The Hymns and Carols of Christmas


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. 670-71

Bosworth (Compend. A-S. and Enql. Dict. 1876, v. Geól) makes the root Gál, merry, and defines Yule as the merry feast and leads us to understand that our Anglo-Saxon forefathers had their Yule, their cre or before Yule, and their after Yule corresponding to the later Christmas and New Year’s holydays. Comp. Hazlitt’s Blount, 1874, p. 89. The A-S. Géol appears to be cognate to the Sanscrit Ywala, the Sun.

Hearne, in his Diary, December 21, 1710, mentions the supposition that Yule may be derived from loulos, the name of the month in which our Christmas occurs with certain nations. In the earlier Scotish nomenclature it was treated as equivalent to the Latin Julius. An article on this subject, too long to transcribe, and scarcely capable of condensation, is in Mr. Atkinson’s "Cleveland Glossary," 1868, p. 588.

One of the principal feasts," it is said in the Gentleman’s Magazine for 1784, "among the Northern nations was the Juul, afterwards called Yule, about the shortest day, which as Mr. Mallet observes, bore a great resemblance to the Roman Saturnalia, which primarily were limited to a single day. The writer just cited, following Bryant, identified Saturn with Noah. Comp. Keightley’s Mythology, 1854, p. 466.

John Herolt, a Dominican, in a sermon on the Nativity, condemning those who made a bad use of this festival, mentions persons who spend the whole night in revelry, who practise divinations by salt and other (as he considered them) profane occupations

    "Qui istam noctem in ludo consumpserunt. Item qui cumulos salis ponunt, et per hoc futura prognosticant. Item qui calceos per caput jactant; similiter qui arbores cingunt. Et significantur qui cum micis et fragmentis, qul tolluntur de mensa in vigilia natalis Christi sua sortilegia exercent."

Leland has the following:

    "Yule aft York, out of a cowcher belonging to the Cytty, per Carolum Fairfax, ar.

    "The Sheriffs of York by the custome of the cytty, do use to ride betwixt Michalemas and Mydwynter, that is Youle, and for to make a proclamation throughout the citty, in formne following: 'O yes We command of our liege lords behalf the King of England (that God save and keepe), that the peace of the King be well keeped and maynteyned within the citty amid suburbs, by night and by day, &c. Also, that no common woman walke in the streets without a gray hood on her head, and a white wand in her hand, &c. Also the Sheriffes of the citty on St. Thomas Day the Apostle, before Youle, att tenne of the bell, shall come to All-hallow kirke on the pavement, and ther they shall heare a masse of St. Thomas in the high wheare (quire), and offer at the masse; and when the masse is done, they shall make a proclamation att the pillory of the Youle-Girth (in the forme that followes) by ther serjant: We commaund that the peace of our Lord the King be well keeped and mayntayned by night and by day, &c. (prout solebat in proclamatione prædicta vice-comitum in eorum equitatione.) Also that no manner of man make no congregations nor assemblyes (prout continetur in equitatione vice-comitum). Also that all manner of whores and thieves, dice players, carders, and all other unthrifty folke, be welcome to the towne, whether they come late or early, att the reverence of the high feast of Youle, till the twelve clays be passed.’ The proclamation made in forme aforesaid, the fower serjeants shall goe or ride (whether they will); and one of them shall have a horne of brasse, of the toll-bouth; and the other three serjeants shall every one of them have a horne, and so go forth to the fewer barres of the citty, and blow the Youle-Girth. And the Sheriffes for that day use to go together, they and their wives, and ther officers, att the reverence of the high feast of Yole, on ther proper costs," &c. Itinerary, ed. 1770, iv., 182.

Blount tells us, that in Yorkshire and our other northern parts they had an old custom: After sermon or service on Christmas Day, the people would, even in the churches, cry Ule, Ule, as a token of rejoicing: and the common sort ran about the streets, singing

Ule, Ule, Ule, Ule,
Three puddings in a pule,
Crack nuts, and cry Ule.

Grose, in his "Provincial Glossary," tells us, that in "Farm-houses in the North, the servants lay by a large knotty block for their Christmas fire, and during the time it lasts they are entitled by custom to ale at their meals. In Gloucestershire, in the Cotswolds, they formerly had at Whitsuntide a festival called indifferently an Ale and a Yule; but it is to be suspected that the former name is the correct one. Comp. Whitsuntide suprfl.

I find the following curious passage in the " Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence Displayed," p. 98: "One preaching against the observation of Christmas, said in a Scotch jingle, ‘Ye will say, sirs, good old Youl day; I tell you, good old Fool day. You will say it is a brave holiday; I tell you it is a brave belly-day.’ " Swift, in his "Tale of a Tub," might have given this as an instance of Jack’s tearing off the lace, and making a plain coat. There is a proverb:

"It is good to cry Ule at other men’s costs."

The Scotish proverb, "A Yule feast may be quit at Pasche" is as much as to say, remarks Mr. Hislop ("Proverbs of Scotland," 1S62, p. 30), " Some undertakings can conveniently be done at any time."

Wormius notices that even in his time the Icelanders dated the beginning of their year from Yule, in consequence of an ancient custom which the laws of their country obliged them to retain. They even reckoned a person’s age by the Yules he had seen.

Yule Gifts or Julklaps. — Were so called from those who received them striking against the doors of the donors. [p. 672]

Editor's Note: I regret that I am unable to provide a translation of any Latin or Middle English passages.

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