The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

December 31 - New Years Eve

William Hone, The Every Day Book, 2 Vols. London: William Tegg, 1825, 1827.

Volume 1

St. Sylvester, Pope, A.D. 335. St. Columba, A.D. 258. St. Melania, the younger, A.D. 439.

St. Sylvester.

This saint, whose name is in the church of England calendar and the almanacs, was pope Sylvester I. "He is said to have been the author of several rites and ceremonies of the Romish church, as asylums, unctions, palls, corporals, &c. He died in 334."1

New Year's Eve.

To end the old year merrily, and begin the new one well, and in friendship, were popular objects in the celebration of this festival. It was spent among our labouring ancestors in festivity and frolic by the men; and the young women of the village carried from door to door, a bowl of spiced ale, the wassail bowl, which they offered to the inhabitants of every house they stopped at, singing rude congratulatory verse, and hoping for small presents. Young men and women also exchanged clothes, which was termed Mimming, or Disguising; and when thus dressed in each other's garments, they went from one neighbour's cottage to another, singing, dancing, and partaking of good cheer.2


The anticipated pleasure of the coming year, accompanied by regret at parting with the present old year, is naturally expressed by a writer already cited. "After Christmas-day comes the last day of the year; and I confess I wish the bells would not ring so merrily on the next. I have not become used enough to the loss of the old year to like so triumphant a welcome to the new. I am certain of the pleasures I have had during the twelvemonth: I have become used to the pains. In a few days, especially by the help of Twelfth-night, I shall become reconciled to the writing 6 instead of 5 in the date of the year. Then welcome new hopes and new endeavours. But at the moment—at the turn—I hate to bid adieu to my old acquaintance."3


ELIA, in a delightful paper on the "Eve of New Year's-day, 1821, among the other delightful essays of his volume, entitled "ELIA"—a little book, whereof to say that it is of more gracious feeling and truer beauty than any of our century, is poor praise—Elia says, "while that turncoat bell, that just now mournfully chanted the obsequies of the year departed, with changed notes lustily rings in a successor, let us attune to its peal the song made on a like occasion, by hearty, cheerful Mr. Cotton." Turn gentle reader to the first page of the first sheet, which this hand presented to you, and you will find the first two and twenty lines of ELIA's "song." They tell us, that, of the two faces of Janus,

——that which this way looks is clear,
And smiles upon the New-born year.

These are the remaining verses.

He4 looks too from a place so high,
The year lies open to his eye;
And all the moments open are
To the exact discoverer;
Yet more and more he smiles upon
The happy revolution.
Why should we then suspect or fear
The influences of a year,
So smiles upon us the first morn,
And speaks as good so soon as born?
Plague on't! the last was ill enough,
This cannot but make better proof;
Or, at the worst, as we brush'd through
The last, why so we may this too;
And then the next in reason shou'd
Be superexcellently good;
For the worst ills (we daily see)
Have no more perpetuity,
Than the best fortunes that do fall;
Which also bring us wherewithal
Longer their being to support,
Than those do of the other sort;
And who has one good year in three,
And yet repines at destiny,
Appears ungrateful in the case,
And merits not the good he has.
Then let us welcome the new guest
With lusty brimmers of the best;
Mirth always should good fortune meet,
And render e'en disaster sweet:
And though the princess turn her back,
Let us but line ourselves with sack,
We better shall by far hold out,
Till the next year she face about.

ELIA, having trolled this song to the sound of "the merry, merry bells," breaks out:—

"How say you reader—do not these verses smack of the rough magnanimity of the old English vein? Do they not fortify like a cordial; enlarging the heart, and productive of sweet blood, and generous spirits in the concoction?—Another cup of the generous! and a merry New Year and many of them, to you all, my masters!"

The same to you, ELIA,—and "to you all my masters!"—Ladies! think not yourselves neglected, who are chief among "my masters"— you are the kindest, and therefore the most masterful, and most worshipful of "my masters!"


Under the female form the ancients worshipped the Earth. They called her "Bona Dea," or the "Good Goddess," by way of excellency, and that, for the best reason in the world, because "there is no being that does men more good." In respect to her chastity, all men were forbidden to be present at her worship; the high priest himself, in whose house it was performed, and who was the chief minister in all others, not excepted. Cicero imputed to Clodius as a crime that he had entered the sacred fane in disguise, and by his presence polluted the mysteries of the Good Goddess. The Roman ladies offered sacrifices to her through the wife of the high priest, and virgins consecrated to the purpose.

