The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

St. Stephen's 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. 2, p. 564

In the "Gentleman's Magazine" for May, 1811, it is said to have been customary to distribute goos-pies (i.e., Christmas pastries made with goose) on St. Stephen's day [Dec. 26], among the poorer people in parts of Yorkshire, and of those which were baked for this occasion to reserve one till Candlemas [February 2]. in "Notes and Queries" for Dec. 1859, Mr. J. Gough Nichols printed a curious letter from Robert Heyricke, Alderman of Leicester, to Sir William Heyricke, of Wood-street, London, his brother, and uncle of the poet, dated from Leicester, 2 Jan. 1614-15,. Here the writer refers to the custom of holding up hands and spoons at a Christmas merry-making in remembrance of those who were absent. His words are: "And the same day (St. Stephen's Day) we were busy wth hollding up hands and spoones to yow, owt of porredge and pyes, to the remembrannce of yowre gt lyberality of frute and spice, which God send yow long lyffe to conty-new, for of that day have not myssed anny St. Steven this 47 year to have as many gas(tes) as may howse woolid holld, I thank God for yt."

In a letter written on the following St. Stephen's-day (Dec. 26, 1615) the worthy alderman again touches on this now forgotten usage of holding up the hands and spoones for friends at a distance.

Bishop Hall says: "On St. Stephen's Day blessings are implored upon pastures." There is a proverb, which is expressive of the great doings, as we say, or good eatings at this festive time:

"Blessed be St. Stephen
There's no fast upon this even."

I take it to have been nothing more than one of those meaningless jingles, which occurs in old charms and superstitions rhymes, which is mentioned by Aubrey under this head. He observes" "When the bread was put into the oven, they prayed to God and Saint Stephen to send them a just batch and an even."

Among the Finns, upon St. Stephen's Day, a piece of money or a bit of silver must be thrown in to the trough out of which the horses drink by every one that whishes to prosper.

Editor's Note: See also William Hone's The Every Day Book: St. Stephen's Day and Hymns to St. Stephen.

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