St Gregory of Spoleto, martyr, 304. Saints Thrasilla and Emiliana, virgins.
Born. – Galba, Roman emperor, 3 B.C.; Eugene Scribe, French dramatist, 1791, Paris.
Died. – George of Cappadocia, noted Arian bishop, slain at Alexandria, 361 A.D.; Vasco de Gama, celebrated Portuguese navigator, 1525, Cochin, in Malabar; Madame de Genlis, popular authoress, 1830, Paris; Hugh Miller, geologist, 1856, Portobello.
The eves or vigils of the different ecclesiastical festivals throughout the year are, according to the strict letter of canonical rule, times of fasting and penance; but in several instances, custom has appropriated them to very different purposes, and made them seasons of mirth and jollity. Such is the case with All-Saints’ Eve, and perhaps even more so with Christmas Eve, or the evening before Christmas Day. Under the latter head, or 25th of December, will be found a special history of the great Christian festival; though the observances of both days are so intertwined together, that it becomes almost impossible to state, with precision, the ceremonies which are peculiar to each. We shall, however, do the best we can in the circumstances, and endeavour, under the 24th of December, to restrict ourselves to an account of the popular celebrations and customs which characterise more especially the eve of the Nativity.
With Christmas Eve, the Christmas holidays may practically be said to commence, though, according to ecclesiastical computation, the festival really begins on the 16th of December, or the day which is distinguished in the calendar as O. Sapientia, from the name of an anthem, sung during Advent. It is proper, however, to state that there seems to be a discrepancy of opinion on this point, and that, in the judgment of some, the true Christmas festival does not commence till the evening before Christmas Day. The season is held to terminate on 1st of February, or the evening before the Purification of the Virgin (Candlemas Day), by which date, according to the ecclesiastical canons, all the Christmas decorations must be removed from the churches. In common parlance, certainly, the Christmas holidays comprehend a period of nearly a fortnight, commencing on Christmas Eve, and ending on Twelfth Day. The whole of this season is still a jovial one, abounding in entertainments and merry-makings of all sorts, but is very much changed from what it used to be with our ancestors in feudal times, when it was an almost unintermitted round of feasting and jollity.
For a picture of Christmas Eve, in the olden time, we can desire none more graphic than that furnished by Sir Walter Scott in Marmion.
‘On Christmas Eve the bells were rung;
On Christmas Eve the mass was sung;
That only night, in all the year,
Saw the stoled priest the chalice rear.
The damsel donned her kirtle sheen;
The hall was dressed with holly green;
Forth to the wood did merry-men go,
To gather in the mistletoe.
Then opened wide the baron’s hall
To vassal, tenant, serf, and all;
Power laid his rod of rule aside,
And Ceremony doffed his pride.
The heir, with roses in his shoes,
That night might village partner choose.
The lord, underogating, share
The vulgar game of ‘post and pair.’
All hailed, with uncontrolled delight,
And general voice, the happy night,
That to the cottage, as the crown,
Brought tidings of salvation down!
The fire, with well-dried logs supplied,
Went roaring up the chimney wide;
The huge hall-table’s oaken face,
Scrubbed till it shone, the day to grace,
Bore then upon its massive board
No mark to part the squire and lord.
Then was brought in the lusty brawn,
By old blue-coated serving-man;
Then the grim boar’s-head frowned on high,
Crested with bays and rosemary.
Well can the green-garbed ranger tell,
How, when, and where the monster fell;
What dogs before his death he tore,
And all the baiting of the boar.
The wassail round in good brown bowls,
Garnished with ribbons, blithely trowls.
There the huge sirloin reeked: hard by
Plum-porridge stood, and Christmas-pye;
Nor failed old Scotland to produce,
At such high-tide, her savoury goose.
Then came the merry masquers in,
And carols roared with blithesome din;
If unmelodious was the song,
It was a hearty note, and strong.
Who lists may in their mumming see
Traces of ancient mystery;
White shirts supplied the masquerade,
And smutted cheeks the visors made;
But, oh! what masquers, richly dight,
Can boast of bosoms half so light!
England was merry England, when
Old Christmas brought his sports again.
‘Twas Christmas broached the mightiest ale;
‘Twas Christmas told the merriest tale;
A Christmas gambol oft could cheer
The poor man’s heart through half the year.’
