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"Rise up, good wife, and be no swier*
The Wassail-bowl, or cup, though it figures also on Christmas Eve, seems to be now more particularly in its proper place. Lambs-wool was the legitimate drink presented in the wassail-cup, a compound already described as consisting of ale, nutmeg, sugar, toast and roasted crabs, or apples. The phrase has been derived by some from the Saxon was hæl, i.e., "be in health," which seems to be probable enough, when unaccompanied by Verstegan's silly fable in proof of it.† But the custom of drinking healths has prevailed in other times and amongst
*I.e. "Don't be slow to give your bread while you are here." SWIER is from the Anglo-Saxon, swær, i.e. slow or slothful; DEALE is from the Anglo-Saxon dælan, to divide; but it is more commonly written, DOLE.
†The tale repeated by Verstegan with so much unction is as follows: "As this lady (Rowena or Ronixa) was very beautiful, so was she of a very comely deportment, and Hingistus, having invited King Vortiger to a supper at his new-builded castle, caused that after supper she came forth of her chamber into the king's prewith a cup of gold filled with wine in her hand, and making in very seemingly manner a low reverence unto the king, said, with a pleasing grace and countenance, in our antient language, was heal, hlaford leyning; which is, being rightly expounded according to our present speech, be of health Lord king; for as was is our verb of the præterimperfect tense, or præterperfect tense, signifying have been, so was being the same verb in the imperative mood, and now pronounced wax, is as much to say, as grow, be, or become; and waes HEAL by corruption of pronunciation afterwards became to be The king, not understanding what she said, demanded it of his chamberlain, who was his interpreter, and when he knew what it was, he asked him how he might again answer her in her own language; whereof being informed, he said unto her, DRINC HEAL, that is to say, drink health." VERSTEGAN'S Restitution of Decayed INTELLIGENCE. chap. v., p. 138. 8vo. London. 1673.
other people. The Greeks might have been the originators of toasting, and at all events the custom prevailed amongst them; they drank to the Gods, to the magistrates, to each other; and the Christians only followed their example when they drank in honour of St. John the Baptist, or, in the name of the blessed archangel St. Michael, to which the compotators responded by a devout amen!" So too the old Danes drank to Thor, Woden, and their kindred deities; and, when converted to Christianity, they only changed the object, drinking on Christmas day to St. Olave who had converted them, or otherwise as the case might be, while the Icelanders drank to Jesus Christ, and even to God the Father. Bumpers are of remote antiquity as we read in Athenæus. Sometimes when the Greeks drank to the health of any one they sent him an empty cup; at others the toaster would taste the wine and send it round to the person whom he saluted. In toasting a mistress, they emptied as many cups as there were letters to her name.
Superstition also had its share in this day, as any one will readily imagine. "Those who have not the common materials for making a fire, generally sit without one on New-Year's day for none of their neighbours, although hospitable at other times, will suffer them to light a candle at their fires. If they do, they say that some one of the family will die within the year."*
Christmas in all parts of the christian world has ever been noticed as the season of good cheer, and no where more so than in England. Mince-pies, Christmas-pies Plum-porridge, the Hackin, the Boar's head, and the Turkey may be reckoned among the more peculiar additions to the Christmas table. Mince-pies, it is unnecessary to describe even in the present day. The Christmas
* GENTLEMAN'S MAGAZINE, for May, 1811, vol. lxxxi. part 1.
pie, though sometimes confounded with it, was evidently a somewhat different compound, being, as Misson tells us, "a most learned mixture of neats' tongues, chicken, eggs, raisins, lemon and orange peel, various kinds of spicery, &c."* In the north of England, however, a goose is always a principal ingredient in this pie, which according to Selden was "in shape long, in imitation of the Cratch."†
Plum-porridge was a sort of soup with plumbs, which is not at all inferior to the pye;"‡ but notwithstanding this testimony of the traveller Misson to its excellence, the dish has well nigh fallen into disuse.
