409. New Year's Day is described by Lord Chesterfield as "a time when the kindest and warmest wishes are exchanged without the least meaning, and the most lying day in the whole year." Whatever amount of truth may underlie this cynical assertion, the universal interchange of good wishes on the threshold of another year can at least boast of a hoary antiquity. The ancient Romans spent the day in paying visits to wish one another "a happy New Year." The bestowing of New Year's Gifts was also a popular observance. As the magistrates entered upon their office on this day, they were accustomed to receive presents in token of congratulation. In course of time, however, such presents were not only regularly looked for, but even demanded as a right by those in high places. Each New Year's Day the emperor exacted a tribute from his subjects of a pound of gold as Strena--a term which, like the custom, was originally introduced by King Tatius, who received branches of vervain gathered in the sacred grove of Strenua, the goddess of strength, as a good omen, on the first day of the year, B.C. 747. Hence, in ancient times, New Year's gifts commonly bore the name of Stren. In all countries where the New Year is the principal festival in the Calendar, New Year's gifts are an institution. In China and Japan the people set out to pay visits and make presents to their friends with the dawn. Even the poorest in Scotland exchange sips of hot spiced ale, and make offerings of cakes, buns, and shortbread to their neighbours when ushering in the New Year on the stroke of midnight. On New Year's Eve the children in France place their shoes in the fender before going to bed, fully expecting them to be filled with dainties by the morning. New Year's Day is in Paris a great day of gift-making for young and old. There was a time, too, when New Year's gifts were much more common in England than they are now, but that was when the year commenced on March 25th instead of January 1st. As ours was the last of the countries of Christendom to adopt the reformed Calendar, this perhaps accounts for our reluctance to put our hands in our pockets for our neighbours' behoof so soon after Christmas, which among ourselves has always been looked upon as the proper season for gift-making. When the year was reckoned from Lady Day, there was a sufficient interval to admit of presents being made at both seasons. The usual New Year's gifts in former times were gloves. Judges and other public officers frequently received presents of gloves on New Year's Day as a bribe. The characteristic letter of Sir Thomas More to a certain Mrs. Croaker in acknowledgment of a pair of gloves containing two angels has been quoted again and again. "It would be against good manners," wrote the honest Lord Chancellor, "to forsake a gentlewoman's New Year's gift, and I accept the gloves; their lining you will be pleased to bestow elsewhere." By the "lining" was meant the money in the palm, for which a snug little pocket was usually provided.
410. The Wassail Bowl, which in olden times was so greatly in request during the festive season, was identical with the Grace Cup of the Greeks and Romans, as mentioned by Plautus. It was known both to the Gauls and the ancient Britons. The pledging of Vortigern by Rowena, Wass heil, "To your health!" cannot, therefore, be accepted as the origin of the drinking of healths (see 146).
411. On New Year's Day at Queen's College, Oxford, the bursar of the college presents each and all the members with a threaded needle, saying, "Take this, and use thrift." The meaning of this odd custom lies in the fact that the Latin words for needle and thread (aiguille et fil) form a sort of pun upon the name of Robert de Eglesfield, the founder of the college in the year 1340. It was called Queen's College in compliment to Queen Philippa, consort of Edward III., whose confessor he was.
412. Twelfth Day is so called on account of the number of days counted from Christmas Day. On this day formerly masques were always performed at Court, and in the great halls of the Inns of Court, to mark the termination of the Christmas festivities. It is styled Old Christmas Day because, previous to the re-arrangement of the Calendar in 1752, Christmas Day fell on what is now January 6th. This is why, in the Treasury accounts, where the Old Style still obtains, the Christmas dividends are not considered due until Twelfth Day; nor the Midsummer dividends until July 5th. Similarly, the financial year of the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not commence until April 5th, which, according to the Old Style, was Lady Day.
413. As the Twelfth Cake can be traced back to a period much older than Christianity, the vulgar opinion that it was instituted as a memorial of the offerings of the three kings to the infant Christ at Bethlehem on the Feast of the Epiphany is incorrect. During the last days of the Roman Saturnalia, the members of each household drew lots to determine who should be King of Saturnalia--a personage corresponding to the Lord of Misrule in more modern times--and exercise temporary authority, by means of a bean inserted in a large plum cake. This was called an Election of King by Beans. In many cases a pea was also inserted for the Queen, and the characters of King and Queen were supposed to be maintained with mock majesty by those who drew the slices containing the bean and pea until midnight. The northern nations made no provision for a queen, but whosoever drew the bean was arrayed in fanciful robes and invested with the direction of the mummeries that wound up the Yule-tide merry-makings. When Mary, Queen of Scots, assisted at the cutting of the Twelfth Cake on Twelfth Day, 1563, at Holyrood Palace, her maid, Mary Fleming, had the good fortune to draw the bean, and forthwith that person was dressed in her royal mistress's robes for the remainder of the day. To such an importance did this social diversion formerly attain in France, that the expression, Il a trouvé la feve au gâteau! ("He has found the bean in the cake ") is now popularly applied to anyone who has had exceptional good luck. In Rome, the children hang up their stockings to be filled with good things overnight on going to bed, as is the custom in England and elsewhere on Christmas Eve.
