Saturday, December 15, 2018

Robert Herrick 1591-1674 The Christmas Wassail Bowl

The Wassail Bowl 
an excerpt from "Ah, Posthumus!"
Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

Next I'll cause my hopeful lad,
If a wild apple can be had,
To crown the hearth;
Lar thus conspiring with our mirth;
Then to infuse
Our browner ale into the cruse;
Which, sweetly spiced, we'll first carouse
Unto the Genius of the house.

Then the next health to friends of mine.
Loving the brave Burgundian wine,
High sons of pith,
Whose fortunes I have frolick'd with;
Such as could well
Bear up the magic bough and spell;
And dancing 'bout the mystic Thyrse,
Give up the just applause to verse;

To those, and then again to thee,
We'll drink, my Wickes, until we be
Plump as the cherry,
Though not so fresh, yet full as merry
As the cricket,
The untamed heifer, or the pricket,1
Until our tongues shall tell our ears,
We're younger by a score of years.

Thus, till we see the fire less shine
From th' embers than the kitling's eyne,
We'll still sit up,
Sphering about the wassail cup,
To all those times
Which gave me honour for my rhymes;
The coal once spent, we'll then to bed,
Far more than night bewearied.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Christmas Wassailing as Social Protest in England & her North American Colonies

Not so innocent Wassailing from house to house
1860 Wassail Bowl Sir John Gilbert

By about 1600, it had become a custom for commoners to take a wassail bowl about the streets and probably from house to house, offering drink from it and sometimes expecting money in return. A song, first recorded in 1550, runs:
Wassail, wassail, out of the milk pail,
Wassail, wassail as white as my nail,
Wassail, wassail, in snow, frost and hail,
Wassail, wassail, that much doth avail,
Wassail, wassail, that never will fail.

During this period,one day a year the Lord of the Manor would be expected to open the doors of the manor and ‘trade places’ with the peasantry. He’d be expected to let anyone in who asked and provide them with none but the finest of his food and drink. The master became the servant, and the servant the master. And while some did so generously, others did so begrudgingly, which was considered poor form. Should the rabble feel they were being stiffed on the good stuff, such as being served wine that was less than the best vintage, they might do a little damage as repayment.

Instead of consuming the intoxicating punch at home, wassailers went house to house offering a warm drink, sometimes expecting payment. A late 17C journalist wrote, "Wenches ...by their Wassels at New-years-tide ...present you with a Cup, and you must drink of the slabby stuff; but the meaning is, you must give them Moneys."

A report as early as 1631, associated wassailing with anti-enclosure protesters. The account noted that the wassailers "did with two rummes, two coulers, and one fife in a warlike and outrageoud manner assemble themselves, together armed with gunnes, pykes, halberds, and other weapons."

In some places young women trimmed their wassail bowls with ribbons and sprigs of rosemary and carried them from home to home singing carols. A song of the period runs:
Wassail, wassail, out of the milk pail,
Wassail, wassail, as white as my nail,
Wassail, wassail, in snow, frost and hail,
Wassail, wassail, that much doth avail,
Wassail, wassail, that never will fail.

Soon wassailing in expectation of money or access began to reflect other manifestations of holiday "misrule" that characterized old English Christmas—an holdover from the ancient Romans. At the Roman winter festival of Saturnalia, & at Christmastide the Anglo-Saxons turned normal social relationships symbolically and temporarily upside down. Men and women might cross-dress and act the part of the opposite sex; school boys might bar their teachers from the schoolhouse; or a peasant might be named "Lord of Misrule." The wealthy were expected to share their bounty with poorer villagers and servants.

At Christmastide, the poor expected privileges denied them at other times, including the right to enter the homes of the wealthy, who feasted them from the best of their provisions. In exchange, the lord of the manor expected the goodwill of his people for another year. At these gatherings, the bands of roving wassailers often performed songs for the master while drinking his beer, toasting him, his family, his livestock, wishing continued health and wealth:
Again we assemble, a merry New Year
To wish each one of the family here....
May they of potatoes and herrings have plenty,
With butter and cheese, and each other dainty.

Not every song, however, expressed unreserved goodwill. Some conveyed threats of reprisals for bad treatment, a sentiment like the trick-or-treat of Halloween:
We have come to claim our right....
And if you don't open up your door,
We'll lay you flat upon the floor.

By the 18C, British folk Christmas alms-seeking rituals of mumming & wassailing involved a sanctioned reversal of social roles. These were sometimes accompanied by an air of suppressed menace, or led to open disorders. Earlier mummer and wassail undercurrents caused them to be regulated (masks were prohibited under Queen Elizabeth) or even banned at various times, as under Cromwell.

In December of 1742, this poem with advice for the gentry appeared in Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard Improved,
Open to all his hospitable Door,
His Tennent’s Patron, Parent to the Poor:
In Friendships dear, discording Neighbours bind,
Aid the distress’d, and humanise Mankind:
Wipe off the sorrowing Tear from Virtue’s Eyes,
Bid Honesty oppress’d, again arise:
Protect the Widow, give the Aged Rest,
And blessing live, and die for ever blest.
In Christmas feasting pray take care;
Let not your table be a Snare;
But with the Poor God’s Bounty share.

And in 1754, Franklin's Poor Richard Improved almanac offered this advice,
Learning to the Studious; Riches to the Careful; Power to the Bold; Heaven to the Virtuous.
Now glad the Poor with Christmas Cheer; Thank God you’re able so to end the Year.

In 1757, Franklin's almanac advised
When other Sins grow old by Time,
Then Avarice is in its prime,
Yet feed the Poor at Christmas time.

Over time, Christmas developed into a night of carousing. In colonial America, servants and male children would go out and about on Christmas Eve, knocking on doors of the gentry and demanding good food and drink. Before long they’d be very drunk, and the carousing would continue all night, waking families from their sleep. Should these rowdies be refused, they might tear up an outbuilding, or vandalize a fence or other property. This behavior led to the celebration of Christmas being discouraged in many places, with some areas having penalties for not working on Christmas Day.

By 1772, misrule & social protests at Christmas hit New York City. A newspaper complained that the absence of "decency, temperance, and sobriety" at Christmas was so serious a matter that it belonged in the courts. The problem was caused by the "assembling of Negroes, servants, boys and other disorderly persons, in noisy companies in the streets, where they spend time in gaming, drunkenness, quarreling, swearing, etc. to the great disturbance of the neighborhood." Their behavior was "so highly scandalous both to religion and civil government, that it is hoped the Magistrates will interpose to suppress the enormity."

William Hone wrote in his Every Day Book:
January 5 – Eve of Epiphany.
At times, however, the practice of wassailing has degenerated into nothing short of armed home invasions. The banning of Christmas altogether in both England and the American colonies by the Puritans and Pilgrims were, in small part, a reaction to these and other excesses (certainly larger theological issues were at work which led to the English Civil War).

In the early 1800s in New York, prominent citizens were very concerned about such practices (which also featured such actions as gunfire, drunkenness, sexual licentiousness, excessive gambling, and riots. It was their desire to take Christmas off the streets and into the homes. The evolution of Christmas practices in those years was a direct result. One change was from "wassailing" (and a wassail bowl containing alcoholic beverages) to "caroling" (which was more likely rewarded with hot chocolate, cookies, and the like).

