On Christmas Eve
Words: Robert Herrick (1591-1674)
Poem 1 of 7 of Christmas Customs from Herrick
1. Come bring the noise,
My merry, merry boys,
The Christmas log to the firing;
While my good dame, she
Bids ye all be free,
And drink to your heart's desiring.
2. With the last year's brand
Light the new block, and
For good success in his spending,
On your psalteries play,
That sweet luck may
Come while the log is a teending.1
3. Drink now the strong beer,
Cut the white loaf here,
The while the meat is a shredding
For the rare mince-pie
And the plums standing by,
To fill the paste that's a kneeding.
1. Husk gives "Kindling." Bullen gives "burning." Return
On this eve our ancestor's were wont to lay a log of wood upon the fire, called a Yule-clog, or log, or Christmas block, to illuminate the house. It was a custom to preserve a portion of this block until the next year, with which to light the new block, and the omission to do so was deemed unlucky. The practice still prevails in many parts of the country.
Also found in Joshua Sylvester, A Garland of Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern (London: John Camden Hotten, 1861)
We are indebted to the poet Herrick for the following Carol, descriptive of the ceremony attending the bringing in the Christmas or Yule log, a custom of very ancient date ; yet, nevertheless, this is the first occasion that I find allusion to it in the writings of our earlier poets. The practice of burning a block, or faggot, at the Christmas season is still common in many parts of England. The eve before Christmas Day is the favourite time, when friendly neighbours surround the hearth, and Carols are sung.
Note that Hugh Keyte, an editor of The New Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992) believes that "Joshua Sylvester" is a pseudonym for a collaboration between William Sandys (1792-1874) and William Henry Husk (1814-1887). See Appendix 4.
Also found in A. H. Bullen, A Christmas Garland (London: John C. Nimmo, 1885), p. 154
Bullen adds this note on page 265:
"When a piece of last year’s Christmas log was preserved, the household reckoned itself secure from the assaults of hobgoblins, as Herrick elsewhere relates
the Christmas brand, and then
Till sunset let it burn
Which quenched, then lay it up again
Till Christmas next return.
Part must be kept wherewith to teend
The Christmas log next year;
And where ‘tis safely kept, the fiend
Can do no mischief there.”
Also found in Henry Vizetelly, Christmas With The Poets (London: David Bogue, 1851), who notes that this "poem is descriptive of the ceremony attending the bringing in the Christmas or Yule log, a custom of very ancient date; yet, nevertheless, this is the first occasion that we find allusion to it in the writings of our earlier poets."
Also found in Burton Egbert Stevenson, ed., The Home Book of Verse, Volume 1 (New York: Henry Holt And Company, 1912); Project Gutenberg Etext #2619.
See, also: Kindle The Christmas Brand.
Bullen also includes this illustration from Henry G. Wells:
"Come, bring with a noise,
My merry, merry boys,
The Christmas log to the firing."
Artwork by John A. Hows from Christmas In Art And Song. New York: The Arundel Printing and Publishing Company, 1879.
If you would like to help support Hymns and Carols of Christmas, please click on the button below and make a donation.