“Sayings, Wise and Otherwise,” (also in the “The Sayings of Dr. Bushwhacker and Other Wise Men”) by Frederic S. Cozzens; American Book Exchange, New York; 1880; pp. 174-186.
of garnered rhyme, from hidden stores of olden time, that since the language did begin, have welcomed merry Christmas in, and made the winter nights so long, fleet by on wings of wine and song; for when the snow is on the roof, the house within is sorrow proof, if yule log blazes on the hearth, and cups and hearts o’er-brim with mirth. Then bring the wassail to the board, with nuts and fruit — the winter’s hoard; and bid the children take off shoe, to hang their stockings by the flue; and let the clear and frosty sky, set out its brightest jewelry, to show old Santa Claus the road, so he may ease his gimcrack load. And with the coming of these times, we’ll add some old and lusty rhymes, that suit the festive season well, and sound as sweet as Christmas bell. And here’s a stave from rare old Ben, who wrote with most melodious pen: —
And here’s from that Bricklayer’s pate, a stave that’s most appropriate; for when the Christmas chimes begin, to eat and drink we count no sin; as sexton at the rope doth pull, it cries, “Oh, bell! bell! bell-y-full!”
Now just bethink of castle gate, where humble midnight mummers wait, to try if voices, one and all, can rouse the tipsy seneschal, to give them bread and beer and brawn, for tidings of the Christmas morn; or bid each yelper clear his throat, with water of the castle moat; for thus they used, by snow and torch, to rear their voices at the porch: —
And here’s a Christmas carol meant for children, and most excellent, and though the monk that wrote was hung, yet still his verses may be sung.
A CAROL BY ROBERT SOUTHWELL.
And here’s a song so pure and bright, it may be read on Christmas night, unless the moon her light do lack, for which consult the almanac: —
A HYMN TO DIANA
And here is something quaint and tough, for such as have not had enough: a Christmas carol, that was done in 16 hundred twenty 1: —
ANE SANG OF THE BIRTH OF CHRIST
With the tune of Baw lula law.
(Angelus, ut opinor, loquitur.)
And here are several hints to show, how Christmas customs first did grow, for as the holy fathers say, some Pagan tricks we Christians play, and prove that Yule and Christmas box, are not precisely orthodox, for so we quote and understand,
In the Primitive Church, Christmas-Day was always observed as the Lord‘s-Day was, and was in like Manner 180 preceded by an Eve or Vigil. Hence it is that our Church hath ordered an Eve before it, which is observed by the Religious, as a Day of Preparation for that great Festival.
Our Fore-Fathers, when the common Devotions of the Eve were over, and Night was come on, were wont to light up Candles of an uncommon Size, which were called Christmas-Candles, and to lay a Log of Wood upon the fire, which they termed a Yule-Clog or Christmas-Block. These were to Illuminate the House, and turn the Night into Day; which Custom, in some Measure, is still kept up in the Northern Parts.
The Apostles were the Light of the World; and as our Saviour was frequently called Light, so was his Coming into the World signified, and pointed out by the Emblems of Light: “It was then” (says our Countryman Gregory) “the longest Night in all the Year; and it was the midst of that, and yet there was Day where he was: For a glorious and betokening Light shined round about this Holy Child. So says Tradition, and so the Masters describe the Night Piece of the Nativity.” If this be called in Question, as being only Tradition, it is out of Dispute, that the light which illuminated the Fields of Bethlehem, and shone round about the Shepherds as they were watching their Flocks, was an Emblem of that Light, which was then come into the World. “What can be the Meaning,” says venerable Bede, “that this Apparition of Angels was surrounded with that heavenly Light, 181 which is a Thing we never meet with in all the Old Testament? For tho’ Angels have appeared to Prophets and holy Men, yet we never read of their Appearing in such Glory and Splendor before. It must surely be, because this Privilege was reserved for the Dignity of this Time. For when the true Light of the World, was born in the World, it was very proper that the Proclaimer of His Nativity, should appear in the Eyes of Men, in such an heavenly Light, as was before unseen in the World. And that supernatural Star, which was the Guide of the Eastern Magi, was a Figure of that Star, which was risen out of Jacob; of that Light which should lighten the Gentiles.” “God,” says Bishop Taylor, “sent a miraculous Star, to invite and lead them to a new and more glorious Light, the Light of Grace and Glory.”
In Imitation of this, as Gregory tells us, the Church went on with the Ceremony: And hence it was, that for the three or four First Centuries, the whole Eastern Church called the Day, which they observed for our Saviour’s Nativity, the Epiphany or Manifestation of the Light. And Cassian tells us, that it was a Custom in Egypt, handed down by Tradition, as soon as the Epiphany, or Day of Light was over, &c. Hence also came that ancient Custom of the same Church, taken Notice of by St. Jerome, of lighting up Candles at the Reading of the Gospel, even at Noon-Day; and that, not to drive away the Darkness, but to speak their Joy for the good Tidings of the Gospel, and be an Emblem of that Light, 182 which the Psalmist says, was a Lamp unto his Feet and a Light unto his Paths.
