The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Christmas Pie

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. 121-22

Selden thought that the coffin of our Christmas pies, in shape long, is in imitation of the cratch, i.e., the manger wherein the infant Jesus was laid; and they were long known as coffin pasties. The modern survival is the covered fruit tart in an oval dish. Scogin, in the edition of his "Jests," published in 1626, is made on his death-bed to say: "Masters, I tell you all that stand about mee, if I might live to eate a Christmasse pye, I care not if I dye by and by after: for Christmasse pyes be good meat." In Robert Fletcher’s poem styled "Christmas Day," we find the ingredients and shape of the Christmas pie:

"Christ-mass? give me my beads: the word implies
A plot, by its ingredients, beef and pyes.
The cloyster’d steaks with salt and pepper lye
Like nunnes with patches in a monastrie.
Prophaneness in a conclave? Nay, much more,
Idolatrie in crust! Babylon’s whore
Rak’d from the grave, and bak’d by hanches, then
Serv’d up in coffins to unholy men;
Defil’d with superstition, like the Gentiles
Of old, that worship’d onions, roots, and lentiles!"

Ex Otio Negotinrn, 1656, p. 114.

Misson describes the composition of a Christmas pasty as follows: "In every family they make at Christmas a famous pie, which they call a Christmas pie. The making of this is a great science; it is a learned medley of neats’ tongue, the brawn of a chicken, eggs, sugar, currants, citron and orange-peel, various sorts of spice, &c." Travels in England, 322.

In the "Gentleman’s Magazine" for December, 1733, is an essay on "Christmas Pye," in which the author tells us: "That this dish is most in vogue at this time of the year, some think is owing to the barrenness of the season, and the scarcity of fruit and milk to make tarts, custards, and other desserts; this being a compound that furnishes a dessert itself. But I rather think it bears a religious kind of relation to the festivity from whence it takes its name. Our tables are always set out with this dish just at the time and probably for the same reason that our windows are adorned with ivy. I am the more confirmed in this opinion from the zealous opposition it meets with from Quakers, who distinguish their feasts by an heretical sort of pudding known by their name, and inveigh against Christmas pye as an invention of the scarlet whore of Babylon, an hodgepodge of superstition, popery, the devil, and all his works,

Lewis, speaking of the enthusiasts in the grand rebellion, tells us, that under the censure of lewd customs they include all sorts of public sports, exercises, and recreations, how innocent soever. Nay, the poor rosemary and bays, and Christmas Pye, is made an abomination. The famous Bickerstaffe rose up against ‘such as would cut out the clergy from having any share in it. ‘The Christmas Pye,’ says he ‘is in its own nature a kind of consecrated cake, and a badge of distinction, and yet ‘tis often forbidden to the Druid of the family. Strange! that a sirloin of beef, whether boiled or roasted, when entire is exposed to his utmost depredations and incisions: but if minced into small pieces, and tossed up with plums and sugar, changes its property and forsooth is meat for his master.’ Thus with a becoming zeal he defends the chaplains of noblemen in particular, and the clergy in general, who it seems were debarred, under pretence that a sweet tooth and a liqourish palate are inconsistent with the sanctity of their character."

"Come guard this night the Christmas-pie
That the thiefe, though ne’r so slie,
With his flesh hooks don’t come nie
                                    To catch it;
From him, who all alone sits there,
Having his eyes still in his eare,
And a deale of nightly feare
                                    To watch it."

"Let Christmas boast her customary treat,
A mixture strange of suet, currants, meat,
Where various tastes combine, the greasy and the sweet."
                                        Oxford Sausage, p. FT.

In the North of England, a goose is always the chief ingredient in the composition of a Christmas pye. Ramsay, in his "Elegy on Lucky Wood," tells us that among other baits by which the good ale-wife drew customers to her house, she never failed to tempt them at Christmas with a goose-pye.

"Than ay at Yule, whene’er we came,
                            A bra’ goose pye,
And was na that a good belly baum?
                            None dare deny."

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