One manifestation of this, the tipping of servants—called "boxing" after the clay boxes with money slits English servants once used or their collections—also found its way to colonial America. English and Canadian calendars still mark Boxing Day as December 26, the traditional feast day of St. Stephen, and the concept survives wherever an employer gives a Christmas bonus or when we tip at the holiday those who render us services throughout the year.
Mummers Robert Seymour’s “Book of Christmas” illustrations (1836)

1857 Wassail London Illustrated Times

The Wassail Bowl' by John Gilbert, 1860.

1856 Twelfth Night Wassail Bowl

Thursday, December 13, 2018

England's Christmas Pudding

Text from the very entertaining blog Dance's Historical Miscellany
 Presenting the plum pudding

Although the Christmas Pudding took its final form in Victorian England, the origins of Christmas pudding lie back in the middle ages, in the now-forgotten ‘plum pottage’. Pottage was a general term for a mixture of ingredients, usually meat and vegetables, boiled together in a cauldron for several hours. It was very versatile and was a staple of the English diet for many centuries. Plum pottage, the ancestor of the Christmas pudding, generally contained meat, dried fruits, a little sugar, and mixed spices (cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger). As with mince pies, the meat was included because many livestock were slaughtered in the autumn due to a lack of fodder in the winter, and cooks had to find a good way of both preserving and serving up the meat. Plum pottage didn’t necessarily contain any plums or prunes; it got its name from the fact that in the Elizabethan era, prunes became so popular that they started to be used to refer to a wide variety of dried fruits.
 Hurrah for the Christmas Pudding 1909

Over the course of the 18th century, pottage and porridge became unfashionable as sophisticated cuisine increasingly took its cues from France. In 1758 Martha Bradley, the author of The British Housewife: or, The Cooke, Housekeeper’s and Gardiner’s Companion said of plum porridge that “the French laugh outrageously at this old English Dish.” Her own recipe for ‘plumb porridge’ sounds very rich; it contains a leg and a shin of beef, white bread, currants, raisins, prunes, mace, cloves, nutmegs, sherry, salt and sugar. As plum pottage died out, the plum pudding rose to take its place. Thanks to cheap sugar from the expanding West Indian slave plantations, plum puddings became sweeter and the savoury element of the dish (meat) became less important. By the Victorian period the only meat product in a Christmas pudding was suet (raw beef or mutton fat). At this point it had really become Christmas pudding as we know it, with the cannonball-shaped pudding of flour, fruits, suet, sugar and spices topped with a sprig of holly, doused in brandy and set alight.

How exactly plum pudding got to be associated with Christmas is the next mystery. The earlier plum pottage was apparently enjoyed at times of celebration, although it was primarily associated with harvest festivities rather than Christmas. There is an unsubstantiated story that in 1714, King George I (sometimes known as the Pudding King) requested that plum pudding be served as part of his first Christmas feast in England. Whether this actually happened or not, was can see that recipe books from the 18th century onwards did start associating plum pudding with Christmas. In 1740, a publication titled Christmas Entertainments included a recipe for plum pudding, which suggests that it was increasingly eaten in a Christmas context. The first known reference to a ‘Christmas pudding’ is, however, not to be found until 1845, in Eliza Acton’s bestselling Modern Cookery for Private Families.
Joseph Clark (1834-1926) A Christmas Dole

At the time when Acton was composing her cookbook, Christmas puddings were traditionally made four or five weeks before Christmas on ‘Stir-up Sunday’. The name, rather amusingly, comes from the collect in the Book of Common Prayer for that Sunday, which reads “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth good works, may by thee be plenteously required; through Jesus Christ our Lord”. Traditionally everyone in the household gave the pudding mixture a stir and made a wish whilst doing so. It was a common practice to include either a threepence or a sixpence in the pudding mixture which could be kept by the person who found it. For children this was a welcome piece of pocket money and for adults it was supposed to bring wealth in the coming year. Other common tokens included a tiny wishbone to bring good luck, a silver thimble for thrift, and an anchor to symbolize safe harbor.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Pricey Christmas Turkey in 16C-18C England


About the Christmas turkey in England. In the 1570s, the price of a large turkey was 3s 4d & average weekly wage of a laborer was 2s 9d.  A Christmas turkey cost over 1 week’s wages for the working poor. But Tomas Tusser had reported in 1557 that, “Beef, mutton, and pork, and good pies of the best, Pig, veal, goose, and capon, and turkey well drest,” was the dinner of choice for the British gentry.  By the early 1600s turkey had begun to replace the tougher meats of peacock & swan at major Tudor banquets held by the rich & powerful. In the 1740s, a large turkey was 6s 3d & average weekly wage of a laborer was 8s 2d.  The celebrated Christmas turkey had dropped to just under a week’s wages for poorer British subjects.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The English Puritan assault on Christmas during the 1640s and 1650s

From the BBC History Magazine  Sunday 22nd December 2013
Submitted by Emma McFaron

"Mark Stoyle investigates popular resistance to the Puritan assault on Christmas during the 1640s and 1650s
A 1660 English illustration from A Book of Roxburghe Ballads.  This particular ballad is The Merry Boys of Christmas or The Milk-Maids New-Years-Gift.

"As the year 1645 limped towards its weary close, a war-torn England shivered beneath a thick blanket of snow. A few months earlier, parliament’s New Model Army, led by Sir Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell, had routed the forces of Charles I at the battle of Naseby. Although that defeat had struck the king’s cause a mortal blow, the royalists still refused to surrender, and the bloody Civil War which had divided the country ever since 1642 continued to rage.

"Under constant pressure from the armies of both sides to supply them with money, clothing and food, few Englishmen and women can have been anticipating a particularly merry Christmas. Yet, for those who lived in the extensive territories which were controlled by the king’s enemies, there was to be no Christmas this year at all – because the traditional festivities had been abolished by order of the two Houses of Parliament sitting at Westminster.

"From Charles’s beleaguered wartime capital in Oxford, the royalist satirist John Taylor – by now in his mid-60s, but nevertheless one of the king’s most indefatigable literary champions – issued a cry of anguish at this assault on England’s time-honoured customs. All of the “harmless sports” with which people had long celebrated Christ’s nativity “are now extinct and put out of use… as if they had never been,” Taylor lamented in his pamphlet The Complaint of Christmas, and “thus are the merry lords of misrule suppressed by the mad lords of bad rule at Westminster”.

"So why had the parliamentarians decided to wage war on Christmas – and how did those, like Taylor, who were determined to defend the traditional celebrations, fight back?

"The attack on the feast of Christmas had deep roots. Long before the Civil War began, many zealous Protestants, or ‘Puritans’, had been troubled both by the boisterous nature of the festivities which took place at Christmas and by the perceived association of those festivities with the old Catholic faith. During the early 1600s, most English Puritans had been prepared to tolerate Christmas. Following the rebellion of the Presbyterian Scots against Charles I in 1637, however, all this was to change.

