The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

January 4 – Prepare for Twelfth Day

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

Volume 2.

Prepare for Twelfth-day.

The “Mirror of the Months,” a reflector of “The Months” by Mr. Leigh Hunt, enlarged to include other objects, adopts, “Above all other proverbs, that which says, ‘There’s nothing like the time present,’ — partly because ‘the time present’ is but a periphrasis for Now!” The series of delightful things which Mr. Hunt links together by the word Now in his “Indicator,” is well remembered, and his pleasant disciple tells us, “Now, then, the cloudy canopy of sea-coal smoke that hangs over London, and crowns her queen of capitals, floats thick and threefold; for fires and feastings are rife, and every body is either 'out’ or ‘at home’ every night. Now, if a frosty day or two does happen to pay us a flying visit, on its way to the North Pole, how the little boys make slides on the pathways, for lack of ponds, and, it may be, trip up an occasional housekeeper just as he steps out of his own door; who forthwith vows vengeance, in the shape of ashes, on all the slides in his neighbourhood, not, doubtless, out of vexation at his own mishap, and revenge against the petty perpetrators of it, but purely to avert the like from others! — Now the bloom-buds of the fruit-trees, which the late leaves of autumn had concealed from the view, stand confessed, upon the otherwise bare branches, and, dressed in their patent wind-and-waterproof coats, brave the utmost severity of the season, — their hard, unpromising out-sides, compared with the forms of beauty which they contain, reminding us of their friends the butterflies, when in the chrysalis state. — Now the labour of the husbandman is, for once in the year, at a stand; and he haunts the alehouse fire, or lulls listlessly over the half-door of the village smithy, and watches the progress of the labour which he unconsciously envies; tasting for once in his life (without knowing it) the bitterness of that ennui which he begrudges to his betters. — Now, melancholy-looking men wander ‘by twos and threes’ through market-towns, with their faces as blue as the aprons that are twisted, round their waists; their ineffectual rakes resting on their shoulders, and a withered cabbage hoisted upon a pole; and sing out their doleful petition of ‘Pray remember the poor gardeners, who can get no work!’”

Now, however, not to conclude me untruthfully let us remember that the officers and some of the principal inhabitants of most parishes in London, preceded by their beadle in the full majesty of a full great coat and gold laced hat, with his walking staff of state higher than himself, and headed by a goodly polished silver globe, go forth from the vestry room, and call on every chief parishioner for a voluntary contribution towards a provision for cheering the abode of the needy at this cheerful season:— and now the unfeeling and mercenary urge “false pretences” upon “public grounds,” with the vain hope of concealing their private reasons for refusing “public charity:— and now, the upright and kind-hearted welcome the annual call, and dispense bountifully. Their prosperity is a blessing. Each scattereth and yet increaseth; their pillows are pillows of peace; and at the appointed time, they lie down with their fathers, and sleep the sleep of just men made perfect, in everlasting rest.


William Hone, The Year Book of Daily Recreation and Information. London: Thomas Tegg, 1832. January 4

On the 4th of January, 1667, Mr. Pepys had company to dinner; and “at night to sup, and then to cards, and, last of all, to have a flaggon of ale and apples, drunk out of a wood cup, as a Christmas draught, which made all merry.!’


About thirty years before Mr. Secretary Pepys took his Christmas draught “Out of a wood cup,” a writer says, “ Of drinking cups divers and sundry sorts we have; some of elme, some of box, some of maple, some of holly, &c.; mazers, broad-mouthed dishes, noggins, whiskins, piggins, crimes, ale-bowls, wassell-bow’ls, court-dishes, tankards, kannes, from a pottle to a pint, from a pint to a gill. Other bottles we have of leather, but they are most used amongst the shepheards and ‘harvest-people of the countrey: small jacks we have in many ale-houses of the citie and suburbs, tip’t with silver, besides the great black jacks and bombards at the court, which, when the Frenchmen first saw,, they reported, at their returne into their conatrey, that the Englishmen used to drinke out of their bootes: we have, besides, cups made out of homes of beasts, of cocker-nuts, of goords, of the eggs of ostriches; others made of the shells of divers fishes, brought from the Indies and other places, and shining like mother of pearle. Come to plate; every taverne can afford you flat bowles, French bowles, prounet cups, beare bowles, beakers: and private householders in the citie, When they make a feast to entertaine their friends, can furnish their cupboards with flagons, tankards, beere-cups, wine-bowles, some white, some percell gilt, some gilt all over, some with covers, others without, of sundry shapes and qualities.” (Citing Heywood's Philocothonista, 1635, Brand). From this it appears that our ancestors had as great a variety of drinking vessels as of liquors, in some of which they were wont to infuse rosemazy.


In a popular account of the manners of an old country squire, he is represented as stirring his cool-tankard with a sprig of rosemary. Likewise, at weddings, it was usual to dip this grateful plant in the cup, and drink to the health of the new-married couple. (Citing Nares) Thus, a character in an old play, (Citing The City Madam) says,

... Before we divide
Our army, let us dip our rosemaries
In one rich bowl of sack, to this brave girl,
And to the gentleman.

Rosemary was borne in the hand at marriages. Its virtues are enhanced in a curious wedding sermon. (Citing A Marriage Present by Roger Hackett, D.D., 1607, 4to., cited by Brand). “The rosemary is for married men, the which, by name, nature, and continued use, man challengeth as properly belonging to himself. It overtoppeth all the flowers in the garden, boasting man’s rule: it helpeth the brain, strengtheneth the memory, and is very medicinal for the head. Another property is, it affects the heart. Let this ros marinus, this flower of man, ensign of your wisdom, love, and loyalty, be carried, not only in your hands, but in your heads and hearts,”

At a wedding of three sisters together, in 1560, we read of “fine flowers and rosemary strewed for them, coming home; and so, to the father’s house, where was a great dinner prepared for his said three bride-daughters, with their bridegrooms, and company?’ (Citing Stow's Survey, by Strype) Old plays (Citing Brand) frequently mention the use of rosemary on these occasions. In a scene immediately before a wedding, we have

Lew. Pray take a piece of rosemary.

