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Saturday, 17 January 2015

Old Twelfth Night and The Burning of the Ashen Faggot

The Ashen Faggot
Old Twelfth Night’ occurs on 17th January and is the traditional date to ‘Wassail Apple Orchards’. The word ‘wassail’ is derived from the Anglo Saxon ‘wes hál’ meaning ‘be whole’ or ‘be of good health’. ‘Apple Wassailing’ or ‘Apple Howling’ as it is sometimes called is an ancient ceremony performed to ensure a healthy and plentiful crop of fruit in the coming year.

The Ashen Faggot (sometimes called ashton fagot) is an old English Christmas tradition from in Devonshire and Somersetshire, similar to that of the Yule log and related to the wassail tradition. The wassail party passes around a bundle of ash sticks, twigs or branches—the ashen faggot—bound with green ash withies, which is then placed onto the fire. As each binding bursts, the watchers toast it with a drink. Some traditions had the unmarried women each choosing a withy, and the first one whose tie snapped would be married the next year.  While women at the Squirrel Inn, Laymore, hoping to become pregnant would jump over a burning faggot.  When the bindings have all burst and the bundle has fallen loose, each person who plans to host the festivities next year takes one of the half-burned ash sticks and saves it until the following Christmas, when it will go in the center of their own ashen faggot. The tradition endures (or has been resurrected) in many places; according to an article in the Winter 2005 issue of Devon Talk, the Harbour Inn in Axmouth annually builds an ashen faggot six feet high and three feet wide for their huge pub fireplace.

Some traditions held that not burning the ashen faggot in your house brought bad luck, or that having an ashen faggot in the house kept the Devil and evil spirits away. Ash was likely chosen because the ash tree has a long pedigree of magical associations: perhaps the most important is the Yggdrasil of Norse mythology, also known as the World Ash Tree.

Since 2004, The Shave Cross Inn has continued the traditional custom of burning the Ashen Faggot.  For more information visit there website at www.theshavecrossinn.co.uk

Below: The Burning the Ashen Faggot on Old Twelfth Night (17th January 2007) at the The Shave Cross Inn.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Plough Sunday - The blessing of the plough

Plough Monday
'Plough Sunday' this marked the start of Plough Tide a short agriculture festival marking the return to work after the Christmas season and the start of new year ploughing.

The origins of Plough Sunday go back a long way, at least into medieval times. On the first Sunday after Epiphany, the parish ploughs, bedecked with ribbons, would be dragged to church to be blessed, as the ploughing season began. On Plough Monday the teams would drag the ploughs round the village, seeking contributions for an 'Ale' or night of revelling at the tavern. They were often accompanied by musicians, molly dancers, an old woman or a boy dressed as an old woman, called the "Bessy", and a man in the role of the "fool". Plough Tuesday would be spent, more often than not, in recovering. Then on Wednesday the work would begin in earnest.


Extract taken from the Chambers Book of Days 11th January 1864, details the tradition.
PLOUGH MONDAY

This being In 1864 the first Monday after Twelfth Day, is for the year Plough Monday. Such was the name of a rustic festival, heretofore of great account in England, bearing in its first aspect, like St. Distaff's Day, reference to the resumption of labour after the Christmas holidays.

In Catholic times, the ploughmen kept lights burning before certain images in churches, to obtain a blessing on their work; and they were accustomed on this day to go about in procession, gathering money for the support of these plough-lights, as they were called. The Reformation put out the lights; but it could not extinguish the festival. The peasantry contrived to go about in procession, collecting money, though only to be spent in conviviality in the public-house. It was at no remote date a very gay and rather pleasant-looking affair. A plough was dressed up with ribbons and other decorations—the Fool Plough. Thirty or forty stalwart swains, with their shirts over their jackets, and their shoulders and hats flaming with ribbons, dragged it along from house to house, preceded by one in the dress of an old woman, but much bedizened, bearing the name of Bessy. There was also a Fool, in fantastic attire. In some parts of the country, morrisdancers attended the procession; occasionally, too, some reproduction of the ancient Scandinavian sword dance added to the means of persuading money out of the pockets of the lieges.

A Correspondent, who has borne a part (cow-horn blowing) on many a Plough Monday in Lincolnshire, thus describes what happened on these occasions under his own observation: —Rude though it was, the Plough procession threw a life into the dreary scenery of winter, as it came winding along the quiet rutted lanes, on its way from one village to another; for the ploughmen from many a surrounding thorpe, hamlet, and lonely farm-house united in the celebration of Plough Monday. It was nothing unusual for at least a score of the "sons of the soil" to yoke themselves with ropes to the plough, having put on clean smock-frocks in honour of the day. There was no limit to the number who joined in the morris-dance, and were partners with " ossy," who carried the money-box; and all these had ribbons in their hats and pinned about them wherever there was room to display a bunch. Many a hardworking country Molly lent a helping hand in decorating out her Johnny for Plough Monday, and finished him with an admiring exclamation of "Lawks, John! thou does look smart, surely." Some also wore small bunches of corn in their hats, from which the wheat was soon shaken out by the ungainly jumping which they called dancing. Occasionally, if the winter was severe, the procession was joined by threshers carrying their flails, reapers bearing their sickles, and carters with their long whips, which they were ever cracking to add to the noise, while even the smith and the miller were among the number, for the one sharpened the plough-shares and the other ground the corn; and Bessy rattled his box and danced so high. that he shewed his worsted stockings and corduroy breeches; and very often, if there was a thaw, tucked up his gown skirts under his waistcoat, and shook the bonnet off his head, and disarranged the long ringlets that ought to have concealed his whiskers. For Betsy is to the procession of Plough Monday what the leading figurante is to an opera or ballet, and dances about as gracefully as the hippopotami described by Dr Livingstone. But these rough antics were the cause of much laughter, and rarely do we ever remember hearing any coarse jest that would call up the angry blush to a modest cheek. No doubt they were called "plough bullocks," through drawing the plough, as bullocks were formerly used, and are still yoked to the plough in some parts of the country. The rubbishy verses they recited are not worth preserving beyond the line which graces many a public-house sign of "God speed the plough." At the large farm-house, besides money they obtained refreshment, and through the quantity of ale they thus drank during the day, managed to get what they called "their load" by night. Even the poorest cottagers dropped a few pence into Bessy's box.

