Saturday, December 27, 2003
Such a threat is grave. Such an attack would obliterate in a matter of minutes not just the headquarters of the Church of Christ on Earth, the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, but would destroy priceless treasures of sacred art and architecture. But then, the barbarians at war with Christendom care nothing for art or architecture. And they certainly are unwilling to give as much respect to other religions as we, probably wrongly, give to Islam when we come into close contact with it. After all, we are infidels, to them, and our culture and Faith is to be rooted out, so that we can all submit to Islam.
Maybe it is time that we begin studying more closely how to be feared by such barbarians. Although between individuals such an ethic has no place, in circumstances like these in statecraft, perhaps it would be best if we were thoroughly feared by them, since we don't seem to be able to be loved by them.
So many poor souls.
Forty thousand would be about the population of Salem, every man, woman, and child. Death and disaster on that scale, short of war, is practically unthinkable. The death toll is roughly seven times greater than that of the World Trade Center attack. Incredible.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and may perpetural light shine upon them. May their souls, and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
I don't know about you, but I find it depressing when the Christmas music stops and folks start tossing the Christmas trees on the curb on December 26th. Agreed, some of these people are about to take off for Florida for the rest of the winter, and so have to get rid of the tree before they do. But we as Catholics ought to make more of the Twelve Days, and make our joy at the Nativity and the related events of the early life of the Lord last through Epiphany.
Here are some practical suggestions for keeping the spirit of Christmas active in your home throughout the season.
Make every evening meal during the Christmas period special, even if it is leftovers. The leftovers from Christmas Dinner can be served in some style, and with a little more than the ordinary degree of pomp. Continue to use the Christmas china, if you have a set (pick a pattern with holly and ivy and red bows, rather than a Santa Claus pattern, which is useless on December 26th). Christmas foods are special foods, and there is always more than can be consumed in a single meal. Turkey, ham, roast beef, pork roast (whatever you have Christmas Eve and Christmas Day) can be refrigerated or frozen, and served again during the festival. Mince pie, plum pudding, and fruitcake keep well. Eggnog will keep for up to a week. More red wine than you needed for dinner, mull the letovers and drink it over the days of Christmas. Christmas punch can last much longer. Plan more special meals for the special days: Christmas Eve and Day, St. Stephen's Day, St. John's Day, the Holy Innocents, New Year's Eve, New Year's Day, Twelfth Night, and Epiphany.
Stay home on the more important evenings of Christmas and make the days family time. Reigning in the teenagers can be hard. But if you give them a reason, they might stay home and invite their friends. Play games. There are plenty of board and card games that are great fun, depending on the size of the family. Phase Ten and Uno are great games for small groups. Then there are parlor games, like "Yes and No" and the "Minister's Cat," which are great for small children or tolerant adults. Charades, Musical Chairs, and many other pasttimes can make the evening fun. If you must watch something, try comedies. The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan is a lot of fun.
Get the family out to something like a magic show, or a family-friendly farce on at least one of the nights of Christmas. Maybe a local company is doing a production of The Tempest or Twelfth Night, or A Man For All Seasons. Then there are often movies like The Return of the King that are out at Christmas. Too bad there is no Harry Potter movie this Christmas
Light candles every night during Christmas. The Advent Wreath can be tucked away, but other candles help to give the house a homey feeling. What are really great are the scented candles in jars. Sometimes, the most expensive brand does not give the best scent. Shop around.
Use Christmas potpourri in the house throughout the holidays. Even if it is just cinnamon sticks and whole cloves in water simmering on the stove, such scents can really make the house feel like the holidays. Then there are the bags of potpourri to be left in bowls about the house. Some of these are really nice, some less so. Generally, you get what you pay for. burg shop in Salem last year for $12, and it was terrific, much better than what you pay $5 for at Christmas Tree Shops.
Attend Mass frequently during the holidays. If the kids are home, troop them along for daily Mass if you can. Even if you can't make Mass, just stop by a Church that is open and make a Eucharistic visit. Certainly make sure the family attends together on the Sundays and important feast days. Visit other churches nearby when they are open, so that the family can look over the different Nativity displays. I always make a point of visiting St. John the Baptist (Polish) parish in Salem at this time of year for it's elaborate, and comforting and homey, Christmas display.
Put some money aside to spend during the Twelve Days. This is an idea I have advanced before, the Twelve Hundred Dollars of Christmas. On each of the 12 days after Christmas, allot $100 (or $10 if you are strapped) to spend on some category of product. On Saint Stephen's Day, you can pick up nativity sets, wrapping paper, cards, tags, bows, candles, hard candies that will keep, lights, ornaments, etc. on deep discounts (50% off is common). A hundred dollars spent on December 26th for next year is often a good investment. Then spend $100 on books on another day. Some other day, spend $100 at the local Catholic goods store. Another day, give $100 to the local food pantry. You get the idea. It is a little materialistic, or can be, depending on how you spend it. But it does keep off the post-Christmas Blues.
Keep the decorations up. OK the tree looks dorky after mid-January. Use Plough Monday, the Monday after the Twelfth Day, as the day for taking down the decorations. And decorate with a lavish hand. Christmas is no time for restraint. Put interlaced garlands of holly and ivy around every doorway. Use plenty of mistletoe. Use pine garlands. Doesn't matter if they are silk. If fact, silk is much better, as it can be kept up longer. Collect an elaborate Nativity set over several years, like those sold by Fontanini. Even better, have some kind of Nativity set in every room of the house. And leave it all in place until Epiphany (real Epiphany, not liturgical Epiphany, moved to the closest Sunday for convenience) is past.
Play Christmas music throughout. Santa songs are passe after December 24th. But build a collection of Christmas music that is less secular. The Church continues to use carols until Epiphany. Why not us, too? The Boston Camerata has several albums to pick from. Ditto the Revels (links on the side). Then thee are albums of Christmas chants and motets. And there is Bach's Christmas Oratorio, and Handel's Messiah. Want to know a secret? Jingle Bells is my least favorite Christmas song. I find it refreshing, after December 25th, to listen to albums of Christmas music that do not contain any references to sleighs, Santa, and reindeer.
In the Church, as in the synagogue, the day technically begins at sunset. Therefore, Christmas begins at sundown on 24 December, which we very appropriately call ‘Christmas Eve.’ The Christmas Season, which begins with Christmas Eve, ends on the eve of Epiphany, which is sundown on 5 January. Therefore, Christmas lasts twelve days, and the period from sundown on 24 December to sundown on 5 January is called the Twelve Days of Christmas.
By this reckoning, Epiphany begins on the twelfth night after Christmas, so Epiphany was called Twelfthnight in England.
That makes today the third day of Christmas.
Continue to enjoy Christmas. Even if one or both adults have to work outside the home, make all of the days of Christmas different in some way from the rest of the year. Do something to help the less fortunate. Mull the leftover bottle of red wine tonight. Burn some of those candles you recieved. If you are lucky enough to have a working fireplace, burn some wood in it. Keep the creche, the tree, and the other decorations up (until Plough Monday, which is the Monday after Epiphany: January 13). Make dinner special tonight, even if it is just leftovers. Make family time. Keep the kids (yes, even the teenagers) home (let them invite friends over to share the days of Christmas with your family, rather than hanging out somewhere else, being influenced by Lord knows what). Play some Christmas CDs with songs minus references to Santa Claus, Rudolph, and winter wonderlands. Maybe even exchange little trinkets (a paperback, a cigar, some coffee, a pass for a matinee, a handful of toy soldiers, dice or cards, a box of tea, a discounted movie in VHS format, some candy, etc.) as gifts on each of the 12 days of Christmas
I can't help but think that "holiday depression" is, in part, caused by the rush society has to push Christmas out the door. One looks forward to Christmas the whole year. There are women who spend the whole year doing craft work for Christmas. Then, it is gone in 24 hours. Yesterday morning, there was a Christmas tree already strewn on the sidewalk in front of our building. That sight always galls me before New Year's Day. If society learned again to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas, modestly but joyfully, I think some of those who suffer depression with the end of Christmas, might not. And if making Christmas last longer helps some of those who suffer, is it not worth it?
You have to be somewhat counter-cultural to try something like this, but as Christians we should be used to that. Who cares if know-nothings say, "Don't you know Christmas is over?" Since we seem to be being driven back to the catacombs by society anyway, why not go with our creches, holly and ivy, trees, candles in the window, precious family times, special foods, and devotional practice for 12 days rather than 1?
