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. 1, pp. 111-12

Childermass, or Holy Innocents’ Day. — (December 26th.) [Sic.] This day is of most unlucky omen. None ever marries on a Childermas Day. It appears from the "Paston Letters," that the Coronation of Edward IV. was put off till the Monday, because the preceding Sunday was Childermas Day. Forby, in his "Vocabulary," 1830, says that the day on which this festival falls was reckoned unlucky for the commencement of any work or task. In the "Spectator," No. 7, we learn that the same notion of the weekly recurrence of this unlucky day was entertained at that time, The word itself is genuine Saxon, childe masse dag.

Childirmas-dai, in Wicklif’s time. Childery-masse in Rob. Glouc. — "Gent. Mag," Jan. 1799. In the statutes of the Collegiate Church of St. Mary Ottery, founded in 1337, is a direction, that none of the singing boys shall be suffered to proceed beyond the boundaries of the parish on Innocents’ Day. It is certainly curious that in 1278 Archbishop Peckham issued an injunction to restrain the performance of service by little girls (parvulœ) on this festival at Godstow nunnery. Processions of children on this day were forbidden by the proclamation of July 22nd, 1540.

A curious Latin play or mystery on the Slaughter of the Innocents, and the flight into Egypt of Joseph and Mary, with the Infant Jesus, is termed Interfectic Puerorum and strangely exhibits the primitive mediæval literalism in dealing with these subjects, in common with those English productions, with which readers are more familiar. Bourue tells us, chap. xviii. that "according to the monks it was very unlucky to begin any work on Childermas Day: and whatsoever day that falls on, whether on the Monday, Tuesday, or any other, nothing must be begun on that day through the year." Gregory observes that it hath been a custom, and yet is elsewhere, to whip the children upon Innocents Day morning, that the memory of Herod’s murder of the Innocents might stick the closer, and in a moderate proportion to act over the crueltie again in kinde." Gregorii Posthuma, 1649. See Cotgarve’s "Dict." and the "Dictionn. de Furetiere."

Strype, under 1582, mentions a riot in Finsbury, about Christmas holidays, "by some loose young men of the Inns of Chancery, one of whom, named Light, was especially indicted for singing in the church, upon Childermas Day, Fallantida dilli, &c. — an idle loose song then used." In "Sir John Oldcastle," 1600, act ii. sc. 2, Murley objects to the rendezvous of the Wickliffites on a Friday: — "Friday, quoth’a, a dismal day; Childermas Day this year was Friday." Melton, in his "Astrologaster," 1620, p. 45, informs us it was formerly an article in the creed of popular superstition, that it was not lucky to put on a new suit, pare one’s nails, or begin any thing on a Childermas Day.

Dufresne, in a note to Clement Marot’s cxxxvth Epigram, observes, that on Innocents’ Day there used to be a custom of slapping on the hinder parts any young folks who were surprised in bed on that morning, and occasionally it proceeded further. But this practice had even then fallen into disuse. The following is the passage in Dufresne :—" Innocentes. Allusion a un usage pratiqué lors en France, où les jeunes personnes qn’on pouvoit surprendre an lit le jour des Innocens, recevoient sur le derrière qnelques claqnes, & quelque fois un peu pins, qnand les sujet en valoient lan peine. Cela ne se pratiqne plus aujourd’hui: nous sommes bien plus sages & plus reservés que nos pères."

Douce cites a passage from Le Voyaqeur a Paris, to show that an odd species of burlesque was performed on this festival by some of the religions orders. Naogeorgus, in his Fourth Book, devotes some space to this festival. See Boy Bishop.

Editor's Note:

Although the date of December 26 is given in the text above, Holy Innocent's Day is now celebrated on December 28.

I regret that I am unable to provide a translation of any Latin or French passages.

See The Hymns Of The Holy Innocents and this entry from William Hone's The Every Day Book: The Holy Innocents.

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