"The Scottish Kirk, which was itself fiercely Protestant, had abolished Christmas as long ago as the 1560s and, although James I had managed tentatively to restore the feast in his northern kingdom in 1617, it was banned there once again after his son’s defeat by the Scots in 1640.

"From this time onwards, attitudes towards Christmas among English Puritans began to harden. And as political tensions between Charles I and his opponents in parliament rose during 1641 so a handful of Puritan extremists took it upon themselves to abandon the celebration of Christmas.

"Following the outbreak of full-scale Civil War between king and parliament in 1642, John Taylor became one of the first to allude in print to the radicals’ decision to dump Christmas. In a satirical pamphlet published in January 1643 – a pamphlet which was clearly intended to appeal to a wide popular audience – Taylor provided his readers with the text of A Tub Lecture, which, he claimed, had been preached by a godly joiner to a group of Puritans at Watford “on the 25 of December last, being Christmas day”.

"In this fictitious address, the ‘lecturer’ is shown assuring his audience that they should not “conceive of me to be so superstitious, as to make any conscience of… this day, because the Church hath ordained [it]” to be a holy feast. “No, God forbid I should be so profane,” the ‘lecturer’ goes on, “rather it is a detestation of their blindness that have brought me hither this day, to enlighten you… [and] I give you to understand that the very name of Christmas is idolatrous and profane, and so, verily, are the whole 12 days [of Christmas] wherein the wicked make daily… sacrifices to riot and sensuality”.

"Here, Taylor was hinting to his readers that the godly parliamentarians posed a potential threat to Christmas itself. Eight months later, that threat was to become all too real.
1600s woodcut of Christmas celebration

"Seizing the initiative

"One of the clauses of the ‘Solemn League and Covenant’ which parliament signed with the Scots in September 1643 stated that, in exchange for Scottish military assistance against the king, MPs would ensure that further “reformation” of the Church of England took place. As Ronald Hutton has observed, this clause encouraged religious radicals on the ground to seize the initiative and to attack those aspects of the traditional ecclesiastical calendar which they disliked.

"Three months later, a number of Puritan tradesmen in London opened up their shops for business on 25 December in order to show that they regarded this day as no different from any other, while several London ministers kept their church doors firmly shut. Meanwhile, many MPs turned up to sit in the parliament house, thus making their own disdain for the customary Christmas holiday very clear.

"During the following year, moreover – when Christmas Day happened to coincide with one of the monthly fast days upon which parliament’s supporters were enjoined to pray for the success of their cause – MPs ordered, not only that the fast day should be “observed” instead of the traditional feast, but also that the fast should be kept “with the more solemn humiliation, because it may call to remembrance our sins, and the sins of our forefathers, who have turned this feast, pretending [to] the memory of Christ, into an extreme forgetfulness of him, by giving liberty to carnal and sensual delights”.

"In January 1645 the final nail was hammered into Christmas’s coffin, when parliament issued its new Directory for the Public Worship of God, a radical alternative to the established Book of Common Prayer, which made no reference to Christmas at all. Thus the way was paved for the ‘anti-Christmas’ of 1645 – a day upon which, in Taylor’s words, a man might pass right through the parliamentary quarters, and “perceive no sign or token of any holy day”.

"The parliamentarians had abolished the high point of the English ritual year, and the cancellation of Christmas aroused huge popular resentment – not just in the royalist camp, but in the districts controlled by parliament, too. As early as December 1643, the apprentice boys of London rose up in violent protest against the shop-keepers who had opened on Christmas Day, and, in the words of a delighted royalist, “forced these money-changers to shut up their shops again”.

"There were further dark mutterings the next year. On 24 December 1644, the editor of a pro-parliamentarian news-pamphlet expressed his support for the MPs’ decision to favour the monthly fast over the traditional feast, but admitted that “the parliament is cried out on” by the common people as a result, with incredulous shouts of “What, not keep Christmas? Here’s a Reformation indeed!”

"Many ordinary Londoners continued to show a dogged determination to keep Christmas special during the following year, and John Taylor’s decision to rush into print at this time with his Complaint of Christmas – a work which bore the same title as a pamphlet urging the enthusiastic observance of the mid-winter feast, which he had published as long ago as 1631 – was clearly motivated by a desire to stir up popular resentment against the parliamentarian leadership, as well as to turn a quick profit for its poverty-stricken author.

"How far Taylor succeeded in these aims it is impossible to say, but his satire quickly provoked a parliamentarian counter-satire entitled The Arraignment, Conviction and Imprisoning of Christmas. Published in January 1646, this publication took great pleasure in conflating Taylor himself with the symbolic character of ‘old Christmas Day’ whose persona the royalist writer had assumed in his own previous pamphlets. In one passage, Taylor/‘old Christmas Day’ – here described as “an old, old, very old grey-bearded gentleman” – is portrayed sitting dejectedly in the midst of the king’s shrinking territories, while desperately urging “all you that ever think to see Christmas again, stick to me now close!”

"Any lingering hopes on the part of the royalists that popular anger at the abolition of Christmas might somehow transform their military fortunes were soon to be dispelled. During early 1646, Charles I’s remaining field forces melted away almost as fast as the winter snow and by April the game was clearly up for the king. In the closing verse of a contemporary ballad, a gloomy royalist writer suggested that the collapse of the king’s cause had sealed the fate of Christmas itself, remarking: “To conclude, I’ll tell you news that’s right, Christmas was killed at Naseby fight.”

"Yet matters were not so simple, for, even though the king’s armies had been beaten out of the field and he himself had fallen into the hands of his enemies, most Englishmen and women continued to cling to their traditional Christmas customs. So strong was the popular attachment to the old festivities, indeed, that during the postwar period a number of pro-Christmas riots occurred. In December 1646, for example, a group of young men at Bury St Edmunds threatened local tradesmen who had dared to open their shops on Christmas Day, and were only dispersed by the town magistrates after a bloody scuffle.

"Pro-Christmas riots

"Worse was to follow in 1647 – despite the fact that, on 10 June that year, parliament has passed an ordinance which declared the celebration of Christmas to be a punishable offence. On 25 December 1647, there was further trouble at Bury, while pro-Christmas riots also took place at Norwich and Ipswich. During the course of the Ipswich riot, a protestor named ‘Christmas’ was reported to have been slain – a fatality which could be regarded as richly symbolic, of course, of the way that parliament had ‘killed’ Christmas itself.

"In London, a crowd of apprentices assembled at Cornhill on Christmas Day, and there “in despite of authority, they set up Holly and Ivy” on the pinnacles of the public water conduit. When the lord mayor despatched some officers “to pull down these gawds,” the apprentices resisted them, forcing the mayor to rush to the scene with a party of soldiers and to break up the demonstration by force.

"The worst disturbances of all took place at Canterbury, where a crowd of protestors first smashed up the shops which had been opened on Christmas Day and then went on to seize control of the entire city. This riot helped to pave the way for a major insurrection in Kent in 1648 that itself formed part of the ‘Second Civil War’ – a scattered series of risings against the parliament and in favour of the king, which Fairfax and Cromwell only managed to suppress with great difficulty.