Mir. I’ll wear it.
But, for the lady’s sake, and none of yours. (Citing Elder Brother, a Play, 1637, 4to)

In another we find “the parties enter with rosemary, as from a wedding.” (Citing Woman's Pride, by Fletcher) Again, a character speaking of an intended bridegroom’s first arrival, says, “look, an the wenches ha’ not found un out, and do present un with a van of rosemary, and bays enough to vill a bow-pot, or trim the head of my best vore-horse.” (Citing Ben Jonson's Tale of a Tub) It was an old country custom to deck the bridal-bed with sprigs of rosemary. (Citing Brand)


Rosemary denoted rejoicing. Hence in an account of a joyful entry of queen Elizabeth into the city of London, on the 14th of January, 1558, there is this passage: “How many nosegays did her grace receive at poor women’s hands? How often-times stayed she her chariot, when she saw any simple body offer to speak to her grace? A branch of rosemary, given to her grace, with a supplication by a poor woman, about Fleet Bridge, was seen in her chariot till her grace came to Westminster.”


It is a jocular saying, among country people, that, where the rosemary-bush flourishes in the cottage garden, “the grey mare is the better horse ;“ that is, the wife manages the husband.

Shakspeare intimates the old popular applications of this herb. It was esteemed as strengthening to the memory; and to that end Ophelia presents it to Laertes. “There‘s rosemary, that‘s for remembrance; pray you, love, remember.” In allusion to its bridal use, Juliet’s nurse asks Romeo, “Doth not rosemary and Romeo both begin with a letter?” And she intimates Juliet’s fondness for him, by saying, “she hath the prettiest sensations of it, of you and rosemary, that it would do you good to hear it.” The same play denotes its use at funerals. When friar Laurence and Paris, with musicians, on Juliet’s intended bridal, enter her chamber, and find her on the bed, surrounded by the Capulet family, mourning for her death, he sympathises with their affliction, and concludes by directing the rosemary prepared for the wedding to be used in the offices of the burial:—

... Stick your rosemary
On this fair corse ; and, as the custom is,
In all her best array, bear her to church.

Of a bride who died of the plague on her wedding-night it is said, “Here is a strange alteration; for the rosemary that was washed in sweet water, to set out the bridal, is now wet in tears to furnish her burial.” (Citing Dekker's Wonderful Year, 1603, 4to.)

It was usual at weddings to dip the rosemary in scented waters. Respecting a bridal, it is asked in an old play, “ Were the rosemary branches dipped?” (Citing Beaumont and Fletcher's Scornfu Lady, 1616, 4to.) Some of Herriek’s verses show that rosemary at weddings was sometimes gilt.

The two-fold use of this fragrant herb is declared in the Hesperides by an apostrophe.

To the Rosemary Branch.

Grow for two ends, it matters not at all,
Be ‘t for my bridal or my burial.

One of a well-known set of engravings, by Hogarth, represents the company assembled for a funeral, with sprigs of rosemary in their hands. A French traveller, in England, in the reign of William III., describing our burial solemnities and the preparation of the mourners, says, “ when they are ready to set out, they nail up the coffin, and a servant presents the company with sprigs of rosemary: every one takes a sprig, and carries it in his hand till the body is put into the grave, at which time they all throw their sprigs in after it.’ (Citing Misson, p. 91) A character in an old play, (Cartwrights' Ordinary)) requests

...If there be
Any so kind as to accompany
My body to the earth, let there not want
For entertainment. Prithee, see they have
A sprig of rosemary, dipt in common water,
To smell at as they walk along the streets.

In 1649, at the funeral of Robet Lockier, who was shot for mutiny, the corpse was adorned with bundles of rosemary on each side, one half of each was stained with blood. At the funeral of a country girl, it is said, that,

To show their love, the neighbours far and near
Follow’d with wistful looks the damsel’s bier;
Sprigg’d rosemary the lads and lasses bore,
While dismally the parson walk’d before
Upon her grave the rosemary they threw— (Gay's Shepherd's Week)

The funeral use of this herb, and its budding in the present month, are the subject of a poem, transcribed from a fugitive copy, without the author’s name.


Sweet-scented flower! who art wont to bloom
On January’s front severe,
And o’er the wintry desert drear
To waft thy waste perfume!
Come, thou shalt form my nosegay now,
And I will bind thee round my brow
And, as I twine the mournful wreath,
I’ll weave a melancholy song;
And sweet the strain shall be, and long,
The melody of death.

Come, funeral flow’r! who lovst to dwell
With the pale corse in lonely tomb,
And throw across the desert gloom
A sweet decaying smell.
Come, pressing lips, and lie with me
Beneath the lonely alder tree,
And we will sleep a pleasant sleep,
And not a care shall dare intrude,
To break the marble solitude,
So peaceful and so deep.

And hark! the wind-god, as he flies,
Moans hollow in the forest trees,
And, sailing on the gusty breeze,
Mysterious music dies.
Sweet flower, that requiem wild is mine,
It warms me to the lonely shrine,
The cold turf alter of the dead;
My grave shall be in yon lone spot,
Where as I lie, by all forgot,
A dying fragrance thou wilt o'er my ashes shed.

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