But the great event of the day was when they came before some house which bore signs that the owner was well-to-do in the world, and nothing was given to them. Bossy rattled his box and the ploughmen danced, while the country lads blew their bullocks' horns, or shouted with all their might; but if there was still no sign, no coming forth of either bread-and-cheese or ale, then the word was given, the ploughshare driven into the ground before the door or window, the whole twenty men yoked pulling like one, and in a minute or two the ground before the house was as brown, barren, and ridgy as a newly-ploughed field. But this was rarely done, for everybody gave something, and were it but little the men never murmured, though they might talk about the stinginess of the giver afterwards amongst themselves, more especially if the party was what they called " well off in the world." We are notaware that the ploughmen were ever summoned to answer for such a breach of the law, for they believe, to use their own expressive language, " they can stand by it, and no law in the world can touch 'em,' cause it's an old charter;" and we are sure it would spoil their " folly to be wise."

One of the mummers generally wears a fox's skin in the form of a hood; but beyond the laughter the tail that hangs down his back awakens by its motion as he dances, we are at a loss to find a meaning. Bessy formerly wore a bullock's tail behind, under his gown, and which he held in his hand while dancing, but that appendage has not been worn of late.

Some writers believe it is called White Plough Monday on account of the mummers having worn their shirts outside their other garments. This they may have done to set off the gaudy-coloured ribbons; though a clean white smock frock, such as they are accustomed to wear, would shew off their gay decorations quite as well. The shirts so worn we have never seen. Others have stated that Plough Monday has its origin from ploughing again commencing at this season. But this is rarely the case, as the ground is generally too hard, and the ploughing is either done in autumn, or is rarely begun until February, and very often not until the March sun has warmed and softened the ground. Some again argue that Plough Monday is a festival held in remembrance of " the plough. having ceased from its labour." After weighing all these arguments, we have come to the conclusion that the true light in which to look at the origin of this ancient custom is that thrown upon the subject by the ploughman's candle, burnt in the church at the shrine of' some saint, and that to maintain this light contributions were collected and sanctioned by the Church, and that the priests were the originators of Plough Monday.'

At Whitby, in Yorkshire, according to its historian, the Rev. G. Young, there was usually an extra band of six to dance the sword-dance. With one or more musicians to give them music on the violin or flute, they first arranged them-selves in a ring with their swords raised in the air.

Then they went through a series of evolutions, at first slow and simple, afterwards more rapid and complicated, but always graceful.

Towards the close each one catches the point of his neighbour's sword, and various movements take place in consequence; one of which consists in joining or plaiting the swords into the form of an elegant hexagon or rose, in the centre of the ring, which rose is so firmly made that one of them holds it up above their heads without undoing it. The dance closes with taking it to pieces, each man laying hold of his own sword. During the dance, two or three of the company called Toms or Clowns, dressed up as harlequins, in most fantastic modes, having their faces painted or masked, are making antic gestures to amuse the spectators; while another set called Madgies or Madryy Pegs, clumsily dressed in women's clothes and also masked or painted, go from door to door rattling old canisters, in which they receive money. Where they are well paid they raise a huzza; where they get nothing, they shout " hunger and starvation!" '

Domestic life in old times, however rude and comfortless compared with what it now is, or may be, was relieved by many little jocularities and traits of festive feeling. When the day came for the renewal of labour in earnest, there was a sort of competition between the maids and the men which should be most prompt in rising to work. If the ploughmen were up and dressed at the fire-side, with some of their field implements in hand, before the maids could get the kettle on, the latter party had to furnish a cock for the men next Shrovetide.
As an alternative upon this statute, if any of the ploughmen, returning at night, came to the kitchen hatch, and cried 'Cock in the pot,' before any maid could cry 'Cock on the dunghill!' she incurred the same forfeit.
 N.B. Other Plough Monday Celebrations in Britain can be found here at Peter Millington's Web Space

Monday, 5 January 2015

Wassail!! The customs and traditions of Twelfth Night.

In his book 'Dorsetshire Folklore' published in 1922  John Symonds Udal wrote about Twelfth Night :
"So called from its being the twelfth and last day of Christmas, counting from the Nativity. It is sometimes called " Old Christmas Day ". It is considered to be the last day upon which it is lawful to eat mince- or minced-pies, which are essentially a Christmas dish. To eat one on each of the twelve days of Christmas is said to ensure for the eater entire happiness for the ensuing year, or, failing that, one happy month for each mince-pie so eaten. In some parts of Dorsetshire, however, it is said that to procure the desired result each mince-pie must be of a different person's " make ", or must be eaten at a different house."
Apple Tree Wassailing

Drinking a toast to the Apple Tree
Apple tree wassailing is a ceremony which involves drinking to the health of the apple trees.

The biggest and best tree was then selected and cider poured over its roots. Pieces of bread soaked in cider were placed in the forks of branches.

The Apple trees were sprinkled with cider to ensure a good crop. Villagers would gather around the apple trees with shotguns or pots and pans and make a tremendous racket. This noise and mayhem had a duel effect, for it was not only intended to awaken the Apple Tree Man from his slumber but also to scare away the evil spirits of winter that hovered among its branches. Finally everyone would hail the Apple Tree Man and sing the traditional ‘Wassailing Song’. One widespread version of the song ran:The wassail song was sung or chanted as a blessing or charm to bring a good apple harvest the following year.
Old Apple-Tree, we Wassail thee,
And hoping thou will bear
For the Lord doth know where we shall be
Till apples come another year;
For us to bear well and bloom well,
So merry let us be,
Let everyman take off his hat
And shout to the old Apple-tree;
Old Apple-Tree, we Wassail thee,
And hoping thou will bear
Hats-full, caps-full
Three Bushel bag-fulls,
And a heap under the stair.
Hooray!!
This custom was especially important during a time when part of a labourer's wages was paid in apple cider. Landlords needed a good apple crop to attract good workers. Wassailing was meant to keep the tree safe from evil spirits until the next year's apples appeared.
John Symonds Udal wrote in 'Dorsetshire Folklore' about folk customs associated to the apple tree:
"Apple tree. — If an apple tree blossoms out of season - e.g. in the autumn - it is regarded as a sign that one of the owner's family will die before very long. Upon this subject the late Canon Bingham made the following communication to Notes and Queries (Ser. iv, x, 408) (1872) :—

"Remarking an apple blossom a few days ago" (month of November) " on one of my trees I pointed it out as a curiosity to a Dorset labourer. ' Ah! Sir,'he said, 'tis lucky no women folk be here to see that '; and upon my asking the reason he replied, ' Because they's be sure to think that somebody were a-going to die.' " (This superstition is referred to in somewhat similar terms by Mr. Bosworth Smith in his Bird Life and Bird Lore, 1909, p. 365.)