414. January 7th is still known in some of the rural districts as Distaff's Day. A still older name for it was Rock Day, the word rock expressing the Anglo-Saxon for a distaff. It was on this day that, the Christmas festivities having been brought to an end on Twelfth Night, the spinning maids were expected to return to their distaffs. But they were rarely suffered to do so unchallenged. As the rustics did not return to their labours until Plough Monday (see 415), or the day after that, and as they did not relish the idea of their sweethearts having a shorter holiday than themselves, they invariably set fire to the flax and tow, or carried off the distaffs. In retaliation, the maids poured pailsful of water upon them; and so the first day of their so-called work was really spent as a sort of winding-up day of the Christmas sports.
415, On Plough Monday, which was the first Monday after Twelfth Day, the ploughmen and other rustic labourers were supposed to return to their labours in the field, but they did not really do so until the day following. In the days when all England was Roman Catholic, they made a judicious compromise between levity and hard work by attending the parish church in a body, and there offering lighted candles before the high altar by way of calling down a blessing on the labours of the year. This was the manner in which they passed the morning; but as their pockets, after the indulgence of such a long holiday, must have been pretty well drained, they made a procession through the villages, dragging their plough after them, to beg money for the purpose of keeping the candles alight during the remainder of the day. When the Reformation put out the lights in the churches, it did not succeed in abolishing the ploughman's festival. Instead of begging money for candles, the holiday makers now clamoured for beer money, and if they failed to obtain it, they promptly ploughed up the road in front of the house.
416. Handsel Monday, the first Monday in the New Year, is still kept as a holiday by the peasantry in the northern counties. On this day the farmers call their labourers together and give them a feast. They also make them presents, usually of money, to buy their wives or children some new garments. In Scotland a Handsel is equivalent to a New Year's gift. Postmen, scavengers, and others always look for their annual perquisites on Handsel Monday, rather than on Boxing Day, as is the case among ourselves.
417. Mallard Day (January 14th) is observed at All Souls' College, Oxford, with sundry merry-makings, chief among which is the eating of the largest and finest mallard the cook can procure. This is because when digging the foundations of the college buildings, in the year 1437, the workmen discovered a splendid mallard in a drain, and Henry Chicheley looked upon it as a sure token of the future prosperity of his good work. Mallard Day, it need scarcely be added, is the foundation day of the college.
418. The celebrated Feast of Lanterns, which occurs towards the close of the New Year's festivities in China, viz., on the fifteenth day of the first moon, perpetuates an incident in the life of a famous mandarin. Whilst walking one night on the shore of a beautiful lake, his daughter fell in and was drowned. As soon as the mandarin heard the sad news, he hastened to the spot with his entire household, everyone carrying a lantern. Attracted by such a vast illumination, all the inhabitants of the country round about appeared on the scene also, bearing lanterns and torches. The search proved unavailing, for the body was not recovered until some time afterwards. On the anniversary of the accident, the mandarin caused fires to be lighted on that part of the lake-side where the damsel was alleged to have fallen in, and a solemn illuminated procession was made to the spot by all his friends, relatives, dependents, and neighbours, there to offer up prayers for the repose of her soul. This ceremony was repeated year after year, until by slow degrees the solemn character of its origin was forgotten, everyone making it an occasion for feasting and rejoicing.
419. St. Blaise's Day (February 3rd) was anciently the festival of the wool-combers in honour of their patron saint (see 259). At Bradford and other centres of the woollen industry, a grand procession of Bishop Blaise and Jason of the Golden Fleece, in which the masters, masters' sons, apprentices, wool-combers, dyers, shepherdesses, and shepherds took part, was held once every seven years. No meaning, however, could be assigned for the fires which were lighted on all the hill-tops on this day, except that the people harboured a notion that they must be honouring the saint by making a blaze on St. Blaise's Day.
