[Illustration: THE GIVING AWAY OF CHRISTMAS DOLES.]

By the will of John Popple, dated the 12th of March, 1830, £4 yearly is to be paid unto the vicar, churchwardens, and overseers of the poor of the parish of Burnham, Buckinghamshire, to provide for the poor people who should be residing in the poorhouse, a dinner, with a proper quantity of good ale and likewise with tobacco and snuff on Christmas Day.[87]

This kindly provision of Mr. Popple for the poor shows that he wished to keep up the good old Christmas customs which are so much admired by the "old man" in Southey's "The Old Mansion" (a poem of this period). In recalling the good doings at the mansion "in my lady's time" the "old man" says:--

                        "A woful day 'Twas for the poor when to her grave she went!

          *     *     *     *     *

                         Were they sick? She had rare cordial waters, and for herbs She could have taught the doctors. Then at winter, When weekly she distributed the bread In the poor old porch, to see her and to hear The blessings on her! And I warrant them They were a blessing to her when her wealth Had been no comfort else. At Christmas, sir! It would have warmed your heart if you had seen Her Christmas kitchen; how the blazing fire Made her fine pewter shine, and holly boughs So cheerful red; and as for mistletoe, The finest bough that grew in the country round Was mark'd for madam. Then her old ale went So bountiful about! a Christmas cask,--And 'twas a noble one!--God help me, sir! But I shall never see such days again."

 

THE ROYAL CHRISTMASES

In the reigns of George IV. and William IV., though not kept with the grandeur of earlier reigns, were observed with much rejoicing and festivity, and the Royal Bounties to the poor of the metropolis and the country districts surrounding Windsor and the other Royal Palaces were dispensed with the customary generosity. In his "Sketch Book," Washington Irving, who was born in the reign of George III. (1783), and lived on through the reigns of George IV., and William IV., and the first two decades of the reign of Queen Victoria, gives delightful descriptions of the

 

FESTIVITIES OF THE NOBILITY AND GENTRY

of the period, recalling the times when the old halls of castles and manor houses resounded with the harp and the Christmas Carol and their ample boards groaned under the weight of hospitality. He had travelled a good deal on both sides of the Atlantic and he gives a picturesque account of an old English stage coach journey "on the day preceding Christmas." The coach was crowded with passengers. "It was also loaded with hampers of game, and baskets and boxes of delicacies; and hares hung dangling their long ears about the coachman's box, presents from distant friends for the impending feast. I had three fine rosy-cheeked schoolboys for my fellow-passengers inside, full of the buxom health and manly spirit which I have observed in the children of this country. They were returning home for the holidays in high glee, and promising themselves a world of enjoyment. It was delightful to hear the gigantic plans of the little rogues, and the impracticable feats they were to perform during their six weeks' emancipation from the abhorred thraldom of book, birch, and pedagogue."

Then follows Irving's graphic sketch of the English stage coachman, and the incidents of the journey, during which it seemed "as if everybody was in good looks and good spirits.

"Game, poultry, and other luxuries of the table, were in brisk circulation in the villages; the grocers,' butchers,' and fruiterers' shops were thronged with customers. The housewives were stirring briskly about, putting their dwellings in order; and the glossy branches of holly, with their bright red berries, began to appear at the windows."

*     *     *     *     *

"In the evening we reached a village where I had determined to pass the night. As we drove into the great gateway of the inn, I saw on one side the light of a rousing kitchen fire beaming through a window. I entered, and admired, for the hundredth time, that picture of convenience, neatness, and broad, honest enjoyment, the kitchen of an English inn. It was of spacious dimensions, hung round with copper and tin vessels highly polished, and decorated here and there with a Christmas green.... The scene completely realised poor Robin's [1684] humble idea of the comforts of mid-winter:

 'Now trees their leafy hats do bare To reverence winter's silver hair; A handsome hostess, merry host, A pot of ale now and a toast, Tobacco and a good coal fire, Are things this season doth require.'"

Mr. Irving afterwards depicts, in his own graphic style, the Christmas festivities observed at an old-fashioned English hall, and tells how the generous squire pointed with pleasure to the indications of good cheer reeking from the chimneys of the comfortable farmhouses, and low thatched cottages. "I love," said he, "to see this day well kept by rich and poor; it is a great thing to have one day in the year, at least, when you are sure of being welcome wherever you go, and of having, as it were, the world all thrown open to you; and I am almost disposed to join with poor Robin, in his malediction on every churlish enemy to this honest festival:

 "'Those who at Christmas do repine, And would fain hence despatch him, May they with old Duke Humphry dine, Or else may Squire Ketch catch 'em.'

"The squire went on to lament the deplorable decay of the games and amusements which were once prevalent at this season among the lower orders, and countenanced by the higher; when the old halls of castles and manor-houses were thrown open at daylight; when the tables were covered with brawn, and beef, and humming ale; when the harp and the carol resounded all day long, and when rich and poor were alike welcome to enter and make merry. 'Our old games and local customs,' said he, 'had a great effect in making the peasant fond of his home, and the promotion of them by the gentry made him fond of his lord. They made the times merrier, and kinder and better; and I can truly say with one of our old poets:

 "'I like them well--the curious preciseness And all-pretended gravity of those That seek to banish hence these harmless sports, Have thrust away much ancient honesty.'"

 

THE CHRISTMASES OF QUEEN VICTORIA

have been kept with much bountifulness, but after the gracious manner of a Christian Queen who cares more for the welfare of her beloved subjects than for ostentatious display. Her Majesty's Royal bounties to the poor of the metropolis and its environs, and also to others in the country districts surrounding the several Royal Palaces are well known, the ancient Christmas and New Year's gifts being dispensed with great generosity. The number of aged and afflicted persons usually relieved by the Lord High Almoner in sums of 5s. and 13s. exceeds an aggregate of 1,200. Then there is the distribution of the beef--a most interesting feature of the Royal Bounty--which takes place in the Riding School at Windsor Castle, under the superintendence of the several Court officials. The meat, divided into portions of from three pounds to seven pounds, and decorated with sprigs of holly, is arranged upon a table placed in the middle of the Riding School, and covered with white cloths from the Lord Steward's department of the palace. During the distribution the bells of St. John's Church ring a merry peal. There are usually many hundreds of recipients and the weight of the beef allotted amounts to many thousands of pounds. Coals and clothing and other creature comforts are liberally dispensed, according to the needs of the poor. In times of war and seasons of distress hospitable entertainments, Christmas-trees, &c., are also provided for the wives and children of soldiers and sailors on active service; and in many other ways the Royal Bounty is extended to the poor and needy at Christmastide.

 

THE CHRISTMAS AT WINDSOR CASTLE, IN 1841,

is thus referred to in the "Life of the Prince Consort" (by Theodore Martin):--

"When Christmas came round with its pleasant festivities and its shining Christmas-trees, it had within it a new source of delight for the Royal parents. 'To think,' says the Queen's 'Journal,' 'that we have two children now, and one who enjoys the sight already, is like a dream!' And in writing to his father the Prince expresses the same feeling. 'This,' he says, 'is the dear Christmas Eve, on which I have so often listened with impatience for your step, which was to usher us into the present-room. To-day I have two children of my own to give presents to, who, they know not why, are full of happy wonder at the German Christmas-tree and its radiant candles.'

"The coming year was danced into in good old English fashion. In the middle of the dance, as the clock finished striking twelve, a flourish of trumpets was blown, in accordance with a German custom. This, the Queen's 'Journal' records, 'had a fine solemn effect, and quite affected dear Albert, who turned pale, and had tears in his eyes, and pressed my hand very warmly. It touched me too, for I felt that he must think of his dear native country, which he has left for me.'"

 

CHRISTMAS AT OSBORNE.

Writing from Cowes, on Christmas Eve, in reference to the Christmas festivities at Osborne in the last decade of the nineteenth century, a correspondent says:--

"After transacting business the Queen drove out this afternoon, returning to Osborne just as the setting sun illumines with its rosy rays the Paladin Towers of her Majesty's marine residence. The Queen desires to live, as far as the cares of State permit, the life of a private lady. Her Majesty loves the seclusion of this lordly estate, and here at Christmas time she enjoys the society of her children and grandchildren, who meet together as less exalted families do at this merry season to reciprocate the same homely delights as those which are experienced throughout the land.