Happy Third Day of Christmas!
John's name comes up frequently in the Gospel, much more so than that of some other apostles. He was a disciple of John the Baptist, who was told by John to follow Jesus. John was leaning on Christ's shoulder during the Last Supper. It was to him that Jesus entrusted the care of the Blessed Mother. He raced to the empty tomb with Peter on Easter morning. He was the first to recognize the risen Lord on the shore of Lake Tiberias.
But he was also, along with James, the one who asked to be seated at the Lord's right hand in Heaven, much to the consternation of the other apostles. He reported that another man was seen casting out demons in Christ's name, though not part of the apostolic college or even, apparently, a disciple, and that they had ordered him not to do so. He earned a rebuke on that occasion.
John and Peter were imprisoned together, and later went to Samaria to preach together. He may have spent time in exile on Patmos. He was reportedly bishop of Ephesus at the turn of the second century and died an old man.
Friday, December 26, 2003
The wren, the wren,
The king of all birds,
On St. Stephen's Day
Got caught in the furze.
So it's up with the kettle
And down with the pan.
Won't you give us a penny
To bury the wren?
The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
On St. Stephen's Day was caught in the furze,
Although he is little, his family is great,
I pray you, good landlady, give us a treat.
My box would speak, if it had but a tongue,
And two or three shillings, would do it not wrong,
Sing holly, sing ivy--sing ivy, sing holly,
A drop just to drink, it would drown melancholy.
And if you draw it of the best,
I hope in heaven your soul will rest;
But if you draw it of the small,
It won't agree with these wren boys at all.
This was wassailing, visiting from house to house and offering the token of song in exchange for food or drink. At a symbolic level, it is offering good will and wishes for a happy new year (it is a New Year's ritual) in exchange for hospitality. It is also semi-threatening, like the trick or treat Halloween ritual. "it won't agree with these wren boys at all" is like the "trick" option on Halloween. Stephen Nissenbaum, in The Battle For Christmas, describes an incident in Salem Village in 1679 when three young men entered an older man's house on Christmas Night, and sang, demanding perry (hard pear cider) in return for their song. When refused, they pelted his house with stones for a half hour. In fact, the last stanza of the second wren boys' song above is almost identical to the penultimate stanza of the Gloucestershire Wassail:
Come butler, come give us
A bowl of the best,
And we hope that your soul
In Heaven may rest.
But if you should give us
A bowl of the small,
Then down will go
Butler, bowl and all.
Wassailling, carolling, wren boys, trick or treat, and souling are all variations on the same ritual. Recall that Halloween was New Year's for Celtic peoples, and you see that the custom of "luck visiting" is a New Year's custom. Because Christmas falls so close to New Year's, and is now the more important holiday, there is a blending of customs, so that New Year's luck visits take place mostly around Christmas.
Today, in the US, what one mostly sees is carolling. It has lost wassailling's hard edge. Children or adults go from house to house or shop to shop and sing carols. It is no longer common to give food or drink in exchange for the song, because many people on either side of the ritual don't understand its origins. It is not as common as it once was, though commercial carolling is still done in downtown business districts like Salem's and Marblehead's, though it is done Thanksgiving weekend to spur holiday shopping, rather than closer to Christmas. Two years ago, we were treated to a very good group from one of the local colleges in decent Victorian costume singing traditional carols (but it was a weird 70 degrees that day in early December).
But no one wassails here. And if boys went about killing wrens and parading the bodies from house to house, the local animal control officer would be sicked on them by some busy-body. One wonders if wrenning could be domesticated and made acceptable to modern sensibilities, while still keeping the essense of the custom.
No. No. The title has nothing to do with getting rid of the empty boxes littering the parlor floor, or with hauling boxes back to the stores for refunds or exchanges. It has even less to do with watching or participating in boxing matches, even though certain family members you have been in too close contact with for the last day or so might be very tempting objects for pummelling by now.
Traditionally, enamel boxes filled with coins or cash, rather like small piggy banks, were given out to those who served people during the year. The paper carrier, the milkman, the dustman, the postman, the cleaning lady, and household servants would receive Christmas gifts of these boxes on Saint Stephen's Day. As I suggested in the post below, it is a day to remember those below us who serve us. Saint Stephen's Day is an opportunity to put into practice what we profess to believe about Christian charity.
Also churches maintained boxes for almsgiving. These boxes were opened on Christmas Day and distributed to the needy on the day after Christmas Day.
Because of the association with gifts to those who wait on our needs and wants, it is naturally a day off work for everyone except public safety and retail workers.
It is a day to be entertained, to match a magic show, a pantomime, or a farce. Many people take the opportunity to tour areas decorated for Christmas. Family time. without the excitement of the gift exchange (or with a smaller version of it with relatives unable to join in on Christmas Day) is also common. It is a day for games and merriment.
Those who stay home traditionally have a cold table today, in recognition of all the work the family cook put in leading up to Christmas Day. A ham or a cold roast beef is appropriate, along with various pickled vegetables and fruits (onions, cucumbers, and brandied peaches).
And Christmas music continues. You all know that carols proclaiming the birth of Christ remain fully appropriate until after Epiphany. Of course "Santa songs" fall by the wayside after Christmas Day. But even fairly secular songs like the Gloucestershire Wassail ("Wassail, Wassail/ All over the town/ Our toast it is white/ And our ale it is brown.") remain fully appropriate.
It is also a wonderful opportunity for charitable giving. Remember Scrooge springing his surprise on Bob Crachit on St. Stephen's Day. In the carol, Good King Wenceslaus brought beef and wine and pine logs to a peasant on St. Stephen's day. Many charities are having a hard time of it this year. Food pantries are still seeing high demand. And they will have depleted a good deal of their stores in order to provide for Christmas Day's needs. They can use a donation now, either in cash or in kind.
Wednesday, December 24, 2003
If you are going through hard times, put your faith in the Babe born this night. He does not want you to be unhappy, no matter what you are going through, what you have lost, what you have done. Happier times will come again. He was born for all of us. He died for all of us. He rose again for all of us. He will come again to judge all of us with mercy but justice.
Rejoice, for the Key To Our Salvation's birth!
1 And it came to pass, that in those days there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that the whole world should be enrolled.
2 This enrolling was first made by Cyrinus, the governor of Syria.
3 And all went to be enrolled, every one into his own city.
4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem: because he was of the house and family of David,
5 To be enrolled with Mary his espoused wife, who was with child.
6 And it came to pass, that when they were there, her days were accomplished, that she should be delivered.
7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him up in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 And there were in the same country shepherds watching, and keeping the night watches over their flock.
9 And behold an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the brightness of God shone round about them; and they feared with a great fear.
10 And the angel said to them: Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people:
11 For, this day, is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David.
12 And this shall be a sign unto you. You shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger.
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God, and saying:
14 Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will.
15 And it came to pass, after the angels departed from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another: Let us go over to Bethlehem, and let us see this word that is come to pass, which the Lord hath shewed to us.
16 And they came with haste; and they found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger.
17 And seeing, they understood of the word that had been spoken to them concerning this child.
18 And all that heard, wondered; and at those things that were told them by the shepherds.
19 But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart.
20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God, for all the things they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
And may all who read this experience God's love in the miracle of the birth of a Child in Bethlehem more than 2000 years.
Merry Christmas to all!
I presume all of us have a place we can name in response to the question “where is your home?” And undoubtedly we have heard repeatedly in this season that “there’s no place like home for the holidays.” Our relationship with the place we call home, be it ever so humble, stirs up warm sentiments in our hearts.
Yet we gaze on the babe in the manger and are keenly aware that his family was homeless. There was no home for Jesus when he was born, nor as an adult telling his disciples he had nowhere to lay his head. Occasionally I meet youth in juvenile detention in Chicago who respond, “in the streets,” when asked where is your home?
“In the present era, care for people’s relation to place may be one of the most crucial dimensions of ministry” writes Sister Mary Frohlich, RSCJ, who teaches spirituality at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.
In today’s readings King David wrestles with the realization that his home is a palace while God dwells in a tent. Yet God’s own choice is not to dwell in one place but to be with God’s people wherever they may roam. “I will fix a place for my people Israel.” And “the Dayspring shall visit us in his mercy to shine on those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.”
This final Advent reflection transitions us to contemplate the God who establishes reigns and households and opens hearts to the Holy Spirit. With Mary let us proclaim the greatness of our God who has done great things. It is by his blood that even those outside the gate are redeemed. Emmanuel, guide the feet of your household into the way of peace!