I have been told by an old lady in West Dorset that if the sun is seen to shine through the branches of an apple tree on Old Christmas Day (6th January) it denotes a fine "blooth " (i.e. collective blossom), and that a good crop of apples may be expected.

An apple pip is often used by girls as a test of their lovers' fidelity. If, on putting it in the fire, it bursts with the heat she is assured of his affection ; but if it is consumed in silence she may know that he is false. Whilst they anxiously await the effect the following couplet is usually pronounced :—
" If you love me, pop and fly ;
If you hate me lay and die."
I have not myself met with any instance in Dorsetshire of the ancient custom of " wassailing ", or drinking the health, of apple trees on the eve of Twelfth Day, similar to that which obtains in some parts of Devonshire, Herefordshire, and other cider-drinking and making counties. It may be that the apple crop in our county is not considered of sufficient importance to warrant such rites being carried out as in those counties which are more noted for the high quality of the cider made there — and of which large quantities are exported — that in Dorsetshire, I think, being reserved more for local consumption, and particularly for the sheep-shearing, hay-making, and harvesting seasons. In a recent volume, however, of Folk-Lore (xxix, p. 71) (1918) containing notes of the folk-lore material now being collected by the "Brand Committee" of the Folk-Lore Society, there appears some indication that similar rites have been carried out in Dorsetshire, when cakes or toast dipped in cider were put in the branches or forks of apple trees and libations of cider were poured out upon or thrown against their trunks, to the accompaniment of shouts and the firing of guns, whilst songs or rhymes were sung in their honour, to which sometimes " rough music " was added. Full particulars of these ceremonies will no doubt appear in due course when that material comes to be published. In the meantime I append a verse given there as a Dorset variant, as follows :—
"Stand fast, root!   bear well, top !
Pray God send a good howling crop !
Hats full, caps full, dree bushel bags full ! 
Now, now, NOW ! "    (Fire-arms discharged.)- (Conf. Brand's Popular Antiquities, i, 2, where it seems to be considered that these ceremonies were a relic of the heathen sacrifice to the goddess Pomona.)
At a meeting of the Dorset Field Club held at Dorchester in December, 1920, in the discussion which followed the reading of a paper by Mr. W. O. Beament on " The Apple Tree Wassail", Mr. Stanhope Rodd stated that apple wassailing was still kept up in his own parish at Chardstock (This paper subsequently appeared in vol. xlii of the Proceedings (1922)).

Apropos of this custom of wassailing the apple trees may be noticed the superstition which Brand gives us in a general statement (i, 273, (n.)) : " There is an old saying that when it rains on St. Swithin's Day it is the Saint christening the Apples."

I was not aware that this superstition had any special reference to Dorsetshire until I had read Thomas Hardy's interesting collection of short stories, published in 1913, under the title of A Changed Man. Mr. Hardy is as surely to be depended upon for his knowledge and application of his county's folk-lore as ever Mr. Barnes was for its dialect. Here in that charming story of " The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid" one of the characters observed (p. 355) :

"But I hope it won't be long after the time when God A'mighty christens the little apples." " And when's that ? " " St. Swithin's—the middle of July."

It will be noticed that here it is the Almighty not the Saint which shows His solicitude for the welfare of the apple crop— a solicitude apparently equally shown by the Church in the olden days when the " Blessing of New Apples " (Benedictio Pomorum in Die Sancii Jacobi) was ordained to be observed ten days later, St. James's Day (25th July), according to the Manuale ad Usum Sarum (Brand, vol. i, p. 274.)"
Faggot Burning

The Ashen Faggot as depicted in the the
1913 Christmas Edition of 'The Graphic'.
The Ashen Faggot (sometimes called ashton fagot) is an old English Christmas tradition from in Devonshire and Somersetshire, similar to that of the Yule log and related to the wassail tradition. The Custom of burning of the Ashen Faggot on Twelfth Night was featured in the Dorset Evening Echo 9th January 1996.

Custom rekindled on Twelfth Night

A centuries old custom was re-enacted for Twelfth Night with a faggot-burning ceremony at a pub on the West Dorset and Somerset border.

For 21 years local farmer Mike Turner has made a 13-foot long ash faggot, bound with hawthorn, to be burned in the fire at the Squirrel Inn at Laymore, west of Drimpton.

The ceremony, where people make guesses as to how long the faggot will take to burn, is thought to have originated to celebrate the old Christmas Day on January 6, under the Julian Calendar, which England followed until 1752.

Tradition has it that spectators should take a drink every time each of the dozen binds burns away, to ward off evil spirits.

Squirrel landlord Ron Cull was 'stoker' for the evening, he was helped by Tim Beer and Mike Turner, who put the finishing touches to the faggot.

This year the ceremony took four hours, 33 minutes and 31 seconds from the breaking of the first bind to the moment the last one snapped.

Best guess was from Sheila Doble, from Laymore, who was just 91 seconds adrift and who won a keg of beer. Second came Jenny Jefford, from Salisbury, and third was Samantha Moyle from Tatworth, near Chard.

"I think we are probably the last pub around here to do this now," said Ron, who had to ask magistrates to grant a special drinks licence extension.

"They said they weren't too keen but my solicitor persuaded them to let the custom carry on as long as it did not set a precedent — and after all, it's only once a year!"


Thursday, 1 January 2015

The 'New Year' Mummers at Symondsbury

The Symondsbury Mummers in 2009
Towards the end of the last 19th century many English villages had their Yuletide mummers. A number of young men would form themselves into a company, usually of five to eleven members, according to the size of the play. Some plays were much longer than others.

The Symondsbury Mumming Play is the most complete of any of these plays. This play has eleven characters, Father Christmas, Room, King of Egypt, St. George, St. Patrick, a Doctor, four warriors, Servant-man, Dame Dorothy and Tommy the Pony. The traditional dress of the warriors was usually a soldier's uniform, decked with ribbons, streamers and sashes. The head-dress was in the form of a helmet with ribbons falling to mask the face completely from view.