420. St. Valentine's Day was originally a church festival instituted in memory of the good Bishop Valentine, who suffered martyrdom at Rome, February 14th, A.D. 278. Now as this was the day on which the Roman youths were wont to make a choice of sweethearts by drawing the names of young women from a box--a custom derived from the old notion that birds begin to couple on February 14th--the pagan observance was engrafted on to the Christian festival; with this difference, that for the names of the women those of certain female saints were substituted. The saint thus drawn by chance as patron for the ensuing year was called a "valentine." But ere long, as might have been expected from the first, the fair daughters of Eve still inhabiting this mundane sphere began to supersede those already translated beyond the skies. A present of a scarf or other article of female finery was the usual intimation to the fair one of the issue of the drawing. When, therefore, we at the present day prefer what is called a "useful valentine" to the old-fashioned paper valentine, we are only reverting to the custom of the gallants of ancient Rome. The poetical epistles, which in this prosaic age are rapidly dying out, first came into existence during the age of chivalry.
421. On St. David's Day (March 1st) the Welsh people wear a piece of leek in their hats in commemoration of the signal victory won by their ancestors over the Saxon invaders on this day in the year 540. As often happened in the early days of British history, owing to the want of a uniformity of costume on the part of the combatants on either side, friends could rarely be distinguished from foes in the heat of battle. Knowing this, St. David, the Welsh archbishop (see 264), ordered his countrymen to wear a piece of leek in their caps so that they might recognize one another. This precaution contributed in no small degree to their success in repulsing the enemy, and from that day forth the leek came to be regarded as their national emblem.
422. St. Patrick's Day (March 17th) was formerly the annual holiday of the Running Footmen and Sedan Chairmen, who were almost without exception Irishmen. On this day the Irish all the world over wear a sprig of shamrock or trefoil in their hats in honour of their patron saint, who employed it when preaching the Gospel to the Irish people as an illustration of the Trinity. This was the origin of the Shamrock as the Irish national emblem (see 2). It is a fact little known that the trefoil was accredited with peculiar virtues in the cure of disease by the ancient inhabitants of the country.
423. The Carnival, a term composed of the two Italian words, came, flesh, and vale, farewell, expresses a season of feasting and merrymaking, in preparation for the fasting and religious exercises enjoined upon all good Catholics during Lent. As Selden observes: "What the Church debars one day she gives us leave to take out in another. First we fast, then we feast; first there is a carnival, then a Lent." The licence which pervades all classes of society at this time is traceable to the early Christians of Rome, who could not forget, neither were they to be entirely weaned from, their ancient pagan festivals (see 467). The carnivals at Rome, Naples, and Milan have been celebrated from time immemorial, but none more so than those of Venice, which were freely encouraged in the days of the Republic by the Senate in order to divert the minds of the people from the burden of government, else life would have been well-nigh intolerable to them. Even now the Venetian Carnival retains much of its ancient character. In France the Carnival is restricted to the three days preceding Ash Wednesday; then all is sedate until Mi-Carême, or the Thursday of mid-Lent, when the people break out again into revelry for that day only. On the last day, as in Venice and elsewhere, prize oxen are led through the streets, obviously to remind the people to eat their fill of flesh meat while there is yet time. On the following day (Ash Wednesday) people carry round the French villages and small towns an effigy something like a Guy Fawkes, and collect money, as they say, for the burial of good living. Then, after some insane mummeries, they bury it. Something of the same kind was formerly in vogue amongst ourselves. Taylor, the Water Poet, alludes to it.
424. Collop Monday was the name given in the olden time to the day before Shrove Tuesday, because on this day the people were accustomed to cut up their flesh meat into collops or steaks for salting and hanging up until the end of Lent. As this was the last day on which, except on Sundays, flesh meat was allowed to be eaten during Lent in pre-Reformation times, collops, eggs, and bread formed the usual dinner dish on this occasion (see 369). What were called Bacchus Verses, being verses in praise or dispraise of Bacchus, were formerly written by the Eton boys and fastened on the college doors on Collop Monday. This custom sprang out of the ancient festival in honour of Bacchus, which was held by the Romans on this day.
425. The Pancakes eaten on Shrove or Pancake Tuesday had originally a double significance. Before the Reformation in England, the fish diet imposed upon all devout Catholics on Ash Wednesday and afterwards during Lent, Sundays only excepted, was considerately led up to by a dinner fare of collops on the Monday (see 424), and pancakes on the Tuesday, "thus showing," says an old author, "by a practical lesson that rebellious man is better introduced than driven to mortification, although a very necessary and indeed a universal observance." The object of the pancakes in preference to any other substitute for flesh meat was really to use up all the eggs, grease, lard, dripping, etc., which were forbidden on Ash Wednesday and after (see 369). Such pancakes, therefore, as the monks could not consume among themselves were distributed to the poor who mustered at the monastery gates. In private families, when the fare was ready for serving up, the apprentices and other members of the household were summoned to the meal by ringing a bell. There was yet another good reason for eating pancakes on the eve of the Lenten fast. This was because they by their very nature afforded a tolerable stay to the appetite during the long hours of waiting to be "shrived" in church. The church bell which called the people to the confession or shriving bore the name of the Pancake Bell, not merely because it began to ring about the time when they would be sitting down to the meal, but because the bell-ringer was traditionally supposed to be entitled to a pancake from each family for reminding them of their duty. In some parishes, e.g., at Bromley in Kent, the Pancake Bell is still rung on Shrove Tuesday.