The Earth, Bona Dea, or the "Good Goddess," was represented under the form of a matron with her right hand opened, as if tendering assistance to the helpless, and holding a loaf in her left hand. She was also venerated under the name of Ops, and other denominations, but with the highest attributes; and when so designated, she was worshipped by men and boys, as well as women and virgins; and priests minstered to her in dances with brazen cymbals. These motions signified that the Earth only imparted blessings upon being constantly moved; and as brass was discovered before iron, the cymbals were composed of that metal to indicate her antiquity. The worshippers seated themselves on the ground, and the posture of devotion was bending forward, and touching the ground with the right hand. On the head of the goddess was placed a crown of towers, denoting strength, and that they were to be worn by those who persevered.


To all "of the earth" not wholly "earthy," the Earth seemed a fit subject to picture under its ancient symbol; and, in a robe of arable and foliage, set in a goodly frame of the celestial signs, with the seasons "as they roll," it will be offered as a frontispiece to the present volume, and accompany the title-page with the indexes in the next sheet.


It must have been obvious to every reader of the Every-Day Book, as it has been to me, of which there have been several indications for some time past, that the plan of the work could not be executed within the year; and I am glad to find from numerous quarters that its continuance is approved and even required. So far as it has proceeded I have done my utmost to render it useful. My endeavours to render it agreeable may occasion "close" readers to object, that it was more discursive than they expected. I am afraid I can only answer that I cannot unmake my making-up; and plead guilty to the fact, that, knowing the wants of many, through my own deficiencies, I have tried to aid them in the way that appeared most likely to effect the object, with the greater number of those for whom the work was designed. Nor do I hesitate also to acknowledge, that in gathering for others, I have in no small degree been teaching myself. For it is of the nature of such an undertaking to constrain him who executes it, to tasks of thought, and exercises of judgment, unseen by those who are satisfied when they enjoy what is before them, and care not by what ventures it was obtained. My chief anxiety has been to provide a wholesome sufficiency for all, and not to offer any thing that should be hurtful or objectionable. I hope I have succeeded.

I respectfully desire to express my grateful sense of the extensive favour wherein the conduct of the publication is held. And I part from my readers on New Year's-eve, with kind regards till we meet in the new volume of the Every-Day Book on New Year's-day—to-morrow.


45, Ludgate-hill, 1825.



London: Printed by A. Applegath, Stamford-street.


Notes from Hone:

1. Mr. Audley's Companion to Almanac. Return

2. Dr. Drake's Shakspeare and his Times. Return

3. New Monthly Magazine, Dec. 18. Return

4. Janus. Return

Volume 2.

December 29

Christmas Gambols.”

A play, with this title, appears to have once existed in MS. It is noticed in an early quarto auction catalogue, printed before 1700, though unfortunately without a title, penes me; the catalogue contains a rich sprinkling of English poetry, arid this play, with others, occurs in Lot 40, amid a rare, though not very copious collection of old plays and miscellaneous tracts.


December 31.

To December.

The passing year, all grey with hours,
Ends, dull month, with thee;
Chilled his summer, dead his flowers,
Soon will his funeral be;
Frost shall drink up his latest breath,
And tempests rock him into death.

How he shivers from his age
All his leaves have faded,
And his weary pilgrimage
Ends at last unaided
By his own sun that dims its ray,
To leave him dark in his decay.

Hark! through the air the wild storm bears
In hollow sounds his doom,
While scarce a Star its pale course steers
A thwart the sullen gloom
And Nature leaves him to his fate
To his grey hairs a cold ingrate.

She goes to hail the coming year,
Whose spring-flowers soon shall rise—
Fool, thus to shun an old friend’s bier,
Nor wisely moralize
On her own brow, where age is stealing
Many a scar of time revealing

Quench’d volcanoes, rifted mountains,
Oceans driven from land,
Isles submerged, and dried up fountains,
Empires whelm’d in sand—
What though her doom be yet untold—
Nature, like Time, is waxing old!