The Ilchester Arms, Symondsbury
Symondsbury Mummers are still in existence today, their play being performed on New Year's Day every year in the car park of the local village inn The Ilchester Arms at around 8.00pm.

Staffordshire born, John Symonds Udal who lived at the Symondsbury Manor, took a keen interest in Dorset's folklore, customs and traditions. He wrote the following article printed in Folk-Lore Record, (Vol.III Pt. I, 1880, pp.87-116) and later reprinted in his book 'Dorsetshire Folklore' (published in 1922), with regards to the custom of mumming including a transcript of the play that is performed at Symondsbury.



For more information about this play visit www.darkdorset.co.uk

2015 - A Happy New Year from Dark Dorset

At Dark Dorset we would like to wish our readers
A Happy New Year

Janus Head grotesque
All Saint's Church, Dorchester
January was established as the first the first month of the year by the Roman Calendar. It was named after the god Janus, the god of beginning and transitions. As depicted on All Saint's Church, Dorchester, he had two faces which allowed him to look backwards at the old year, and the other looked forward to what would happen in the coming year. 

It is the beginning of the new year, when most people reflect on the year before and practice the custom of making New Year resolutions, in which they commit themselves to better behaviour and healthier life choices.

Cream of the Well
  
The first water to be drawn from any spring-fed well on ‘New Year’s Day’, 1st January, was believed to have special significance. It was called the ‘Cream of the Well’, and it was believed that who ever obtained it was certain to have a lucky year. 

Girls were particularly fond of this custom, for the girl who managed to draw the Cream of the Well had the additional prize that she could expect to marry before twelve months were out. Since the Cream of the Well could only be drawn once, it was therefore customary for the person who claimed Cream of the Well to throw a little grass or flowers into the water, both as an offering to the resident well spirit and as a notification to the next to arrive that he or she had come too late. 

Sometimes a girl would purposely leave behind her glove or hankerchief embroidered with her initials, as a statement that she had got there first.

New Year's Day Weather-lore

In his book 'Dorsetshire Folklore' published in 1922, John Symonds Udal  wrote:
"It was from this source then, namely, a correspondent of the Dorset County Chronicle in December, 1891, that I am able to give the following item which being more extensive than mere " weather lore "—a subject which I deal with later — may claim, I think, to come under this chapter also.
 
It reads like a prophecy from Old Moore's Almanac or one of Mother Shipton's, and there is certainly an old-world savour about it, but I cannot give the actual source whence it was taken. It treats upon what we may expect should New Year's Day fall upon a Thursday.
 
" Winter and summer windie. A rainie harvest. Therefore we shall have overflowings; much fruit; plentie of honey; yet flesh shall be deare; cattel in general shall die; great troubles; warres."
* * * * *
Extract below taken from the Chambers Book of Days January 1st 1864, details the traditions of New Year's Day.
New Year's Day Festivities

'Long ere the lingering dawn of that blithe morn
Which ushers in the year, the roosting cock,
Flapping his wings, repeats his larnun shrill;
But on that morn no busy flail obeys
His rousing call; no sounds but sounds of joy
Salute the year—the first-foot's entering step,
That sudden on the floor is welcome heard,
Ere blushing maids have braided up their hair;
The laugh, the hearty kiss, the good new year
Pronounced with honest warmth. In village, grange,
And borough town, the steaming flagon, borne
From house to house, elates the poor man's heart,
And makes him feel that life has still its joys.
The aged and the young, man, woman, child,
Unite in social glee; even stranger dogs,
Meeting with bristling back, soon lay aside
Their snarling aspect, and in sportive chase,
Excursive scour, or wallow in the snow.
With sober cheerfulness, the grandam eyes
Her offspring round her, all in health and peace;
And, thankful that she's spared to see this day
Return once more, breathes low a secret prayer,
That God would shed a blessing on their heads.'
Grahame

As New-Year's Day, the first of January bears a prominent place in the popular calendar. It has ever been a custom among northern nations to see the old year out and the new one in, with the highest demonstrations of merriment and conviviality. To but a few does it seem to occur that the day is a memorandum of the subtraction of another year from the little sum of life; with the multitude, the top feeling is a desire to express good wishes for the next twelvemonths' experience of their friends, and be the subject of similar benevolence on the part of others, and to see this interchange of cordial feeling take place, as far as possible, in festive circumstances. It is seldom that an English family fails to sit up on the last night of the year till twelve o'clock, along with a few friends, to drink a happy New Year to each other over a cheerful glass. Very frequently, too, persons nearly related but living apart, dine with each other on this day, to keep alive and cultivate mutual good feeling. It cannot be doubted that a custom of this kind must tend to obliterate any shades of dissatisfaction or jealous anger, that may have arisen during the previous year, and send the kindred onward through the next with renewed esteem and regard. To the same good purpose works the old custom of giving little presents among friends on this day:

'The King of Light, father of aged Time,
Hath brought about that day which is the prime,
To the slow-gliding months, when every eye
Wears symptoms of a sober jollity.'

Charles Lamb had a strong appreciation of the social character of New-Year's Day. He remarks that no one of whatever rank can regard it with indifference. 'Of all sounds of all bolts,' says he, 'most solemn and touching is the peal which rings out the old year. I never hear it without a gathering up of my mind to a concentration of all the images that have been diffused over the past twelvemonth; all I have done or suffered, performed or neglected, in that regretted time. I begin to know its worth as when a person dies. It takes a personal colour; nor was it a poetical flight in a contemporary, when he exclaimed:

"I saw the skirts of the departing year."'

One could wish that the genial Ella had added something in recommendation of resolutions of improvement of the year to come, for which Now-Year's Day is surely a most appropriate time. Every first of January that we arrive at, is an imaginary milestone on the turnpike track of human life: at once a resting-place for thought and meditation, and a starting point for fresh exertion in the performance of our journey. The man who does not at least propose to himself to be better this year than he was last, must be either very good or very bad indeed! And only to propose to be better, is something; if nothing else, it is an acknowledgment of our need to be so, which is the first step towards amendment. But, in fact, to propose to oneself to do well, is in some sort to do well, positively; for there is no such thing as a stationary point in human endeavours; he who is not worse today than he was yesterday, is better; and he who is not better, is worse.'

