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“ PHæBUS waxed old, and huéd like laton;
THE FRANKLIN'S TALE.
CHRISTMAS CAROLS, FROM THE ANGLO-NORMAN PERIOD
TO THE TIME OF THE REFORMATION.
IVE hundred years ago, Chaucer, who, in his racy verse, has preserved the exactest descriptions of the manners of the age in which he lived, incidentally sketched the above slight picture of the Christmas season. Unfortunately, it furnishes us with but few points to dwell upon. The wintry sun no longer shining like burnished gold, and throwing out broad rays of light, but of a dull brazen hue; the bitter frosts, that with sleet and rain have destroyed the last vestiges of the garden's green; these, relieved by an incident allegorical of the jovial feasting which never failed to usher in the festival of the Saviour's nativity, comprise, not only the whole of this little sketch, but all that the father of English
poetry has left us connected with our subject. It is not, therefore, by extracts from his works that we shall be enabled to illustrate the customs and festivities of the Christmas season among our forefathers at this early period of our history. The materials for this purpose will have to be culled from more fugitive sources, and will be mainly comprised of poems which were chaunted forth by the minstrels of old, at a time when a scanty measure of devotion furnished the excuse for the most extravagant revelry.
Among the primitive Christians, the festival of the Saviour's nativity was doubtless ushered in by the display of a calı, religious state of feeling, unmingled with the consideration of mere worldly enjoyments; but in course of time, when this important feast of the Christian
* The French word Noël, signifying Christmas.
Church had come to be incorporated with those heathen rites of the
“Christmas is a time full honest;
Of meat, and drink, and cach dainty."
The earliest existing Carol known to antiquaries, is in the AngloNorman language. It was discovered written on a blank leaf in the middle of one of the manuscripts+ preserved in the British Museum. The date assigned to it is the thirteenth century. As but few of our readers would readily comprehend a reprint of the poem in its present form, we have preferred to insert a new translation of it, wherein the style and language of the original has been very closely adhered to. We may suppose this Carol to have been one of those in use among the bands of professional minstrels half vagrants, half troubadours, who wandered from one to the other of the different castles of the Norman nobility,
discoursing sweet sounds” for the gratification of the assembled guests, and who were certain of a ready welcome on so jovial an occasion, as the celebration of the Christmas feast.