Make all feel “at home” in your presence this day
Reflection by: Rev. Denny Kinderman, C.PP.S. (Cincinnati Province)
He grew up in another village, where he worked in a carpenter shop until he was 30. Then, for three years, he was an itinerant preacher.
He never wrote a book.
He never held an office.
He never had a family or owned a home. He didn't go to college.
He never lived in a big city.
He never traveled 200 miles from the place where he was born.
He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness.
He had no credentials but himself.
He was only 33 when the tide of public opinion turned against him.
His friends ran away.
One of them denied him.
He was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial.
He was nailed to a cross between two thieves.
While he was dying, his executioners gambled for his garments, the only property he had on earth.
When he was dead, he was laid in a borrowed grave, through the pity of a friend.
Twenty centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure of the human race.
I am well within the mark when I say that
all the armies that ever marched,
all the navies that ever sailed,
all the parliaments that ever sat,
all the kings that ever reigned--put together--have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that
one, solitary life.*
*Attributed to James Allen Francis.
Tuesday, December 23, 2003
At midnight on Christmas Eve,
all water turns to wine,
cattle kneel facing toward the East,
horses kneel and blow as if to warm the manger,
animals can speak but it is bad for a human to hear them,
and the bees hum the Hundredth Psalm.
The Irish believe that the gates of heaven
open at midnight on Christmas Eve.
Those who die at that time go straight through
without having to wait in purgatory.
It is considered very lucky to be born
on Christmas Eve or Christmas day in most countries.
However, in Greece the child is feared to be
a Kallikantzaroi or a wandering spirit.
In Poland the child may turn out to be a werewolf.
The weather on each of the twelve days of Christmas
signifies what the weather will be on
the appropriate month of the coming year.
There is a game in Germany where they blindfold a goose.
The girls make a circle around the goose and whoever
it touches first will be the first to get married.
Place a branch of a cherry tree in water
at the beginning of advent.
It will bring luck if it flowers by Christmas.
You should burn your old shoes during
the Christmas season in Greece
to prevent misfortunes in the coming year.
It is bad luck to let any fire go out
in your house during the Christmas season.
The fire in your fireplace must continue to burn
for the twelve days of Christmas.
If you do not eat plum pudding during the season,
you will have bad luck for a year.
If you refuse mince pie at Christmas dinner,
you will have bad luck for a year.
A loaf of bread left on the table
after Christmas Eve dinner will ensure
no lack of bread for the next year.
If an apple is eaten at midnight on Christmas Eve,
good health will follow for a year.
Tie wet bands of straw around fruit trees
to make them fruitful, or tie a stone
to a branch on Christmas Eve.
Nothing sown on Christmas Eve will perish,
even if the seed is sown in the snow.
In the Netherlands they take a fir stick and
thrust it into the fire and let it burn partially.
They put it under the bed.
This serves as lightening protection.
Never launder a Christmas present
before giving it to its recipient
as this takes out the good luck.
I notice that it leaves out a few I know of.
You will have as many months of good luck in the new year as houses in which you eat mince pie during the Twelve Days of Christmas.
The Yule Log must be lit with brands left over from the previous year's log.
Any man has the privilege of kissing any lady he finds standing under mistletoe during the Twelve Days. He time a lady is kissed under a particular bunch of mistletoe, a berry is plucked off. When the berries are gone, the privilege ends for that particular bunch.
Then there is "first footing," the idea that the luck for the household during the coming year is determined by whether the first person through the door after midnight on Christmas Eve (in some places, New Year's) is fair or dark, squinting or not, barefoot or not. The solution, have blonde men who don't squint tour the houses of your acquintance well shod. They will bring good luck.
And in some areas, the Yule fire must only stay lit during Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, not the whole twelve days.
A modern song in the same vein.
On the road the frost is glistening.
People stream from Midnight Mass.
Friendly candles glow in windows.
Strangers greet you as you pass.
Home then to the laden table;
Ham and goose and pints of beer,
Whisky handed 'round in tumblers,
Christmas comes but once a year!
Puddings made with eggs and treacle,
Seeded raisins and ground suet,
Sated breadcrumbs and mixed spices,
Grated rind and plenty fruit,
Cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg,
Porter, brandy, and old ale.
Don't forget the wine and whisky!
Christmas comes but once a year!
Women fussing in the kitchen,
Lay the food on every plate.
Men impatient in the hallway,
Guinness and porter while we wait.
Who cares if we work tomorrow?
Now's the time to spread good cheer!
Pass the punch around the table!
Christmas comes but once a year!
1. Here we come a wassailing
Among the leaves so green,
Here we come a wandering
So fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too,
And God bless you and send you a happy New Year.
And God send you a happy New Year.
2. Our wassail cup is made
Of the rosemary tree,
And so is your beer
Of the best barley. Chorus
3. We are not daily beggars
That beg from door to door,
But we are neighbours' children
Whom you have seen before. Chorus
4. Good Master and good Mistress,
As you sit by the fire,
Pray think of us poor children
Are wandering in the mire. Chorus
5. We have a little purse
Made of ratching leather skin; 
We want some of your small change
To line it well within. Chorus
6. Call up the Butler of this house,
Put on his golden ring;
Let him bring us a glass of beer,
And the better we shall sing. Chorus
7. Bring us out a table,
And spread it with a cloth;
Bring us out a mouldy cheese,
And some of your Christmas loaf. Chorus
8. God bless the Master of this house,
Likewise the Mistress too;
And all the little children
That round the table go. Chorus
Another traditional Christmas song from the British Isles glorifying merrymaking.
Deck the halls with boughs of holly
Fa la la la la, la la, la,la
'Tis the season to be jolly
Fill the mead cup, drain the barrel
Fa la la, fa la la, la la la
Troll the ancient Christmas carol
Fa la la la, la, la la, la, la
See the flowing bowl before us
strike the harp and join the chorus,
Follow me in merry measure,
While I tell of beauty's treasure
Fast away the old year passes
Hail the new, ye lads and lasses
Laughing, quaffing all together
Headless of the wind and weather.
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown;
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree.
With the wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee.
2. Here's to Dobbin, and to his right ear,
God send our measter a happy new year:
A happy new year as e'er he did see,
With my wassailing bowl I drink to thee.
3. So here is to Cherry and to his right cheek
Pray God send our master a good piece of beef
And a good piece of beef that may we all see
With the wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee.
4. Here's to our mare, and to her right eye,
God send our mistress a good Christmas pie;
A good Christmas pie as e'er I did see,
With my wassailing bowl I drink to thee.
5. So here is to Broad Mary and to her broad horn
May God send our master a good crop of corn
And a good crop of corn that may we all see
With the wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee.
6. And here is to Fillpail and to her left ear
Pray God send our master a happy New Year
And a happy New Year as e'er he did see
With the wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee.
7. Here's to our cow, and to her long tail,
God send our measter us never may fail
Of a cup of good beer: I pray you draw near,
And our jolly wassail it's then you shall hear.
8. Come butler, come fill us a bowl of the best
Then we hope that your soul in heaven may rest
But if you do draw us a bowl of the small
Then down shall go butler, bowl and all.
9. Be here any maids? I suppose here be some;
Sure they will not let young men stand on the cold stone!
Sing hey O, maids! come trole back the pin,
And the fairest maid in the house let us all in.
10. Then here's to the maid in the lily white smock
Who tripped to the door and slipped back the lock
Who tripped to the door and pulled back the pin
For to let these jolly wassailers in
When I think of the times my wife and I lamented that St. James, as much as we loved it and our late pastor Father Flaherty, had no parish social life and no one of our own age and values and inclinations active in it, and then note that I found what we were looking for, but oh so late, the irony of it really strikes me.
* Maskings or mummeries were favorite sports at Christmas in old times; and the wardrobes at halls and manor-houses were often laid under contribution to furnish dresses and fantastic disguisings. I strongly suspect Master Simon to have taken the idea of his from Ben Jonson's Masque of Christmas. -
Master Simon led the van, as "Ancient Christmas," quaintly apparelled in a ruff, a short cloak, which had very much the aspect of one of the old housekeeper's petticoats, and a hat that might have served for a village steeple, and must indubitably have figured in the days of the Covenanters. From under this his nose curved boldly forth, flushed with a frost-bitten bloom, that seemed the very trophy of a December blast. He was accompanied by the blue-eyed romp, dished up as "Dame Mince Pie," in the venerable magnificence of a faded brocade, long stomacher, peaked hat, and high-heeled shoes. The young officer appeared as Robin Hood, in a sporting dress of Kendal green, and a foraging cap with a gold tassel.