We have frequently, in the course of this work. had occasion to remark on the numerous traces still visible in popular customs of the old pagan rites and ceremonies. These, it is needless here to repeat, were extensively retained after the conversion of Britain to Christianity, partly because the Christian teachers found it impossible to wean their converts from their cherished superstitions and observances, and partly because the themselves, as a matter of expediency, ingrafted the rites of the Christian religion on the old heathen ceremonies, believing that thereby the cause of the Cross would be rendered more acceptable to the generality of the populace, and thus be more effectually promoted. By such an amalgamation, no festival of the Christian year was more thoroughly characterised than Christmas; the festivities of which, originally derived from the Roman Saturnalia, had afterwards been intermingled with the ceremonies observed by the British Druids at the period of the winter-solstice, and at a subsequent period became incorporated with the grim mythology of the ancient Saxons. Two popular observances belonging to Christmas are more especially derived from the worship of our pagan ancestors – the hanging up of the mistletoe, and the burning of the Yule log.
As regards the former of these practices. it is well known that, in the religion of the Druids, the mistletoe was regarded with the utmost veneration, though the reverence which they paid to it seems to have been restricted to the plant when found growing on the oak – the favourite tree of their divinity Tutanes – who appears to have been the same as the Phenician god Baal, or the sun, worshipped under so many different names by the various pagan nations of antiquity. At the period of the winter-solstice, a great festival was celebrated in his honour, as will be found more largely commented on under our notice of Christmas Day. When the sacred anniversary arrived, the ancient Britons, accompanied by their priests, the Druids, sallied forth with great pomp and rejoicings to gather the mystic parasite, which, in addition to the religious reverence with which it was regarded, was believed to possess wondrous curative powers. When the oak was reached on which the mistletoe grew, two white bulls were bound to the tree, and the chief Druid, clothed in white (the emblem of purity), ascended, and, with a golden knife, cut the sacred plant, which was caught by another priest in the folds of his robe. The bulls, and often also human victims, were then sacrificed, and various festivities followed. The mistletoe thus gathered, was divided into small portions, and distributed among the people, who hung up the sprays over the entrances to their dwellings, as a propitiation and shelter to the sylvan deities during the season of frost and cold.
The following legend regarding the mistletoe, from the Scandinavian mythology, may here be introduced: Balder, the god of poetry and eloquence, and second son of Odin and Friga, communicated one day to his mother a dream which he had had, intimating that he should die. She (Friga), to protect her son from such a contingency, invoked all the powers of nature – fire, air, earth, and water, as well as animals and plants – and obtained an oath from them that they should do Balder no hurt. The latter then went and took his place amid the combats of the gods, and fought without fear in the midst of showers of arrows. Loake, his enemy, resolved to discover the secret of Balder’s invulnerability, and, accordingly, disguising himself as an old woman, he addressed himself to Friga with complimentary remarks on the valour and good-fortune of her son. The goddess replied that no substance could injure him, as all the productions of nature had bound themselves by an oath to refrain from doing him any harm. She added, however, with that awkward simplicity which appears so often to characterise mythical personages, that there was one plant which, from its insignificance, she did not think of conjuring, as it was impossible that it could inflict any hurt on her son. Loake inquired the name of the plant in question, and was informed that it was a feeble little shoot, growing on the bark of the oak, with scarcely any soil. Then the treacherous Loake ean and procured the mistletoe, and, having entered the assembly of the gods, said to the blind Heda: ‘Why do you not contend with the arrows of Balder?’ Heda replied: ‘I am blind, and have no arms.’ Loake then presented him with an arrow formed from the mistletoe, and said: ‘Balder is before thee.’ Heda shot, and Balder fell pierced and slain.
The mistletoe, which has thus so many mystic associations connected with it, is believed to be propagated in its natural state by the missel-thrush, which feeds upon its berries. It was long thought impossible to propagate it artificially, but this object has been attained by bruising the berries, and by means of their viscidity, causing them to adhere to the bark of fruit-trees, where they readily germinate and take root. The growth of the mistletoe on the oak is now of extremely rare occurrence, but the plant flourishes in great frequency and luxuriance on the apple-trees. The special custom connected with the mistletoe on Christmas Eve, and an indubitable relic of the days of Druidism, handed down through a long course of centuries, must be familiar to all our readers. A branch of the mystic plant is suspended from the wall or ceiling, and any one of the fair sex, who, either from inadvertence, or, as possibly may be insinuated, on purpose, passes beneath the sacred spray, incurs the penalty of being then and there kissed by any lord of the creation who chooses to avail himself of the privilege.