"Following parliament’s victory in the Second Civil War and the execution of Charles I in 1649, demonstrations in favour of Christmas became less common. There can be no doubt that many people continued to celebrate Christmas in private, and in his pamphlet The Vindication of Christmas (1652), the tireless John Taylor provided a lively portrait of how, he claimed, the old Christmas festivities were still being kept up by the farmers of Devon.
The Vindication of Christmas 1652

"Nevertheless, recent scholarship has shown that, as time went by, Christmas effectively ceased to be celebrated in the great majority of churches. It was ironic, to say the least, that while the godly had failed to suppress the secular Yuletide festivities which had vexed them for so long, they had succeeded in ending the religious observance of Christmas!

Following Cromwell’s installation as lord protector in 1653, the celebration of Christmas continued to be proscribed. While he had not been personally responsible for ‘cancelling Christmas’ in the first place, it is evident that both Cromwell and the other senior members of his regime were behind the ban, frequently transacting government business on 25 December as if it were a day just like any other.

"Only with the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 was ‘old Christmas Day’ finally brought back in from the cold, to widespread popular joy. John Taylor had died some years before, but if he could have foreseen that, two centuries later, Charles Dickens would be reprising the role which Taylor had made his own – that of the mouthpiece of the ‘true Christmas spirit’ – and that a century and a half later still, the celebration of Christmas would remain as ubiquitous in England and Wales as ever, he would doubtless have felt that his labours had been worthwhile.

"The defenders of Christmas had weathered the storm."

Monday, December 10, 2018

Georgian English Christmas 1714-1820

Farmer Giles's Establishment Christmas Day 1800

Georgian Christmas: An 18C  Celebration
December 22, 2013 Early Modern England


Georgian Christmas dinner

"During the Georgian period (1714-1820), it was often incorrectly assumed that Christmas wasn’t celebrated with as much gusto as during the Victorian era. Although traditions, foods and celebrations differed, Christmas was actively commemorated during this period.

Georgian Food

"Christmas meals during the Georgian period differed vastly from what was common table fare in the medieval and Tudor periods. New and improved agricultural achievements signaled a change in traditional Christmas foods. By the eighteenth century, roasts and various fowl became common but were later replaced by the turkey as the most popular meat at the Christmas table.

"Prior to the Georgian period, Christmas was a twelve day feast in which the foods were prepared well in advance with the idea of using up winter stores and foods that could be well preserved over the holiday season. Typical Christmas foods during the Georgian era were cheese, soups, turkey, geese, duck, capons, minced pies, and frumetnery – a dish which contained grains, almonds, currants, sugar and was often served with meat.

Georgian mince pies

"Mince pies were eaten at Christmas in England since the sixteenth century. They were initially made of minced meat but were later replaced with dried fruit and spices. Christmas pudding was also a popular dish and dated back to the Middle Ages. It was called ‘ lum pottage’ and made of chopped meat with dried prunes or raisins. In the Georgian period, the meat was replaced by suet. Twelfth Cake, a version of present day Christmas cake, was sliced and given to all members of the household and guests. It contained dried beans and dried peas. The person whose slice contained the bean was King for the night; a slice with a pea indicated the Queen. Even servants played along and if they won, they were recognized by everyone, including their masters as the evening’s King and Queen. By the Regency period, Twelfth cake became elaborate and added frosting, trimmings, and figurines. Twelfth night remained popular until the late nineteenth century.

Georgian Christmas - 1800 Traditions

"George III’s wife, Queen Charlotte, brought the first version of the present day Christmas tree in 1800 and decorated it with gifts, dolls and tapers after her German traditions. The tradition of gift giving also became popular during the eighteenth century as the wealthy gave gifts to their laborers. Ornaments included paper flowers, tinsel, wire ornaments, beads, candles, gingerbread and wax figures. Although Queen Charlotte brought the Christmas tree to England in 1800, the tree did not become popular until Queen Victoria married German Prince Albert. Homes of this time were decorated with holly, ivy and mistletoe. Stockings filled with presents hanging over the fireplace were first recorded in England in the early nineteenth century.

Games

"Christmas was banned by the Puritans in the mid-seventeenth century giving rise to the belief that Christmas fun and frivolity was not rekindled until the Victorian period. Christmas was completely abolished and shops and markets were kept open during the 25th of December. People were expected to continue going about their normal business and not partake in holiday celebrations or face fines and imprisonment. Puritans disliked Christmas because of its heathen origins and because of its association with extravagance and excess, but by the Georgian period, Christmas was again fully celebrated. Georgians enjoyed many different pastimes during the holidays such as cards, hunt the slipper, blind man’s bluff, shoe the wild mare, carol singing, story telling and dancing. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Twelfth Night parties were extremely popular and involved games, drinking and eating. British Pantomime also grew in popularity during the Georgian period, especially among the upper classes."

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Advent in Britain Today - Candles

Today, Advent is not widely celebrated in England, although in the Anglican church calendar Advent remains the official start of the Christmas season. One tradition that remains in England is the the Advent candle. To many Christains, the 4 candles of Advent represent the 4,000 years between Adam & Eve - the birth of Christ during which mankind waited for the arrival of Jesus. In the homes of many Christains, a candle is lit each Sunday during the season of Advent to signify the entrance of Christ, the light, into the world.

One type of Advent candle has 25 marks on it, & the candle is burned down by one mark each day. In some homes, 24 candles are kept, one for each night from December 1 through Christmas eve. One candle is lit for a while on December 1, then a new candle is added each day for the 24 day period. Advent candles are lit in many homes, schools and churches, in England, with a final central candle lit on Christmas Day.  

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Advent Traditions - Children in Normandy set fields on fire

At Advent in Normandy, when the final harvest was complete, farmers used to pick a night to send their children to run through the fields & orchards carrying flaming torches, setting fire to bundles of straw, to drive out pests likely to damage the crops.  If a farmer had no children of his own, his neighbors lend him theirs, for none but young & innocent children could command destructive animals to withdraw from his lands. After 12 years of age children were believed unfit to perform the office of mammal exorcists.

The children would sing

Taupes,cherrilles, et mulots,
Sortez, sortez, de mon clas,
Ouje vous brule la barbe et los os. 
Arbres, arbrisseaux,
Donnez-moi des pomes a miriot.

Mice, caterpillars, & moles get out of my field!
I will burn your beard and bones!
Trees and shrubs, give me bushels of apples!

