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Saturday, 21 December 2013

Keepen Up O’Christmas - The Customs and Traditions of St. Thomas' Day in Dorset

Dorset Folklorist, John Symonds Udal mentions the Dorset traditions of ' St. Thomas's Day' in his book 'Dorsetshire Folklore' published in 1922:
keeping up o' Christmas
Christmasing.— Christmas being the principal season of the year for feasts and other festive rejoicings — when people, too, were generally supposed to be more charitably disposed towards their fellow-beings than at any other time — many of the poorer class would seek by visiting in good time the houses of their richer neighbours to obtain the means of taking some share in these rejoicings themselves. This was generally called " Christmasing ".

In 1872 I sent to Notes and Queries (Ser. iv, x, 494) a short account of this custom, as follows :—
" A few days before Christmas, the women, children and old men in a parish would visit by turn the houses of their wealthier neighbours, and in return for and in recognition of Christmas greetings and their general demand of ' Please, give me something to keep up a Christmas ' (or ' for keeping up o' Christmas ') would receive substantial pieces or ' hunks ' of bread and cheese, bread and meat, or small sums of money. The old and infirm of either sex were generally represented by their children or grandchildren, those only being refused the dole who did not belong to the parish"
This, I should have stated, always took place on or about St. Thomas's Day, the 21st of December. This custom appears to be somewhat akin to that known to Brand (i, 350) as " going-a-gooding on St. Thomas's Day ", which there seems to have been carried out by women only. He suggests that it may have been only another name for the northern custom of going about and crying " Hagmena ". There would appear to be other variants.

Tithe Custom: Thornford. — The Standard newspaper, sometime in 1878, gave an account of a custom which is said to have prevailed some years ago in Thornton, near Sherborne, amongst the tenants of the Manor of depositing five shillings in a hole in a certain tombstone in the churchyard, a ceremony which precluded the lord of the manor from taking the tithe of hay during the year. This had always to be done before twelve o'clock on St. Thomas's Day, or the privilege fell through.

Again, in December, 1887, the Antiquary (xvi, p. 225) refers to this custom in almost the same words, citing Hampson's MedicBvi Kalendarium, p. 83, for its authority.

It is, however, clear from the Somerset and Dorset Notes and Queries for 1894 (vol. iv, p. 122) that Thornton in both these journals is a mistake for Thornford, which is a village near Sherborne. Here the custom is again detailed, with a slight variation in phraseology, on the authority of the Salisbury and Winchester Journal of 2nd November, 1829. An editorial note is added referring to a statement by Hutchins that a tomb in the churchyard at Thornford was called the " Prebendal Tomb ", because in a hole on its cover the modus in lieu of tithe on the prebendal lands due to the rector was formerly paid on St. Thomas's Day. This curious modus, Hutchins tells us (vol. iv, p. 302), led to a dispute between the then rector and the lord of the manor, which being carried into the law courts ended in the defeat of the rector. Beyond this Hutchins makes no reference to the alleged custom.
Keepen Up O’Christmas
by William Barnes

An’ zoo you didden come athirt,
To have zome fun last night: how wer’t?
Vor we’d a-worked wi’ all our might
To scour the iron things up bright,
An’ brush’d an’ scrubb’d the house all drough;
An’ brought in vor a brand, a plock
O’ wood so big’s an uppen-stock
An’ hung a bough o’ misseltoo,
An’ ax’d a merry friend or two,
To keepen up o’Christmas.

An’ there wer wold an’ young; an’ Bill,
Soon after dark, stalk’d up vrom mill.
An’ when he wer a-comin near,
He whissled loud vor me to hear;
Then roun’ my head my frock I roll’d,
An’ stood on orcha’d like a post,
To meake en think I wer a ghost.
But he wer up to’t, an did scwold
To vind me stannen in the cwold,
A-keepen up o’ Christmas.

We play’d at Forfeits, an’ we spun
The trencher roun’, an’ meade such fun!
An’ had a geame o’ dree-ceard loo,
An’ then begun to hunt the shoe.
An’ all the wold vo’k zitten near,
A-chatten roun’ the vier pleace,
Did smile in woone another’s feace,
An’ sheake right hands wi’ hearty cheer.
An’ let their left hands spill their beer,
A-keepen up o’ Christmas.


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