The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Christmas Day

Source: Brand's Popular Antiquities Of Great Britain

W. Carew Hazlitt, Faith and Folklore: A Dictionary of National Beliefs, Superstitions and Popular Customs, Past and Current, With Their Classical and Foreign Analogues, Described and Illustrated.

Forming A New Edition of "The Popular Antiquities of Great Britain" By Brand and Ellis, Largely Extended, Corrected, Brought Down To The Present Time, and Now First Alphabetically Arranged.

In Two Volumes

London: Reeves and Turner, 1905.

Vol. 1, pp. 117-18

This is observed without any real authority or probability of correctness on the 25th of December. Christmas Day, in the primitive Church, was always observed as the Sabbath Day, and, like that, preceded by an eve or vigil. Hence our present Christmas Eve.

Bourne cites an oration of Gregory Nazianzen, which throws light upon the ancient rites of Christmas Day. "Let us not," says he, "celebrate the feast after an earthly, but an heavenly manner; let not our doors be crowned; let not dancing be encouraged; let not the cross-paths be adorned, the eyes fed, nor the ears delighted; let us not feast to excess, nor be drunk with wine."

Certain coarse and obscene usages on Christmas Eve seem to be indicated by Barrington, where, speaking of the people, he says: "They were also, by the customs prevailing in particular districts, subject to services not only of the most servile, but the most ludicrous nature: ‘Utpote die Nativitatis Domini coram eo saltare, buccas cum sonitu inflare et ventris crepitum edere." Observ. on the Statutes, p. 306.

Upon Wednesday, December 22, 1647, the cryer of Canterbury, by the appointment of Master Mayor, openly proclaimed that Christmas Day, and all other superstitious festivals, should be put down, and that a market should be kept upon Christmas Day. See "Canterbury Christmas; or, a true Relation of the Insurrection in Canterbury on Christmas Day last," 1648.

An order of Parliament, December 24, 1652, directed "that no observation shall be had of the five and twentieth day of December, commonly called Christmas Day; nor any solemnity used or exercised in churches upon that day in respect thereof."

A credible person born and brought up in a village not far from Bury St. Edmunds informed Mr. Brand that, when he was a boy, there was a rural custom there among the youths, of "hunting owls and squirrels on Christmas Day." Forby alludes to this now obsolete practice in his "Vocabulary of East Anglia," 1830.

A correspondent of "Notes and Queries" for March 22 and June 21, 1862, points out that in some parts of the country (he was brought up in the West Riding of Yorkshire) a very curious superstition is connected with Christmas and New Year’s mornings. It is that the first person who should enter the house on those two occasions ought, for luck, to have dark hair; and an old woman in his neighbourhood accounted for the belief by saying that Judas, the betrayer of the Saviour, had red hair, a circumstance which engendered a deep prejudice against that or any other light colour ever after. But it may be said here, as so often in relation to questions of the kind — causa latet rcs ipsa notissima. The writer observes: "All the ill-luck, that is, the untoward circumstances of the year, would be ascribed to the accident of a person of light hair having been the first to enter a dwelling on the mornings referred to. I have known instances, where such persons, innocently presenting themselves, have met with anything hut a Christmas welcome.

It was anciently believed that a child born on a Christmas- day, when that day fell on a Sunday, would be very fortunate. A MS. in the Bodleian has this passage:

"And what chyld on that day boorn be,
Of gret worscheyp schall he be."

Mr. Thomas Wright, in his "Essays," 1846, says: "It is still an article of popular faith in Scotland, that persons born at Christmas and on Good Friday, have more power of communicating with spirits and hobgoblins than other people" and quotes Scot’s "Marmion" for an illustration so far at least as Christmas is concerned.

Editor's Note:

I regret that I am unable to provide a translation of any Latin passages.

See also William Hone's The Every Day Book: December 25 - The Nativity of Christ.

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