The costume, to be sure, did not bear testimony to deep research, and there was an evident eye to the picturesque, natural to a young gallant in the presence of his mistress. The fair Julia hung on his arm in a pretty rustic dress, as "Maid Marian." The rest of the train had been metamorphosed in various ways; the girls trussed up in the finery of the ancient belles of the Bracebridge line, and the striplings bewhiskered with burnt cork, and gravely clad in broad skirts, hanging sleeves, and full-bottomed wigs, to represent the character of Roast Beef, Plum Pudding, and other worthies celebrated in ancient maskings. The whole was under the control of the Oxonian, in the appropriate character of Misrule; and I observed that he exercised rather a mischievous sway with his wand over the smaller personages of the pageant.
The irruption of this motley crew, with beat of drum, according to ancient custom, was the consummation of uproar and merriment. Master Simon covered himself with glory by the stateliness with which, as Ancient Christmas, he walked a minuet with the peerless, though giggling, Dame Mince Pie. It was followed by a dance of all the characters, which from its medley of costumes, seemed as though the old family portraits had skipped down from their frames to join in the sport. Different centuries were figuring at cross hands and right and left; the dark ages were cutting pirouettes and rigadoons; and the days of Queen Bess jigging merrily down the middle, through a line of succeeding generations.
The worthy squire contemplated these fantastic sports, and this resurrection of his old wardrobe, with the simple relish of childish delight. He stood chuckling and rubbing his hands, and scarcely hearing a word the parson said, notwithstanding that the latter was discoursing most authentically on the ancient and stately dance of the Pavon, or peacock, from which he conceived the minuet to be derived.* For my part, I was in a continual excitement from the varied scenes of whim and innocent gayety passing before me. It was inspiring to see wild-eyed frolic and warm-hearted hospitality breaking out from among the chills and looms of winter, and old age throwing off his apathy, and catching once more the freshness of youthful enjoyment. I felt also an interest in the scene, from the consideration that these fleeting customs were passing fast into oblivion, and that this was, perhaps, the only family in England in which the whole of them was still punctiliously observed. There was a quaintness, too, mingled with all this revelry, that gave it a peculiar zest: it was suited to the time and place; and as the old manor-house almost reeled with mirth and wassail, it seemed echoing back the joviality of long departed years.*(2) -
* Sir John Hawkins, speaking of the dance called the Pavon, from pavo, a peacock, says, "It is a grave and majestic dance; the method of dancing it anciently was by gentlemen dressed with caps and swords, by those of the long robe in their gowns, by the peers in their mantles, and by the ladies in gowns with long trains, the motion whereof, in dancing, resembled that of a peacock."- History of Music.
*(2) At the time of the first publication of this paper, the picture of an old-fashioned Christmas in the country was pronounced by some as out of date. The author had afterwards an opportunity of witnessing almost all the customs above described, existing in unexpected vigor in the skirts of Derbyshire and Yorkshire, where he passed the Christmas holidays, The reader will find some notice of them in the author's account of his sojourn at Newstead Abbey.
But enough of Christmas and its gambols; it is time for me to pause in this garrulity. Methinks I hear the questions asked by my graver readers, "To what purpose is all this- how is the world to be made wiser by this talk?" Alas! is there not wisdom enough extant for the instruction of the world? And if not, are there not thousands of abler pens laboring for its improvement?- It is so much pleasanter to please than to instruct- to play the companion rather than the preceptor.
What, after all, is the mite of wisdom that I could throw into the mass of knowledge; or how am I sure that my sagest deductions may be safe guides for the opinions of others? But in writing to amuse, if I fail, the only evil is in my own disappointment. If, however, I can by any lucky chance, in these days of evil, rub out one wrinkle from the brow of care, or beguile the heavy heart of one moment of sorrow; if I can now and then penetrate through the gathering film of misanthropy, prompt a benevolent view of human nature, and make my reader more in good humor with his fellow beings and himself, surely, surely, I shall not then have written entirely in vain.
(at last,, you say)
* At Christmasse there was in the Kinge's house, wheresoever hee was lodged, a lorde of misrule, or mayster of merie disportes, and the like had ye in the house of every nobleman of honor, or good worshippe, were he spirituall or temporall.- STOWE. -
When I returned to the drawing-room, I found the company seated round the fire, listening to the parson, who was deeply ensconced in a high-backed oaken chair, the work of some cunning artificer of yore, which had been brought from the library for his particular accommodation. From this venerable piece of furniture, with which his shadowy figure and dark weazen face so admirably accorded, he was dealing out strange accounts of the popular superstitions and legends of the surrounding country, with which he had become acquainted in the course of his antiquarian researches.
I am half inclined to think that the old gentleman was himself somewhat tinctured with superstition, as men are very apt to be who live a recluse and studious life in a sequestered part of the country, and pore over black-letter tracts, so often filled with the marvellous and supernatural.
He gave us several anecdotes of the fancies of the neighboring peasantry, concerning the effigy of the crusader, which lay on the tomb by the church altar. As it was the only monument of the kind in that part of the country, it had always been regarded with feelings of superstition by the good wives of the village. It was said to get up from the tomb and walk the rounds of the church-yard in stormy nights, particularly when it thundered; and one old woman, whose cottage bordered on the church-yard, had seen it through the windows of the church, when the moon shone, slowly pacing up and down the aisles.
It was the belief that some wrong had been left unredressed by the deceased, or some treasure hidden, which kept the spirit in a state of trouble and restlessness. Some talked of gold and jewels buried in the tomb, over which the spectre kept watch; and there was a story current of a sexton in old times, who endeavored to break his way to the coffin at night, but, just as he reached it, received a violent blow from the marble hand of the effigy, which stretched him senseless on the pavement. These tales were often laughed at by some of the sturdier among the rustics, yet, when night came on, there were many of the stoutest unbelievers that were shy of venturing alone in the footpath that led across the church-yard.
From these and other anecdotes that followed, the crusader appeared to be the favorite hero of ghost stories throughout the vicinity. His picture, which hung up in the hall, was thought by the servants to have something supernatural about it; for they remarked that, in whatever part of the hall you went, the eyes of the warrior were still fixed on you.
The old porter's wife, too, at the lodge, who had been born and brought up in the family, and was a great gossip among the maid servants, affirmed, that in her young days she had often heard say, that on Midsummer eve, when it was well known all kinds of ghosts, goblins, and fairies become visible and walk abroad, the crusader used to mount his horse, come down from his picture, ride about the house, down the avenue, and so to the church to visit the tomb; on which occasion the church door most civilly swung open of itself; not that he needed it; for he rode through closed gates and even stone walls, and had been seen by one of the dairy maids to pass between two bars of the great park gate, making himself as thin as a sheet of paper.
All these superstitions I found had been very much countenanced by the squire, who, though not superstitious himself, was very fond of seeing others so. He listened to every goblin tale of the neighboring gossips with infinite gravity, and held the porter's wife in high favor on account of her talent for the marvellous. He was himself a great reader of old legends and romances, and often lamented that he could not believe in them; for a superstitious person, he thought, must live in a kind of fairy land.
The dinner-time passed away in this flow of innocent hilarity, and, though the old hall may have resounded in its time with many a scene of broader rout and revel, yet I doubt whether it ever witnessed more honest and genuine enjoyment. How easy it is for one benevolent being to diffuse pleasure around him; and how truly is a kind heart a fountain of gladness, making every thing in its vicinity to freshen into smiles! the joyous disposition of the worthy squire was perfectly contagious; he was happy himself, and disposed to make all the world happy; and the little eccentricities of his humor did but season, in a manner, the sweetness of his philanthropy.
When the ladies had retired, the conversation, as usual, became still more animated; many good things were broached which had been thought of during dinner, but which would not exactly do for a lady's ear; and though I cannot positively affirm that there was much wit uttered, yet I have certainly heard many contests of rare wit produce much less laughter. Wit, after all, is a mighty tart, pungent ingredient, and much too acid for some stomachs; but honest good humor is the oil and wine of a merry meeting, and there is no jovial companionship equal to that where the jokes are rather small, and the laughter abundant.