The children were like the coming Christ child who would drive all evil from the earth.  "As the Christ Child drove away sin, so do these children drive away vermin."
Many worried about the possibility of accidents which could arise from this assembly of juvenile torch-beares, scattering "their flames around them on every side; but there is a remedy for all dangers; this fire never burns or injures anything but the vermin against which it is directed: — such, at least, is the belief of the simple folks who inhabit the department of the Eure-et-Loire." (Time's Telescope, 1828)

See William Hone, The Year Book of Daily Recreation and Information. London: Thomas Tegg, 1832. December 5.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Advent Traditions - Italy

Christmas time begins on the 1st Sunday of Advent in Italy, which comes 4 weekends before Christmas. This period is called "Novena." Children during this time go out singing Christmas carols & verses for sweets & coins.  The Novena is a religious ritual linked to the rosary. While there are many times of the year where this devotional activity takes place, one of the most observed is Christmas.  In the 9 days leading up to Christmas day, the rosary is said as a preparation to welcoming Christ.  This religious tradition was extended with children going from house to house just as the time of prayer was over to sing traditional Christmas songs. The children would in turn receive small gifts of sweets or cakes.
Families set up manger scenes on the 1st day of "Novena."  Every morning they gather around the nativity scene, pray & light candles.  Children write letters to their parents wishing then a merry Christmas & promise good behavior.  They also prepare a wish list of the gifts they want from their parents. These letters of appreciation are read out loud at dinnertime by the parents.
While Christmas decorations in Italy are beginning to include Christmas trees, the main emphasis is still on Nativity scenes.  Many families place huge, life-size images of Mary & Joseph on their property.  Nativity scenes are inevitable in almost every household in all churches.  They are also found in many public areas as well.
In the last days of Advent, before the shrines of Mary in Rome & surrounding areas, bagpipers & flute players, Zampognari & Pifferaiin, in traditional colorful costumes of sheepskin vests, knee-high breeches, white stockings & long dark cloaks, travel from their homes in the Abruzzi mountains to entertain crowds of people at religious shrines.
Tradition holds that the shepherds played these pipes, when they came to the manger at Bethlehem to pay homage to the infant Jesus.

During Advent in Italy the ceppo appears.  The ceppo is a wooden frame several feet high designed in a pyramid shape. This frame supports several tiers of shelves, often with a manger scene on the bottom followed by small gifts of fruit, candy, & presents on the shelves above. The "Tree of Light," as it is also known, is entirely decorated with colored paper, gilt pinecones, & miniature colored pennants. Small candles are fastened to the tapering sides & a star or small doll is hung at the apex.
An old tradition in Italy is the Urn of Fate which calls for each member of the family to take turns drawing a wrapped gift out of a large ornamental bowl until all the presents are distributed.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Advent Traditions - England Medieval "Dolls" or perhaps puppets as Baby Jesus & Mary

Roman du bon roi Alexandre Manuscript by Jehan de Grise, France 1344.

In medieval & pre-medieval times, in parts of England, there were early forms of Nativity scenes called "advent images" or "vessel cups."  They were a box, often with a glass lid that was covered with a white napkin, that contained 2 dolls representing Mary & the baby Jesus. The box usually was decorated with ribbons & flowers (and sometimes apples).  They were carried around from door to door.  It was thought to be very unlucky, if the family did not see the dolls before Christmas Eve!   Bad luck was thought to menace the household not visited by the doll-bearers before Christmas Eve at the latest. People paid the box carriers a halfpenny coin to see the dolls in the box.
Roman du bon roi Alexandre illuminated manuscript at the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

"In the Middle Ages, the doll was not confined to the young.  Operated as marionettes, they were often used to make money.  Adults could buy votive objects to offer at shrines, as well as statuettes of Christ or saints to keep in their houses.  Margery Kemp, the mystic of King's Lynn, when visiting Italy in 1414, met a woman who traveled abut with an image of the baby Jesus.  Other women dressed this image with clothes as an act of reverence, and Margery, seeing this happen, fell into tears for the love of infant Jesus.  Similar dolls of Christ and Mary are said to have been carried about by women during Advent in the north of England." (See Nicholas Orme. Medieval Children. Yale University Press, 2003)
Ms. 251 from Brugge, 13C Puppet show

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Advent - A brief history

Advent is observed in many Western Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting, self-examination, & preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus at Christmas. The name Advent comes from the Latin word Adventus, which signifies a coming.

Advent has probably been observed since the 4C.  It would seem that Advent could not have occurred, until the Roman Catholic Church & state decided to declare December 25 as the day of the birth of Christ, in 345.  Advent was 1st recorded about 380 AD in Spain.
St. Perpetuus, Bishop of Tours 460-490, from Images of All the Saints of the Year... Paris: Chez Israël Henriet, 1636)

As far back as the 5C, there existed the custom of giving exhortations to the people in order to prepare them for Christmas. The oldest document, the 2nd book of the History of the Franks by St. Gregory Bishop of Tours (536-594), states that St. Perpetuus, one of his predecessors, had decreed a fast 3 times a week, from the feast of St. Martin until Christmas.  St Perpetuus, who died December 30, 490, was the 6th Bishop of Tours, from 460 to 490. It is unclear whether St. Perpetuus established a new custom, or merely enforced an already existing law.
St Gregory, Bishop of Tours (536-594) & King Chilperic I, from the Grandes Chroniques de France de Charles V, 14C illumination.

In the 4C & 5C, Advent was the preparation for the January "Epiphany" rather than Christmas.  It was also a time for new Christians to be baptized & welcomed into the church, while existing members of the church examined their hearts & focused on penance. Religious leaders exhorted the people to prepare for the feast of Christmas by fasting. Early documents show that many church leaders treated Advent as a 2nd Lent.

The 9th canon of the first Council of Macon, held in 582, ordained that between St. Martin's day & Christmas, the Mondays, Wednesdays, & Fridays, should be fasting days.  In 567, the 2nd Council of Tours enjoined the monks to fast from the beginning of December till Christmas.

The obligation of observing Advent, which, though introduced so imperceptibly, had by degrees acquired the force of a sacred law, began to be relaxed, & the 40 days from St. Martin's day to Christmas were reduced to 4 weeks.

Sometime in 6C Rome, the focus of Advent shifted to the second coming of Christ. In the 9C, Pope St. Nicholas reduced the duration of Advent from 6 weeks to 4 weeks. The 1st mention of Advent's being reduced to 4 weeks is to be found in a 9C letter of Pope St. Nicholas I to the Bulgarians.

After having reduced the time of the Advent fast, the church seemed to change the mandatory fast into a simple abstinence & required only the clergy to observe this abstinence. The Council of Salisbury, held in 1281, seemed to expect none but monks to keep it. On the other hand Pope Innocent III, mentions that, in France, fasting was uninterruptedly observed during the whole 40 days.

By degrees, the custom of fasting fell into disuse; and in 1362, Pope Urban V asked only that the clerics of his court should keep abstinence during Advent.  In his 4th Council, he enjoins the parish priests to exhort the faithful to go to Communion on the Sundays, at least, of Lent & Advent; & he strongly urges them to fast on the Mondays, Wednesdays, & Fridays, at least, of each week in Advent.

And finally, sometime in the middle ages--approximately the 1500's--an additional focus on the anticipation before Christ's birth was added to that of His 2nd coming.

