“Lo! now is come our
Let every man be jolly;
Each room with ivy leaves is drest,
And every post with holly.
“Now all our neighbours’
And Christmas blocks are burning;
Their ovens they with baked meats choke,
And all their spits are turning.
“Without the door let
And if, for cold, it has to die,
We’ll bury it in Christmas pie,
And evermore be merry.”
Thus the happy night was spent; and if, like grave elders, we look down upon these frolics of a younger age, and think ourselves so much wiser and better than our forefathers, we should not forget the benefits which come from open-handed hospitality, goodwill, and simple manners, nor scornfully regard honest merriment and light-hearted gaiety. A light heart is generally not far removed from a holy heart.
Yes, England was merry England then; and although there were plenty of troubles in those days, when plagues decimated whole villages, when wars were frequent, food scarce, and oppression common, yet the Christmas festivities, the varieties of sports and pastimes which each season provided, the homely customs and bonds of union between class and class which these observances strengthened, added brightness to the lives of our simple forefathers, who might otherwise have sunk beneath the burdens of their daily toil. We have seen how many customs and sports, which were at first simple and harmless, degenerated and were abused: we have noticed some of the bad features of these ancient pastimes, such as cruelty to animals and intemperance; and are thankful that there is some improvement manifest in these respects. But it is interesting to witness again in imagination the scenes that once took place in our market-places and on our village greens; and, if it be impossible to restore again the glories of May Day and the brightness of the Christmas feast, we may still find plenty of harmless and innocent recreation, and learn to be merry, and at the same time wise.
* * * * *
[Footnote 1: Although the 1st of January was popularly regarded as the beginning of the year from early times, it was not until 1752 A.D. that the legal commencement of the year was changed from March 25th to the former date.]
[Footnote 2: These fires signified our Saviour and the Twelve Apostles. One of the fires, which represented Judas, the traitor, was extinguished soon after it was lighted, and the materials of the fire kicked about.]
[Footnote 3: The distaff was the staff which held the flax or wool in spinning. All maidens were engaged in this occupation, and a “spinster” (i.e. one who spins) is still the legal term for an unmarried woman.]
[Footnote 4: St. Blaize (or Blasius) was Bishop of Sebaste in Armenia, and was martyred 316 A.D. His flesh was torn with iron combs, so the wool-staplers have adopted him as their patron saint.]