"This afternoon a pleasant little festivity has been celebrated at Osborne House, where her Majesty, with an ever-kindly interest in her servants and dependants, has for many years inaugurated Christmas in a similar way, the children of her tenantry and the old and infirm enjoying by the Royal bounty the first taste of Christmas fare. The Osborne estate now comprises 5,000 acres, and it includes the Prince Consort's model farm. The children of the labourers--who are housed in excellent cottages--attend the Whippingham National Schools, a pretty block of buildings, distant one mile from Osborne. About half the number of scholars live upon the Queen's estate, and, in accordance with annual custom, the mistresses of the schools, the Misses Thomas, accompanied by the staff of teachers, have conducted a little band of boys and girls--fifty-four in all--to the house, there to take tea and to receive the customary Christmas gifts. Until very recently the Queen herself presided at the distribution; but the Princess Beatrice has lately relieved her mother of the fatigue involved; for the ceremony is no mere formality, it is made the occasion of many a kindly word the remembrance of which far outlasts the gifts. All sorts of rumours are current on the estate for weeks before this Christmas Eve gathering as to the nature of the presents to be bestowed, for no one is supposed to know beforehand what they will be; but there was a pretty shrewd guess to-day that the boys would be given gloves, and the girls cloaks. In some cases the former had had scarves or cloth for suits, and the latter dresses or shawls. Whatever the Christmas presents may be, here they are, arranged upon tables in two long lines, in the servants' hall. To this holly-decorated apartment the expectant youngsters are brought, and their delighted gaze falls upon a huge Christmas-tree laden with beautiful toys. Everybody knows that the tree will be there, and moreover that its summit will be crowned with a splendid doll. Now, the ultimate ownership of this doll is a matter of much concern; it needs deliberation, as it is awarded to the best child, and the judges are the children themselves. The trophy is handed to the keeping of Miss Thomas, and on the next 1st of May the children select by their votes the most popular girl in the school to be elected May Queen. To her the gift goes, and no fairer way could be devised. The Princess Beatrice always makes a point of knowing to whom the prize has been awarded. Her Royal Highness is so constantly a visitor to the cottagers and to the school that she has many an inquiry to make of the little ones as they come forward to receive their gifts.

"The girls are called up first by the mistress, and Mr. Andrew Blake, the steward, introduces each child to the Princess Beatrice, to whom Mr. Blake hands the presents that her Royal Highness may bestow them upon the recipients with a word of good will, which makes the day memorable. Then the boys are summoned to participate in the distribution of good things, which, it should be explained, consist not only of seasonable and sensible clothing, but toys from the tree, presented by the Queen's grandchildren, who, with their parents, grace the ceremony with their presence and make the occasion one of family interest. The Ladies-in-Waiting also attend. Each boy and girl gets in addition a nicely-bound story-book and a large slice of plum pudding neatly packed in paper, and if any little one is sick at home its portion is carefully reserved. But the hospitality of the Queen is not limited to the children. On alternate years the old men and women resident on the estate are given, under the same pleasant auspices, presents of blankets or clothing. To-day it was the turn of the men, and they received tweed for suits. The aged people have their pudding as well. For the farm labourers and boys, who are not bidden to this entertainment, there is a distribution of tickets, each representing a goodly joint of beef for the Christmas dinner. The festivity this afternoon was brought to a close by the children singing the National Anthem in the courtyard.

"The Queen is accustomed to spend Christmas Day very quietly, attending service at the Chapel at Osborne in the morning, and in the evening the Royal family meeting at dinner. There are Christmas trees for the children, and for the servants too, but the houshold reserves its principal festivity for the New Year--a day which is specially set aside for their entertainment."

 

THE CHRISTMAS FESTIVITIES AT SANDRINGHAM

are observed with generous hospitality by their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales, who take special interest in the enjoyment of their tenants, and also remember the poor. A time-honoured custom on Christmas Eve is the distribution of prime joints of meat to the labourers employed on the Royal estate, and to the poor of the five parishes of Sandringham, West Newton, Babingley, Dersingham, and Wolferton. From twelve to fifteen hundred pounds of meat are usually distributed, and such other gifts are made as the inclemency of the season and the necessities of the poor require. In Sandringham "Past and Present," 1888, Mrs. Herbert Jones says:--"Sandringham, which is the centre of a generous hospitality, has not only been in every way raised, benefited, and enriched since it passed into the royal hands, which may be said to have created it afresh, but rests under the happy glow shed over it by the preference of a princess

 "'Whose peerless feature joinèd with her birth, Approve her fit for none but for a king.' Shakespeare's _Henry VI_."

The Christmas Generosity of the late Duke of Edinburgh.

In a letter to the press a lieutenant of Marines makes the following reference to a Christmas entertainment given by H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh, in 1886: "Last night a large party, consisting of many officers of the Fleet, including all the 'old ships' of the Duke, and three or four midshipmen from every ship in the Fleet, were invited to a Christmas-tree at S. Antonio Palace. In the course of the evening two lotteries were drawn, all the numbers being prizes, each guest consequently getting two. I have had an opportunity of seeing many of these, and they are all most beautiful and useful objects, ranging in value from five shillings to perhaps three or four pounds. I should think that at least half the prizes I have seen were worth over one pound."

 

OTHER SEASONABLE HOSPITALITY AND BENEVOLENCE.

The good example set by royalty is followed throughout the land. Friendly hospitalities are general at Christmastide, and in London and other large centres of population many thousands of poor people are provided with free breakfasts, dinners, teas, and suppers on Christmas Day, public halls and school-rooms being utilised for purposes of entertainment; children in hospitals are plentifully supplied with toys, and Christmas parties are also given to the poor at the private residences of benevolent people. As an illustrative instance of generous Christmas hospitality by a landowner we cite the following:--

 

CHRISTMAS DINNER TO FIVE THOUSAND POOR.

On Christmas Eve, 1887, Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, Bart., the largest landowner in the Principality of Wales, gave his annual Christmas gifts to the aged and deserving poor throughout the extensive mining districts of Ruabon, Rhosllanerchrugog, Cern, and Rhosymedre, Denbighshire, where much distress prevailed in consequence of the depression in trade. Several fine oxen were slain in Wynnstay Park, and the beef was distributed in pieces ranging from 4lb. to 7lb., according to the number of members in each family. A Christmas dinner was thus provided for upwards of 5,000 persons. In addition to this, Lady Williams Wynn provided thousands of yards of flannel and cloth for clothing, together with a large number of blankets, the aged men and women also receiving a shilling with the gift. The hon. baronet had also erected an elaborate spacious hospital to the memory of his uncle, the late Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, M.P., and presented it to the parish.

 

DISTRIBUTIONS OF CHRISTMAS FARE TO THE POOR

are liberally made from various centres in different parts of London, and thus many thousands of those who have fallen below the poverty line share in the festivities of Christmastide.

This illustration of Christian caterers dispensing creature comforts to the poor children may be taken as representative of many such Christmas scenes in the metropolis. For over forty years the St. Giles' Christian Mission, now under the superintendence of Mr. W. M. Wheatley, has been exercising a beneficial influence among the needy poor, and, it is stated, that at least 104,000 people have through this Mission been enabled to make a fresh start in life. Many other Church Missions are doing similar work. In addition to treats to poor children and aged people at Christmastide, there are also great distributions of Christmas fare:--Joints of roasting meat, plum-puddings, cakes, groceries, warm clothing, toys, &c., &c.

[Illustration: POOR CHILDREN'S TREAT IN MODERN TIMES.]

At a recent distribution of a Christmas charity at Millbrook, Southampton, the Rev. A. C. Blunt stated that one of the recipients had nearly reached her 102nd year. She was born in Hampshire, and down to a very recent period had been able to do needlework.