426. Shrove Tuesday was formerly a great day for English schoolboys. In view of the fasts and vigils to be observed during Lent, they expected to have one day of unrestrained liberty. This day was generally begun by locking the master out of school. If they admitted him at all it was only under a promise that he would participate in the Shrovetide sports. As Cock-fighting (see 251) was the recognised sport of the day, they then produced their gamecocks. The school was turned for the nonce into a cockpit, the master was appointed director, and great was the glee of the youngsters at seeing the birds fight. Another sport peculiar to the day was Cock-throwing. This consisted in imprisoning a cock in an earthen vessel so that its head and tail were exposed, the game being to break the vessel with a well-aimed cudgel from a few yards' distance. If the bird was struck on the head it was, of course, killed. A penny was payable to the master by each boy; this payment was styled "Cock-penny." Sometimes the bird was merely tied by one of its legs to a stake and literally beaten to death. Cock-throwing originated among the ancients, who regarded the cock as the emblem of impiety and parricide. Both the Greeks and Romans were addicted to carrying out capital sentences upon animals for the sake of example. When a parricide was put to death for his crime, a cock was generally sewn up in a sack with him. The cock-throwing at Shrovetide, then, was intended to inculcate a horror of parricide among schoolboys, but whether it had the desired effect is questionable. In the afternoon the boys went abroad Lent-crocking. For this purpose they collected all the old pans and kettles they could find, and made a noise outside the door of every house they came to, until they were given a penny or more to go away. This practice they must have learnt from their elders, who were accustomed to show their resentment at an ill-assorted marriage in a very animated manner (see 194). Beating down the gilt basin at the end of a barber's pole also entered largely into the "alarums and excursions" of the scholars during their Shrovetide saturnalia. Thrashing the Fat Hen was in times past a popular diversion of the English peasantry on Shrove Tuesday. The bird was generally tied on a man's back, and the object of his fellows, who were blindfolded, was to thrash the hen with boughs by the sound of the bells fastened on the man's arms as he shifted his position. The fun consisted largely in the men thrashing one another instead of the hen, as the bearer adroitly ducked himself. When they had had enough of this kind of sport, the bird was boiled with bacon and pancakes, and all the party sat down to the feast. As the men's sweethearts stood by enjoying the fun, it is reasonable to conjecture that this hen-thrashing was originally devised for their amusement as a modification of the cock-throwing, peculiar to the day. Moreover, the fowl being a delicacy to the labourer, it was, perhaps, given to him by the farmer for sport and food.
427. In several of the English counties, Simnel Cakes are eaten on Mid-Lent Sunday in commemoration of the banquet given by Joseph to his brethren, the subject of which forms the first lesson of the day; and of the feeding of the five thousand in the wilderness with the five barley loaves and a few fishes, which is the Gospel appointed for the day. The word siinnel is but slightly altered from the German semmel, a manchet loaf or roll. Children and domestics in service, when visiting their parents on this Sunday, according to a time-honoured custom, always take with them such a cake as a present; while furmity is the standing dish served up at table. The designation Mothering Sunday, given to Mid-Lent Sunday, is, however, of much older date than most people imagine. It was primarily descended from the ancient Romans, who held a festival of the Hilaria, or "Mother of the Gods," on the Ides of March, the people making offerings in the temple, which became the property of the priests. After the establishment of Christianity the same festival was appropriated by the Church, and styled Mothering Sunday, because the faithful were expected to make offerings to the "Mother Church" on the afternoon of this day.
428. Beating the Bounds on Holy Thursday is a custom still observed in many English parishes. In olden times, when maps were scarce, it was universal, not only on this day, but also on the three days before the Festival of the Ascension. These days were called Ganging Days from the ganging or going round the parishes, and also Rogation Days, being the three days following Rogation Sunday (see 384). The object of perambulating the parish boundaries was two-fold. In the first place, it was considered necessary to impart a correct knowledge of the parish limits to the people, who, probably, had never seen a map in their lives; secondly, in pursuance of the character of the Rogation Days, the clergy instituted a religious procession to call down the Divine blessing on the fruits of the earth. The religious part of this observance originated in the fifth century, when Mamercus, Bishop of Vienna, instituted special prayers and fasting and processions on these days, after frequent earthquakes had destroyed the greater part of the vegetation in the district. The secular perambulation was, however, derived from the Terminalia of the Romans, being a festival celebrated on February 22nd, in honour of Terminus, the god or guardian of boundaries and landmarks. To this god on such occasions they offered cakes and wine while assembling for the purpose of sport at the boundaries. In modern times, when the religious procession was discontinued, the parish school-children accompanied the clergy and parish officers through their respective parishes from end to end, carrying willow wands, with which they struck or beat the boundaries as they were pointed to them. By this means they were taught to define the limits of their parish; the more especially, when, as frequently happened, they received a flogging with their own willow wands at such places.