The squire told several long stories of early college pranks and adventures, in some of which the parson had been a sharer; though in looking at the latter, it required some effort of imagination to figure such a little dark anatomy of a man into the perpetrator of a madcap gambol. Indeed, the two college chums presented pictures of what men may be made by their different lots in life. The squire had left the university to live lustily on his paternal domains, in the vigorous enjoyment of prosperity and sunshine, and had flourished on to a hearty and florid old age; whilst the poor parson, on the contrary, had dried and withered away, among dusty tomes, in the silence and shadows of his study. Still there seemed to be a spark of almost extinguished fire, feebly glimmering in the bottom of his soul; and as the squire hinted at a sly story of the parson and a pretty milkmaid, whom they once met on the banks of the Isis, the old gentleman made an "alphabet of faces," which, as far as I could decipher his physiognomy, I verily believe was indicative of laughter;- indeed, I have rarely met with an old gentleman that took absolute offence at the imputed gallantries of his youth.
I found the tide of wine and wassail fast gaining on the dry land of sober judgment. The company grew merrier and louder as their jokes grew duller. Master Simon was in as chirping a humor as a grasshopper filled with dew; his old songs grew of a warmer complexion, and he began to talk maudlin about the widow. He even gave a long song about the wooing of a widow, which he informed me he had gathered from an excellent black-letter work, entitled "Cupid's Solicitor for Love," containing store of good advice for bachelors, and which he promised to lend me: the first verse was to this effect:
He that will woo a widow must not dally,
He must make hay while the sun doth shine;
He must not stand with her, shall I, shall I,
But boldly say Widow, thou must be mine.
This song inspired the fat-headed old gentleman, who made several attempts to tell a rather broad story out of Joe Miller, that was pat to the purpose; but he always stuck in the middle, everybody recollecting the latter part excepting himself. The parson, too, began to show the effects of good cheer, having gradually settled down into a doze, and his wig sitting most suspiciously on one side. Just at this juncture we were summoned to the drawing-room, and, I suspect, at the private instigation of mine host, whose joviality seemed always tempered with a proper love of decorum.
* The peacock was anciently in great demand for stately entertainments. Sometimes it was made into a pie, at one end of which the head appeared above the crust in all its plumage, with the beak richly gilt; at the other end the tail was displayed. Such pies were served up at the solemn banquets of chivalry, when knights-errant pledged themselves to undertake any perilous enterprise, whence came the ancient oath, used by justice Shallow, "by cock and pie."
The peacock was also an important dish for the Christmas feast; and Massinger, in his City Madam, gives some idea of the extravagance with which this, as well as other dishes, was prepared for the gorgeous revels of the olden times:
Men may talk of Country Christmasses,
Their thirty pound butter'd eggs,
their pies of carps' tongues;
Their pheasants drench'd with ambergris;
the carcases of three fat wethers bruised
for gravy to make sauce for a single peacock.
It would be tedious, perhaps, to my wiser readers, who may not have that foolish fondness for odd and obsolete things to which I am a little given, were I to mention the other make-shifts of this worthy old humorist, by which he was endeavoring to follow up, though at humble distance, the quaint customs of antiquity. I was pleased, however, to see the respect shown to his whims by his children and relatives; who, indeed, entered readily into the full spirit of them, and seemed all well versed in their parts; having doubtless been present at many a rehearsal. I was amused, too, at the air of profound gravity with which the butler and other servants executed the duties assigned them, however eccentric. They had an old-fashioned look; having, for the most part, been brought up in the household, and grown into keeping with the antiquated mansion, and the humors of its lord; and most probably looked upon all his whimsical regulations as the established laws of honorable housekeeping.
When the cloth was removed, the butler brought in a huge silver vessel of rare and curious workmanship, which he placed before the squire. Its appearance was hailed with acclamation; being the Wassail Bowl, so renowned in Christmas festivity. The contents had been prepared by the squire himself; for it was a beverage in the skilful mixture of which he particularly prided himself: alleging that it was too abtruse and complex for the comprehension of an ordinary servant. It was a potation, indeed, that might well make the heart of a toper leap within him; being composed of the richest and raciest wines, highly spiced and sweetened, with roasted apples bobbing about the surface.* -
* The Wassail Bowl was sometimes composed of ale instead of wine; with nutmeg, Next crowne the bowle full
With gentle Lamb's Wool;
Add sugar, nutmeg, and ginger
With store of ale too;
And thus ye must doe
To make the Wassaile a swingersugar, toast, ginger, and roasted crabs; in this way the nut-brown beverage is still prepared in some old families, and round the hearths of substantial farmers at Christmas. It is also called Lamb's Wool, and is celebrated by Herrick in his Twelfth Night:
The old gentleman's whole countenance beamed with a serene look of indwelling delight, as he stirred this mighty bowl. Having raised it to his lips, with a hearty wish of a merry Christmas to all present, he sent it brimming round the board, for every one to follow his example, according to the primitive style; pronouncing it "the ancient fountain of good feeling, where all hearts met together."* -
* "The custom of drinking out of the same cup gave place to each having his cup. When the steward came to the doore with the Wassel, he was to cry three times, Wassel, Wassel, Wassel, and then the chappell (chaplein) was to answer with a song."- ARCHAEOLOGIA. -
There was much laughing and rallying as the honest emblem of Christmas joviality circulated, and was kissed rather coyly by the ladies. When it reached Master Simon, he raised it in both hands, and with the air of a boon companion struck up an old Wassail chanson.
The brown bowle,
The merry brown bowle,
As it goes round about-a,
Let the world say what it will,
And drink your fill all out-a. -
The deep canne,
The merry deep canne,
As thou dost freely quaff-a,
Be as merry as a king,
And sound a lusty laugh-a.*
* From Poor Robin's Almanac.
Let every man be jolly,
Eache roome with yvie leaves is drest,
And every post with holly.
Now all our neighbours' chimneys smoke,
And Christmas blocks are burning;
Their ovens they with bak't meats choke
And all their spits are turning.
Without the door let sorrow lie,
And if, for cold, it hap to die,
Wee'le bury 't in a Christmas pye,
And evermore be merry.
WITHERS' JUVENILIA. -
I HAD finished my toilet, and was loitering with Frank Bracebridge in the library, when we heard a distant thwacking sound, which he informed me was a signal for the serving up of the dinner. The squire kept up old customs in kitchen as well as hall; and the rolling-pin, struck upon the dresser by the cook, summoned the servants to carry in the meats.
Just in this nick the cook knock'd thrice,
And all the waiters in a trice
His summons did obey;
Each serving man, with dish in hand,
March'd boldly up, like our train band,
Presented, and away.*
* Sir John Suckling. -
The dinner was served up in the great hall, where the squire always held his Christmas banquet. A blazing crackling fire of logs had been heaped on to warm the spacious apartment, and the flame went sparkling and wreathing up the wide-mouthed chimney. The great picture of the crusader and his white horse had been profusely decorated with greens for the occasion; and holly and ivy had likewise been wreathed round the helmet and weapons on the opposite wall, which I understood were the arms of the same warrior. I must own, by the by, I had strong doubts about the authenticity of the painting and armor as having belonged to the crusader, they certainly having the stamp of more recent days; but I was told that the painting had been so considered time out of mind; and that, as to the armor, it had been found in a lumber-room, and elevated to its present situation by the squire, who at once determined it to be the armor of the family hero; and as he was absolute authority on all such subjects in his own household, the matter had passed into current acceptation. A sideboard was set out just under this chivalric trophy, on which was a display of plate that might have vied (at least in variety) with Belshazzar's parade of the vessels of the temple: "flagons, cans, cups, beakers, goblets, basins, and ewers;" the gorgeous utensils of good companionship that had gradually accumulated through many generations of jovial housekeepers. Before these stood the two Yule candles, beaming like two stars of the first magnitude; other lights were distributed in branches, and the whole array glittered like a firmament of silver.
We were ushered into this banqueting scene with the sound of minstrelsy, the old harper being seated on a stool beside the fireplace, and twanging his instrument with a vast deal more power than melody. Never did Christmas board display a more goodly and gracious assemblage of countenances; those who were not handsome were, at least, happy; and happiness is a rare improver of your hard-favored visage. I always consider an old English family as well worth studying as a collection of Holbein's portraits or Albert Durer's prints. There is much antiquarian lore to be acquired; much knowledge of the physiognomies of former times. Perhaps it may be from having continually before their eyes those rows of old family portraits, with which the mansions of this country are stocked; certain it is, that the quaint features of antiquity are often most faithfully perpetuated in these ancient lines; and I have traced an old family nose through a whole picture gallery, legitimately handed down from generation to generation, almost from the time of the Conquest. Something of the kind was to be observed in the worthy company around me. Many of their faces had evidently originated in a Gothic age, and been merely copied by succeeding generations; and there was one little girl in particular, of staid demeanor, with a high Roman nose, and an antique vinegar aspect, who was a great favorite of the squire's, being, as he said, a Bracebridge all over, and the very counterpart of one of his ancestors who figured in the court of Henry VIII.