The burning of the Yule log is an ancient Christmas ceremony, transmitted to us from our Scandinavian ancestors, who, at their feast of Juul, at the winter-solstice, used to kindle huge bonfires in honour of their god Thor. The custom, though sadly shorn of the ‘pomp and circumstance’ which formerly attended it, is still maintained in various parts of the country. The bringing in and placing of the ponderous block on the hearth of the wide chimney in the baronial hall was the most joyous of the ceremonies observed on Christmas Eve in feudal times. The venerable log, destined to crackle a welcome to all-comers, was drawn in triumph from its resting-place at the feet of its living brethren of the woods. Each wayfarer raised his hat as it passed, for he well knew that it was full of good promises, and that its flame would burn out old wrongs and heartburnings, and cause the liquor to bubble in the wassail-bowl, that was quaffed to the drowning of ancient feuds and animosities. So the Yule-log was worthily honoured, and the ancient bards welcomed its entrance with their minstrelsy. The following ditty, appropriate to such an occasion, appears in the Sloane Manuscripts. It is supposed to be of the time of [James II.]
Welcome be thou, heavenly King,
Welcome born on this morning,
Welcome for whom we shall sing,
Welcome be ye Stephen and John,
Welcome Innocents every one,
Welcome Thomas Martyr one,
Welcome be ye, good New Year,
Welcome Twelfth Day, both in fere,1
Welcome saints, lovèd and dear,
Welcome be ye, Candlemas,
Welcome be ye, Queen of Bliss,
Welcome both to more and less,
Welcome be ye that are here,
Welcome all, and make good cheer,
Welcome all, another year,
Among the Roman Catholics, a mass is always celebrated at midnight on Christmas Eve, another at daybreak on Christmas Day, and a third at a subsequent hour in the morning. A beautiful phase in popular superstition, is that which represents a thorough prostration of the Powers of Darkness as taking place at this season, and that no evil influence can then be exerted by them on mankind. The cock is them supposed to crow all night long, and by his vigilance to scare away all malignant spirits.
THE CHRISTMAS-TREE: CHRISTMAS EVE IN GERMANY AND AMERICA.
In Germany, Christmas Eve is for children the most joyous night in the year, as they then feast their eyes on the magnificence of the Christmas-tree, and rejoice in the presents which have been provided for them on its branches by their parents and friends. The tree is arranged by the senior members of the family, in the principal room of the house, and with the arrival of evening the children are assembled in an adjoining apartment. At a given signal, the door of the great room is thrown open, and in rush the juveniles eager and happy. There, on a long table in the centre of the room, stands the Christmas-tree, every branch glittering with little lighted tapers, while all sorts of gifts and ornaments are suspended from the branches, and possibly also numerous other presents are deposited separately on the table, all properly labelled with the names of the respective recipients. The Christmas-tree seems to be a very ancient custom in Germany, and is probably a remnant of the splendid and fanciful pageants of the middle ages. Within the last forty years, and apparently since the marriage of Queen Victoria with Prince Albert, previous to which time it was almost unknown in this country, the custom has been introduced into [Britain] with the greatest success, and must be familiar to most of our readers. Though thoroughly an innovation on our old Christmas customs, and partaking, indeed, somewhat of a prosaic character, rather at variance with the beautiful poetry of many of our Christmas usages, he would be a cynic indeed, who could derive no pleasure from contemplating the group of young and happy faces who cluster round the Christmas-tree.