The merrymakings of New-Year's Eve and New-Year's Day are of very ancient date in England. The head of the house assembled his family around a bowl of spiced ale, comically called lamb's wool, from which ho drank their health; thou passed it to the rest, that they might drink too. The word that passed amongst them was the ancient Saxon phrase, Wass hael; that is, To your health. Hence this came to be recognised as the Wassail or Wassel Bowl. The poorer class of people carried a bowl adorned with ribbons round the neighbourhood, begging for something wherewith to obtain the means of filling it, that they too might enjoy wassail as well as the rich. In their compotations, they had songs suitable to the occasion, of which a Gloucestershire example has been preserved:

Wassail! wassail! over the town,
Our toast it is white, our ale it is brown:
Our bowl it is made of the maplin tree,
We be good fellows all; I drink to thee.

Here's to [The name of some horse] and to his right ear,
God send our maister a happy New Year;
A happy New Year as e'er he did see—
With my wassailing bowl I drink to thee.

Here's to [The name of another horse], and to his 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.

Here's to Filpail, and her long tail,
God send our measter us never may fail
Of a cup of good beer; I pray you draw near,
And then you shall hear our jolly wassail.

Be here any maids, I suppose here be some;
Sure they will not let young men stand on the cold stone;
Sing hey 0 maids, come troll back the pin,
And the fairest maid in the house, let us all in.

Come, butler, come bring us a bowl of the best:
I hope your soul in heaven may rest:
But if you do bring us a bowl of the small,
Then down fall butler, bowl, and all.'

What follows is an example apparently in use amongst children:

Here we come a wassailing,
Among the leaves so green,
Here we come a wandering,
So fair to be seen.

Chorus. Love and joy come to you,
And to your wassel too,
And God send you a happy New Year,
A New Year,
And God send you a happy New Year!
Our wassel cup is made of rosemary-tree,
So is your beer of the best barley.

We are not daily beggars,
That beg from door to door;
But we are neighbours' children,
Whom you have seen before.

Call up the butler of this house,
Put on his golden ring,
Let him bring us up a glass of beer
And the better we shall sing.

We have got a little purse,
Made of stretching leather skin,
We want a little of your money
To line it well within.

Bring us out a table,
And spread it with a cloth;
Bring us out a mouldy cheese,
And some of your Christmas loaf.

God bless the master of this house,
Likewise the mistress too,
And all the little children,
That round the table go!

Good master and mistress,
While you're sitting by the fire,
Pray think of us poor children,
Who are wandering in the mire.

Chorus. Love and joy come to you, &c.


The custom of wassail at the New Year was kept up in the monasteries as well as in private houses. In front of the abbot, at the upper end of the refectory table, was placed the mighty bowl styled in their language Poculum Caritatis, and from it the superior drank to all, and all drank in succession to each other. The corporation feasts of London still preserve a custom that affords a reflex of that of the wassail bowl. A double-handled flagon full of sweetened and spiced wine being handed to the master, or other person presiding, he drinks standing to the general health, as announced by the toastmaster; then passes it to his neighbour on the left hand, who drinks standing to his next neighbour, also standing, and so on it goes, till all have drunk. Such is the well-known ceremony of the Loviny Cup.


[Receipt for Making the Wassailbowl - Simmer a small quantity of the following spices in a teacupful of water, viz.:—Cardamums, cloves, nutmeg, mace, ginger, cinnamon, and coriander. When done, put the spice to two, four, or six bottles of port, sherry, or madeira, with one pound and a half of fine loaf sugar (pounded) to four bottles, and set all on the fire in a clean bright saucepan; meanwhile, have yolks of 12 and the whites of 6 eggs well whisked up in it. Then, when the spiced and sugared wine is a little warm, take out one teacupful; and so on for three or four cups; after which, when it boils, add the whole of the remainder, pouring it in gradually, and stirring it briskly all the time, so as to froth it. The moment a fine froth is obtained, toss in 12 fine soft roasted apples, and send it up hot. Spices for each bottle of wine:—10 grains of mace, 46 grains of cloves, 37 grains of cardamums, 28 grains of cinnamon, 12 grains of nutmeg, 48 grains of ginger, 49 grains of coriander seeds.—Mark Lane Express.]

Till very few years ago in Scotland, the custom of the wassail bowl at the passing away of the old year might he said to be still in comparative vigour. On the approach of twelve o'clock, a hot pint was prepared—that is, a kettle or flagon full of warm, spiced, and sweetened ale, with an infusion of spirits. When the clock had struck the knell of the departed year, each member of the family drank of this mixture 'A good health and a happy New Year and many of them' to all the rest, with a general hand-shaking, and perhaps a dance round the table, with the addition of a song to the tune of Hey tuttie taitic:

'Weel may we a' be,
Ill may we never see,
Here's to the king
And the gude companie!' &c.

The elders of the family would then most probably sally out, with the hot kettle, and bearing also a competent provision of buns and short-bread, or bread and cheese, with the design of visiting their neighbours, and interchanging with them the same cordial greetings. If they met by the way another party similarly bent, whom they knew, they would stop and give and take sips from their respective kettles. Reaching the friend's house, they would enter with vociferous good wishes, and soon send the kettle a-circulating. If they were the first to enter the house since twelve o'clock, they were deemed as the first-foot; and, as such, it was most important, for luck to the family in the coming year, that they should make their entry, not empty-handed, but with their hands full of cakes and bread and cheese; of which, on the other hand, civility demanded that each individual in the house should partake.

To such an extent did this custom prevail in Edinburgh in the recollection of persons still living, that, according to their account, the principal streets were more thronged between twelve and one in the morning than they usually were at midday. Much innocent mirth prevailed, and mutual good feelings were largely promoted. An unlucky circumstance, which took place on the 1st January of 1812, proved the means of nearly extinguishing the custom. A small party of reckless boys formed the design of turning the innocent festivities of firstfootinq to account for purposes of plunder. They Kept their counsel well. No sooner had the people come abroad on the principal thoroughfares of the Old Town, than these youths sallied out in small bands, and commenced the business which they had undertaken.