In many cities and towns Christmas gifts are distributed on St. Thomas's Day, and as an example we cite the Brighton distribution in 1886, on which occasion the Brighton Police Court was filled by a congregation of some of the "oldest inhabitants." And there was a distribution from the magistrates poor-box of a Christmas gift of half a sovereign to 150 of the aged poor whose claims to the bounty had been inquired into by the police. Formerly 100 used to be cheered in this way, but the contributions to the box this year enabled a wider circle to share in the dole. There was a wonderful collection of old people, for the average age was over 83 years. The oldest was a venerable widow, who confessed to being 96 years old, the next was another lady of 94 years, and then came two old fellows who had each attained 93 years. Many of the recipients were too infirm to appear, but the oldest of them all, the lady of 96 came into court despite the sharpness of the wind and the frozen roads.

 

THE CHRISTMAS AT BELVOIR CASTLE,

kept with generous liberality by the Duke of Rutland, in 1883, may be cited as an example of Christmas customs continued by the head of a noble house:

"The usual Christmas gifts were given to the poor of Knipton, Woolsthorpe, and Redmile--nearly two hundred in number--consisting of calico, flannel dresses, stockings, and handkerchiefs, each person at the same time receiving a loaf of bread and a pint of ale. Twenty-one bales of goods, containing counterpanes, blankets, and sheets, were also sent to the clergy of as many different villages for distribution amongst the poor. The servants at the Castle and workmen of the establishment had their Christmas dinner, tea, and supper, the servants' hall having been beautifully decorated. At one end of the room was a coronet, with the letter 'R'; and at the opposite end three coronets, with the 'peacock in pride,' being the crest of the Rutland family. The following mottoes, in large letters, were conspicuous, 'Long live the Duke of Rutland,' 'Long live Lord and Lady John Manners and family,' and 'A Merry Christmas to you all.' These were enclosed in a neat border. From the top of the room were suspended long festoons of linked ribbons of red, white, blue, and orange. All present thoroughly enjoyed themselves, as it was the wish of his Grace they should do."

Similar hospitalities are dispensed by other noblemen and gentlemen in different parts of the country at Christmas.

*     *     *     *     *

The lordly hospitality of Lincolnshire is depicted in

 

"THE BARON'S YULE FEAST:

A Christmas Rhyme; by Thomas Cooper, the Chartist" (1846); which is inscribed to the Countess of Blessington, and in the advertisement the author offers "but one apology for the production of a metrical essay, composed chiefly of imperfect and immature pieces: The ambition to contribute towards the fund of Christmas entertainment." The scene of the Baron's Yule Feast is depicted in Torksey's Hall, Torksey being one of the first towns in Lincolnshire in the Saxon period. After some introductory verses the writer says:

 "It is the season when our sires Kept jocund holiday; And, now, around our charier fires, Old Yule shall have a lay:--A prison-bard is once more free; And, ere he yields his voice to thee, His song a merry-song shall be!

  Sir Wilfrid de Thorold freely holds What his stout sires held before--Broad lands for plough and fruitful folds,--Though by gold he sets no store; And he saith, from fen and woodland wolds From marish, heath, and moor,--To feast in his hall Both free and thrall, Shall come as they came of yore.

  *     *     *     *     *

  Now merrily ring the lady-bells Of the nunnery by the Fosse:--Say the hinds their silver music swells 'Like the blessed angels' syllables, At His birth who bore the cross.'

  And solemnly swells Saint Leonard's chime And the great bell loud and deep:--Say the gossips, 'Let's talk of the holy time When the shepherds watched their sheep; And the Babe was born for all souls' crime In the weakness of flesh to weep.'--But, anon, shrills the pipe of the merry mime And their simple hearts upleap.

  'God save your souls, good Christian folk! God save your souls from sin!--Blythe Yule is come--let us blythely joke!'--Cry the mummers ere they begin.

  Then, plough-boy Jack, in kirtle gay,--Though shod with clouted shoon,--Stands forth the wilful maid to play Who ever saith to her lover, 'Nay'--When he sues for a lover's boon.

  While Hob the smith with sturdy arm Circleth the feigned maid; And, spite of Jack's assumed alarm, Busseth his lips, like a lover warm, And will not 'Nay' be said

  Then loffe the gossips, as if wit Were mingled with the joke: Gentles,--they were with folly smit,--Natheless, their memories acquit Of crime--these simple folk!

  No harmful thoughts their revels blight,--Devoid of bitter hate and spite, They hold their merriment;--And, till the chimes tell noon at night, Their joy shall be unspent!

  Come haste ye to bold Thorold's hall, And crowd his kitchen wide; For there, he saith, both free and thrall Shall sport this good Yule-tide."

In subsequent verses the writer depicts the bringing in of the yule log to the Baron's Hall,

            "Where its brave old heart A glow shall impart To the heart of each guest at the festival.

       *     *     *     *     *

  They pile the Yule-log on the hearth,--Soak toasted crabs in ale; And while they sip, their homely mirth Is joyous as if all the earth For man were void of bale!

  And why should fears for future years, Mix jolly ale with thoughts of tears When in the horn 'tis poured? And why should ghost of sorrow fright The bold heart of an English knight When beef is on the board?

  De Thorold's guests are wiser than The men of mopish lore; For round they push the smiling can And slice the plattered store.

  And round they thrust the ponderous cheese, And the loaves of wheat and rye; None stinteth him for lack of ease--For each a stintless welcome sees In the Baron's blythesome eye.

  The Baron joineth the joyous feast--But not in pomp or pride; He smileth on the humblest guest So gladsomely--all feel that rest Of heart which doth abide Where deeds of generousness attest The welcome of the tongue professed Is not within belied."

*     *     *     *     *

In subsequent verses a stranger minstrel appears on the festive scene, and tells his tale of love in song, acquitting himself

 "So rare and gentle, that the hall Rings with applause which one and all Render who share the festival."

 

Some of the poets of this period have dealt playfully with the festivities of Christmastide, as, for example, Laman Blanchard (1845) in the following effusion:--

 

CHRISTMAS CHIT-CHAT.

In a Large Family Circle.

  "The day of all days we have seen Is Christmas," said Sue to Eugene; "More welcome in village and city Than Mayday," said Andrew to Kitty. "Why 'Mistletoe's' twenty times sweeter Than 'May,'" said Matilda to Peter; "And so you will find it, if I'm a True prophet," said James to Jemima. "I'll stay up to supper, no bed," Then lisped little Laura to Ned. "The girls all good-natured and dressy, And bright-cheeked," said Arthur to Jessie; "Yes, hoping ere next year to marry, The madcaps!" said Charlotte to Harry. "So steaming, so savoury, so juicy, The feast," said fat Charley to Lucy. "Quadrilles and Charades might come on Before dinner," said Martha to John. "You'll find the roast beef when you're dizzy, A settler," said Walter to Lizzy. "Oh, horrid! one wing of a wren, With a pea," said Belinda to Ben. "Sublime!" said--displaying his leg--George Frederick Augustus to Peg. "At Christmas refinement is all fuss And nonsense," said Fan to Adolphus. "Would romps--or a tale of a fairy--Best suit you," said Robert to Mary. "At stories that work ghost and witch hard, I tremble," said Rosa to Richard. "A ghostly hair-standing dilemma Needs 'bishop,'" said Alfred to Emma; "What fun when with fear a stout crony Turns pale," said Maria to Tony; "And Hector, unable to rally, Runs screaming," said Jacob to Sally. "While you and I dance in the dark The polka," said Ruth unto Mark: "Each catching, according to fancy, His neighbour," said wild Tom to Nancy; "Till candles, to show what we can do, Are brought in," said Ann to Orlando; "And then we all laugh what is truly a Heart's laugh," said William to Julia. "Then sofas and chairs are put even, And carpets," said Helen to Stephen; "And so we all sit down again, Supping twice," said sly Joseph to Jane. "Now bring me my clogs and my spaniel, And light me," said Dinah to Daniel. "My dearest, you've emptied that chalice Six times," said fond Edmund to Alice. "We are going home tealess and coffeeless Shabby!" said Soph to Theophilus; "To meet again under the holly, _Et cetera_," said Paul to fair Polly. "Dear Uncle, has ordered his chariot; All's over," said Matthew to Harriet. "And pray now be all going to bedward," Said kind Aunt Rebecca to Edward!

 

CHRISTMAS EVE, 1849,

is the time of Robert Browning's beautiful poem of "Christmas Eve and Easter Day," in which the poet sings the song of man's immortality, proclaiming, as Easter Day breaks and Christ rises, that

  "Mercy every way is infinite."