The Yule-Dough (or Dow), was a kind of Baby or little Image of Paste, which our Bakers used formerly to bake at this Season, and present to their Customers, in the same manner as the Chandlers gave Christmas Candles. They are called Yule-Cakes in the county of Durham. I find in the antient Calendar of the Romish Church, that at Rome, on the Vigil of the Nativity, Sweetmeats were presented to the Fathers in the Vatican, and that all Kinds of little Images (no doubt of Paste) were to be found at the Confectioners’ Shops.
There is the greatest Probability that we have had from hence both our Yule-Doughs and Mince Pies, the latter of which are still in common Use at this Season. The Yule-Dough has perhaps been intended for an Image of the Child Jesus. It is now, if I mistake not, pretty generally laid aside, or at most retained only by Children.
J. Boëmus Aubanus tell us, that in Franconia, on the three Thursday Nights preceding the Nativity of our Lord, it is customary for the Youth of both Sexes to go from House to House, knocking at the Doors, singing their Christmas Carrols, and wishing a happy new Year. They get in Return from the Houses they stop at, Pears, Apples, Nuts, and even Money.
Little Troops of Boys and Girl still go about in this very Manner at Newcastle some few Nights before, on 183 the Night of the Eve of this Day, and on that of the Day itself. The Hagmena‡ is still preserved among them. They still conclude, too, with wishing “a merry Christmas, and a happy New Year.”
We are told in the Athenian Oracle, that the Christmas Box Money is derived from hence. The Romish Priests had Masses said for almost every Thing: If a ship went out to the Indies, the Priests had a Box in her, under the Protection of some Saint: And for Masses, as their Cant was, to be said for them to that Saint, &c., the poor People must put in something into the Priests’ Box, which is not to be opened till the Ship return.
The Mass at that time was called Christmas; the Box, Christmas Box, or Money gathered against that Time, that Masses might be made by the Priests to the Saints to forgive the people the Debaucheries of that Time; and from this Servants had the Liberty to get Box Money, that they too might be enabled to pay the Priest for his Masses, knowing well the Truth of the Proverb:
“No Penny, No Pater-noster.”
Another Custom observed at this Season, is the adorning of Windows with Bay and Laurel. It is but seldom observed in the North, but in the Southern-Parts it is very Common, particularly at our Universities; where it is Customary to adorn, not only the Common Windows 184 of the Town, and of the Colleges, but also to bedeck the Chapels of the Colleges, with Branches of Laurel.
The Laurel was used among the ancient Romans, as an Emblem of several Things, and in particular, of Peace, and Joy, and Victory. And I imagine, it has been used at this Season by Christians, as an Emblem of the same Things; as an Emblem of Joy for the Victory gain’d over the Powers of Darkness, and of that Peace on Earth, that Good-will Towards Men, which the Angels sung over the Fields of Bethlehem.
It has been made use of by the Non Conformists, as an Argument against Ceremonies, that the second Council of Bracara, Can. 73, forbad Christians “to deck their Houses with Bay Leaves and Green Boughs.” But the Council does not mean, that it was wrong in Christians to make use of these Things, but only “at the same Time with the Pagans, when they observed and solemnized their Paganish Pastime and Worship. And of this Prohibition, they give this Reason in the same Canon; Omnis hœc observatio paganismi est. All this kind of Custom doth hold of Paganism: Because the outward Practice of Heathenish Rites, perform’d jointly with the Pagans themselves, could not but imply a Consent in Paganism.”
But at present, there is no hazard of any such Thing. It may be an Emblem of Joy to us, without confirming any, in the practice of Heathenism. The Time, the Place, and the Reasons of the Ceremony, are so widely 185 different, that, tho’ formerly, to have observed it, would unquestionably have been a Sin, it is now become harmless, comely, and decent.
So here we close our prose and rhyme, and end the Christmas pantomime, with wishing health and happy cheer, to you through all the coming year, and prosperous times in every State, for eighteen hundred sixty-eight.
* In this place, and in the first line of the following verse, the name of the horse is generally inserted by the singer; and “Filpail“ is often substituted for “the cow“ in a subsequent verse. — Robert Bell‘s Ancient Poems, Ballads, and Songs. London: 1857.
† The Rev. Mr. Lamb, in his entertaining notes on the old poem on the Battle of Flodden Field, tells us that the nurse’s lullaby song, balow, (or “he balelow,”) is literally French. “Hè bas! la le loup!” that is, “hush! there’s the wolf!”
‡ Hagmena — i. e., Haginmeene, holy month.