Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

ANTIQUARIAN NOTICE.

563

clearly in its origin an astronomical observance, to celebrate the Winter solstice and the consequently approaching prolongation of the days, as is demonstrated by the emblematic Christmas candles and Yule-logs, the symbols of increasing light and heat.

These Christmas candles, though now out of date, were at one time of an immense size, and not a few in number, the houses being very generally illuminated with them. The church too adopted the same custom, but gave especial reasons of its own for such observance ; the apostles, as they explained it, were the light of the world, and as our Saviour also was frequently called the light, so his coming was typified by these emblems. In the buttery of St. John's College, Oxford, there is yet to be seen an "ancient candle-socket of stone, ornamented with the figure of the Holy Lamb. It was formerly used to burn the Christmas candle in, on the high table, during the twelve nights of that festival.”

For similar reasons they lighted the Yule-clog, or Yulelog, for the words are synonymous. On these occasions the log was usually as large as the hearth would admit of, or the means of the rejoicers could supply, and in some of the northern counties of England, so long as the log lasted, the servants were entitled to ale at their meals. At one time custom prescribed that it should be lighted with a brand of the last year's block, which had been carefully put by and preserved for that purpose, as we find it pleasantly recorded by Herrick :

“ Come bring with a noise,

My merrie, merrie boys,
The Christmas log to the firing;

While my good dame, she

Bids ye all be free
And drink to your heart's desiring.

With the last year's brand

Light the new block, and
For good success in his spending,

On your psaltries play

That sweet luck may

Come while the log is a teending." Herrick's “ Hesperides." To Teend is to kindle, or to burn, from the Anglo-Saxou Tendan, to set on fire.

It is also requisite that the maidens, who blow a Christmas fire, should come to the task with clean hands.

“Wash your hands or else the fire

Will not teind to your desire;
Unwash'd hands, ye maidens, know
Dead the fire though ye blow."

A custom no less general is the dressing up of houses, particularly in the halls and kitchens, with branches of holly, ivy, bays, and rosemary, the two last mentioned being however in much less frequent use than the former. Nor must the misletoe be forgotten in this record of Christmas festivities ; for, whatever it may do in these refined days, it used to play a conspicuous part, less than a century ago, when it was regularly suspended both in hall and kitchen, that the young folks of whatever rank, might duly kiss and be kissed beneath its mystic branches.

In Yorkshire many of the old customs belonging to this day existed a few years ago, and I believe are still to be found in some of the remoter parts. One never-failing remnant of the olden time was the cheese, which had been especially made and preserved for the occasion. produced with much ceremony by every rustic dame, who, before she allowed it to be tasted, took a sharp knife and scored upon it rude resemblances to the cross, To this were added the mighty wassail-bowl brimming with Lambswool, and furmity made of barley-meal, which last was also an essential of the breakfast-table. At Ripon in the same county the singing boys used on this day to come into the church with basketfuls of red apples, with a sprig of rosemary stuck in each, which they present to all the congregation, and generally have a return made them of 2d. 4d. or 6d. according to the quality of the lady or gentle

This was

man.

CHRISTMAS DAY.—December 25. There is much doubt as to the origin of this festival. The earliest churchman who makes any mention of it is Theophilus, bishop of Antioch, about the year 170, in his paschal letter, and for the first four centuries it was far from being universally celebrated. It is even a matter of great uncertainty when it should be kept, and Cassian tells us that the Egyptians

ANTIQUARIAN JOTICE.

565

observed the Epiphany, the Nativity, and Baptism of Christ on the same day, while modern chronologists, at the head of whom is Scaliger, agree that Christ was born at the end of September or the beginning of October, about the time of the Jewish Feast of the Tabernacles.

In the earlier ages this day was called in the Eastern Church the Epiphany, or Manifestation of the Light, a name which was subsequently given to Twelfth Night, as I have already mentioned. On this occasion it was used allusively to the birth of Christ, and hence also came the custom, which prevailed in the ancient church, of lighting up candles at the reading of the gospels even at mid-day, partly to testify the general joy, and partly to symbolise the new light that was shining on mankind.