And, in his beautiful poem of "In Memoriam," Lord Tennyson associates some of his finest verses with the ringing of

 

THE CHRISTMAS BELLS.

 "Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky, The flying cloud, the frosty light: The year is dying in the night; Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

  Ring out the old, ring in the new, Ring, happy bells, across the snow: The year is going, let him go; Ring out the false, ring in the true.

  *     *     *     *     *

  Ring out old shapes of foul disease; Ring out the narrowing lust of gold; Ring out the thousand wars of old, Ring in the thousand years of peace.

  Ring in the valiant man and free, The larger heart, the kindlier hand; Ring out the darkness of the land, Ring in the Christ that is to be."

[Illustration: THE CHRISTMAS BELLS.]

As the poet Longfellow stood on the lofty tower of Bruges Cathedral the belfry chimes set him musing, and of those chimes he says:

  "Then most musical and solemn, bringing back the olden times, With their strange, unearthly changes, rang the melancholy chimes, Like the psalms from some old cloister, when the nuns sing in the choir; And the great bell tolled among them, like the chanting of a friar. Visions of the days departed, shadowy phantoms filled my brain: They who live in history only seemed to walk the earth again."

 

CHRISTMAS AND NEW YEAR CARDS

were first circulated in England in 1846. That year not more than a thousand copies were printed, and that was considered a large sale. The numbers distributed annually soon increased to tens and hundreds of thousands, and now there are millions of them. Mr. J. C. Horsley, a member of the Royal Academy, designed this first card which was sent out in 1846. It represents a family party of three generations--grandfather and grandmother, father and mother, and little children--and all are supposed to be joining in the sentiment, "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you." The card was issued from the office of one of the periodicals of the time, _Felix Summerley's Home Treasury_. It was first lithographed, and then it was coloured by hand.

Christmas and New Year Cards became very popular in the decade 1870-1880. But then, however, simple cards alone did not suffice. Like many other things, they felt the influence of the latter-day _renaissance_ of art, and by a sort of evolutionary process developed cards monochrome and coloured, "Christmas Bell" cards, palettes, scrolls, circular and oval panels, stars, fans, crescents, and other shaped novelties; embossed cards, the iridescent series, the rustic and frosted cards, the folding series, the jewel cards, the crayons, and private cards on which the sender's name and sentiments are printed in gold, silver, or colours; hand-painted cards with landscapes, seascapes, and floral decorations; paintings on porcelain; satin cards, fringed silk, plush, Broché, and other artistically made-up novelties; "art-gem" panels; elaborate booklets, and other elegant souvenirs of the festive season. Many of the Christmas booklets are beautifully illustrated editions of popular poems and carols.

"Quartette" cards, "Snap" cards, and other cards of games for the diversion of social gatherings are also extensively used at Christmastide.

 

RUSTIC CHRISTMAS MASQUE.

In compliance with a wish expressed by the Lady Londesborough, a Masque, entitled, "Recollections of Old Christmas," was performed at Grimston at Christmas, 1850, the following prologue being contributed by Barry Cornwall:--

 "When winter nights grow long, And winds without blow cold, We sit in a ring round the warm wood-fire, And listen to stories old! And we try to look grave (as maids should be), When the men bring in boughs of the laurel tree. O the laurel, the evergreen tree! The poets have laurels--and why not we?

  How pleasant when night falls down, And hides the wintry sun, To see them come in to the blazing fire, And know that their work is done; Whilst many bring in, with a laugh or rhyme, Green branches of holly for Christmas time! O the holly, the bright green holly! It tells (like a tongue) that the times are jolly!

  Sometimes--(in _our_ grave house Observe this happeneth not;) But at times, the evergreen laurel boughs, And the holly are all forgot! And then! what then? Why the men laugh low, And hang up a branch of--the misletoe! Oh, brave is the laurel! and brave is the holly! But the misletoe banisheth melancholy! Ah, nobody knows, nor ever _shall_ know, What is done under the misletoe!"

A printed copy of the Masque, which bears date, "Tuesday, XXIV December, MDCCCL.," is preserved in the British Museum.

 

"CHARACTERS

(Which speak)

"Old Father Christmas         Hon. Mr. Thelluson Young Grimston                Hon. Mr. Denison Baron of Beef                 Hon. Miss Thelluson Plum-Pudding                  Hon. Miss Denison Mince-Pie                     Hon. Miss Selina Denison Wassail-Bowl                  Hon. Miss Isabella Denison

"CHARACTERS

(Which do not speak, or say as little as possible--all that they are requested to do)

Ursa Minor                     Hon. Miss Ursula Denison Baby Cake                      Hon. Henry Charles Denison."

 

 

UNDER THE HOLLY BOUGH.

  Ye who have scorn'd each other Or injured friend or brother, In this fast fading year; Ye who, by word or deed, Have made a kind heart bleed, Come gather here. Let sinn'd against and sinning, Forget their strife's beginning; Be links no longer broken, Be sweet forgiveness spoken, Under the holly bough.

  Ye who have lov'd each other, Sister and friend and brother, In this fast fading year: Mother, and sire, and child, Young man and maiden mild, Come gather here; And let your hearts grow fonder, As memory shall ponder Each past unbroken vow. Old loves and younger wooing, Are sweet in the renewing, Under the holly bough.

  Ye who have nourished sadness, Estranged from hope and gladness, In this fast fading year. Ye with o'er-burdened mind Made aliens from your kind, Come gather here. Let not the useless sorrow Pursue you night and morrow, If e'er you hoped--hope now--Take heart: uncloud your faces, And join in our embraces Under the holly bough.

_Charles Mackay, LL.D._

The author of this beautiful poem (Dr. Charles Mackay) was born at Perth in 1814, and died on Christmas Eve, 1889, at his residence, Longridge Road, Earl's Court, Brompton.

 

GHOST STORIES.

Everybody knows that Christmas is the time for ghost stories, and that Charles Dickens and other writers have supplied us with tales of the true blood-curdling type. Thomas Hood's "Haunted House," S. T. Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner," and some other weird works of poetry have also been found serviceable in producing that strange chill of the blood, that creeping kind of feeling all over you, which is one of the enjoyments of Christmastide. Coleridge (says the late Mr. George Dawson)[88] "holds the first place amongst English poets in this objective teaching of the vague, the mystic, the dreamy, and the imaginative. I defy any man of imagination or sensibility to have 'The Ancient Mariner' read to him, by the flickering firelight on Christmas night, by a master mind possessed by the mystic spirit of the poem, and not find himself taken away from the good regions of 'ability to account for,' and taken into some far-off dreamland, and made even to start at his own footfall, and almost to shudder at his own shadow. You shall sit round the fire at Christmas time, good men and true every one of you; you shall come there armed with your patent philosophy; that creak you have heard, it is only the door--the list is not carefully put round the door, and it is the wintry wind that whistles through the crevices. Ghosts and spectres belong to the olden times; science has waved its wand and laid them all. We have no superstition about us; we walk enlightened nineteenth-century men; it is quite beneath us to be superstitious. By and bye, one begins to tell tales of ghosts and spirits; and another begins, and it goes all round; and there comes over you a curious feeling--a very unphilosophical feeling, in fact, because the pulsations of air from the tongue of the storyteller ought not to bring over you that peculiar feeling. You have only heard words, tales--confessedly by the storyteller himself only tales, such as may figure in the next monthly magazine for pure entertainment and amusement. But why do you feel so, then? If you say that these things are mere hallucinations, vague air-beating or tale-telling, why, good philosopher, do you feel so curious, so all-overish, as it were? Again, you are a man without the least terror in you, as brave and bold a man as ever stepped: living man cannot frighten you, and verily the dead rise not with you. But you are brought, towards midnight, to the stile over which is gained a view of the village churchyard, where sleep the dead in quietness. Your manhood begins just to ooze away a little; you are caught occasionally whistling to keep your courage up; you do not expect to see a ghost, but you are ready to see one, or to make one." At such a moment, think of the scene depicted by Coleridge:--

"'Twas night, calm night, the moon was high; The dead men stood together.

  All stood together on the deck, For a charnel-dungeon fitter: All fixed on me their stony eyes, That in the moon did glitter.

