On Christmas Eve
Words: Robert Herrick (1591-1674)
Poem 2 of 7 of Christmas Customs from Herrick
Source: William Henry Husk, Songs of the Nativity (London: John Camden Hotten, 1868)
1. Come, guard this night the Christmas pie,
That the thief, though ne'er so sly,
With his flesh-hooks don't come nigh
To catch it.
2. From him who all alone sits there,
Having his eyes still in his ear,
And a deal of nightly fear,
To watch it.
The Christmas pie alluded to in these lines was not, as many might suppose, a mince-pie – such as a Christmas pie as Little Jack Horner sat eating in his corner – but a much more elaborate and extensive compount of good things in use amongst our forefathers in olden times. The records of the Worshipful Company of Salters of London contain a receipt written in 1394, in the reign of Richard II [1367-1400], instructing the cooks of that age how “For to make a moost choyce paaste of gamys to be eaten at ye feast of Chrystemasse,” a copy of which, in modern spelling, is here preseented for the delectation of the reader.
“For to make a most choice pastry of game to be eaten at the Feast of Christmas.
“Take Pheasant, Hare, and Chicken, or Capon, of each one; with two Partridges, two Pigeons, and two Conies; and smite them in pieces, and pick clean away therefrom all the bones that ye may, and therewith do them into a foyle1 of good paste, made craftily in the likeness of a bird's body, and with the livers and hearts, two kidneys of sheep, and forces2 and eyren3 made into balls. Cast thereto powder of pepper, salt, spice, eyseli4 and fungus5 pickled; and then take the bones and let them seethe in a pot to make a good broth therefor, and do it into the foyle of paste, and close it up fast and bake it well, and so serve it forth, with the head of one of the birds stuck at one end of the foyle and a great tail at the other, and divers of his long feathers set in cunningly all about him.”
Christmas pies of large dimensions, prepared somewhat in the same way, continue to be made in some parts of Yorkshire, and from their use being principally confined to that country are commonly called “Yorkshire pies.”
This custom of sitting up to preserve the Christmas pie from depredators is not mentioned elsewhere than in these lines.
1. Crust. Return
2. Forced-meat. Return
3. Eggs. Return
4. Vinegar. Return
5. Mushrooms. Return
Also found in A. H. Bullen, A Christmas Garland (London: John C. Nimmo, 1885), p. 155.
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