Today Advent in most Christian churches begins on the Sunday nearest November 30, & covers 4 Sundays. Because the day it begins changes from year to year, so does the length of each Advent season. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Advent Traditions - The Nativity Fast of the Orthodox Christian Churches

Across the centuries, some Christians fast (don't eat anything) during advent to help them concentrate on preparing to celebrate Jesus's coming. In many Orthodox & Eastern Catholics Churches, Advent lasts for 40 days and starts on November 15th & is also called the Nativity Fast.The Nativity Fast is a period of abstinence and penance practiced by the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, & Eastern Catholic Churches, in preparation for the Nativity of Christ, (December 25). The corresponding Western season of preparation for Christmas, which also has been called the Nativity Fast & St. Martin's Lent, has taken the name of Advent. The Eastern fast runs for 40 days instead of four (Roman rite) or six weeks (Ambrosian rite) & thematically focuses on proclamation & glorification of the Incarnation of God, whereas the Western Advent focuses on the two comings (or advents) of Jesus Christ: his birth & his Second Coming or Parousia.
Celebrated during the Nativity Fast.  Three Young Men in the Fiery Furnace, celebrated during the Nativity Fast as a reminder of the grace acquired through fasting (15C icon of the Novgorod school). Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are the 3 pious Jewish youths thrown into a "fiery furnace" by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.

The Byzantine fast is observed from November 15 to December 24, inclusively. These dates apply to those Orthodox Churches which use the Revised Julian calendar, which currently matches the Gregorian calendar. For those Eastern Orthodox Churches which still follow the Julian calendar (Churches of Russia, Georgia, Serbia, Ukraine, Macedonia, Mount Athos & Jerusalem), the Winter Lent does not begin until November 28 (Gregorian) which coincides with November 15 on the Julian calendar. The Ancient Church of the East fasts dawn til dusk from the 1st December until the 25th of December on the Gregorian calendar.

Sometimes the fast is called Philip's Fast (or the Philippian Fast), as it traditionally begins on the day following the Feast of St. Philip the Apostle (November 14). Some churches, such as the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, have abbreviated the fast to start on December 10, following the Feast of the Conception by Saint Anne of the Most Holy Theotokos.

Through the discipline of fasting, practiced with humility & repentance, it is believed that by learning to temper the body's primary desire for food, that other worldly desires can be more easily tempered as well. Through this practice one is better enabled to draw closer to God in the hope of becoming more Christ-like. While the fast influences the body, it is important to note that emphasis is placed on the spiritual facet of the fast rather than mere physical deprivation. Orthodox theology sees a synthesis between the body & the soul, so what happens to one affects the other. The church teaches that it is not enough to fast from food; one must also fast from anger, greed & covetousness. In addition to fasting, almsgiving is also emphasized.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the fast traditionally entails fasting from red meat, poultry, meat products, eggs, dairy products, fish, oil, & wine. Fish, wine & oil are allowed on Saturdays & Sundays, & oil & wine are allowed on Tuesdays & Thursdays, except in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.

The fasting rules permit fish, &/or wine & oil on certain feast days that occur during the course of the fast: Evangelist Matthew (November 16), Apostle Andrew (November 30), Great-martyr Barbara (December 4), St. Nicholas (December 6), St. Spiridon & St. Herman (December 12), St. Ignatius (December 20), etc.

Orthodox persons who are ill, the very young or elderly, & nursing mothers are exempt from fasting. Each individual is expected to confer with their confessor regarding any exemptions from the fasting rules, but should never place themselves in physical danger.

There has been some ambiguity about the restriction of fish, whether it means the allowance of invertebrate fish or all fish. Often, even on days when fish is not allowed, shellfish may be consumed. More detailed guidelines vary by jurisdiction, but the rules strictly state that from the December 20 to December 24 (inclusively), no fish may be eaten.

The Eve of Nativity (December 24) is a strict fast day, called Paramony (lit. "preparation"), on which no solid food should be eaten until the first star is seen in the evening sky (or at the very least, until after the Vesperal Divine Liturgy that day). If Paramony falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the day is not observed as a strict fast, but a meal with wine & oil is allowed after the Divine Liturgy, which would be celebrated in the morning.

In some places, the services on weekdays during the fast are similar to the services during Great Lent (with some variations). Many churches & monasteries in the Russian tradition will perform the Lenten services on at least the first day of the Nativity Fast. Often the hangings in the church will be changed to a somber, Lenten color.
The Entry of the Virgin Mary into the Temple, the Great Feast which falls during the course of the Nativity Fast (16C Russian icon).

During the course of the fast, a number of feast days celebrate those Old Testament prophets who prophesied the Incarnation; for instance: Obadiah (November 19), Nahum (December 1), Habbakuk (December 2), Zephaniah (December 3), Haggai (December 16), Daniel & the Three Holy Youths (December 17). These last are significant not only because of their perseverance in fasting, but also because their preservation unharmed in the midst of the fiery furnace is interpreted as being symbolic of the Incarnation—the Virgin Mary conceived God the Word in her womb without being consumed by the fire of the Godhead.

As is true of all of the four Orthodox fasts, a Great Feast falls during the course of the fast; in this case, the Entry of the Theotokos (November 21). After the apodosis (leave-taking) of that feast, hymns of the Nativity are chanted on Sundays & higher-ranking feast days.

The liturgical Forefeast of the Nativity begins on December 20, & concludes with the Paramony on December 24. During this time hymns of the Nativity are chanted every day. In the Russian usage, the hangings in the church are changed to the festive color (usually white) at the beginning of the Forefeast.

Two Sundays before Nativity, the Church calls to remembrance the ancestors of the church, both before the giving of the Law of Moses & after. The Menaion contains a full set of hymns for this day which are chanted in conjunction with the regular Sunday hymns from the Octoechos. These hymns commemorate various biblical persons, as well as the prophet Daniel & the Three Young Men. There are also a special Epistle (Colossians 3:4-11) & Gospel (Luke 14:16-24) readings appointed for the Divine Liturgy on this day.

The Sunday before Nativity is even broader in its scope of commemoration than the previous Sunday, in that it commemorates all of the righteous men & women who pleased God from the creation of the world up to Saint Joseph. The Menaion provides an even fuller service for this day than the previous Sunday. At the Vespers portion of the All-Night Vigil three Old Testament "parables" (paroemia) are read: Genesis 14:14-20, Deuteronomy 1:8-17 & Deuteronomy 10:14-21. The Epistle which is read at the Divine Liturgy is a selection from Hebrews 11:9-40; the Gospel is the Genealogy of Christ from the Gospel of Matthew (1:1-25)

Christmas Eve is traditionally called Paramony (Greek: παραμονή, Slavonic: navechérie). Paramony is observed as a strict fast day, on which those faithful who are physically able to, refrain from food until the first star is observed in the evening or after the Vesperal Divine Liturgy, when a meal with wine & oil may be taken. On this day the Royal Hours are celebrated in the morning. Some of the hymns are similar to those of Theophany (Epiphany) & Great & Holy Friday, thus tying the symbolism of Christ's Nativity to his death on the Cross. The Royal Hours are followed by the Vesperal Divine Liturgy of St. Basil which combines Vespers with the Divine Liturgy.

During the Vespers, 8 Old Testament lections ("parables") which prefigure or prophesy the Incarnation of Christ are read, & special antiphons are chanted. If the Feast of the Nativity falls on a Sunday or Monday, the Royal Hours are chanted on the previous Friday, & on the Paramony the Vesperal Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is celebrated in the morning, with its readings & antiphons, & the fasting is lessened to some degree—a meal with wine & oil being served after the Liturgy.