  The pang, the curse, with which they died, Had never passed away: I could not draw my eyes from theirs, Nor turn them up to pray."

With this weird tale in his mind in the mystic stillness of midnight would an imaginative man be likely to deny the reality of the spirit world? The chances are that he would be spellbound; or, if he had breath enough, would cry out--

  "Angels and ministers of grace, defend us!"

"In the year 1421, the widow of Ralph Cranbourne, of Dipmore End, in the parish of Sandhurst, Berks, was one midnight alarmed by a noise in her bedchamber, and, looking up, she saw at her bedfoot the appearance of a skeleton (which she verily believed was her husband) nodding and talking to her upon its fingers, or finger bones, after the manner of a dumb person. Whereupon she was so terrified, that after striving to scream aloud, which she could not, for her tongue clave to her mouth, she fell backward as in a swoon; yet not so insensible withal but she could see that at this the figure became greatly agitated and distressed, and would have clasped her, but upon her appearance of loathing it desisted, only moving its jaw upward and downward, as if it would cry for help but could not for want of its parts of speech. At length, she growing more and more faint, and likely to die of fear, the spectre suddenly, as if at a thought, began to swing round its hand, which was loose at the wrist, with a brisk motion, and the finger bones being long and hard, and striking sharply against each other, made a loud noise like to the springing of a watchman's rattle. At which alarm, the neighbours running in, stoutly armed, as against thieves or murderers, the spectre suddenly departed."[89]

 "His shoes they were coffins, his dim eye reveal'd The gleam of a grave-lamp with vapours oppress'd; And a dark crimson necklace of blood-drops congeal'd Reflected each bone that jagg'd out of his breast."[90]

 

 

WELCOME TO CHRISTMAS.

By MARY HOWITT.

  He comes--the brave old Christmas! His sturdy steps I hear; We will give him a hearty welcome, For he comes but once a year!

  And of all our old acquaintance 'Tis he we like the best; There's a jolly old way about him--There's a warm heart in his breast.

  He is not too proud to enter Your house though it be mean; Yet is company fit for a courtier, And is welcomed by the Queen!

  He can tell you a hundred stories Of the Old World's whims and ways, And how they merrily wish'd him joy In our fathers' courting days.

  He laughs with the heartiest laughter That does one good to hear; 'Tis a pity so brave an old fellow Should come but once a year!

  But once, then, let us be ready, With all that he can desire--With plenty of holly and ivy, And a huge log for the fire;

  With plenty of noble actions, And plenty of warm good-will; With our hearts as full of kindness As the board we mean to fill.

  With plenty of store in the larder, And plenty of wine in the bin; And plenty of mirth for the kitchen; Then open and let him in!

  Oh, he is a fine old fellow--His heart's in the truest place; You may know that at once by the children, Who glory to see his face.

  For he never forgets the children, They all are dear to him; You'll see that with wonderful presents His pockets are cramm'd to the brim.

  Nor will he forget the servants, Whether you've many or one; Nor the poor old man at the corner; Nor the widow who lives alone.

  He is rich as a Jew, is Old Christmas, I wish he would make me his heir; But he has plenty to do with his money, And he is not given to spare.

  Not he--bless the good old fellow! He hates to hoard his pelf; He wishes to make all people As gay as he is himself.

  So he goes to the parish unions--North, south, and west and east--And there he gives the paupers, At his own expense a feast.

  He gives the old men tobacco, And the women a cup of tea; And he takes the pauper children, And dances them on his knee.

  I wish you could see those paupers Sit down to his noble cheer, You would wish, like them, and no wonder, That he stay'd the livelong year.

  Yes, he is the best old fellow That ever on earth you met; And he gave us a boon when first he came Which we can never forget.

  So we will give him a welcome Shall gladden his old heart's core! And let us in good and gracious deeds Resemble him more and more!

_December 21, 1850._

 

WASSAILING THE APPLE-TREES.

Writing on this subject, in the _Antiquary_, March, 1895, Mr. Harry Hems, of Exeter, introduces the reduced copy of an illustration which appears on the following page, and which he states was published in the _Illustrated London News_, January 11, 1851.

The picture (says Mr. Hems) "presents, as will be seen, a frosty, moonlight night, with a brilliantly-lit old farmhouse in the background. In the fore are leafless fruit-trees, and three men firing guns at them, whilst the jovial farmer and another man drink success to the year's crop from glasses evidently filled from a jug of cider, which the latter also holds a-high. A crowd of peasants--men, women and children--are gathered around, and the following description is appended:--

"'Amongst the scenes of jocund hospitality in this holiday season, that are handed down to us, is one which not only presents an enlivening picture, but offers proof of the superstition that still prevails in the Western counties. On Twelfth-even, in Devonshire, it is customary for the farmer to leave his warm fireside, accompanied by a band of rustics, with guns, blunderbusses, &c., presenting an appearance which at other times would be somewhat alarming. Thus armed, the band proceeds to an adjoining orchard, where is selected one of the most fruitful and aged of the apple-trees, grouping round which they stand and offer up their invocations in the following quaint doggerel rhyme:--

    "'Here's to thee, Old apple-tree! Whence thou mayst bud, And whence thou mayst blow, And whence thou mayst bear Apples enow: Hats full, Caps full, Bushels, bushels, sacks full, And my pockets full too! Huzza! huzza!'"

[Illustration: WASSAILING THE APPLE-TREES IN DEVONSHIRE.]

The cider-jug is then passed round, and, with many a hearty shout, the party fire off their guns, charged with powder only, amidst the branches, sometimes frightening the owl from its midnight haunt. With confident hopes they return to the farmhouse, and are refused admittance, in spite of all weather, till some lucky wight guesses aright the peculiar roast the maidens are preparing for their comfort. This done, all enter, and soon right merrily the jovial glass goes round, that man who gained admittance receiving the honour of King for the evening, and till a late hour he reigns, amidst laughter, fun, and jollity. The origin of this custom is not known, but it is supposed to be one of great antiquity.

"'The illustration is from a sketch by Mr. Colebrooke, Stockdale.'"

We may add that, in the seventeenth century, a similar custom seems to have been observed in some places on Christmas Eve, for in Herrick's _Hesperides_ the wassailing of fruit trees is among the Christmas Eve ceremonies:--

 "Wassail the trees, that they may beare You many a plum, and many a peare; For more or less fruits they will bring, As you do give them wassailing."

CHRISTMAS MORNING IN EXETER CATHEDRAL.

Writing from Exeter, in 1852, a correspondent says "the custom of welcoming this season of holy joy with 'psalms and hymns and spiritual songs' lingers in the cathedral city of Exeter; where, during Christmas Eve, the parish choirs perambulate the streets singing anthems, with instrumental accompaniments. The singing is protracted through the night, when the celebration often assumes a more secular character than is strictly in accordance with the festival. A more sacred commemoration is, however, at hand.

"At a quarter-past seven o'clock on Christmas morning the assemblage of persons in the nave of Exeter Cathedral is usually very numerous: there are the remnants of the previous vigil, with unwashed faces and sleepy eyes; but a large number are early risers, who have left their beds for better purposes than a revel. There is a great muster of the choir, and the fine Old Hundredth Psalm is sung from the gallery to a full organ, whose billows of sound roll through the vaulted edifice. The scene is strikingly picturesque: all is dim and shadowy; the red light from the flaring candles falling upon upturned faces, and here and there falling upon a piece of grave sculpture, whilst the grey light of day begins to stream through the antique windows, adding to the solemnity of the scene. As the last verse of the psalm peals forth, the crowd begins to move, and the spacious cathedral is soon left to the more devout few who remain to attend the morning service in the Lady-chapel."

 

A WELSH CHRISTMAS.

From the "Christmas Chronicles of Llanfairpwllycrochon," by R. P. Hampton Roberts, in _Notes and Queries_, December 21, 1878, we quote the following:

"Now Thomas Thomas, and Mary Jones, and all their neighbours, had great veneration for Christmas, and enjoyed much pleasure in looking forward to the annual recurrence of the feast. Not that they looked upon it as a feast in any ecclesiastical sense, for Llanfairpwllycrochon was decidedly Calvinistically Methodist, and rejected all such things as mere popish superstition.

