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a century ago, when it was regularly suspended both in hall and kitchen, that the young folks of whatever rank might duly kiss and be kissed beneath its mystic branches.
In Yorkshire many of the old customs belonging to this day existed a few years ago, and I believe are still to be found in some of the remoter parts. One neverfailing remnant of the olden times was the cheese, which had been especially made and preserved for the occasion. This was produced with much ceremony by every rustic dame, who, before she allowed it to be tasted, took a sharp knife and scored upon it rude resemblances to the cross. To this were added the mighty wassail-bowl reaming with Lambs-wool, and furmity made of barley-meal, which last was also an essential of the breakfast table.* At Rippon in the same county the singing boys used on this day to come into the church with basketfuls of red apples, with a sprig of rosemary stuck in each, which they present to all the congregation, and generally have a return. made them of 2d. 4d. 6d. according to the quality of the lady or gentleman."+
At Folkstone in Kent a yet more singular custom prevailed amongst the fishermen : "they chose eight of the largest and best whitings out of every boat when they came home from that fishery, and sold them apart from the rest, and out of the money arising from them they made a feast every Christmas Eve which they called a Rambald. The master of each boat provided this feast for his own company, so that there were as many different entertainments as there were boats. These whitings, which are of a very large size, and are sold all round the country as far as Canterbury, are called Rumbald-whitings. This custom, (which is now left off though many of the inha
* See the Gentleman's Magazine for May, 1811, vol. lxxxi. p. 425, -and also for February 1784, vol. liv. Part I. p. 99,
+ See the same for August 1790, vol. lx. p. 719.
bitants still meet socially on a Christmas-eve, and call it Rumbals-night,) might have been antiently designed in honour of St. Rumbald, and the fish designed as an offering to him for his protection during the fishery."*
In the Isle of Man is another ceremony, mentioned by Waldron, which like this of Kent is, I believe, no longer in existence" On the 24th of December towards evening all the servants in general have a holiday; they go not to bed all night, but ramble about 'till the bells ring in all the churches, which is at twelve o'clock; prayers being over, they go to hunt the wren, and after having found one of these poor birds they kill her, and lay her on a bier with the utmost solemnity, bringing her to the parish church, and burying her with a whimsical kind of solemnity, singing dirges over her in the monks' language, which they call her knell; after which Christmas begins."+
* WALDRON WORKS-Ile of Man-p. 355. Folio; 1711.
HASTED'S HISTORY OF KENT, vol. iii, p. 380. Although I have given Hasted's explanation of the word rumbald, I have not the slightest faith in it. There is no such saint as RUMBALD in the Romish Calendar, and allowing that this name were a corruption of RUMOLD "dit vulgairements saint ROMBAUT," (L'Art de Verifier les Dates) or RUMWALD, the Confessor, what have either of them to do with fishermen, or a Christmas-Eve festival? the day of St. Rumold was the 1st of July; that of Rumwald was November the 3rd. There is, however, no difficulty in discovering either the meaning or the etymology of the word. It signifies nothing more than a jollification, a boisterous merrymaking; and wherever we find any of the cognate terms, they are invariably coupled either with the idea of noise, simply of itself, or of noise conjoined with mirth; thus the Devonshire term rumbullion signifies a great tumult; RUMBUSTICAL in several provinces is used for boisterous; and RUMBELOW,-it should be RUMBEL OH! or, RUMBAL OH!—is the burthen to the furry song of the Cornish fishermen, plainly meaning, jollily oh! merrily oh! The corruption has most probably arisen in the error of those, who wrote the words down from hearing them sung, and caught the sound imperfectly. I need only add that all these derivatives, and their kindred which it is unnecessary to our present purpose to enumerate, have come from the Low Saxon, RUMMELN, to rumble.
