The Hymns and Carols of Christmas



Conviction and Imprisonment



On S. Thomas Day last,


How he broke out of Prison in the Holidayes and got away,
onely left his hoary hair, and gray beard, sticking between
two Iron Bars of a Window.


An Hue and Cry after CHRISTMAS, and a Letter from
Mr. Woodcock
, a Fellow in Oxford, to a Malignant Lady in

And divers passages between the Lady and the Cryer,
about Old Christmas: And what shift he was fain to make to save
his life, and great stir to fetch him back again.

With divers other Witty Passages.

"Printed by Simon Minc’d Pye, for Cissely Plum-Porridge;
And are to be sold by Ralph Fidler, Chandler, at the
signe of the Pack of Cards in Mustard-Alley, in Brawn
. 1645."


"I Beseech you, for the love of Oxford, hire a Cryer (I will see him paid for his paines), to cry old father Christmas, and keep him with you (if you can meet with him, and stay him), till we come to London, for we expect to be there shortly, and then we will have all things as they were wont, I warrant you; hold up your spirits, and let not your old friends be lost out of your favour, for his sake, who is

                    "Your ever servant,

                                        "Jo. Woodcock

"Lady—Honest Crier, I know thou knewest old Father Christmas ; I am sent to thee from an honest schollar of Oxford (that hath given me many a hug and kisse in Christmasse time when we have been merry) to cry Christmas, for they hear that he is gone from hence, and that we have lost the poor old man; you know what marks he hath, and how to cry him.

"Cryer—Who shall pay me for my paines?

"Lady—Your old friend, Mr. Woodcock, of Oxford. Wilt thou take his word ?

"Cryer—I will cry him, I warrant you, through the Citie and Countrie, and it shall go hard but I will finde him out ; I can partly ghesse who can tell some newes of him, if any people in England can, for I am acquainted with all his familiar friends. Trust me in this businesse, I will bring you word within fewe dayes.

Ho-o-o-o-o-o-o yes, ho-o-o-o-o-o yes, ho-o-o-o-o-o yes;

Any man or woman, whether Popish or Prelaticall, Superstitious or Judaicall, or what person so ever, of any Tribe or Trullibub,1 that can give any knowledge, or tell any tidings of an old, old, old, very old, grey-bearded Gentleman, called Christmas, who was wont to be a verie familiar ghest, and visite all sorts of people, both poor and rich, and used to appear in glittering gold silk and silver in the Court, and in all shapes in the Theater in Whitehall, and had ringing feasts and jollitie in all places, both in the Citie and Countrie for his comming; if you went to the Temple, you might have found him there at In and In, till many a Gentleman had outed all the mony from his pocket, and after all, the Butlers found him locked up in their Boxes: And in almost every house, you might have found him at Cards and Dice, the very boyes and children could have traced him and the Beggers have followed, him from place to place, and seen him walking up and downe, and in every house roast Beefe and Mutton, Pies and Plum-porrige, and all manner of delicates round about him, and every one saluting merry Christmas: If you had gone to the Queene’s Chappel, you might have found him standing against the wall, and the Papists weeping, and beating themselves before him, and kissing his hoary head with superstitious teares, in a theater exceeding all the plays of the Bull, the Fortune, and the Cock-pit.

"For age, this hoarie headed man was of great yeares, and as white as snow ; he entred the Romish Kallender time out of mind; is old, or very fleer, as Father Mathusalem was; one that looked fresh in the Bishops’ time, though their fall made him pine away ever since; he was full and fat as any dumb Docter of them all. He looked under the consecrated Laune sleeves as big as Bul-beefe—just like Bacchus upon a tunne of wine, when the grapes hang shaking about his eares; but, since the catholike liquor is taken from him, he is much wasted, so that he hath looked very thin and ill of late; but the wanton women that are so mad after him, do not know how he is metamorphised, so that he is not now like himselfe, but rather like Jack-a-lent.

