The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Lamb's Wool

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. 2, pp. 358-59

A Nottinghamshire correspondent of the "Gentleman's Magazine" for 1784, states, "that when he was a boy at school the practice on Christmas Eve was to roast apples on a string till they dropt into a large bowl of spiced ale, which is the whole composition of Lamb's Wool." It is probable that from the softness of this popular beverate it has gotten the above name. See Shakespeare's "Midsummer Night's Dream."

"Sometimes lurk I in a gossip's bowl,
In very likeness of a roasted crab;
And when she drinks, against her lips I bob,
And on her wither'd dew-lap pour the ale."

The writer in the "Gentleman's Magazine" for May, 1784, says, he has "often met with lambs' wool in Ireland, where it is a constant ingredient at a merry-making on Holy Eve, or the evening before All Saint's Day' and it is made there by bruising roasted apples and mixing them with ale, or sometimes with milk. Formerly, when the superior ranks were not too refined for these periodical meetings of jollity, white wine was frequently substituted for ale. To lambs' wool, apples and nuts were added as a necessary part of the entertainment, and the young folks amuse themselves with burning nuts in pairs on the bar of the grate, or among the warm embers, to which they gave their name and that of their lovers, or those of their friends who are supposed to have like attachments, and from the manner of their burning and direction of the flame, draw such inferences respecting the constancy or strength of their passions as usually promote mirth and good humour." For Vallancey's Etymology of lambs' wool, see "Collectanea," vol. iii., p. 444.

Note: Also see William Hone's Lamb's-wool.

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