Their previous agreement was, to look out for the white neckcloths,—such being the best mark by which they could distinguish in the dark individuals likely to carry any property worthy of being taken. A great number of gentlemen were thus spoiled of their watches and other valuables. The least resistance was resented by the most brutal maltreatment. A policeman, and a young man of the rank of a clerk in Leith, died of the injuries they had received. An affair so singular, so uncharacteristic of the people among whom it happened, produced a widespread and lasting feeling of surprise. The outrage was expiated by the execution of three of the youthful rioters on the chief scone of their wickedness; but from that time, it was observed that the old custom of going about with the hot pint—the ancient wassail —fell off.

A gentleman of Preston has communicated to a popular publication that for many years past he has been in the habit of calling on a friend, an aged lady, at an early hour of New-Year's Day, being by her own desire, as he is a fair-complexioned person, and therefore assumed to be of good omen for the events of the year. On one occasion, he was prevented from attending to his old friend's request, and her first caller proved to be a dark-complexioned man; in consequence of which there came that year sickness, trouble, and commercial disaster.

In the parish of Berlen, near Snodland, in the county of Kent, are the remains of the old mansion of Groves, originally the property of a family named Hawks. On part of this house being pulled down in the latter part of the eighteenth century, there was found an oak beam supporting the chimney, which presented an antique carving exactly represented in the engraving at the head of this article. The words Wass hell and Drinc hello leave no doubt that the bowl in the centre was a representation of the wassail bowl of the time when the house was built, probably the sixteenth century. The two birds on the bowl are hawks—an allusion to the name of the family which originally possessed the mansion.


"The wassail bowle,' says Warton, 'is Shakespeare's Gossip's Bowl in the Midsummer Night's Dream. The composition was ale, nutmeg, sugar, toast, and roasted crabs or apples.' The word is interpreted by Verstegan as wase hale—that is, grow or become well. It came in time to signify festivity in general, and that of rather an intemperate kind. A wassail candle was a largo candle used at feasts.

There was in Scotland a first footing independent of the hot pint. It was a time for some youthful friend of the family to steal to the door, in the hope of meeting there the young maiden of his fancy, and obtaining the privilege of a kiss, as her first-foot. Great was the disappointment on his part, and great the joking among the family, if through accident or plan, some half-withered aunt or ancient grand-dame came to receive him instead of the blooming Jenny.

It may safely be said that New-Year's Day has hitherto been observed in Scotland with. a heartiness nowhere surpassed. It almost appears as if. by a sort of antagonism to the general gravity of the people, they were impelled to break out in a half-mad merriment on this day. Every face was bright with smiles; every hand ready with the grasp of friendship. All stiffness arising from age, profession, and rank, gave way. The soberest felt entitled to take a license on that special day. Reunions of relatives very generally took place over the festive board, and thus many little family differences were obliterated. At the pre-sent time, the ancient practices are somewhat decayed; yet the First of January is far from being reduced to the level of other days.

A grotesque manorial custom is described as being kept up in the reign of Charles II, in connection with Hilton in Staffordshire. There existed in that house a hollow brass image, about a foot high, representing a man kneeling in an indecorous posture. It was known all over the country as Jack of Hilton. There were two apertures, one very small at the mouth, another about two-thirds of an inch in diameter at the back, and the interior would hold rather more than four pints of water, 'which, when sot to a strong fire, evaporates after the same manner as in an Æolipile, and vents itself at the mouth in a constant blast, blowing the fire so strongly that it is very audible, and makes a sensible impression in that part of the fire where the blast lights.'

Now the custom was this. An obligation lay upon the lord of the adjacent manor of Essington, every New-Year's Day, to bring a goose to Hilton, and drive it three times round the hall fire, which Jack of Hilton was all the time blowing by the discharge of his steam. He was then to carry the bird into the kitchen and deliver it to the cook; and when it was dressed, he was further to carry it in a dish to the table of his lord paramount, the lord of Hilton, receiving in return a dish of meat for his own mess.

At Coventry, if not in other places throughout England, it is customary to eat what are called God-cakes on New-Year's Day. They are of a triangular shape, of about half an inch thick, and filled with a kind of mince-meat. There are halfpenny ones cried through the street; but others of much greater price--even it is said to the value of a pound—are used by the upper classes.

New-Years Gifts

The custom of making presents on New-Year's Day has, as far as regards the intercourse of the adult population, become almost if not entirely obsolete. Presents are generally pleasant to the receiver on any day of the year, and are still made, but not on this day especially. The practice on New-Year's Day is now limited to gifts made by parents to their children, or by the elder collateral members of a family to the younger; but the old custom, which has been gradually, like the drinking of healths, falling into disuse in England, is still in full force in France, as will presently be more particularly adverted to.

The practice of making presents on New-Year's Day was, no doubt, derived from the Romans. Suetonius and Tacitus both mention it. Claudius prohibited demanding presents except on this day. rand, in his Popular Antiquities, observes, on the authority of Bishop Stillingfleet, that the Saxons kept the festival of the New Year with more than ordinary feasting and jollity, and with the presenting of New-Year's gifts to each other. Fosbroke notices the continuation of the practice during the middle ages; and Ellis, in his additions to Brand, quotes Matthew Paris to shew that Henry III extorted New-Year's gifts from his subjects.
The New-Year's gifts presented by individuals to each other were suited to sex, rank, situation, and circumstances. From Bishop Hall's Satires (1598), it appears that the usual gifts of tenants in the country to their landlords was a capon; and Cowley, addressing the same class of society, says:

"When with low legs and in an humble guise
Ye offered up a capon-sacrifice
Unto his worship at the New-Year's tide.'

Ben Johnson, in his Masque of Christmas, among other characters introduces 'New-Year's Gift in a blue coat, serving-man like, with an orange, and a sprig of rosemary on his head, his hat full of brooches, with a collar of gingerbread, his torch-bearer carrying a marchpane, with a bottle of wine on either arm.' An orange stuck with cloves was a common present, and is explained by Lupton, who says that the flavour of wine is improved, and the wine itself preserved from mouldiness, by an orange or lemon stuck with cloves being hung within the vessel, so as not to touch the liquor.

Gloves were customary New-Year's gifts. They were formerly a more expensive article than they are at present, and occasionally a sum of money was given instead, which was called 'glove-money: Presents were of course made to persons in authority to secure favour, and too often were accepted by magistrates and judges. Sir Thomas More having, as lord chancellor, decided a cause in favour of a lady with the unattractive name of Croaker, on time ensuing New-Year's Day she sent him a pair of gloves with forty of the gold coins called an angel in them. Sir Thomas returned the gold with the following note: 'Mistress, since it were against good manners to refuse your New-Year's gift, I am content to take your gloves, but as for the lining I utterly refuse it.'