Among the Anglo-Saxons this day was the beginning of the year; and in the shows of a later, but still remote, time Christmas was personified in his pageant by “ an old man hung round with savoury dainties.

No sooner had midnight passed, and the Day of the Nativity commenced, than the people hastened to welcome it with carols, and these were generally sung with some others from the Nativity to the Twelfth Day, the continuance of Christmas. In the present day the place of the carols is supplied by tunes played just before midnight by the so-called Waits, whilst the carols themselves are annually published in the humblest form and with the coarsest wood-cuts for the amusement of the people.

On the Christmas Day these carols used at one time to take the place of psalms in the churches, and more particularly at the afternoon seryice, the whole congregation joining in them. At the end of the carol the clerk would declare in a loud voice his wishes for a merry Christmas and a happy new year to all the parishioners.

ST. STEPHEN's Day.-December 26th. He was called the protomartyr, or first martyr to the gospel, having been stoned to death by the Jews for accusing them of the murder of Christ, whom he maintained to be the true Messiah.

The feast of Saint Stephen is now best known amongst us as Boxing-Day, a term which has most probably been derived from the custom of depositing the Christmas gifts

in a money-box, from which they could not be extracted but by breaking open the box itself. Of this usage many scattered hints may be found in our old writers. Humphrey Browne, when speaking of a miser, says "he doth exceed in receiving, but is very deficient in giving; like the Christmas earthen boxes of apprentices, apt to take in money, but hee restores none till hee be broken like a potter's vessel into many shares."

NEW YEAR'S EVE.-SINGING E'EN.-December 31st. The last of these names is peculiar to Fife, and is supposed by Jamieson to be derived from the carols sung on this evening.

To this day also belongs the Hogmanay, Hogmenay, or Hogmena, which has been supposed, and not without some appearance of reason, to be a corruption of a Druid rite, while the word itself would seem to have come to us from Normandy. Gue, or Guy is the Celtic name for oak, and Keysler tells us that on the 31st of December the boys and youths go about the towns and villages, begging for gifts, while by way of wishing a happy New-Year, they cry, "Au Guy L'An Neuf-To the Mistletoe, the New Year's come;' by which word they designate not only the season but the gift received."

In Scotland the custom prevailed till very lately, if indeed it has ever ceased entirely to exist, of distributing sweet cakes and a particular kind of sugared bread for several days before and after the new year: and on the last night of the old year, especially called Hagmenai, the social meetings made a point of remaining together till the clock struck twelve, when they all rose up, kissed each other, and wished a happy new year around. Children, and others, went about for several nights from house to house in guisarts, or guisards, that is to say in masquerade disguises, singing at the same time;

"Rise up, good wife, and be no swier

To deale your bread as long's you're here;
The time will come when you'll be dead,
And neither want nor meal nor bread."

The Wassail-bowl, or cup, though it figures also on Christmas Eve, seems to be now more particularly in its

ANTIQUARIAN NOTICE.

567

proper place. Lambs-wool was the legitimate drink presented in the wassail-cup, a compound consisting of ale, nutmeg, sugar, toast and roasted crabs, or apples. The phrase has been derived by some from the Saxon, wæs hæl, i. e., “be in health,” which seems to be probable enough. But the custom of drinking healths has prevailed in other times and amongst other people. The Greeks might have been the originators of toasting, and at all events the custom prevailed amongst them; they drank to the gods, to the magistrates, to each other; and the Christians only followed their example when they drank in honour of St. John the Baptist, or, in the name of the blessed archangel St. Michael, to which the compotators responded by a devout "amen !” So, too, the old Danes drank to Thor, Woden, and their kindred deities; and, when converted to Christianity, they only changed the object, drinking on Christmas day to St. Olave, who had converted them, or otherwise as the case might be, while the Icelanders drank to Jesus Christ, and even to God the Father. Bumpers are of remote antiquity as we read in Athenæus. Sometimes when the Greeks drank to the health of any one they sent him an empty cup; at others the toaster would taste the wine and send it round to the person whom he saluted. In toasting a mistress, they emptied as many cups as there were letters to her name.

THE END.

BRADBURY AXD EVANS, PRINTERE, WINTEFRIARS.

« ForrigeFortsæt »