Ceremonies For Christmas
Words: Robert Herrick (1591-1674)
Source: A. H. Bullen, A Christmas Garland (London: John C. Nimmo, 1885)
Like his contemporary, William Henry Husk, Bullen includes several excerpts from Robert Herrick on the ceremonies conducted during Christmas-tide. See: Christmas Customs - Robert Herrick (Husk, 1868)
Also from Bullen, but not Husk, on the topic of lighting the Christmas log:
Another To The Maids
Wash your hands, or else the fire
Will not teend to your desire;
Unwashed hands, ye maidens know,
Dead the fire, though ye blow.
And this curious rhyme concerning the ancient tradition of Wassailing The Trees:
Wassail the trees, that they may bear
You many a plum and many a pear :
For more or less fruits they will bring,
As you do give them wassailing.
Concerning this custom, Bullen writes at page 266:
This custom was kept up till the end of the last century. Brand relates that in 1790 a Cornish man informed him it was the custom for the Devonshire people on the eve of Twelfth Day to go after supper into the orchard with a large milk-pan full of cyder with roasted apples in it. Each person took what was called a clayen cup, i.e. an earthenware cup full of cyder, and standing under each of the more fruitful trees, sung —
“Health to thee, good apple-tree,
Well to bear, pocket-fulls, hat-fulls,
After drinking part of the contents of the cup, he threw the rest, with the fragments of the roasted apples, at the trees, amid the shouting of the company. Another song sung on such occasions was
“Here’s to thee, old apple-tree,
Whence thou may’st bud, and whence thou may’st blow,
And whence thou may’st bear apples enow
Hats full! caps full!
And my pockets full, too, huzza!”
It is supposed that the custom was a relic of the sacrifice to Pomona.
The four-line verse from Herrick was also found in Henry Vizetelly, Christmas With The Poets (London: David Bogue, 1851). Vizetelly notes:
"The custom of Wassailing the fruit trees on the eve of Twelfth-day has been before alluded to. It seems to have been the practice on the part of the Devonshire farmers, to proceed to their orchards in the evening, accompanied by their farm servants, where they carried with them a large pitcher or milk-pail filled with cyder, with roasted apples hissing therein. They forthwith encircled one of the best bearing trees, and drunk the following toast three times. The remains of the wassailing liquor was then thrown against the trees, under the idea that a fruitful year would be the result."
Vizetelly then quotes the verse above: "Here's to thee, old apple-tree...."
Editor's Note: Also see Apple Howling and Firing At The Apple Trees (Hazlett's 1905 edition of Brands Popular Antiquities. And see Wassailing! - Notes On The Songs And Traditions and the following from William Hone, The Every Day Book: January 6 - Epiphany.
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