429. Washing the Feet of Poor Men on Maundy Thursday, in imitation of Christ, who washed the feet of His disciples on the eve of His Passion, is now no longer performed by royal personages, as of old, the Empress of Austria alone excepted. By her the Fusswaschung is still observed with due solemnity. William of Orange was the first English sovereign who shirked this onerous duty. True, it was for many years afterwards continued by the Royal Almoner; but nowadays the gift of certain sums of money to as many poor people as the monarch can boast of years is considered much more pleasant, not to say more in accordance with the spirit of the times, so that the historic washing of the feet has quite passed out of memory. Even the royal maund, or gift of food and clothing delivered in a maund, the Saxon term for an alms-basket, has been diverted into a money equivalent. Occasion may be taken here to state that the name of Maundy Thursday was not derived, as so many suppose, from this maund, or alms-basket, but from Maundé, the French for the first word in the phrase, Mandatum novum do vobis, spoken by Christ during the ceremony which preceded the Last Supper. This washing of the feet is regularly performed by the Pope at Rome on Maundy Thursday (see 378).
430. The Hot Cross Buns peculiar to Good Friday are nothing more than the cakes which the pagan Saxons ate in honour of Eoster, the goddess of light, at the annual festival of Spring. These had on their surface, singularly enough, a Greek cross, exactly like our Good Friday buns, and as the clergy found it impossible to wean the converts to Christianity from their pagan practices, they, with that keen foresight which has characterized the Church in all ages, distributed similar cakes made from the dough whence the consecrated Host was taken, to the communicants after Mass on Easter Sunday. In France and some other Catholic countries, such blessed bread is still given in the churches to those communicants who have a long journey home before they can break their fast; as also to such as, from any impediment, are unable to receive the Communion. This observance obtains throughout the year; but what is an equivalent for the blessed bread takes the form in this country of Good Friday buns, and has no longer an ecclesiastical significance. Having now disposed of the buns themselves, it still remains for us to account for the cross upon them. More than sixteen hundred years before the Christian era, Cecrops, one of the early kings of Greece, we read, offered up the sacred Cross Bread, composed of fine wheat and honey, to the divinity; just as the Egyptians had done centuries before to their female divinity, the queen of heaven, the Moon. Among the Mexicans and Peruvians a similar custom prevailed at stated periods of the year, as it still does in China. But the sacred bread of the ancient Egyptians had imprinted upon it originally, instead of a cross, a pair of horns, because it was eaten before the sacrificial altar whenever an ox was offered to the gods. From this circumstance, the bread-loaf was called bous, which, in one of its oblique cases, is boun, and so, by an easy transition, we derive the name of Bun. In course of time, however, the horns gave place to an equilateral cross, for no other reason, than that it was the more readily broken into four pieces. Like the Greeks, the Romans partook of the cross-bread on the occasions of public sacrifice, such bread being usually purchased at the doors of the temple and taken in with them, --a custom alluded to by St. Paul in I. Corinthians, x., 28. At Herculaneum a couple of small loaves, about five inches in diameter, and plainly marked with a cross, were brought to light many years ago. Moreover, on one ancient piece of sculpture now preserved in the Museo Borbonic at Rome, representing the miracle of the five barley loaves, the Greek cross appears on each of the loaves. To trace the origin of the Good Friday buns, therefore, is tantamount to going back to the remotest ages of pagan history. The Holy Eucharist in the Greek Church has a cross imprinted upon it.
431. The Tansy Cake, or Tansy Pudding, formerly eaten at Easter, was a Christian adaptation of the bitter herbs which entered into the paschal feast of the Jews, as a reminder of the bitter oppression suffered by their ancestors in the land of bondage (see 397). A Gammon of Bacon was also eaten by our forefathers at Eastertide, to show their abhorrence of their Jewish neighbours for crucifying Christ.