The parson said grace, which was not a short familiar one, such as is commonly addressed to the Deity in these unceremonious days; but a long, courtly, well-worded one of the ancient school. There was now a pause, as if something was expected; when suddenly the butler entered the hall with some degree of bustle: he was attended by a servant on each side with a large wax-light, and bore a silver dish, on which was an enormous pig's head, decorated with rosemary, with a lemon in its mouth, which was placed with great formality at the head of the table. The moment this pageant made its appearance, the harper struck up a flourish; at the conclusion of which the young Oxonian, on receiving a hint from the squire, gave, with an air of the most comic gravity, an old carol, the first verse of which was as follows:
Caput apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino.
The boar's head in hand bring I,
With garlands gay and rosemary.
I pray you all synge merrily
Qui estis in convivio.
Though prepared to witness many of these little eccentricities, from being apprised of the peculiar hobby of mine host; yet, I confess, the parade with which so odd a dish was introduced somewhat perplexed me, until I gathered from the conversation of the squire and the parson, that it was meant to represent the bringing in of the boar's head; a dish formerly served up with much ceremony and the sound of minstrelsy and song, at great tables, on Christmas day. "I like the old custom," said the squire, "not merely because it is stately and pleasing in itself, but because it was observed at the college at Oxford at which I was educated. When I hear the old song chanted, it brings to mind the time when I was young and gamesome- and the noble old college hall- and my fellow-students loitering about in their black gowns; many of whom, poor lads, are now in their graves!"
The parson, however, whose mind was not haunted by such associations, and who was always more taken up with the text than the sentiment, objected to the Oxonian's version of the carol; which he affirmed was different from that sung at college. He went on, with the dry perseverance of a commentator, to give the college reading, accompanied by sundry annotations; addressing himself at first to the company at large; but finding their attention gradually diverted to other talk and other objects, he lowered his tone as his number of auditors diminished, until he concluded his remarks in an under voice, to a fat-headed old gentleman next him, who was silently engaged in the discussion of a huge plateful of turkey.* -
* The old ceremony of serving up the boar's head on Christmas day is still observed in the hall of Queen's College, Oxford. I was favored by the parson with a copy of the carol as now sung, and as it may be acceptable to such of my readers as are curious in these grave and learned matters, I give it entire.
The boar's head in hand bear I,
Bedeck'd with bays and rosemary;
And I pray you, my masters, be merry
Quot estis in convivio.
Caput apri defero,
Reddens laudes domino. -
The boar's head, as I understand,
Is the rarest dish in all this land,
Which thus bedeck'd with a gay garland
Let us servire cantico.
Caput apri defero, etc. -
Our steward hath provided this
In honor of the King of Bliss,
Which on this day to be served is
In Reginensi Atrio.
Caput apri defero,
etc., etc., etc.
The table was literally loaded with good cheer, and presented an epitome of country abundance, in this season of overflowing larders. A distinguished post was allotted to "ancient sirloin," as mine host termed it; being, as he added, "the standard of old English hospitality, and a joint of goodly presence, and full of expectation." There were several dishes quaintly decorated, and which had evidently something traditional in their embellishments; but about which, as I did not like to appear over-curious, I asked no questions.
Elizabeth and Zechariah are models of trust and faithfulness. They were faithful, trusting and prayerful throughout their lives. After many years of praying to God to bless them with a child, Elizabeth remained without a child. Then one day God answered their prayers while Zechariah was in the synagogue and they were blessed with a son. Elizabeth and Zechariah continued to express their trust and faithfulness to God by naming their son John, meaning God has shown favor. They also dedicated John to God’s service as messenger and preparer of the way of God. They gave their most precious gift, their only son, to the service of God. God in turn expresses love, trust and faithfulness to all humanity by giving us Jesus who gives the ultimate gift of everlasting life through the new covenant of His Precious Blood.
In today’s world many have lost the ability to trust, even in God. As we see from Elizabeth and Zechariah their trust was built on a relationship with God. This relationship was one of love, respect, honesty, openness and faithfulness. Deepening our relationship with God is what we have been fostering during this advent season. God is waiting and open for a trusting, faithful relationship. Are you ready? If you are ready all you have to do is ask God to help you and then trust in God’s love and provident care.
Reflection by: Michelle Woodruff, ASC Novice (American Province)
Rex et legifer noster,
et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos,
Domine, Deus noster.
the one awaited by the gentiles,
and their Savior:
come to save us,
Lord our God.
That is the last of the O Antiphons. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve.
Monday, December 22, 2003
The squire eyed this fanciful exhibition with great interest and delight, and gave me a full account of its origin, which he traced to the times when the Romans held possession of the island; plainly proving that this was a lineal descendant of the sword dance of the ancients. "It was now," he said, "nearly extinct, but he had accidentally met with traces of it in the neighborhood, and had encouraged its revival; though, to tell the truth, it was too apt to be followed up by the rough cudgel play, and broken heads in the evening."
After the dance was concluded, the whole party was entertained with brawn and beef, and stout home-brewed. The squire himself mingled among the rustics, and was received with awkward demonstrations of deference and regard. It is true I perceived two or three of the younger peasants, as they were raising their tankards to their mouths, when the squire's back was turned, making something of a grimace, and giving each other the wink; but the moment they caught my eye they pulled grave faces, and were exceedingly demure. With Master Simon, however, they all seemed more at their ease. His varied occupations and amusements had made him well known throughout the neighborhood. He was a visitor at every farmhouse and cottage; gossiped with the farmers and their wives; romped with their daughters; and, like that type of a vagrant bachelor, the humblebee, tolled the sweets from all the rosy lips of the country round.
The bashfulness of the guests soon gave way before good cheer and affability. There is something genuine and affectionate in the gayety of the lower orders, when it is excited by the bounty and familiarity of those above them; the warm glow of gratitude enters into their mirth, and a kind word or a small pleasantry frankly uttered by a patron, gladdens the heart of the dependent more than oil and wine. When the squire had retired, the merriment increased, and there was much joking and laughter, particularly between Master Simon and a hale, ruddy-faced, white-headed farmer, who appeared to be the wit of the village; for I observed all his companions to wait with open mouths for his retorts, and burst into a gratuitous laugh before they could well understand them.
The whole house indeed seemed abandoned to merriment: as I passed to my room to dress for dinner, I heard the sound of music in a small court, and looking through a window that commanded it, I perceived a band of wandering musicians, with pandean pipes and tambourine; a pretty coquettish housemaid was dancing a jig with a smart country lad, while several of the other servants were looking on. In the midst of her sport the girl caught a glimpse of my face at the window, and, coloring up, ran off with an air of roguish affected confusion.
* "Ule! Ule!
Three puddings in a pule;
Crack nuts and cry ule!"
On our way homeward his heart seemed overflowed with generous and happy feelings. As we passed over a rising ground which commanded something of a prospect, the sounds of rustic merriment now and then reached our ears: the squire paused for a few moments, and looked around with an air of inexpressible benignity. The beauty of the day was of itself sufficient to inspire philanthropy.
Not withstanding the frostiness of the morning, the sun in his cloudless journey had acquired sufficient power to melt away the thin covering of snow from every southern declivity, and to bring out the living green which adorns an English landscape even in mid-winter. Large tracts of smiling verdure contrasted with the dazzling whiteness of the shaded slopes and hollows. Every sheltered bank, on which the broad rays rested, yielded its silver rill of cold and limpid water, glittering through the dripping grass; and sent up slight exhalations to contribute to the thin haze that hung just above the surface of the earth. There was something truly cheering in this triumph of warmth and verdure over the frosty thraldom of winter; it was, as the squire observed, an emblem of Christmas hospitality, breaking through the chills of ceremony and selfishness, and thawing every heart into a flow. He pointed with pleasure to the indications of good cheer reeking from the chimneys of the comfortable farmhouses, and low thatched cottages. "I love," said he, "to see this day well kept by rich and poor; it is a great thing to have one day in the year, at least, when you are sure of being welcome wherever you go, and of having, as it were, the world all thrown open to you; and I am almost disposed to join with Poor Robin, in his malediction on every churlish enemy to this honest festival
"Those who at Christmas do repine
And would fain hence dispatch him,
May they with old Duke Humphry dine,
Or else may Squire Ketch catch 'em."
