Alright, here's another big pile of Bumf.... ;-)
Posted by Caroline on March 22, 1998 at 17:35:12:
In response to Christmas, written by D'Anne on March 18, 1998 at 17:59:24
I wasn't going to put this up until I had few more references and some concrete dates, but since you are twisting my arm.......;-D
This list is a conglomeration of what I remember about English folk traditions, odd bits picked up here and there, and interesting but not necessarily very rigorous sources like Christmas Watching by Desmond Morris.
The Elizabethan Christmas is fairly well documented. There are lots and lots of ancient traditions, fun celebrations, etc. Then, in the time of the Commonwealth, a lot of these things were specifically banned, so the laws are very explicit about what could or could not be done, in and around Christmas. Interestingly, many of these laws have never been repealed, and so Christmas can be a great time for unintentional lawbreaking! Of course, you can't keep good superstition down for long, and so these traditions didn't stop, they just went underground, and after Ollie Cromwell's reign of repression ended , they quickly surfaced again, sometimes in modified form. Now comes the hard part- pinning things to certain times and places, because there is a lot less evidence, until Charles Dickens and the Great Victorian Christmas Revival . So I offer this as a starting point for discussion, and the hope that some of you will be able to corroberate or nix some of this in relation to Jane Austen's time. (and then I won't have to buy Maria Hubert's book, either!)
The Yule Log
Brought in ceremonially on Christmas Eve, a huge log to burn all through the twelve days of Christmas.
The Kissing Bough
Hanging greenery, including mistletoe. Originally, mistletoe was a symbol of greeting (hence kissing)-one of the things that Ollie banned. Put up on Christmas Eve, every kiss meant removing a mistletoe berry, so you had to have plenty and probably rationed the kisses!
Other greenery draped in window-sills and doorways- representative of life. Holly was especially important here.
A time for visiting and feasting (and helping haul in that log?)..see Emma
Everyone walks to Church, no horses or carriages allowed. (To represent equality of men before God?) Around the 1830's this law was reinforced with more severe penalties, and it is still in existence, though I don't know anyone who's been hauled into court because of it!
Games...servants were only allowed to play Football and Cricket and the like on holidays like Christmas day. Many sports were banned , though not Archery...(you are safe, Mr. Knightley!)
Gift-giving...see our little poem "Now Christmas is come" in the Archive.
Eating.. roast Pig, (the" Boar's Head Carol"), often Goose , and Turkey was also popular, but not necessarily Christmassy. Plum puddings, with charms or coins (illegal, you can still be accused of intent to murder). The spicy mincemeat pies banned by the Commonwealth resurface sans meat, as a dessert-type thing.
Ancient tradition in my family- you have to eat one mince pie for every month of the year between Christmas and Twelfth Night , in order to stay healthy and prosperous.
St Stephen's Day (26th December)
The Hunt.. as specified below.
If not Hunting, then visiting neighbours and gift exchanging.
Opening of Christmas Boxes (but that comes a bit late, I think, as I have said before)
New Year's Eve (31st December)
Strangely, I cannot find very much in English tradition, except eating Pig! All the first-footing, bread/salt/coal/mistletoe and whisky are Scots traditions.
New year's Day (1st January)
Again, not a great deal, except more feasts and visits.
It was often a 'business' day, the start and end of new contracts, etc.
Twelfth Night (5th January)
This was the really big fun day. First a "king and queen " were chosen to "rule " the household for the day. A special Twelfth night "Bean Cake" was baked, and divided up, and whoever found the bean in their portion was the king, and his slightest whim had to be obeyed for the day! (just imagine a day in the Austen household when a young Henry found it!) The tradition varies- sometimes the king has to choose a queen, sometimes there are two beans to be found, and sometimes, I am sure, the division of the cake was rigged to make sure someone reasonably sensible was in charge!
This was the night for Fancy Dress, silly pranks and general chaos!(That bit's for our Carolyn!)
The Elizabethans called the king and queen "Kings of Misrule".
Also, all decorations must be removed by the end of the night.
Singing of the carol "Joy, Health, Love and Peace" (Loreena McKennet, anyone?)
North of England tradition of eating "Lobscouse" with the sea biscuit being replaced by potatoes. (Carolyn B, are you reading this?)
Plough Monday (first Monday after 6th )
First day back for farm workers. Often ploughs were decorated and taken to church to be blessed. Sometimes the ploughmen would perform a play representative of the quickening of the earth and planting of seed. I've got a record of it being a rowdy sort of Boxing Day, with ploughmen trooping through the village demanding their box or they'd plough up your garden,(!) but I cannot date it.
Old Twelfth Night (17th January)
The Calendar was adjusted in 1752, but reasons for partying never die, do they? This day was "Wassail" day...really a tradition in Apple-growing areas, such as Devon and Somerset (look out Sir Walter- we're going to beat your Apple Orchard to bits!)
Burns Night (25th January )
This is a much later tradition, and anyway it isn't English, it's Scots!
So there you are. I hope you enjoyed it.. and I hope you can add to it, too!
- That ubiquitous Lobscouse! Carolyn B 23:46:38 3/22/98 (0)
- /b..(sigh!) (nfm) Caroline 17:38:28 3/22/98 (0)
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