432. Easter Eggs, or, as they are sometimes called, Pasch Eggs, are nowhere so popular as in Russia, where the people present them to their friends, saying, "Christ is risen!" to which the recipients reply, "He is, indeed!" The same pious custom was formerly universal in England and France. The coloured eggs of sugar are still displayed in the confectioners' windows, it is true, and, to a certain extent, they are doubtless purchased for presentation, but their meaning is known only to a few. Ever since the time of the ancient Egyptians the egg has been regarded as the symbol of re-creation. This idea originated among the subjects of the Pharaohs from their close observance of the habits of the scarab, or sacred beetle, which buried its balls, in dung in the grave it had dug for itself; in the hope, as they thought, of a speedy resurrection. It never occurred to them that the pellets contained eggs, which, in the fulness of time, were brought to maturity by the warmth of the sun. When the insect appeared once more amongst them, they were content to believe it was the original one they had seen bury itself on the same spot, now brought to life again by the Sun God. So the beetle was reverenced by them as a sacred thing, because it gave them hope of a similar resurrection of their mummified bodies (see 46). By the Jews the egg was looked upon as the symbol of the duration of the human race and of their successive generation; it entered into all the mysterious ceremonies called apocalyptic, and occupied a prominent position on the household table during the paschal season (see 220, 397). In accordance with the traditions of the Magi, or Persians, the world was hatched from an egg in the beginning at that season of the year which corresponds with the vernal equinox; for which reason eggs. are popularly presented as New Year's gifts by the modem Persians at this time (see 409). It was from this custom that the northern nations came to regard the paschal eggs as emblematical of creation, or the re-creation of Spring at the vernal equinox. When Christianity usurped the pagan rites and observances of the Saxons, the paschal eggs were invested with a new significance, namely, that of the Resurrection of Christ; and they were coloured red in allusion to the blood shed for the salvation of men. The curious Ball Play in Church, of which we read during the Middle Ages, took its rise from the paschal egg that was thrown from one to the other of the choristers in the nave of the church while an anthem was being sung, during the Eastertide festival (see 186). As the egg was often missed, and allowed to break on the ground, a ball was in course of time substituted. In some parts of Scotland, hard-boiled eggs, dyed purple, are rolled or thrown about, and finally eaten, as often as Eastertide comes round. In the rural districts of France, children make a round of all the houses and farms begging for red eggs on Easter Day.
433. Easter Cards were first introduced by the Americans as substitutes for the pasch eggs. Our transatlantic cousins are an extremely practical people, as all the world knows. Instead of spending both money and time for the purpose of presenting the eggs, they consider a pretty card sent through the post sufficient to meet all requirements.
434. A singular custom which survived in many parts of the country, particularly at Chester, down to comparatively recent times, was the Lifting at Eastertide. On the Monday the young men lifted the women, and on setting them down again demanded a kiss; while on the Tuesday the lifting and kissing fell to the share of the women. All which was intended to typify the Resurrection of Christ at this season. Another singular custom peculiar to Eastertide was the Hocking, ie., parties of men and women reciprocally stopping the way against foot passengers with a rope, and pulling them along until they had purchased their release with a donation. This Hock Tuesday Money, as it was called, was handed over to the landlord, who entertained all his tenants at a sumptuous feast on Hock Tuesday proper, being the second Tuesday after Easter week, in commemoration of the expulsion of the Danes, and the death of Hardicanute on this day.
435. The origin of All Fools' Day, or more correctly speaking, Auld Fools' Day, has exercised the minds of not a few antiquaries in vain. The great stumbling block in the path of their investigations is, and has always been, the singular circumstance that the Hindoos make fools of one another precisely in the same manner as we do ourselves on March 31st, which is the last day of their important festival of the Huli. Yet it does not appear to have dawned upon these usually astute inquirers that, since the Huli corresponds in character, though not in point of time, with the Roman Saturnalia and the Feast of Fools of the Middle Ages, the Hindoos bring their great Spring festival to an end by burlesquing the once universal custom of making presents and paying visits at the vernal equinox, which among the nations of antiquity, and indeed throughout all the western nations until a century or two ago, marked the commencement of the year (see 409). Analogous though the European fooling on April ist is with that of the Hindoos on March 31st, the former was certainly never taken from the latter. For the true origin of April Fools' Day we must look to France, which took the lead among the nations of Christendom in commencing the New Year on January 1st instead of March 25th. This change was effected as long ago as 1564, nearly two centuries before England made up its mind to follow suit. We have seen already how the French have lost nothing of the old Roman fashion in the matter of paying visits and bestowing gifts on New Year's Day. This being so it was often found necessary, in a deeply religious age, to pospone the customary New Year's observance to the octave of the actual festival, simply because March 25th chanced to occur in Passion week, at times even on Good Friday itself. Consequently, it was on April 1st, rather than March 25th that the New Year's gifts and congratulatory visits were made. When, however, after the adoption of the Reformed Calendar in 1564, the New Year's Day was carried back to January 1st, only pretended presents and mock ceremonial visits were made on April 1st, with a view of making fools of those who had forgotten the change of date. The persons thus imposed upon were, and are still, called Poissons d'Avril or April Fish, i.e., a mackerel, which like a fool or booby, is easily caught. In England generally the common expression is an April Fool; in Scotland it is a" Gowk," the native appellation for a foolish person. Germany and Spain also have their fools on April 1st.