The All-Night Vigil on the night of December 24 consists of Great Compline, Matins & the First Hour. One of the highlights of Great Compline is the exultant chanting of "God is with us!" interspersed between selected verses from the prophesy of Isaiah 8:9-18, foretelling the triumph of the Kingdom of God, & 9:2-7, foretelling the birth of the Messiah ("For unto us a child is born...& he shall be called...the Mighty God....").

The Orthodox do not normally serve a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve; rather, the Divine Liturgy for the Nativity of Christ is celebrated the next morning. However, in those monasteries which continue to celebrate the All-Night Vigil in its long form—where it literally lasts throughout the night—the conclusion of the Vigil at dawn on Christmas morning will often lead directly into the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. When the Vigil is separate from the Divine Liturgy, the Lenten fast continues even after the Vigil, until the end of the Liturgy the next morning.

On December 25, the Afterfeast of the Nativity of Christ begins. From that day to January 4 (the day before Theophany Eve) is a fast-free Period. The Eve of the Theophany (January 5) is another strict fast day (paramony).

Monday, December 3, 2018

Advent Traditions - The Advent Wreath

The Advent wreath, or Advent crown, is a Christian tradition that marks the passage of the four weeks of Advent leading to Christmas in the liturgical calendar of the Western church.

The origin of the Advent wreath is uncertain. It is believed that Advent wreaths have their origins in the folk traditions of northern Europe; where in the deep of winter, people lit candles on wheel-shaped bundles of evergreen. It is believed that pagan Mid-Winter rituals sometimes featured a wreath of evergreen with four candles. The candles were placed in each of the four directions to represent the elements of earth, wind, water and fire. Rites were solemnly performed in order to ensure the continuance of the circle of life symbolized by the evergreen wreath.

Like many Church traditions, the use of candles in the late fall and winter was originally a pagan tradition. Rev. William Saunders wrote that “pre-Germanic peoples used wreaths with lit candles during the dark and cold December days as a sign of hope in the future warm and extended sunlight days of spring.” In the middle ages, the Germanic peoples began incorporating a lighted wreath into the Christian season of Advent. It didn’t gain widespread popularity until the 1800s, and it wasn’t until the 1900s, that German immigrants brought the tradition to America.There is evidence of pre-Christian Germanic peoples using wreathes with lit candles during the cold & dark December days as a sign of hope in the future warm & extended-sunlight days of Spring. In Scandinavia during Winter, lighted candles were placed around a wheel, & prayers were offered to the god of light to turn “the wheel of the earth” back toward the sun to lengthen the days & restore warmth. Both the evergreen & the circular shape symbolized ongoing life. The candlelight gave comfort at this darkest time of the year, as people looked forward to the longer days of spring.

By the Middle Ages, the Christians adapted this tradition & used Advent wreathes as part of their spiritual preparation for Christmas. By 1600, both Catholics & Lutherans had more formal practices surrounding the Advent wreath.

The wreath is made of various evergreens which are green yeear round. The Advent Wreath is endlessly symbolic. The evergreens in the wreath itself are a reminder of continuous life. The shaping of them into a circle reinforces that meaning. The circle is also a sign of the eternity of God.The circle of the wreath, which has no beginning or end, symbolizes the eternity of God, the immortality of the soul, & the everlasting life found in Christ.

The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent. In some Christian churches, one purple or blue candle is lit each week, but the Catholic church uses a rose candle on the 3rd Sunday. Purple dyes were once so rare & costly that they were associated with royalty; the Roman Catholic Church has long used this color around Christmas & Easter to honor Jesus. The candles symbolize the prayer, penance, & preparatory sacrifices & goods works undertaken at this time. The light signifies Christ, the Light of the world. Some modern day wreaths include a white candle placed in the middle of the wreath, which represents Christ & is lit on Christmas Eve.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Advent Traditions - The Advent Calendar


An advent calendar is usually a poster with 24 small doors, one to be opened each day from December 1 until Christmas Eve. Each door conceals a picture. This popular tradition arose in Germany in the late 1800s & soon spread throughout Europe & North America. Originally, the images in Advent calendars were derived from the Hebrew Bible.


The Advent calendar windows open to reveal an image, poem, a portion of a story (such as the story of the Nativity of Jesus) or a small gift, such as a toy or a chocolate item. Some calendars are strictly religious, whereas others are secular in content.


During the 19C in Germany, the days preceding Christmas were marked off from December 1 with chalk on "believers" doors. Then in the late 19C the German mother of a child named Gerhard Lang made her son an Advent Calendar comprised of 24 tiny sweets stuck onto cardboard. Lang never forgot the excitement he felt when he was given his Advent calendar at the beginning of each December, & how it reminded him every day that the greatest celebration of the whole year was approaching ever nearer. 


As an adult, Lang went into partnership with his friend Reichhold opening a printing office. In 1908, they produced what is thought to be the 1st  printed Advent Calendar with a small colored picture for each day in Advent.  Around the same time, a German newspaper included an Advent calendar insert as a gift to its readers. Lang’s calendar was inspired by one that his mother had made for him and featured 24 colored pictures that attached to a piece of cardboard. Lang modified his calendars to include the little doors that are a staple of most Advent.


The idea of the Advent Calendar caught on with other printing firms as the demand swiftly increased, and many versions were produced, some of which would have printed on them Bible verses appropriate to the Advent period.  By the time that the Advent Calendar had gained international popularity, the custom came to an end with the beginning of the WWI, when cardboard was strictly rationed to be used for purposes necessary to the war effort. 


President Eisenhower's grandchildren with an Advent Calendar

However, in 1946, when rationing began to ease following the end of the WWII, a printer named Richard Sellmer once again introduced the colorful little Advent Calendar, and once again it was an immediate success.  After the war, the production of calendars resumed in 1946, by Selmer. Selmer credits President Eisenhower with helping the tradition grow in the United States during his term of office. A newspaper article at the time showed the Eisenhower grandchildren with The Little Town Advent calendar. 

Some European countries such as Germany, where the 1st Advent poster originated, also use a wreath of fir with 24 bags or boxes hanging from it. In each box or bag there is a little present for each day.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

The Winter Solstice - Yuletide

Germanic & Northern European peoples observed Yule or Yuletide, a Winter Solstice festival connected with the worship of the Norse god Odin & the celebration of Odin’s Wild Hunt, where Odin & his goddess Frigg rode through swathes of winter light in the night sky to chase damned souls to the underworld. People feared that if they witnessed or in any way mocked the hunt, they too could be taken into the underworld.

Yule was typically celebrated for three days from the first night of the Winter Solstice, December 21 or 22, to December 24 or December 25.

Starting in December, some peoples celebrated Yule for a whole month, often up to three. People slaughtered animals, cooking the meat to enjoy with wine & ale. But, purposely, they saved the blood. Blood was used ritually to decorate the people & the statues of their gods & goddesses.

The solstice brought the darkest & longest night of the year. Celebrations were lit by firelight from masses of candles, bonfires, & the burning of a large log called the Yule Log, which was sprinkled with salt & oil so that when it burned down the ashes could be scattered around homes to ward off evil spirits.
Other customs carried to the modern era included decorating homes with trees covered in candles, metal ornaments, & fruit, & caroling or wassailing, where wandering groups of singers were rewarded with warm mugs of cider or ale.