In the state of Pennsylvania, in North America, where many of the settlers are of German descent, Christmas Eve is observed with many of the ceremonies practised in the Fatherland of the Old World. The Christmas-tree branches forth in all its splendour, and before going to sleep, the children hang up their stockings at the foot of the bed, to be filled by a personage bearing the name of Krish-kinkle (a corruption of Christ-kindlein, or the Infant Christ), who is supposed to descend the chimney with gifts for all good children. If, however, any one has been naughty, he finds a birch-rod instead of sweetmeats in the stocking. This implement of correction is believed to have been placed there by another personage, called Pelsnichol, or Nicholas with the fur, in allusion to the dress of skins which he is supposed to wear. In this notion, a connection is evidently to be traced with the well-known legendary attributes of St Nicholas, previously described, though the benignant character of the saint is in this instance wofully belied. It is further to be remarked, that though the general understanding is that Krishkinkle and pelsnichol are distinct personages – the one the rewarder of good children, the other the punisher of the bad – they are also occasionally represented as the same individual under different characters, the prototype of which was doubtless the charitable St Nicholas.
OME interesting particulars relative to the indoor diversions of our ancestors at Christmas, occur in the following passage quoted by Brand from a tract, entitled Round about our Coal-fire, or Christmas Entertainments, which was published in the early part of the last [18th] century. ‘The time of the year being cold and frosty, the diversions are within doors, either in exercise or by the fireside. Dancing is one of the chief exercises; or else there is a match at Blindman’s Buff, or Puss in the Corner. The next game is Questions and Commands, when the commander may oblige his subjects to answer any lawful question, and make the same obey him instantly, under the penalty of being smutted [having the face blackened], or paying such forfeit as may be laid on the aggressor. Most of the other diversions are cards and dice.’
From the above we gather that the sports on Christmas evenings, a hundred and fifty years ago, were not greatly dissimilar to those in vogue at the present day. The names of almost all the pastimes then mentioned must be familiar to every reader, who has probably also participated in them himself at some period of his life. Let us only add charades, that favourite amusement of modern drawing-rooms (and of these only the name, not the sport itself, was unknown to our ancestors), together with a higher spirit of refinement and delicacy, and we shall discover little difference between the juvenile pastimes of a Christmas-party in the reign of Queen Victoria, and a similar assemblage in the reign of Queen Anne or the first Georges.
The mummers, or, as they are styled in Scotland, the guisers or guizards, occupied a prominent place in the Christmas revels of the olden time, and their performances, though falling, like the other old customs of the season, into desuetude, are still kept up in several parts of the country. The passion for masquerade, like that for dramatic representation, seems an inherent one in human nature; and though social progress and fashion may modify and vary the peculiar mode of development, the tendency itself remains unaltered, and only adopts from age to age a new, and, it may be, more intellectual phase. Thus the rude and irreverent mysteries and miracle plays which delighted our ancestors, have been succeeded in the gradual course of improvement by the elaborate stage mechanism and display of our own times; and the coarse drolleries which characterised the old Christmas festivities, have made way for the games and charades, and other refined amusements of modern drawing-rooms. But in all these changes we only find an expression under altered and diversified forms of certain essential feelings and tendencies in the constitution of humanity.
Looking back to the Roman Saturnalia, from which so many of our Christmas usages are derived, we find that the practice of masquerading was greatly in vogue at that season among the people of Rome. Men and women assumed respectively the attire of the opposite sex, and masks of all kinds were worn in abundance. The early Christians, we are informed, used, on the Feast of the Circumcision or New-year’s Day, to run about in masks in ridicule of the pagan superstitions; but there can be no doubt that they also frequently shared in the frolics of their heathen neighbours, and the fathers of the church had considerable difficulty in prevailing on their members to refrain from such unedifying pastimes. Afterwards, the clergy endeavoured to metamorphose the heathen revels into amusements, which, if not really more spiritual in character than those which they supplanted, had at least the merit of bearing reference to the observances, and recognising the authority of the church and its ministers. The mysteries or miracle plays in which even the clergy occasionally took part as performers, were the results, amid numerous others, of this policy. These singular dramas continued for many centuries to form a favourite amusement of the populace, both at Christmas and other seasons of the year. The Christmas mumming was in many respects a kindred diversion, though it appears to have partaken less of the religious element, and resembled more nearly those medieval pageants in which certain subjects and characters, taken from pagan mythology or popular legends, were represented. Frequently, also, it assumed very much the nature of a masquerade, when the sole object of the actors is to disguise themselves, and excite alternately laughter and admiration by the splendid or ridiculous costumes in which they are arrayed.