"The Christmas goose was a great institution at Llanfairpwllycrochon. The annual goose club had no existence there, it is true, but the annual goose had nevertheless. Thomas Thomas, after his memorable visit to London, came home imbued with one English idea which startled the villagers more than anything had done since the famous bonfire on the outlying hill when the heir came of age, and it was a long time before they recovered from their surprise. It was nothing less than a proposition to substitute beef for the Christmas dinner instead of a goose. Here was a sad falling off from the ways of Llanfairpwllycrochon! And Thomas Thomas was a man who persisted in an idea once it entered his mind--an event of rare occurrence, it is true, and consequently all the more stubborn whenever it did occur. Thomas Thomas had, however, sufficient respect for the opinion of his neighbours to make him compromise matters by providing for himself alone a small beefsteak as an adjunct to the time-honoured goose.

"Another Christmas institution at Llanfairpwllycrochon was the universal pudding, mixed as is wont by every member of the family. Then there was the bun-loaf, or _barabrith_, one of the grand institutions of Llanfairpwllycrochon. Many were the pains taken over this huge loaf--made large enough to last a week or fortnight, according to the appetites of the juvenile partakers--and the combined "Christmas-boxes" of the grocer and baker went to make up the appetising whole, with much more in addition.

"Christmas Eve was a day of exceeding joy at Llanfairpwllycrochon. The manufacture of paper ornaments and 'kissing bushes,' radiant with oranges, apples, paper roses, and such like fanciful additions as might suit the taste or means of the house-holder, occupied most of the day. And then they had to be put up, and the house in its Christmas decorations looked more resplendent than the imagination of the most advanced villager--at present at school, and of the mature age of five and a half years, the rising hope of the schoolmaster, and a Lord Chancellor in embryo in fine--could have pictured. As a reward for the day's toil came the night's sweet task of making _cyflath_, _i.e._, toffee. Thomas Thomas, and those who spoke the Saxon tongue among the villagers, called it 'taffy.' Once had Thomas Thomas been corrected in his pronunciation, but the hardy Saxon who ventured on the bold proceeding was silenced when he heard that he was not to think he was going to persuade a reasonable man into mutilating the English tongue. 'Taffy it iss, and taffy I says,' and there was an end of the matter. Without taffy the inhabitants of Llanfairpwllycrochon, it was firmly believed by the vicar, would not have known the difference between Christmas and another time, and it is not therefore matter for surprise that they should so tenaciously cling to its annual making. At midnight, when the syrupy stuff was sufficiently boiled, it would be poured into a pan and put into the open air to cool. Here was an opportunity for the beaux of the village which could not be missed. They would steal, if possible, the whole, pan and all, and entail a second making on the unfortunate victims of their practical joke.

"Sometimes the Christmas Eve proceedings would be varied by holding a large evening party, continued all night, the principal amusement of which would be the boiling of toffee, one arm taking, when another was tired, the large wooden spoon, and turning the boiling mass of sugar and treacle, this process being continued for many hours, until nothing would be left to partake of but a black, burnt sort of crisp, sugary cinder. Sometimes the long boiling would only result in a soft mass, disagreeable to the taste and awkward to the hand, the combined efforts of each member of the party failing to secure consistency or strength in the mixed ingredients.

"And then there were the carols at midnight, and many more were the Christmas customs at Llanfairpwllycrochon."

 

EFFECTS OF THE SEASON.

  "These Christmas decorations are _so_ jolly!" She cried, zeal shining in her orbs of blue. "_Don't_ you like laurel gleaming under holly?" He answered, "_I_ love mistletoe over _yew_!"--_Punch._

[Illustration: "ST. GEORGE" IN COMBAT WITH "ST. PETER."]

 

YORKSHIRE SWORD-ACTORS.

Under this title, Mr. T. M. Fallow, M.A., F.S.A., writing in the _Antiquary_, May, 1895, gives an account of rustic performances which were witnessed at Christmastide in the neighbourhood of Leeds about fifteen years earlier, and he illustrates the subject with a series of pictures from photographs taken at the time, which are here reproduced. The play depicted is that of the "Seven Champions of Christendom," and in the picture on the preceding page "St. George" is shown engaged in combat with "St. Peter," while "St. Andrew" and "St. Denys" are each kneeling on one knee, a sign of their having been vanquished.

"It may be well to point out," says Mr. Fallow, "that in the West Riding, or at any rate in the neighbourhood of Leeds, the sword-actors were quite distinct from the 'mummers.' They generally numbered nine or ten lads, who, disguised by false beards as men, were dressed in costume as appropriate to the occasion as their knowledge and finances would permit, and who acted, with more or less skill, a short play, which, as a rule, was either the 'Peace Egg' or the 'Seven Champions of Christendom.' The following illustration shows two of the 'champions,' as photographed at the time stated:--

[Illustration: "ST. PETER." "ST. DENYS."]

"There was a little indefiniteness," says Mr. Fallow, "as to the characters represented in the play, but usually they were the King of Egypt, his daughter, a fool or jester, St. George, St. Andrew, St. Patrick, St. David, St. Denys, St. James, and a St. Thewhs, who represented a Northern nation--Russia, or sometimes Denmark--and whose exact identity seems obscure. The seven champions occasionally included St. Peter of Rome, as in the group whose photograph is given. St. George engaged in mortal combat with each champion in succession, fighting for the hand of the King of Egypt's daughter. When at length each of the six was slain, St. George, having vanquished them all, won the fair lady, amid the applause of the bystanders. Then, at the conclusion, after a general clashing and crossing of swords, the fool or jester stepped forward, and wound up the performance with an appeal for pecuniary recognition."

 

OTHER CHRISTMAS PERFORMANCES.

In a Christmas article, published in 1869, Dr. Rimbault mentions the performance of "St. George and the Dragon" in the extreme western and northern parts of the country. The following five characters are given: Father Christmas, Turkish Knight, King of Egypt, St. George, Doctor. Other writers mention similar plays, with variations of characters, as seen in the rural parts of Northamptonshire, Warwickshire, and Staffordshire, and the present writer has himself seen such plays at Madeley, in Shropshire.

S. Arnott, of Turnham Green, writing in _Notes and Queries_, December 21, 1878, says: "When I was living at Hollington, near Hastings, in the year 1869, the village boys were in the habit of visiting the houses of the gentry at Christmas time to perform a play, which had been handed down by tradition." The description of the play which then followed shows that it was another variation of the well-known Christmas play, and included the "Turkish Knight," the "Bold Slasher," and other familiar characters.

 

A SCOTCH FIRST FOOTING.

Writing on "Mid-winter Customs in the North," Mr. Edward Garrett says "it is not easy to write of 'Christmas customs in the North,' because many of them, even though connected with the Christmas festival, do not take place till January 6th, that being Christmas Day, Old Style, while most of them are associated with the New Year, either Old or New Style, one of the most striking celebrations coming off on January 11th, regarded as 'New Year's Eve.'

"Christmas itself has never been a national Scottish festival since the Reformation. On its purely festive side, it has become somewhat of a 'fashion' of late years, but its ancient customs have only lingered on in those districts where Episcopacy has taken deep root. Such a district is 'Buchan'--a track of country in the north-east of Aberdeenshire--a place which cannot be better described than in the words of one of its own gifted sons, Dr. Walter Smith:--

 "'A treeless land, where beeves are good, And men have quaint, old-fashioned ways, And every burn has ballad lore, And every hamlet has its song, And on its surf-beat, rocky shore The eerie legend lingers long. Old customs live there, unaware That they are garments cast away, And what of light is lingering there Is lingering light of yesterday.'"

[Illustration: A SCOTCH FIRST FOOTING.]

 

YULETIDE CUSTOMS IN SHETLAND.