When pins were first invented and brought into use about the beginning of the sixteenth century, they were a New-Year's gift very acceptable to ladies, and money given for the purchase of them was called 'pin-money,' an expression which has been extended to a sum of money secured by a husband on his marriage for the private expenses of his wife. Pins made of metal, in their present form, must have been in use some time previous to 1543, in which year a statute was passed (35 Hen. VIII. c. 6), entitled 'An Acte for the true making of Pynnes,' in which it was enacted that the price charged should not exceed 6s. 8d. a thousand. Pins were previously made of boxwood, bone, and silver, for the richer classes; those used by the poor were of common wood—in fact, skewers.

The custom of presenting New-Year's gifts to the sovereigns of England may be traced back to the time of Henry VI. In Rymer's Faedera, vol. x. p. 387, a list is given of gifts received by the king between Christmas Day and February 4, 1428, consisting of sums of 40s., 20s., 13s. 4d., 10s., 6s. 8d., and 3s. 4d.


A manuscript roll of the public revenue of the fifth year of manuscript roll of the public revenue of the fifth year of Edward VI has an entry of rewards given on New-Year's Day to the king's officers and servants, amounting to £155, 5s., and also of sums given to the servants of those who presented New-Year's gifts to the king.


A similar roll has been preserved of the reign of Philip and Mary. The Lord Cardinal Pole gave a 'saulte,' with a cover of silver and gilt, having a stone therein much enamelled of the story of Job; and received a pair of gilt silver pots, weighing 1433/4 ounces. The queen's sister, the Lady Elizabeth, gave the fore part of a kyrtell, with a pair of sleeves of cloth of silver, richly embroidered over with Venice silver, and rayed with silver and black silk; and received three gilt silver bowls, weighing 132 ounces. Other gifts were—a sacrament cloth; a cup of crystal; a lute in a case, covered with black silk and gold, with two little round tables, the one of the phisnamy of the emperor and the king's majesty, the other of the king of Bohemia and his wife. Other gifts consisted of hosen of Garnsey-making, fruits, sugar-loaves, gloves, Turkey hens, a fat goose and capon, two swans, two fat oxen, conserves, rose-water, and other articles.


During the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the custom of presenting Now-Year's gifts to the sovereign was carried to an extravagant height. The queen delighted in gorgeous dresses, in jewellery, in all. kinds of ornaments for her person and palaces, and in purses filled with gold coin. The gifts regularly presented to her were of great value. An exact and descriptive inventory of them was made every year on a roll, which was signed by the queen herself, and by the proper officers. Nichols, in his Progresses of Queen Elizabeth, has given an accurate transcript of five of these rolls. The presents were made by the great officers of state, peers and peeresses, bishops, knights and their ladies, gentlemen and gentlewomen, physicians, apothecaries, and others of lower grade, down to her majesty's dustman. The presents consisted of sums of money, costly articles of ornament for the queen's person or apartments, caskets studded with precious stones, valuable necklaces, bracelets, gowns, embroidered mantles, smocks, petticoats, looking-glasses, fans, silk stockings, and a great variety of other articles.

Howell, in his History of the World, mentions that 'Queen Elizabeth, in 1561, was presented with a pair of black silk knit stockings by her silk-woman, Mrs. Montague, and thence-forth she never wore cloth hose any more.' The value of the gifts in each year cannot be ascertained, but some estimate may be made of it from the presents of gilt plate which were in all instances given in return by the queen; an exact account having been entered on the roll of the weight of the plate which each individual received in return for his gift. The total weight in 1577-8 amounted to 5882 ounces. The largest sum of money given by any temporal lord was £20; but the Archbishop of Canterbury gave £40, the Archbishop of York £30, and other spiritual lords £20 or £10. The total amount in the year 1561-2 of money gifts was £1262, 11s. 8d. The queen's wardrobe and jewellery must have been principally supplied from her New-Year's gifts.

The Earl of Leicester's New-Year's gifts exceeded those of any other nobleman in costliness and elaborate workmanship. The description of the gift of 1571-2 may be given as a specimen:

'One armlet, or shakell of gold, all over fairely garnished with rubyes and dyamondes, haveing in the closing thearof a clocke, and in the fore part of the same a fayre lozengie dyamonde without a foyle, hanging thearat a round juell fully garnished with dyamondes, and perle pendant, weying 11 oz. qu. dim., and farthing golde weight: in a case of purple vellate all over embranderid with Venice golde, and lyned with greeve vellat.'

In the reign of James I the money gifts seem to have been continued for some time, but the ornamental articles presented appear to have been few and of small value. In January 1601, Sir Dudley Carleton, in a letter to Mr. Winwood, observes:

'New-Year's Day passed without any solemnity, and the accustomed present of the purse and gold was hard to be had without asking.'

Mr. Nichols, in a note on this passage, observes:

'During the reigns of King Edward VI., Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth, the ceremony of giving and receiving New-Year's gifts at Court, which had long before been customary, was never omitted, and it was continued at least in the early years of King James; but I have never met with a roll of those gifts similar to the several specimens of them in the Progresses of Queen Elizabeth.'

He afterwards, however, met with such a roll, which he has copied, and in a note attached to the commencement of the roll, be makes the following remarks:

'Since the note in that page [471 of vol. i., Progresses of James I] was printed, the roll here accurately transcribed has been purchased by the trustees of the British Museum, from Mr. Rodd, book-seller of Great Newport Street, in whose catalogue for 1824 it is mentioned. It is above ten feet in length; and, like the five printed in Queen Elizabeth's "Progresses," exhibits the gifts to the king on one side, and those from his majesty on the other, both sides being signed by the royal hand at top and bottom. The gifts certainly cannot compete in point of curiosity with those of either Queen Mary's or Queen Elizabeth's reign. Instead of curious articles of dress, rich jewels, &c., nothing was given by the nobility but gold coin.'

The gifts from the nobility and prelates amounted altogether to £1293, 13s. 4d. The remainder were from per-sons who held some office about the king or court, and were generally articles of small value. The Duke of Lennox and the Archbishop of Canterbury gave each £40; all other temporal lords, £20 or E10; and the other spiritual lords, £30, £20, £13, 6s. 8d., or £10. The Duke of Lennox received 50 ounces of plate, the Arch-bishop of Canterbury 55 ounces; those who gave £20 received about 30 ounces, and for smaller sums the return-gift was in a similar proportion.