The above-mentioned custom is more than matched by a superstitious belief, that used to prevail in parts of Devonshire, of the oxen always being found on their knees in an attitude of devotion at night on Christmas Eve; but the ob stinate animals refused to accommodate themselves to the alteration of style, and persisted in performing their genuflexions on Old Christmas Eve so long as they performed them at all.* This however like so many other creeds and observances has become obsolete. Even the habit of exchanging gifts at this season, and particularly where the parties were divided by any distance, has well nigh fallen into desuetude; and if we now want to see any of the romance that used to belong to Christmas we must seek for it abroad. In Germany Christmas Eve is still celebrated in a way that can not fail to delight those who have a feeling for pure and simple enjoyment, and a scene of this kind has been so admirably painted by Coleridge that I need go no farther in proof of my assertion,†— There is a Christmas custom here, which pleased and interested me. The children make little presents to their parents and to each other; and the parents to their children. For three or four months before Christmas the girls are all busy, and the boys save up their pocket-money, to make or purchase these presents. What the present is to be is cautiously kept secret, and the girls have a world of contrivances to conceal it— such as working when they are out on visits and the others are not with them; getting up in the morning before daylight; and the like. Then on the evening before Christmas-day, one of the parlours is lighted up by the children, into which the parents must not go. A great yew-bough is fastened on the table at a little distance from the wall, a multitude of little tapers are (is) fastened in the bough, * This is recorded by Brand in his POPULAR SUPERSTITIONS. vol. i. p. 250.
That is in the north of Germany; Coleridge is writing from Ratzeburg.
but so as not to catch it 'till they are nearly burnt out, and coloured paper hangs and flutters from the twigs. Under this bough the children layout in great order the presents they mean for their parents, still concealing in their pockets what they intend for each other. Then the parents are introduced, and each presents his little gift, and then bring out the rest one by one from their pockets, and present them with kisses and embraces. Where I witnessed this scene, there were eight or nine children, and the eldest daughter and the mother wept aloud for joy and tenderness; and the tears ran down the face of the father, and he clasped all his children so tight to his breast it seemed as if he did it to stifle the sob that was rising within him. I was very much affected. The shadow of the bough and appendages on the wall, and arching over the cieling, made a pretty picture; and then the raptures of the very little ones, when at last the twigs and their needles began to take fire and snap! O, it was a delight for them!-On the next day in the great parlour the parents lay out on the table the presents for the children; a scene of more sober joy succeeds, as on this day, after an old custom, the mother says privately to each of her daughters, and the father to his sons that which he has observed most praisworthy and that which was most faulty in their conduct. Formerly, and still in all the smaller towns and villages throughout North Germany, these presents were sent by all the parents to some one fellow, who in high buskins, a white robe, a mask, and an enormous flax wig, personates Knecht Rupert, the servant Rupert. On Christmas night he goes round to every house, and says, that Jesus Christ, his master, sent him thither ;-the parents and elder children receive him with great pomp of reverence, while the little ones are most terribly frightened. He then inquires for the children, and according to the character, which he hears from the parent, he gives them the intended presents,
as if they came out of Heaven from Jesus Christ. Or, if they should have been bad children, he gives the parents a rod, and in the name of his master recommends them to use it frequently. About seven or eight years old, the children are let into the secret, and it is curious to observe how faithfully they keep it."*
There is much doubt The earliest churchman
CHRISTMAS DAY.-December 25. as to the origin of this festival. who makes any mention of it is Theophilus, bishop of Antioch, about the year 170, in his paschal letter, and for the first four centuries it was far from being universally celebrated. It is even a matter of great uncertainty when it should be kept, and Cassian tells us that the Egyptians observed the Epiphany, the Nativity, and Baptism of Christ on the same day,† while modern chronologists, at the head of whom is Scaliger, agree that Christ was born at the end of September or the beginning of October, about the time of the Jewish Feast of the Tabernacles.
In the earlier ages this day was called in the Eastern Church the Epiphany, or Manifestation of the Light, a name which was subsequently given to Twelfth Night, as I have already mentioned. On this occasion it was used allusively to the birth of Christ, and hence also came the custom, which prevailed in the ancient church, of lighting up candles at the reading of the gospels even at mid-day, partly to testify the general joy, and partly to symbolize the new light that was shining on mankind.
* COLERIDGE'S FRIEND, vol. ii, p. 249, 12mo. London, 1837.
"Intra Ægypti regionem mos iste antiqua traditione servatur, ut peracto Epiphaniorum die, quem provinciæ illius sacerdotes vel Dominici baptismi, vel, secundum carnem, nativitatis esse definiunt, et idcirco utriusque sacramenti solemnitatem non bifarie, ut in occiduis provinciis, sed sub una diei hujus festivitate concelebrant, epistolæ pontificis Alexandrini per universas dirigantur Ægypt ecclesias." JOANNIS CASSIANI (EREMITE) COLLATIONES SANCT. PATRUM. Coll. x. cap. ii. p. 383. 8vo. Lugd. 1606.