436. The lavish display of primroses on April 19th, which on this account bears the name of Primrose Day, is a pleasant custom destined to keep alive the memory of Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield, who died on this date in 1881. It originated in the beautiful wreath of primroses which Her Majesty the Queen caused to be laid on the coffin of the great Minister, inscribed with the words in her own handwriting: "His favourite flower."
437. A ludicrous custom, discontinued only within the last few years, was the Freemen's March at Alnwick, Northumberland, on St. Mark's Day, April 23rd. Those who claimed the freedom of the town on this day were conducted in solemn procession on horseback, dressed in white, and with swords hanging by their sides, by the bailiff to what was called the Freemen's Well, a large dirty pool on the borders of the common. Arrived there, they dismounted, and deliberately walked through the pool, emerging on the opposite side begrimed with mud and dripping with water. This decidedly unpleasant duty was imposed upon them by King John as a punishment for the filthy condition of their roads when he paid a visit to Ainwick on St. Mark's Eve, in the year 1209.
438. St. George's Day (April 23rd), was in bygone times an occasion of public rejoicing and solemn pageantry at Leicester, in honour of the saint and his triumph over the dragon of the legend. St. George's horse, richly caparisoned, always stood at one end of St. George's Chapel, in St. Martin's Church; and The Riding of the George, as it was called, by the Mayor, followed by all the town dignitaries through the streets, was an observance invested with all the importance of a Lord Mayor's Show.
439. The May-day Festival of rural England is a relic of the Maiama, a festival in honour of Maia, the mother of Mercury, held annually at Ostia, a town about sixteen miles from Rome, on the first day of the month named after her. Instituted by Claudius as a separate festival, it was eventually grafted upon the Floralia, or feast of Flora, which was held on April 27th and lasted several days. The latter was essentially a festival for the Roman women, who ran races night and day in the amphitheatre, the winners of the prizes being crowned with flowers. Flora was a courtesan who left all her fortune to the people of Rome, but feeling ashamed of her profession they made her the goddess of flowers. The May-day festival at Ostia was a very different thing. There the sexes were equally represented, and all who came decorated themselves with garlands. The doors of the houses were adorned with branches laden with fruit and flowers; but not content with this, many of the Roman gallants caused entire trees to be brought from the adjacent forest and set up in front of the houses of their mistresses. Perhaps, if the truth were known, Ostia was the place where most of the mistresses of the gilded youth of Rome resided; certainly the festival was more than once abolished on account of the licentiousness of the games. To put a stop to such a wholesale destruction of fine straight trees, it was ordered that a tall shaft or pole, ornamented with garlands, should suffice. Here then we have the true origin of the Maypole. From a charter of 1207 we learn that a maypole was allowed to be set up before the houses of the nobility. The Milkmaid's Festival on May 1st arose out of the old English custom of bringing home the maypole over-night by a yoke of oxen adorned with flowers, attended by boys blowing cows' horns or hollow canes, and milkmaids wearing garlands, which they afterwards hung up in the churches. The much cow and the huge garlands borne on the heads of the milkmaids, were at one time familiar objects in the London streets. The fiddlers and clarionet players who accompanied them were the successors of the more ancient horn. blowers, but both milkmaids and musicians in their turn gave place to the chimney sweepers. Two very good reasons are assigned for the Chimney Sweepers' Holiday on May 1st. To commence with, the Morris Dancers who went round from house to house soliciting pence on this day, generally blacked their faces to make them pass for Moors (see 457). As we know, the term Morris Dance is simply a corruption of Moorish dance, or dance of the Moriscoes, which John of Gaunt introduced into this country after his return from Spain. Five men and a boy took part in it, and as the latter--who was the clown of the set--wore a helmet much too large for him, called a morion, he received the name of "Mad Morion," which became perverted into Maid Marian, when in due time the popular ballads of Robin Hood stimulated the people t impersonate the various characters that made up the court of the merry monarch of Sherwood Forest. Owing to the fact that the celebrated outlaw died on May 1st, the festival came generally to be dedicated to him. This explains why so many places in different parts of England and Scotland bear such names as "Robin Hood's Hill," "Robin Hood's Bay," etc.; it was there where the Robin Hood games were held. Dr. Owen Pugh, the Welsh archaeologist, thinks that our Jack in the Green was intended to represent Meloas, King of Somersetshire, who disguised himself in green boughs and laid in ambush for Guenever, the wife of King Arthur, as she was returning from a hunting expedition. He is, however, much more likely to have been derived from the trees which, as we have already seen, were set up outside the houses at Ostia during the May-day festival. Like the Rush-bearing of bygone days, the beautiful ceremony of Crowning the May Queen formed part and parcel of the Ostian games; while the Well Dressing, which is still to be met with in some parts of England and France, came from the Fonlinalia of the Romans, being religious festivals in honour of the nymphs of wells and fountains. To return to the chimney sweepers' holiday. Almost everyone has heard how Mrs. Montague, the foundress of the celebrated Blue-Stocking Club, in 1780, treated all the London chimney sweepers to a roast beef and plum-pudding dinner, and a present of a new shilling, on the lawn of her house in Hill Street, Portman Square, on May 1st, as long as she lived. This kindly act on her part was in commemoration of the providential recovery of a little boy belonging to her husband's family, who had been kidnapped by some chimney sweepers to be made use of as a "climbing boy." The story goes that one May-day morning, after the sweeps had been sent for to cleanse the chimneys of her town mansion, the tiny urchin whose business it was to ascend the flues, was discovered to be none other than the long-lost relative.