The squire went on to lament the deplorable decay of the games and amusements which were once prevalent at this season among the lower orders, and countenanced by the higher; when the old halls of the castles and manor-houses were thrown open at daylight; when the tables were covered with brawn, and beef, and humming ale; when the harp and the carol resounded all day long, and when rich and poor were alike welcome to enter and make merry.* "Our old games and local customs," said he, "had a great effect in making the peasant fond of his home, and the promotion of them by the gentry made him fond of his lord. They made the times merrier, and kinder, and better, and I can truly say, with one of our old poets: -
'I like them well- the curious preciseness
And all-pretended gravity of those
That seek to banish hence these harmless sports,
Have thrust away much ancient honesty.' -
* "An English gentleman, at the opening of the great day, i. e. on Christmas day in the morning, had all his tenants and neighbors enter his hall by daybreak. The strong beer was broached, and the blackjacks went plentifully about with toast, sugar and nutmeg, and good Cheshire cheese. The Hackin (the great sausage) must be boiled by daybreak, or else two young men must take the maiden (i. e. the cook) by the arms, and run her round the market-place till she is shamed of her laziness."- Round about our Sea-Coal Fire. -
"The nation," continued he, "is altered; we have almost lost our simple true-hearted peasantry. They have broken asunder from the higher classes, and seem to think their interests are separate. They have become too knowing, and begin to read newspapers, listen to ale-house politicians, and talk of reform. I think one mode to keep them in good humor in these hard times would be for the nobility and gentry to pass more time on their estates, mingle more among the country people, and set the merry old English games going again."
Such was the good squire's project for mitigating public discontent: and, indeed, he had once attempted to put his doctrine in practice, and a few years before had kept open house during the holidays in the old style. The country people, however, did not understand how to play their parts in the scene of hospitality; many uncouth circumstances occurred; the manor was overrun by all the vagrants of the country, and more beggars drawn into the neighborhood in one week than the parish officers could get rid of in a year. Since then, he had contented himself with inviting the decent part of the neighboring peasantry to call at the hall on Christmas day, and with distributing beef, and bread, and ale, among the poor, that they might make merry in their own dwellings.
I was informed by Frank Bracebridge, that the parson had been a chum of his father's at Oxford, and had received this living shortly after the latter had come to his estate. He was a complete black-letter hunter, and would scarcely read a work printed in the Roman character. The editions of Caxton and Wynkin de Worde were his delight; and he was indefatigable in his researches after such old English writers as have fallen into oblivion from their worthlessness. In deference, perhaps, to the notions of Mr. Bracebridge, he had made diligent investigations into the festive rites and holiday customs of former times; and had been as zealous in the inquiry as if he had been a boon companion; but it was merely with that plodding spirit with which men of adust temperament follow up any track of study, merely because it is denominated learning; indifferent to its intrinsic nature, whether it be the illustration of the wisdom, or of the ribaldry and obscenity of antiquity. He had pored over these old volumes so intensely, that they seemed to have been reflected in his countenance; which, if the face be indeed an index of the mind, might be compared to a title-page of black letter.
On reaching the church porch, we found the parson rebuking the gray-headed sexton for having used mistletoe among the greens with which the church was decorated. It was, he observed, an unholy plant, profaned by having been used by the Druids in their mystic ceremonies; and though it might be innocently employed in the festive ornamenting of halls and kitchens, yet it had been deemed by the Fathers of the Church as unhallowed, and totally unfit for sacred purposes. So tenacious was he on this point, that the poor sexton was obliged to strip down a great part of the humble trophies of his taste, before the parson would consent to enter upon the service of the day.
The interior of the church was venerable but simple; on the walls were several mural monuments of the Bracebridges, and just beside the altar was a tomb of ancient workmanship, on which lay the effigy of a warrior in armor, with his legs crossed, a sign of his having been a crusader. I was told it was one of the family who had signalized himself in the Holy Land, and the same whose picture hung over the fireplace in the hall.
During service, Master Simon stood up in the pew, and repeated the responses very audibly; evincing that kind of ceremonious devotion punctually observed by a gentleman of the old school, and a man of old family connections. I observed too that he turned over the leaves of a folio prayer-book with something of a flourish; possibly to show off an enormous seal-ring which enriched one of his fingers, and which had the look of a family relic. But he was evidently most solicitous about the musical part of the service, keeping his eye fixed intently on the choir, and beating time with much gesticulation and emphasis.
The orchestra was in a small gallery, and presented a most whimsical grouping of heads, piled one above the other, among which I particularly noticed that of the village tailor, a pale fellow with a retreating forehead and chin, who played on the clarionet, and seemed to have blown his face to a point; and there was another, a short pursy man, stooping and laboring at a bass-viol, so as to show nothing but the top of a round bald head, like the egg of an ostrich. There were two or three pretty faces among the female singers, to which the keen air of a frosty morning had given a bright rosy tint; but the gentlemen choristers had evidently been chosen, like old Cremona fiddles, more for tone than looks; and as several had to sing from the same book, there were clusterings of odd physiognomies, not unlike those groups of cherubs we sometimes see on country tombstones.
The usual services of the choir were managed tolerably well, the vocal parts generally lagging a little behind the instrumental, and some loitering fiddler now and then making up for lost time by travelling over a passage with prodigious celerity, and clearing more bars than the keenest fox-hunter to be in at the death. But the great trial was an anthem that had been prepared and arranged by Master Simon, and on which he had founded great expectation. Unluckily there was a blunder at the very outset; the musicians became flurried; Master Simon was in a fever; every thing went on lamely and irregularly until they came to a chorus beginning "Now let us sing with one accord," which seemed to be a signal for parting company: all became discord and confusion; each shifted for himself, and got to the end as well, or, rather, as soon as he could, excepting one old chorister in a pair of horn spectacles, bestriding and pinching a long sonorous nose; who happened to stand a little apart, and, being wrapped up in his own melody, kept on a quavering course, wriggling his head, ogling his book, and winding all up by a nasal solo of at least three bars' duration.
The parson gave us a most erudite sermon on the rites and ceremonies of Christmas, and the propriety of observing it not merely as a day of thanksgiving, but of rejoicing; supporting the correctness of his opinions by the earliest usages of the church, and enforcing them by the authorities of Theophilus of Cesarea, St. Cyprian, St. Chrysostom, St. Augustine, and a cloud more of saints and fathers, from whom he made copious quotations. I was a little at a loss to perceive the necessity of such a mighty array of forces to maintain a point which no one present seemed inclined to dispute; but I soon found that the good man had a legion of ideal adversaries to contend with; having, in the course of his researches on the subject of Christmas, got completely embroiled in the sectarian controversies of the Revolution, when the Puritans made such a fierce assault upon the ceremonies of the church, and poor old Christmas was driven out of the land by proclamation of Parliament.* The worthy parson lived but with times past, and knew but little of the present. -
* From the "Flying Eagle," a small Gazette, published December 24th, 1652- "The House spent much time this day about the business of the Navy, for settling the affairs at sea, and before they rose, were presented with a terrible remonstrance against Christmas day, grounded upon divine Scriptures, 2 Cor. v. 16; 1 Cor. xv. 14, 17; and in honor of the Lord's Day, grounded upon these Scriptures, John xx. 1; Rev. i. 10; Psalm cxviii. 24; Lev. xxiii. 7, 11; Mark xv. 8; Psalm lxxxiv. 10, in which Christmas is called Anti-christ's masse, and those Massemongers and Papists who observe it, etc. In consequence of which Parliament spent some time in consultation about the abolition of Christmas day, passed orders to that effect, and resolved to sit on the following day, which was commonly called Christmas day." -
Shut up among worm-eaten tomes in the retirement of his antiquated little study, the pages of old times were to him as the gazettes of the day; while the era of the Revolution was mere modern history. He forgot that nearly two centuries had elapsed since the fiery persecution of poor mince-pie throughout the land; when plum porridge was denounced as "mere popery," and roast-beef as anti-christian; and that Christmas had been brought in again triumphantly with the merry court of King Charles at the Restoration. He kindled into warmth with the ardor of his contest, and the host of imaginary foes with whom he had to combat; he had a stubborn conflict with old Prynne and two or three other forgotten champions of the Round Heads, on the subject of Christmas festivity; and concluded by urging his hearers, in the most solemn and affecting manner, to stand to the traditional customs of their fathers, and feast and make merry on this joyful anniversary of the Church.