As regards the guisers in Scotland, where the festivities of the winter-season cluster chiefly around the New Year, we shall have occasion to make special reference to them under the 31st of December.
THE LORD OF MISRULE.
In Scotland, previous to the Reformation, the monasteries used to elect a functionary, for the superintendence of the Christmas revels, under the designation of the Abbot of Unreason. The readers of the Waverley Novels will recollect the graphic delineation of one of these mock-ecclesiastics in The Abbot. An ordinance for suppressing this annual burlesque, with other festivities of a like kind, was passed by the Scottish legislature in 1555. In France, we find the congener of the Lord of Misrule and the Abbot of Unreason in the Abbas Stultorum – the Abbot or Pope of Fools.*
It is a curious circumstance, that no one appears clearly to know whether the term Waits denoted originally musical instruments, a particular kind of music, or the persons who played under certain special circumstances.
A writer in Notes and Queries draws attention to the analogy between the words waits and waith, the latter of which, in Scotland, means wandering or roaming about from place to place. Such wanderers were the minstrels of Scotland, who, three centuries ago, were under the patronage of the civic corporation of Glasgow, and at the city’s expense were clothed in blue coats or outer garments. ‘A remnant of this custom, still popularly called waits, yet exists in the magistrates annually granting a kind of certificate or diploma to a few musicians, generally blind men of respectable character, who perambulate the streets of the city during the night and morning, for about three weeks or a month previous to New-Year’s Day, in most cases performing on violins the slow, soothing airs peculiar to a portion of the old Scottish melodies; and in the solemn silence of repose the effect is very fine. At the commencement of the New-year, these men call at the houses of the inhabitants, and, presenting their credentials, receive a small subscription.’
It is evident that considerable confusion prevails on the subject of the waits, but if we abide by the modern meaning of the term, we shall find that it refers exclusively to a company of musicians whose performances bear a special relation to the season of Christmas. In Scotland, perhaps, they are more associated with the New Year.
1 In company.
* Our ‘Book of Days’ author, Robert Chambers, has, in his ‘Domestic Annals’ chapter for the Reign of Mary (1561-1565), alluded to the Abbot of Unreason and Robin Hood making their appearance in May, rather than at Christmas, but also adds that “the popular relish for all this was such as can scarcely now be credited.”
On this Day in Other Sources.
It was, for the pardon of Morton, and his guilty associates, for Rizzio’s murder, who had been protected, by Elizabeth; and now solicited their pardons. The Scotish Queen, with good reason, had resisted, hitherto, all applications, for their restoration: But, their pardon was now granted, says Robertson, to the influence of Bothwell alone: Yet, we know, from Bedford, that Elizabeth, and Cecil, instructed him to make the strongest instances, for that end; and he was joined, in his solicitations, by Murray and Athol; and Bothwell, and almost all the other lords, helped therein, or else, it would not so early, have been obtained. It was on the 24th of December 1566, that the Queen signed Morton’s pardon, with the late Lord Ruthven, William, now Lord Ruthven, Lord Lindsay, and seventy-five other guilty conspirators, who were chiefly the followers of Morton. It is singular, to remark, that Morton, Ruthven, Lord Lindsay and some others of those, who were now pardoned, in less than six months, as the agents of Murray, dethroned the Queen.
Murray, when an expatriated rebel, had received so many favours from Bedford, that, in return, he carried him into Fife, where he treated his English friend “with much honour, great cheer, and courteous entertainment.” Darnley remained, in Stirling castle, till the 24th of December, when Morton’s pardon passed the Privy Seal, of which he had no doubt heard. He now left the castle, abruptly, without taking leave of the Queen: and set off, for Glasgow, to visit his father, at that place: But before he could reach that town, says Robertson, mistakingly, he was taken dangerously ill, on the road. The fact, undoubtedly, is, that Darnley, heedlessly, went into Glasgow, wherein the small-pox, was extremely prevalent; and he was immediately taken, with that infectious disease. As soon as the Queen heard of her husband’s being thus taken with the small-pox, she sent her own physician to attend upon him. It is Buchanan, who says, that Darnley was poisoned; and that the Queen would not allow any physician to attend upon him. The invariable practice of this writer, to hang some slander upon every action of the Queen, who had favoured, but never injured him, is the strongest proof of the murderous guilt of Murray, and his faction; by writers, constantly, endeavouring to throw the guilt upon the innocent, from the deed doers.