The inherent Scandinavianism of the Shetlander, which leads him to repudiate the appellation of Scotchman, and to cherish in secret the old customs and superstitions of his ancestors, asserts itself yearly in the high jinks with which he continues to honour the old holy days of Yule. Until within the last two or three years, he pertinaciously adhered to the old style in his observance of these festivities. On Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, and Uphelya--the twenty-fourth day after Yule, and that on which the holy or holidays are supposed to be "up"--the youths of Lerwick, attired in fantastic dresses, go "guising" about the town in bands, visiting their friends and acquaintances and reproducing in miniature the carnival of more southern climes. On one or other of these occasions a torchlight procession forms part of the revelry. Formerly blazing tar barrels were dragged about the town, and afterwards, with the first break of morning, dashed over the Knab into the sea. But this ancient and dangerous custom has very properly been discontinued. The dresses of the guisers are often of the most expensive and fanciful description. Highlanders, Spanish cavaliers, negro minstrels, soldiers in the peaked caps, kerseymere breeches, and scarlet coats turned up with buff, of the reign of George II., Robin Hoods, and Maid Marians were found in the motley throng. Some, with a boldness worthy of Aristophanes himself, caricature the dress, the walk, or some other eccentricity of leading personages in the town; others--for the spirit of "the Happy Land" has reached these hyperborean regions--make pleasant game of well-known political characters. Each band of guisers has its fiddler, who walks before it, playing "Scalloway Lasses," or "The Foula Reel," or "The Nippin' Grund," or some other archaic tune. Thus conducted, and blowing a horn to give notice of their approach, the maskers enter the doors of all houses which they find open, dance a measure with the inmates, partake of and offer refreshment, and then depart to repeat the same courtesies elsewhere. At daylight the horn of the Most Worthy Grand Guiser, a mysterious personage, whose personality and functions are enveloped in the deepest concealment, is heard summoning all the bands to end their revels, and when, in the cold grey dawn of the winter morning, the worthy citizens of Lerwick awake to pursue their wonted avocations, not a trace remains of the saturnalia of the night before.--Sheriff Rampini, in _Good Words_.

Now, passing from the islands to the sea itself, it is pleasant to note that in recent years Christian hearts have carried

 

CHRISTMAS CHEER TO THE NORTH SEA FISHERMEN.

Through the "Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen" twelve thousand brave and hardy fishermen have been cheered at Christmastide, for to their fleets the Mission's vessels now take medical and surgical aid, books and magazines, woollen garments and tobacco, which, as adjuncts to higher religious aid, are turning the once wild and desperate ocean roughs into clean-living sailors and good husbands and fathers--therefore are these days on the North Sea better far than those that are gone. Thousands of these brave men turn at Christmas to the M.D.S.F. flag as to the one bright link which binds them to friendly hearts ashore, assuring them that in England's Christmas festivities they and their like have a real part, and are no longer forgotten.

Some facts recorded by the Rev. John Sinclair[91] illustrate the dangers of the wild winter sea, and also set forth some

 

CHRISTMAS EXPERIENCES IN THE ORKNEY ISLES.

They were related to Mr. Sinclair by Mr. Traill, chief of the clan, with whom he stayed on the occasion of his visit to the island of Pappa Westra. The first of the two incidents was as follows:--"One Christmas Day," says Mr. Traill, "during a heavy gale, I wrapped my cloak about me, and started off with my telescope to walk upon the cliffs. Coming to the other side of the island, on which the surf was beating violently, I observed a vessel a few miles off fire a signal of distress. I hastened to the nearest point, and with the help of my glass perceived that she was Dutch built, and that, having lost her rudder, she was quite unmanageable. She fired several guns at short intervals, and my people came in large numbers to give assistance. But the surf was so fearful that nothing could be done. No boat could have lived a moment in such a sea. We were all utterly helpless. As the vessel drifted towards us, I could see the whole tragedy as distinctly as if it had been acted on the stage. Immediately below me were a number of my fellow-creatures, now alive and in health, and in a few moments they would all be mangled corpses. I could make out the expression of their features, and see in what manner each was preparing for inevitable death. But whether they climbed up into the shrouds, or held by ropes on deck while the sea was washing over the bulwarks, their fate was the same. The first wave lifted the vessel so high that I almost thought it would have placed her upon the land. She fell back, keel upwards. The next wave struck her with such terrific force against the cliffs that she was shivered at once into a thousand pieces; hardly two planks held together. It seemed as if she had been made of glass. Not a soul escaped. One or two bodies, with a few planks and casks, were all that ever reached the shore." Well might Mr. Traill add, "I was haunted for months by the remembrance of that heartrending sight."

The other story related by Mr. Traill shows that a Christmas party may be detained indefinitely in one of these remote islands, should the weather prove unfavourable. At Christmastide, a former Laird of Westra "collected a numerous party from all the neighbouring islands to celebrate the christening of his eldest son." His hospitalities cost him dear. A storm arose; his guests could not get away; instead of enjoying their society for a few days, he was obliged to entertain them at a ruinous expense for many weeks. His larder, his cellar, and his barns, were by degrees exhausted. His farm stock had all

been slaughtered, except the old bull, which he was reserving as a last resource, when at length the wind abated, and a calm delivered him from this ruinous situation.

Thus it appears that in these remote islands of Scotland Christmas is not forgotten. But a writer in a well-known Scotch journal says the surest sign of the general joy is "Christmas in the Workhouse":--

 "Christmas was gay in the old squire's hall, Gay at the village inn, Cheery and loud by the farmer's fire, Happy the manse within; But the surest signs of the general joy, And that all the world was happy--very, Were the sounds that proved at the workhouse door That even 'the paupers' were merry."

 

A REMARKABLE CHRISTMAS GATHERING.

The Greenwich Hospital for Sick Seamen of all Nations presented on Christmas Day, 1880, a remarkable gathering of national representatives. There were 179 sailors, representing 31 nationalities, belonging to ships of 19 distinct nations. They were summed up thus:--England, 77; Wales, 3; Scotland, 9; Ireland, 11; Norway, 10; Sweden, 9; Finland, 6; United States, 5; Denmark, 5; British India, 4; France, 3; Germany, 3; Nova Scotia, 3; Russia, 2; Austria, 2; Italy, 2; Cape de Verd Islands, 2; Chili, 2; Jamaica, 2; Barbadoes, 2; St. Thomas, 2; Spain, 1; Portugal, 1; Canada, 1; New Brunswick, 1; Transvaal, 1; Gold Coast, 1; Brazil, 1; St. Kitts, 1; Mauritius, 1; Society Islands, 1. The mercantile marines represented were no bad index to the proportion of the carrying trade of the world each nation undertakes:--England, 96 vessels; Ireland, 3; Scotland, 16; Wales, 4; Norway, 7; Sweden, 5; United States, 6; Denmark, 2; France, 2; Germany, 3; Nova Scotia, 7; Russia, 2; Netherlands, 4; Channel Islands, 2; New Brunswick, 2; Italy, 1; Zanzibar, 1; Spain, 1.

The early morning brought warm Christmas wishes to the patients. Each found by his bedside a packet addressed to him by name. Some good lady had taken the enormous pains to work a pretty, and, at the same time, stout and serviceable wallet, with the inscription, "My letters," embroidered thereupon, and to accompany this little gift, in every case, with a short and seasonable letter of Christmas wishes, using other languages than English, to suit the convenience of every recipient. The initials under which these offerings came were "N. C. H." Other gifts, Christmas cards and Christmas reading, in the shape of magazines and illustrated papers were gladly welcomed.

The decorations of the corridors and rooms had given occupation to the sick sailors for several days, and sentiments of loyalty to the Queen and the Royal Family were abundantly displayed, together with portraits of members of the Royal Family which had been drawn from fancy.

The officers and nurses had dedicated to them some specimens of real sailor poetry, combining the names of the staff. With grim humour, the "operation room" bore above it "Nil desperandum"; and the decorated walls of the hospital told the onlookers that "small vessels should keep in shore," that "windmills are not turned by a pair of bellows," that "good things are not found in heaps," that "hasty people fish in empty ponds," that "plenty, like want, ruins many," &c.

The dinner at one o'clock was a great success. All who could get out of bed made it a point of honour to be present. But for adverse winds keeping ships from entering the Thames, the guests would have been more numerous. But, as it was, the patients under the roof numbered 179. There were, of course, difficulties of language; but no "Jack" ever ploughed the sea who does not understand a Christmas dinner; and, besides, the hospital in its nurses and staff possesses the means of conversing in seventeen different languages.