"But yet some other markes that you may know him by, is that the wanton Women dote after him; he helped them to so many new Gownes, Hatts, and Hankerches, and other fine knacks, of which he hath a pack on his back, in which is good store of all sorts, besides the fine knacks that he got out of their husbands’ pockets for household provisions for him. He got Prentises, Servants, and Schollars many play dayes, and therefore was well beloved by them also, and made all merry with Bagpipes, Fiddles, and other musicks, Giggs, Dances, and Mummings, yea, the young people had more merry dayes and houres before him whilst he stayd, which was in some houses 12 dayes, in some 20, in some more, in some lesse, than in all the yeare againe."

"All you, therefore, that by your diligent inquirie, can tell me anie tidings of this ould man called Christmas, and tell me where he may be met withall ; whether in any of your streets, or elsewhere, though in never so straitned a place; in an Applewoman’s staul or Grocer’s Curren Tub, in a Cooke’s Oven or the Maide’s Porrige pot, or crept into some corner of a Translater’s shop, where the Cobler was wont so merrily to chant his Carolls; whosoever can tel what is become of him, or where he may be found, let them bring him back againe into England, to the Crier, and they shall have a Benediction from the Pope, an hundred oaths from the Cavaliers, 40 kisses from the Wanton Wenches, and be made Pursevant to the next Arch Bishop. Malignants will send him a piece of Braune, and everie Prentice boy will give him his point (? pint of wine) next holie Thursday, the good Wives will keepe him in some corners of their mince pies, and the new Nuncio Ireland will returne him to be canonized the next Reformation of the Calender.

"And so Pope save Christmas.

"Cryer—Lady, I am come to tell you what returne I can make you of the crying of old Father Christmas, which I have done, and am now here to give you an answer.

"Lady—Well said, honest Cryer, Mr. Woodcock will remember you for it.

"Cryer—The poor old man upon St. Thomas his day was arraigned, condemned, and after conviction cast into prison amongst the King’s Souldiers; fearing to be hanged, or some other execution to be done upon him, and got out at so narrow a passage, between two Iron Bars of a Window, that nothing but onely his old gray beard and hoarie haire of his head stuck there, but nothing else to be seen of him; and, if you will have that, compound for it, lest it be sold among the sequestred goods, or burnt with the next Popish pictures, by the hand of the hangman.

"Lady—But is old, old, good old Christmas gone? Nothing but the hair of his good, grave old head and beard left! Well I will have that, seeing I cannot have more of him, one lock whereof will serve Mr. Woodcock for a token. But what is the event of his departure?

"Cryer—The poor are sory for it, for they go to every door a-begging as they were wont to do (Good Mrs., somewhat against this good Time); but Time was transformed (Away, begone, here is not for you); and so they, instead of going to the Ale-house to be drunk, were fain to work all the Holidayes. The Schollers came into the Hall, where their hungry stomacks had thought to have found good Brawn and Christmas pies, Roast Beef and Plum-porridge; but no such matter. Away, ye prophane, these are superstitious meats ; your stomacks must be fed with wholesome doctrine. Alas, poor tallow-faced Chandlers, I met them mourning through the streets, and complaining that they could get no vent for their Mustard, for want of Brawn.

"Lady—Well, if ever the Catholiques or Bishops rule again in England, they will set the Church dores open on Christmas day, and we shall have Masse at the High Altar, as was used when the day was first instituted, and not have the holy Eucharist barred out of School, as School boyes do their Masters against the festival!2 What! shall we have our mouths shut to welcome old Christmas? No, no, bid him come by night over the Thames, and we will have a back door open to let him in. I will, myself, give him his diet for one year, to try his fortune this time twelve month, it may prove better."


1. This word has an indefinite meaning. Sometimes it is synonymous with entrails— as "tripes and trullibubs" sometimes it is meant for something very trifling, and then is occasionally spelt "trillibubs." Why introduced here, no one can tell. Return

2. This Saturnalia of barring out the Schoolmaster at Christmas—just before breaking up — was in use certainly as late as 1888. Vide Notes and Queries, 7th series, vol. vi. p. 484. Return

Source: John Ashton, A Right Merrie Christmas. London: Leadenhall Press, ca. 1890; repr. New York: Benjamin Blom, 1968.

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