– Life of Mary, pp.136-151.
Meantime, on the 24th of December 1568, came Murray to Hampton-court; to complain, that it had been rumoured, he and his company, had been guilty of the murder, which they had laid to the Scotish Queen’s charge; the rumour whereof had come from her commissioners. To this complaint Mary’s commissioners made answer: That they had special command, from their mistress, to lay the said crime to their charge: and in conformity to her command, would accuse them, in her Majesty’s presence; and would defend their mistress’s innocence, and answer their calumnies. On the morrow, they did, accordingly, make their charge against Murray, and his company, in Elizabeth’s presence: And, they, thereupon, desired, to have such writings, as were produced, by Murray, against their mistress. Elizabeth thought this very reasonable; was very glad, that her good sister would make answer, in defence of her honour. Who ever thought, otherwise, but that it was essential, in every enquiry, to see the adverse proofs, before they could be questioned, and answered: The equity of Elizabeth’s enquiry consisted in ex parte, or partial, proceedings, and clandestine examinations: But, what judge ever admitted such proceedings, without disgrace?
The Scotish Queen’s commissioners, now gave in an answer to Murray’s charge; consisting of much explanation of the previous circumstances of the case: she presented, also, an answer to Murray’s protestation, that he had given in, with his charge, which answer contains useful information, and solid argument. But, if the enquiry should proceed to the proofs, the Queen desired to be admitted to Elizabeth’s presence, to declare the justice of her cause, to explain such proofs, and to request that sufficient leisure might be given, to answer, and establish Murray’s impostures and crimes; And she asked all this, in order that the world might know, that she did not think her reputation of so little value, as to trust the same, in the hands of any person whatsoever.
– Life of Mary, pp.206-234.
Dec. 24 . – About this time, there was apprehended ‘one that keepit ane hostelry at Brechin, who before, at divers times, had murdered sundry that came to lodge with him, the wife being also as busy as the man, with a mell [mallet], to fell their guests sleeping in their beds.’ – Ban.
– Domestic Annals, pp.45-55.
In 1575 there is an entry in the burgh accounts of a payment “to Thomas Craige of the New Kirk scule for straye to the mending thairof and for onputyng of the samyn xxij s.” (1s. 10d.), from which it appears that, like most of the other buildings in the city, it was thatched. Neither the “sang scule” nor the churchyard, nor any other portion of the collegiate property, ever belonged to the corporation. They held it in trust only for the benefit and endowment of the Tron Church, but they disposed of it nevertheless in 1588, along with some properties belonging to the corporation, at a time when they were greatly pressed for funds.1
– Old Glasgow, pp.140-150.
1 Burgh Records, 24th Dec. 1588.
Dec. 24 . – A patent was granted for the establishment of a glass manufacture in Scotland. The business was commenced at Wemyss, in Fife, and, about ten years after, we find it, to all appearance, going on prosperously. ‘Braid glass’ – that is, glass for windows – was made, measuring three-quarters of a Scots ell and a nail in length, while the breadth at the head was an ell wanting half a nail, and at the bottom half an ell wanting half a nail. It was declared to be equal in quality to Danskine glass. The glasses for drinking and other uses not being of such excellence, it was arranged that some specimens of English glass should be bought in London and established in Edinburgh Castle, to serve as patterns for the Scotch glass in point of quality. For the encouragement of the native manufacture and to keep money within the country, the importation of foreign glass was (March 6, 1621) prohibited. – P. C. R.
– Domestic Annals, pp.177-227.
Paris Decemb. 24 .
The Cardinal is upon the way of recovery, the Treaty twixt the Arch-Duke of Inspruch, is concluded, the agreement with the Duke of Lorrayn goeth backward through some new Proposals made to him: The English Merchants complains much at this Court for losses sustained by the Subjects of France.
Graham Square Fire
The tragedy occurred on 24th December 1927 While the Brigade were fighting a very serious fire on that night in a block of warehouses at Nos. 8 to 32 Graham Square, some of the floors suddenly collapsed, causing the deaths of four firemen, James Conn, Harry W. M’Kellar, David Jeffrey, and Morrison Dunbar. The men, were all attached to the Central Division.