No rolls, nor indeed any notices, seem to have been preserved of New-Year's gifts presented to Charles I., though probably there were such. The custom, no doubt, ceased entirely during the Commonwealth, and was never afterwards revived, at least to any extent worthy of notice. Mr. Nichols mentions that the last remains of the custom at court consisted in placing a crown-piece under the plate of each of the chaplains in waiting on New-Year's Day, and that this custom had ceased early in the nineteenth century.
There is a pleasant story of a New-Year's gift in the reign of King Charles I, in which the court jester, Archy Armstrong, figures as for once not the maker, but the victim of a jest. Coming on that morn to a nobleman to bid him good-morrow, Archy received a few gold pieces; which, however, falling short of his expectations in amount, he shook discontentedly in his hand, muttering that they were too light. The donor said: 'Prithee, then, Archy, let me see them again; and, by the way, there is one of them which I would be loth to part with.' Archy, expecting to get a larger gift, returned the pieces to his lordship, who put them in his pocket, with the remark: 'I once gave my money into the hands of a fool, who had not the wit to keep it.'—Banquet of Jests, 1634

It cannot be said that the custom of giving presents to superiors was a very rational one: one can even imagine it to have been something rather oppressive— 'a custom more honoured in the breach than the observance.' Yet Robert Herrick seems to have found no difficulty in bringing the smiles of his cheerful muse to bear upon it. It must be admitted, indeed, that the author of the Hesperides made his poem the gift. Thus it is he addresses Sir Simon Steward in:

'A jolly
Verse, crowned with ivy and with holly;
That tells of winter's tales and mirth,
That milkmaids make about the hearth;
Of Christmas' sports, the wassail howl,
That's tost up after fox-i'-th'-hole;
Of blind-man-buff, and of the care
That young men have to shoe the mare;
Of twelfth-tide cakes, of pease and beaus,
Wherewith ye make those merry scenes;
Of crackling laurel, which fore-sounds
A plenteous harvest to your grounds;
Of those, and each like things, for shift,
We send, instead of New Year's gift.
Read then, and when your faces shine
With buxom meat and cap'ring wine,
Remember us in cups full crown'd,
And let our city-health go round.
Then, as ye sit about your embers,
Call not to mind the fled Decembers;
But think on these, that are t' appear
As daughters to the instant year;
And to the bagpipes all address,
Till sleep take place of weariness.
And thus throughout, with Christmas plays,
Frolic the full twelve holidays.'

The custom of giving of presents among relatives and friends is much declined in England, but is still kept up with surprising vigor in Paris, where the day is especially recognized from this circumstance as Le Jour d' Etrennes. Parents then bestow portions on their children, brothers on their sisters, and husbands make settlements on their wives. The mere externals of the day, as observed in Paris, are of a striking character: they were described as follows in an English journal, as observed in the year 1824, while as yet the restored Bourbon reigned in France: 'Carriages,' says this writer, 'may be seen rolling through the streets with cargoes of bon-bons, souvenirs, and the variety of etceteras with which little children and grown up children are bribed into good humour; and here and there pastrycooks are to be met with, carrying upon boards enormous temples, pagodas, churches, and playhouses, made of fine flour and sugar, and the embellishments which render French pastry so inviting. But there is one street in Paris to which a New-Year's Day is a whole year's fortune—this is the Rue des Lombards, where the wholesale confectioners reside; for in Paris every trade and profession has its peculiar quarter. For several days preceding the 1st of January, this street is completely blocked up by carts and wagons laden with cases of sweetmeats for the provinces. These are of every form and description which the most singular fancy could imagine; bunches of carrots, green peas, hoots and shoes, lobsters and crabs, hats, books, musical instruments, gridirons, frying-pans, and sauce-pans; all made of sugar, and coloured to imitate reality, and all made with a hollow within to hold the bon-bons.


The most prevailing device is what is called a cornet; that is, a little cone ornamented in different ways, with a bag to draw over the large end, and close it up. In these things, the prices of which vary from one franc (tenpenee) to fifty, the bon-bons are presented by those who choose to be at the expense of them, and by those who do not, they are only wrapped in a piece of paper; but bon-bons, in some way or other, must be presented. It would not, perhaps, be an exaggeration to state that the amount expended for presents on New-Year's Day in Paris, for sweet-meats alone, exceeds 500,000 francs, or £20,000 sterling. Jewellery is also sold to a very large amount, and the fancy articles exported in the first week of the year to England and other countries, is computed at one-fourth of the sale during the twelvemonths. In Paris, it is by no means uncommon for a man of 8000 or 10,000 francs a year, to make presents on New-Year's Day which cost him a fifteenth part of his income. No person able to give must on this day pay a visit empty-handed.

Everybody accepts, and every man gives according to the means which he possesses. Females alone are excepted from the charge of giving. A pretty woman, respectably connected, may reckon her New-Year's presents at something considerable. Gowns, jewellery, gloves, stockings, and artificial flowers fill her drawing-room: for in Paris it is a custom to display all the gifts, in order to excite emulation, and to obtain as much as possible. At the palace, the New-Year's Day is a complete jour de fete. Every branch of the royal family is then expected to make handsome presents to the king. For the six months preceding January 1824, the female branches were busily occupied in preparing presents of their own manufacture, which would fill at least two common-sized wagons.


The Duchess de Berri painted an entire room of japanned panels, to be set up in the palace, and the Duchess of Orleans prepared an elegant screen. An English gentleman, who was admitted suddenly into the presence of the Duchess de Berri two months before, found her and three of her maids of honour, lying on the carpet, painting the legs of a set of chairs, which were intended for the king. The day commences with the Parisians, at an early hour, by the interchange of their visits and bon-bons. The nearest relations are visited first, until the furthest in blood have had their calls; then friends and acquaintances. The conflict to anticipate each other's calls, occasions the most agreeable and whimsical scenes among these proficients in polite attentions. In these visits, and in gossiping at the confectioners' shops, which are the great lounge for the occasion, the morning of New-Year's Day is passed; a dinner is given by some member of the family to all the rest, and the evening concludes, like Christmas Day, with cards, dancing, or any other amusement that may be preferred.'
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