The old mansion had a still more venerable look in the yellow sunshine than by pale moonlight; and I could not but feel the force of the squire's idea, that the formal terraces, heavily moulded balustrades, and clipped yew-trees, carried with them an air of proud aristocracy. There appeared to be an unusual number of peacocks about the place, and I was making some remarks upon what I termed a flock of them, that were basking under a sunny wall, when I was gently corrected in my phraseology by Master Simon, who told me that, according to the most ancient and approved treatise on hunting, I must say a muster of peacocks. "In the same way," added he, with a slight air of pedantry, "we say a flight of doves or swallows, a bevy of quails, a herd of deer, of wrens, or cranes, a skulk of foxes, or a building of rooks." He went on to inform me that, according to Sir Anthony Fitzherbert, we ought to ascribe to this bird "both understanding and glory; for, being praised, he will presently set up his tail, chiefly against the sun, to the intent you may the better behold the beauty thereof. But at the fall of the leaf, when his tail falleth, he will mourn and hide himself in corners, till his tail come again as it was."
I could not help smiling at this display of small erudition on so whimsical a subject; but I found that the peacocks were birds of some consequence at the hall; for Frank Bracebridge informed me that they were great favorites with his father, who was extremely careful to keep up the breed; partly because they belonged to chivalry, and were in great request at the stately banquets of the olden time; and partly because they had a pomp and magnificence about them, highly becoming an old family mansion. Nothing, he was accustomed to say, had an air of greater state and dignity than a peacock perched upon an antique stone balustrade.
Master Simon had now to hurry off, having an appointment at the parish church with the village choristers, who were to perform some music of his selection. There was something extremely agreeable in the cheerful flow of animal spirits of the little man; and I confess I had been somewhat surprised at his apt quotations from authors who certainly were not in the range of every-day reading. I mentioned this last circumstance to Frank Bracebridge, who told me with a smile that Master Simon's whole stock of erudition was confined to some half a dozen old authors, which the squire had put into his hands, and which he read over and over, whenever he had a studious fit; as he sometimes had on a rainy day, or a long winter evening. Sir Anthony Fitzherbert's Book of Husbandry; Markham's Country Contentments; the Tretyse of Hunting, by Sir Thomas Cockayne, Knight; Izaac Walton's Angler, and two or three more such ancient worthies of the pen, were his standard authorities; and, like all men who know but a few books, he looked up to them with a kind of idolatry, and quoted them on all occasions. As to his songs, they were chiefly picked out of old books in the squire's library, and adapted to tunes that were popular among the choice spirits of the last century. His practical application of scraps of literature, however, had caused him to be looked upon as a prodigy of book knowledge by all the grooms, huntsmen, and small sportsmen of the neighborhood.
While we were talking we heard the distant tolling of the village bell, and I was told that the squire was a little particular in having his household at church on a Christmas morning; considering it a day of pouring out of thanks and rejoicing; for, as old Tusser observed, -
"At Christmas be merry, and thankful withal,
And feast thy poor neighbors, the great with the small." -
"If you are disposed to go to church," said Frank Bracebridge, "I can promise you a specimen of my cousin Simon's musical achievements. As the church is destitute of an organ, he has formed a band from the village amateurs, and established a musical club for their improvement; he has also sorted a choir, as he sorted my father's pack of hounds, according to the directions of Jervaise Markham, in his Country Contentments; for the bass he has sought out all the 'deep, solemn mouths,' and for the tenor the 'loud-ringing mouths,' among the country bumpkins; and for 'sweet mouths,' he has culled with curious taste among the prettiest lasses in the neighborhood; though these last, he affirms, are the most difficult to keep in tune; your pretty female singer being exceedingly wayward and capricious, and very liable to accident."
As the morning, though frosty, was remarkably fine and clear, the most of the family walked to the church, which was a very old building of gray stone, and stood near a village, about half a mile from the park gate. Adjoining it was a low snug parsonage, which seemed coeval with the church. The front of it was perfectly matted with a yew-tree, that had been trained against its walls, through the dense foliage of which apertures had been formed to admit light into the small antique lattices. As we passed this sheltered nest, the parson issued forth and preceded us.
And give the honor to this day
That sees December turn'd to May.
* * * * * * * * -
Why does the chilling winter's morne
Smile like a field beset with corn?
Or smell like to a meade new-shorne,
Thus on the sudden?- Come and see
The cause why things thus fragrant be.
WHEN I woke the next morning, it seemed as if all the events of the preceding evening had been a dream, and nothing but the identity of the ancient chamber convinced me of their reality. While I lay musing on my pillow, I heard the sound of little feet pattering outside of the door, and a whispering consultation. Presently a choir of small voices chanted forth an old Christmas carol, the burden of which was- -
Rejoice, our Savior he was born
On Christmas day in the morning.
I rose softly, slipt on my clothes, opened the door suddenly, and beheld one of the most beautiful little fairy groups that a painter could imagine. It consisted of a boy and two girls, the eldest not more than six, and lovely as seraphs. They were going the rounds of the house, and singing at every chamber door; but my sudden appearance frightened them into mute bashfulness. They remained for a moment playing on their lips with their fingers, and now and then stealing a shy glance from under their eyebrows, until, as if by one impulse, they scampered away, and as they turned an angle of the gallery, I heard them laughing in triumph at their escape.
Every thing conspired to produce kind and happy feelings in this stronghold of old-fashioned hospitality. The window of my chamber looked out upon what in summer would have been a beautiful landscape. There was a sloping lawn, a fine stream winding at the foot of it, and a track of park beyond, with noble clumps of trees, and herds of deer. At a distance was a neat hamlet, with the smoke from the cottage chimneys hanging over it; and a church with its dark spire in strong relief against the clear, cold sky. The house was surrounded with evergreens, according to the English custom, which would have given almost an appearance of summer; but the morning was extremely frosty; the light vapor of the preceding evening had been precipitated by the cold, and covered all the trees and every blade of grass with its fine crystallizations. The rays of a bright morning sun had a dazzling effect among the glittering foliage. A robin, perched upon the top of a mountain ash that hung its clusters of red berries just before my window, was basking himself in the sunshine, and piping a few querulous notes; and a peacock was displaying all the glories of his train, and strutting with the pride and gravity of a Spanish grandee, on the terrace walk below.
I had scarcely dressed myself, when a servant appeared to invite me to family prayers. He showed me the way to a small chapel in the old wing of the house, where I found the principal part of the family already assembled in a kind of gallery, furnished with cushions, hassocks, and large prayer-books; the servants were seated on benches below. The old gentleman read prayers from a desk in front of the gallery, and Master Simon acted as clerk, and made the responses; and I must do him the justice to say that he acquitted himself with great gravity and decorum.
The service was followed by a Christmas carol, which Mr. Bracebridge himself had constructed from a poem of his favorite author, Herrick; and it had been adapted to an old church melody by Master Simon. As there were several good voices among the household, the effect was extremely pleasing; but I was particularly gratified by the exaltation of heart, and sudden sally of grateful feeling, with which the worthy squire delivered one stanza; his eye glistening, and his voice rambling out of all the bounds of time and tune:
"'Tis thou that crown'st my glittering hearth
With guiltlesse mirth,
And givest me Wassaile bowles to drink
Spiced to the brink:
Lord, 'tis thy plenty-dropping hand
That soiles my land:
And giv'st me for my bushell sowne,
Twice ten for one."
I afterwards understood that early morning service was read on every Sunday and saints' day throughout the year, either by Mr. Bracebridge or by some member of the family. It was once almost universally the case at the seats of the nobility and gentry of England, and it is much to be regretted that the custom is falling into neglect; for the dullest observer must be sensible of the order and serenity prevalent in those households, where the occasional exercise of a beautiful form of worship in the morning gives, as it were, the keynote to every temper for the day, and attunes every spirit to harmony.
Our breakfast consisted of what the squire denominated true old English fare. He indulged in some bitter lamentations over modern breakfasts of tea and toast, which he censured as among the causes of modern effeminacy and weak nerves, and the decline of old English heartiness; and though he admitted them to his table to suit the palates of his guests, Yet there was a brave display of cold meats, wine, and ale, on the sideboard.