The scene was a thoroughly Christmas one; and many other festive scenes, almost as interesting, were seen in all parts of England. Whether recorded or unrecorded, who does not rejoice in such efforts to promote "goodwill amongst men," and long for the time--

 "When peace shall over all the earth Its ancient splendours fling, And the whole world send back the song, Which now the angels sing."

 

CHRISTMAS CRACKERS.

One of the popular institutions inseparable from the festivities of Christmastide has long been the "cracker." The satisfaction which young people especially experience in pulling the opposite ends of a gelatine and paper cylinder is of the keenest, accompanied as the operation is by a mixed anticipation--half fearful as to the explosion that is to follow, and wholly delightful with regard to the bonbon or motto which will thus be brought to light. Much amusement is afforded to the lads and lassies by the fortune-telling verses which some of the crackers contain. But the cracker of our early days was something far different from what it is now. The sharp "crack" with which the article exploded, and from which it took its name, was then its principal, and, in some cases, its only feature; and the exclamation, "I know I shall scream," which John Leech, in one of his sketches, puts into the mouth of two pretty girls engaged in cracker-pulling, indicated about the all of delight which that occupation afforded. Since then, however, the cracker has undergone a gradual development. Becoming by degrees a receptacle for bon-bons, rhymed mottoes, little paper caps and aprons, and similar toys, it has passed on to another and higher stage, and is even made a vehicle for high art illustrations. Considerable artistic talent has been introduced in the adornment of these novelties. For instance, the "Silhouette" crackers are illustrated with black figures, comprising portraits of well-known characters in the political, military, and social world, exquisitely executed, while appropriate designs have been adapted to other varieties, respectively designated "Cameos," "Bric-a-brac," "Musical Toys," &c.; and it is quite evident that the education of the young in matters of good taste is not overlooked in the provision of opportunities for merriment.

SANTA CLAUS AND THE STOCKING.

Hang up the baby's stocking! Be
   sure you don't forget! The dear
    little dimpled darling, she never
     saw   Christmas   yet!   But   I've
     told her all about it, and she opened
     her  big  blue  eyes; and I'm sure
     she understood it--she  looked so
     funny and wise. * * *  Dear, what
    a tiny stocking!  It doesn't take
   much to hold such little pink toes
  as baby's away from the frost and
 cold.  But then,  for  the baby's
 Christmas, it will never do at all.
  Why! Santa wouldn't be looking
   for    anything    half   so
    small.  * * *  I know what
     will do for the baby. I've
      thought of the very best
       plan.   I'll  borrow  a
        stocking  of Grandma's,
         the longest that ever
          I can.  And  you'll
          hang  it  by  mine,
          dear mother, right
         here in the corner,
        so!   And  leave  a
       letter to Santa, and
      fasten   it on to the
     toe. * * * Write--this
    is the baby's stocking,
   that hangs in the corner
    here.  You  never have
     seen her, Santa, for
      she only came this
       year.   But  she's
        just the blessed'st
         baby.   And  now
          before  you  go,
           just  cram  her
            stocking  with
            goodies, from
             the top clean
               down to
                 the
                  toe!

 

FATALLY BURNT IN CHRISTMAS COSTUMES.

The Christmastide of 1885-6 was marred by two fatal accidents which again illustrate the danger of dressing for entertainments in highly-inflammable materials. In the first case a London lady, on Boxing Night, was entertaining some friends, and appeared herself in the costume of _Winter_. She was dressed in a white robe of thin fabric, and stood under a canopy from which fell pieces of cotton wool to represent snowflakes, and in their descent one of them caught light at the candelabra, and fell at deceased's feet. In trying to put it out with her foot her dress caught fire, and she was immediately enveloped in flames. So inflammable was the material that, although prompt assistance was rendered, she was so severely burnt as to become unconscious. A medical man was sent for, and everything possible was done for her; but she sank gradually, and died from exhaustion. The second of these tragical incidents plunged a Paris family in deep sorrow. The parents, who lived in a beautiful detached house in the Rue de la Bienfaisance, had arranged that their children and some youthful cousins were to play before a party of friends on New Year's Night on the stage of a little theatre which had just been added to their house. The play was to represent the decrepit old year going out and the new one coming in. The eldest daughter, a charming girl of fourteen, was to be the good genius of 1886, and to be dressed in a loose transparent robe. On the appointed evening, after the company had assembled, she donned her stage costume and ran into her mother's bedroom to see how it became her. While looking at herself in a mirror on the toilette table her loose sleeve came in contact with the flame of a candle and blazed up. She screamed for help and tried to roll herself in the bed clothes; but the bed, being covered with a lace coverlet and curtained with muslin was also set on fire, and soon the whole room was ablaze. By the time help arrived the girl's clothes were all burning into the flesh; but such was her vitality that, in spite of the dreadful state in which every inch of her body was, she survived the accident many hours.

Similar disasters occurred at Christmas festivities in 1889, at Detroit, and in 1891, at Wortley, Leeds. In the former several little children were fatally burnt, and in the latter fifteen children were set on fire, eleven of them fatally.

 

CHRISTMAS LITERATURE

is too large a subject to enter upon at length, for a bulky volume would scarcely suffice to describe the numerous Christmas annuals, illustrated Christmas numbers, newspaper supplements and variety papers which have become popular at Christmastide since the first appearance of Dickens's "Christmas Stories." The development of the Christmas trade in this light literature has been marvellous, and it is increasing year by year. And the same may be said of the charming gift-books which are published annually just before Christmas.

 

CHRISTMAS LETTER MISSIONS.

Through the various letter missions that have been established thousands of Christmas letters and illustrated missives, bright with anecdote, are despatched annually to the inmates of convalescent homes and hospitals, and are heartily welcomed by the recipients, for every one likes to be remembered on Christmas Day.

 

THE POST-OFFICE OFFICIALS AND POSTMEN

have, however, been very heavily weighted with these new Christmas customs. They have inflicted upon postmen and letter-sorters an amount of extra labour that is almost incredible. The postal-parcel work is also very heavy at the festive season.

 

THE RAILWAYS AT CHRISTMAS.

 "Home for the holidays, here we go; Bless me, the train is exceedingly slow! Pray, Mr. Engineer, get up your steam, And let us be off, with a puff and a scream! We have two long hours to travel, you say; Come, Mr. Engineer, gallop away!"[92]

This familiar verse recalls the eagerness of the schoolboy to be home for the Christmas holidays. And adults are no less eager to join their friends at the festive season; many travel long journeys in order to do so. Hence the great pressure of work on railway employés, and the congested state of the traffic at Christmastide. Two or three days before Christmas Day the newspapers publish what are called "railway arrangements," detailing the privileges granted by this and that company, and presenting the holiday traveller with a sort of appetising programme; and any one who will spend an hour at any of the great termini of the metropolis at this period can see the remarkable extent to which the public avail themselves of the facilities offered. The growth of railway travelling at Christmastide has, indeed, been marvellous in recent years, and it becomes greater every year. The crowded state of the railway stations, and the trains that roll out of them heavily laden with men, women, and children, wedged together by parcels bursting with good cheer, show most unmistakably that we have not forgotten the traditions of Christmas as a time of happy gatherings in the family circles of Old England.

*     *     *     *     *

But, as there is also much Christmas-keeping in other parts of the world, we pass now to--

    [79] Huish's "Life of George the Third."

    [80] _Gentleman's Magazine_, 1790.

    [81] Copied from an undated leaflet inserted in the British Museum copy of Brand's "Antiquities," by the late Mr Joseph Hazlewood.

    [82] Hone's "Every-day Book," 1826.

    [83] Herbert H. Adams.

    [84] "A black Christmas makes a fat kirk-yard." A windy Christmas and a calm Candlemas are signs of a good year.

    [85] The "savoury haggis" (from _hag_ to chop) is a dish commonly made in a sheep's maw, of its lungs, heart, and liver, mixed with suet, onions, salt, and pepper; or of oatmeal mixed with the latter, without any animal food.

    [86] F. Lawrence.

    [87] "Old English Customs and Charities," 1842.

    [88] "Biographical Lectures."

    [89] "History of Berks," vol. xxv.

    [90] "Grim, King of the Ghosts."

    [91] "Old Times and Distant Places," 1875.

    [92] Eliza Cook.

[Illustration]