“Come then, come then, and
let us bring
Unto our pretty Twelfth-Tide King,
Each one his several offering.”
HERRICK’S Star Song.
Dedication Festivals—New Year’s Day—“Wassail”—Twelfth
Night—“King of the Bean”—St. Distaff’s Day—Plough
In the old life of rural England few things are more interesting than the ancient sports and pastimes, the strange superstitions, and curious customs which existed in the times of our forefathers. We remember that our land once rejoiced in the name of “Merry England,” and perhaps feel some regret that many of the outward signs of happiness have passed away from us, and that in striving to become a great and prosperous nation, we have ceased to be a genial, contented, and happy one. In these days new manners are ever pushing out the old. The restlessness of modern life has invaded the peaceful retirement of our villages, and railway trains and cheap excursions have killed the old games and simple amusements which delighted our ancestors in days of yore. The old traditions of the country-side are forgotten, and poor imitations of town manners have taken their place. Old social customs which added such diversity to the lives of the rustics two centuries ago have died out. Very few of the old village games and sports have survived. The village green, the source of so much innocent happiness, is no more; and with it has disappeared much of that innocent and light-hearted cheerfulness which brightened the hours of labour, and refreshed the spirit of the toiling rustic, when his daily task was done. Times have changed, and we have changed with them. We could not now revive many of the customs and diversions in which our fathers took delight. Serious and grave men no longer take pleasure in the playthings which pleased them when they were children; and our nation has become grave and serious, and likes not the simple joys which diversified the lives of our forefathers, and made England “merry.”
Is it possible that we cannot restore some of these time-honoured customs? The sun shines as brightly now as ever it did on a May-day festival; the Christmas fire glows as in olden days. Let us try to revive the spirit which animated their festivals. Let us endeavour to realize how our village forefathers used to enjoy themselves, how they used to spend their holidays, and to picture to ourselves the scenes of social intercourse which once took place in our own hamlets. Every season of the year had its holiday customs and quaint manner of observance, some of them confined to particular counties, but many of them universally observed.