New Monthly Magazine

William Hone, The Year Book of Daily Recreation and Information. London: Thomas Tegg, 1832.
December 30
A Christmas Dish

At Potton, and the places adjacent, some “sixty years since,” when festival feastings were spiritedly maintained by the unchecked zeal of our forefathers (worthy souls, peace to their manes!), it was usual to place on the table, at Christmas entertainments, the “Apple Florentine,” a palatable confection, of which the whole of the guests invariably partook.

According to parental tradition, this “Florentine” consisted of an immensely large dish of pewter, or such like metal, filled with “good baking apples,” sugar, and lemon, to the very brim; with a roll of rich paste as a covering—pie fashion. When baked, and before serving up, the “upper crust” or “lid,” was taken off by a “skilful hand,” and divided into sizeable triangular portions or shares, to be again returned into the dish, ranged in formal ”order round,” by way of garnish; when, to complete the mess, a full quart of well-spiced ale was poured in, “quite hot, hissing hot: think of that Master Brook” — admirable conjuction! as many of the “olde, olde, very olde,” sojourners at Potton can testify. The writer well remembers, in his childhood, spent in an adjacent village, an oval-shaped pewter dish, standing on the upper shelf of the kitchen dresser “for ornament, not use,” then pointed at and highly valued as having had the honor (!) of containing “Apple Florentine” at no fewer than thirty festivals. At the period mentioned in the commencement of this “brief notice” of its merits, this ancient “dainty” was in its pristine glory, but succeeding years saw its wonted place supplied by something “more fashionable,” and various changes and alterations (not for the better but for the worse) have taken place since it last

smoaked on the Christmas board.”

Its contemporary “Snap-dragon,” if I mistake not, is still in vogue as a “merry pastime,” to “drive dull care away,” on a winter’s evening.


William Hone, The Year Book of Daily Recreation and Information. London: Thomas Tegg, 1832.
December 31

The Last Day Of The Year

[To Mr. Hone.]

Sir, — Although your Every-Day Book and Year Book contain a great variety of very interesting matter, yet I do not recollect reading in either of them, an account of a local custom with which I became acquainted last New Year’s Day.

On the last day of the old year, I went to pay a visit to some friends at Cambridge, and in the evening accompanied them to a dance, where we tripped it until long after the ringing of the various church bells had announced the coming in of the new year; on our return home late we retired to rest, not a little fatigued, but I was disturbed about seven o’clock by the well known Good Friday cry of ”One a penny, buns! two a ‘penny, buns! all hot!“ I could scarcely believe my senses, and, in fact, I rather suspected I had been dreaming, and so I dropped off to sleep again. At last I made my appearance at the breakfast table, and there, among other things provided by my kind friends, were some “buns,” which brought to my recollection what I had heard in the early part of the morning. Upon enquiry, I was told that they were New Years’ cakes — that it was the custom at Cambridge to have them every New Year’s day, and that they were always cried and sold in the streets in the manner of buns on Good Friday; the only difference being that the buns were not crossed.

I understand that, on Plough Monday, the country folks round Cambridge were in the habit of carrying ploughs through the streets and raising contributions to enable them to keep the afternoon as a holiday.

                    I am, Sir, &c.,

                    ROBERT MEGGY.

19, Blackman-street, Southwark,
18th March, 1831

Advices, and Remarks--

  1. Never put off till to morrow what you can do to-day.

  2. Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.

  3. Never spend your money before you have it.

  4. Never buy what you do not want because it is cheap; it will be dear to you.

  5. Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst, and cold.

  6. We never repent of having eaten too little.

  7. Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.

  8. How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened.


Mr. Edwin Lees’” Christmas, and the New Year,” concludes with this, Scene.

The clock strikes twelve, and the Old Year dies.
Boys raise his body on a bier, and maidens sing the following—

Bring the last December rose,
Frosted o’er with wintry snows;
Let the fading petals fall
O’er the Year’s funereal pall.

From the wood some oak leaves bring
That were green in early spring
Scatter them about the bier
Of the now departing Year.

Let the bells upon their wheels,
While our fond ideas veer,
Ring the solemn midnight peals,
Ling’ring for the dying Year.

Hark! the peal has ceased to roll
Silence reigns; but now a toll
Breaks upon the startled ear.—
Gone for ever is the Year!

Print Page Return Home Page Close Window

If you would like to help support Hymns and Carols of Christmas, please click on the button below and make a donation.

Related Hymns and Carols