The Hackin is a great sausage which "must be boiled by day-break, or else two young men must take the maiden, (i.e. the cook,) by the arms and run her round the market-place 'till she is ashamed of her laziness."§ The word is a Northumberland provincialism for sausage, and is derived by Ray from the Anglo-Saxon, gehæcca, which literally signifies cut or hacked to pieces.
Next on the list of dainties comes the soused boar's head, which was antiently the first dish on Christmas-day, and was ushered in with its peculiar and appropriate carol. Holinshead says that in the year 1170, upon the day of the young prince's coronation, King Henry the First "served his sonne at the table as sewer, bringing up the Bore's Head with trumpets before it, according to the manner."||
* MISSON'S TRAVELS OVER ENGLAND; translated by Ozell, p. 34. 8vo. London, 1719.
+ SELDEN'S TABLE-TALK.-Christmas.-p. 11. The CRATCH of which Selden speaks, or CRACCHE, as it is sometimes written, signifies a crib, rack, or manger; it is derived from the old French word creche.
MISSON'S TRAVELS, as above.
§ Brand. vol. i. p. 288. Chronicles, iii: 76.
Of the turkey, the plum-pudding, or the knightly Sirloin it is unnecessary to speak.
The Yule-Dough, or Dow, though scarcely coming wt hin the list of edibles, can not be more appropriately mentioned than on the present occasion. In Durham it is called a Yule Cake, and indeed it frequently is such in reality, though according to its proper sense it is merely a mass of flour tempered with water, salt, and yeast, and kneaded into the form of a little baby. This is probably the same thing which Ben Jonson in his MASQUE OF CHRISTMAS calls a BABY-CAKE,* and is a custom now either totally laid aside in this country, or confined only to children. In Picardy they had the name of Cuignets, and were presented on the Nativity by farmers to their landlords; in Sweden and Norway they were called Julklapp, that is to say Yule gifts, and received this appellation because the bearer of them announced his presence by beating at the door of the house for which the present was intended.+
To this festive season belonged also in olden times, the Mysteries, the Hobby Horse, Mumming, the Lord of Misrule and some other ceremonies; but each of these subjects would require a lengthened discussion, and I have already far exceeded my proposed limits; they must therefore be reserved for another and better opportunity.
*Ben Jonson is giving a description of the sons and daughters of Christmas, who enter ten in number.-" BABY.CAKE, drest like a boy in a fine long coat, biggin, bib, mukender, and a little dagger; his usher bearing a great cake, with a bean and a pease." Gifford's Edition of BEN JONSON'S WORKS. Vol. iii.-p. 275.
See DUCANGE'S GLOSSARY, sub voce, Panis Natalitius.
"JULKLAPP, dona Julensia; a feriendo ita dicta, quia is, qui ea apportabat, portas pulsando adventum suum annuntiabat." GLOSSARIUM SUIO-GOTHICUM. a J. Ihre, sub voce
POPULAR CUSTOMS, &c.
ROAST-MEAT CLOTHES.-This was at one time a cant phrase for holiday-clothes, as appears by the following passage from an old chap-book,-that is, one of those fugitive publications which were sold in the streets and at stalls, and found their most frequent purchasers in the humblest classes of society-"How he pleased her that night I can not tell, but the morning was ushered in with a mighty storm, only because Simon put on his roast-meat cloaths. Thus she began the matter: Why, how now, pray? what is to day that you must put on your holyday cloaths? with a pye-crust to you? what do you intend to do, say you tell me quickly..
Blossoms Inn.“ Our jolly clothiers kept up their courage, and went to Blossom's Inn, so called from a greasy old fellow, who built it, who always went nudging with his head in his bosom winter and summer, so that they called him the picture of old Winter; but this old greasy berward had a liquorish tooth; he had a handsome wife, who married him for what he had."‡
* THE MISFORTUNES OF SIMPLE SIMON-Chap. i. 12mo. London; no date.
†That is, Bearward, literally a keeper of bears, but which was often used metaphorically, as in the present instance, to signify a coarse, brutish fellow.
HISTORY OF THOMAS OF READING-Chap. ii. London; no date.