The First Day Of Yule
A Yule-Tide Carol For Christmas
Bodleian Library, MS Eng. poet. e. I, f. 22 r. XV Century

Make we mirth
For Christ His Birth
And sing we Yule till Candlemas.

1. The first day of Yule we have in mind
How man was born all of our kind,
For He would the bonds unbind
Of all our sin & wickedness.

2. The second day we sing of Stephen
That stoned was, & said1 up even
With Christ there he would stand in heaven,
And crowned was for his prowess.

3. The third day 'longs to St. John,
That was Christ's darling, dearest one,
To whom He took, when He should gone,
His dear mother for his cleanness.

4. The fourth day of the Children young
With Herod's wrath to death were throng,
Of Christ they cold not speak with tongue,
But with their blood bare witness.

5. The fifth day hallowed St. Thomas,
Right as strong as pillar of brass,
Held up his church & slain was,
For he stood fast in righteousness.

8. The eighty day took Jesus His name,
That saved mankind from sin & shame,
And circumcised was for no blame,
But for example of meekness.

9. The twelfth day offered to Him Kings three,
Gold, myrrh, incense, these gifts free,
For God & man & king is He,
And thus they worshiped his worthiness.

10. The fortieth day came Mary mild
Unto the Temple with her child,
To shew her clean that never was 'filed,

And herewith ends Christmas.

Friday, November 30, 2018

The Winter Solstice - The Roman midwinter festival Saturnalia

Tuesday 17th December 2013  BBC History Magazine by Emma McFarnon


"How did the Romans celebrate ‘Christmas’?

"It is today associated with decorations, gift giving and indulgence. But how did the Romans celebrate during the festive season? English historian Dr Carey Fleiner, a senior lecturer in classical and medieval history at the University of Winchester, looks back at Saturnalia, the Roman mid-winter ‘festival of misrule’

"Q: What was Saturnalia, and how was it celebrated?

"A: It was the Romans’ mid-winter knees up!

"It was a topsy-turvy holiday of feasting, drinking, singing in the street naked, clapping hands, gambling in public and making noise.

"A character in Macrobius’s Saturnalia [an encyclopedic celebration of Roman culture written in the early fifth century] quotes from an unnamed priest of the god Saturn that, according to the god himself, during the Saturnalia “all things that are serious are barred”.  So while it was a holy day, it was also very much a festive day as well.

"The ordinarily rigid and conservative social restrictions of the Romans changed – for example, masters served their slaves during a feast and adults would serve children, and slaves were allowed to gamble.
Dice players in a wall painting from Pompeii

"And the aristocracy, who usually wore conservative clothes, dressed in brightly coloured fabrics such as red, purple and gold. This outfit was called the ‘synthesis’, which meant ‘to be put together’. They would ‘put together’ whatever clothes they wanted.

"People would also wear a cap of freedom – the pilleum – which was usually worn by slaves who had been awarded their freedom, to symbolise that they were ‘free’ during the Saturnalia.

"People would feast in their homes, but the historian Livy notes that by 217 BC there would also be a huge public feast at the oldest temple in Rome, the Temple of Saturn. Macrobius confirms this, and says that the rowdy participants would spill out onto the street, with the participants shouting, “Io Saturnalia!” the way we might greet people with ‘Merry Christmas!’ or ‘Happy New Year!’

"A small statue of Saturn might be present at such feasts, as if Saturn himself were there. The statue of Saturn in the temple itself spent most of the year with its feet bound in woolen strips. On the feast day, these binds of wool wrapped around his feet were loosened – symbolising that the Romans were ‘cutting loose’ during the Saturnalia.

"People were permitted to gamble in public and bob for corks in ice water. The author Aulus Gellius noted that, as a student, he and his friends would play trivia games. Chariot racing was also an important component of the Saturnalia and the associated sun-god festivities around that time – by the late fourth century AD there might be up to 36 races a day.

"We say that during Christmas today the whole world shuts down – the same thing happened during the Saturnalia. There were sometimes plots to overthrow the government, because people were distracted – the famous conspirator Cataline had planned to murder the Senate and set the city on fire during the holiday, but his plan was uncovered and stopped by Cicero in 63 BC.

"Saturnalia was described by first-century AD poet Gaius Valerius Catullus as “the best of times”. It was certainly the most popular holiday in the Roman calendar.

"Q: Where does Saturnalia originate?

"It was the result of the merging of three winter festivals over the centuries. These included the day of Saturn – the god of seeds and sowing – which was the Saturnalia itself. The dates for the Saturnalia shifted a bit over time, but it was originally held on 17 December.

"Later, the 17th was given over to the Opalia, a feast day dedicated to Saturn’s wife – who was also his sister. She was the goddess of abundance and the fruits of the earth.

"Because they were associated with heaven (Saturn) and Earth (Opalia), their holidays ended up combined, according again to Macrobius. And the third was a feast day celebrating the shortest day, called the bruma by the Romans. The Brumalia coincided with the solstice, on 21 or 22 December.

"The three were merged, and became a seven-day jolly running from 17–23 December. But the emperor Augustus [who ruled from 27 BC–AD 14] shortened it to a three-day holiday, as it was causing chaos in terms of the working day.

"Later, Caligula [ruled AD 37–41 ] extended it to a five-day holiday, and by the time of Macrobius [early fifth century] it had extended to almost two weeks.

'As with so many Roman traditions, the origins of the Saturnalia are lost to the mists of time. The writer Columella notes in his book about agriculture [De Re Rustica, published in the early first century AD] that the Saturnalia came at the end of the agrarian year.

"The festivities fell on the winter solstice, and helped to make up for the monotony of the lull between the end of the harvest and the beginning of the spring.

"Q: Were gift-giving and decorations part of Saturnalia?

"A: Saturnalia was more about a change in attitudes than presents. But a couple of gifts that were given were white candles, named cerei, and clay faces named sigillariae. The candles signified the increase of light after the solstice, while the sigillariae were little ornaments people exchanged.

"These were sometimes hung in greenery as a form of decoration, and people would bring in holly and berries to honour Saturn.

"Q: Was Saturnalia welcomed by everyone?

"A: Not among the Romans!

"Seneca [who died in AD 62] complained that the mob went out of control “in pleasantries”, and Pliny the Younger wrote in one of his letters that he holed up in his study while the rest of the household celebrated.

"As might be expected, the early Christian authorities objected to the festivities as well.

"It wasn’t until the late fourth century that the church fathers could agree on the date of Christ’s birth – unlike the pagan Romans, Christians tended to give no importance to anyone’s birthday. The big day in the Christian religious calendar was Easter.

"Nevertheless, eventually the church settled on 25 December as the date of Christ’s nativity. For the Christians, it was a holy day, not a holiday, and they wanted the period to be sombre and distinguished from the pagan Saturnalia traditions such as gambling, drinking, and of course, most of all, worshipping a pagan god!

"But their attempts to ban Saturnalia were not successful, as it was so popular. As late as the eighth century, church authorities complained that even people in Rome were still celebrating the old pagan customs associated with the Saturnalia and other winter holidays."