440. In the north of England May-day is often called Beltine Day, although the ancient observance peculiar to the evening of this day has long since died out. This was one of the days when the Druids lighted bonfires on the hill-tops in honour of the sun. The Irish still use the expression La Bheltine, the day of Bel's fire; from La, a day, Bel, the sun-god (Baal), and tenie, fire. The fires which in some parts of Ireland, the Isle of Man, and the Scottish Highlands are kindled in the fields on festive occasions are traces of this Druidical worship (see 446).
441. On Royal Oak Day, also called Oak Apple Day, the people formerly wore oak leaves or oak apples in their hats to commemorate the manner in which the partisans of Charles If. welcomed the king's return to England on his birthday, May 29th, 1651; in allusion to his concealment in an oak tree near Boscobel House, Shropshire after his defeat by Cromwell at the battle of Worcester on September 3rd previous. It was from this incident that publicans affected the sign of the Royal Oak during the Restoration period.
442. The Godiva Procession at Coventry is occasionally revived to keep alive the memory of Lady Godiva, the wife of Leofric, Earl of Chester, who, on Trinity Friday, 1057, rode naked through the streets in order to obtain from her lord, on behalf of the citizens, a restitution of rights and privileges. A bust of "Peeping Tom" adorns the corner house where that inquisitive tailor, as tradition states, was struck blind while trying to steal a peep at the fair equestrienne through the shutters as she passed by.
443. One of the annual solemnities of Venice in bygone times was the Marriage of the Adriatic on the Festival of the Ascension. This was instituted in the year 1177 by Pope Alexander III. in commemoration of the signal victory of the Venetians over the hostile fleet of Frederick Barbarossa at Istria. Giving the Doge a ring from his own finger, the Pontiff desired him to cast a similar one into the Adriatic on Ascension Day each year and so espouse the sea, promising him that his bride would be as dutiful to him as is a wife to her husband. Hence, from time immemorial, Venice has borne the style of The Bride of the Sea. The inaugural ceremony was performed on Ascension Day, 1177, amid great rejoicings. The Bicentaur or Gondola of State, magnificently appointed, and manned by forty-two rowers, after leaving the Piazza San Mark under a salute of guns, proceeded slowly towards the Isle of Lido. Immediately in its wake, gondolas, barges, sailing vessels, and galleys, occupied by persons of rank, with minstrels and other attendants, made for the same destination. Arrived there the Doge, after pouring holy water into the sea, took the ring from his finger and dropped it on the bosom of the Adriatic, saying, "We espouse thee, O sea, in token of our just and perpetual dominion." A solemn Mass in the church of St. Nicholas on the Isle of Lido, and a sumptuous banquet at the ducal palace brought this perennial function to an end (see 444).
444. An analogous ceremony to that anciently performed by the Doge of Venice (see 443), takes place every three years at Cork. This is officially known as Throwing the Dart. By virtue of a clause in the City's charter, the Mayor of Cork is constituted Admiral of the Port, but he must triennially claim jurisdiction over it by throwing a dart into the sea. The dart employed is generally made of mahogany tipped and winged with bronze. Attended by a numerous retinue, the civic functionary steams in his gaily-decorated barge to the outer limits of the port, and there performs the ceremony; which being concluded, he departs to the City Hall, there to preside over a grand banquet.
445. The Whitsuntide merry-makings of the olden time traced their origin from the Agapai, or Love Feasts of the early Christians, and the Drinklean, an annual festival of the tenants and vassals of the lord of the fee, which occurred about this time. They were called Whitsun Ales because, as at an ordinary Church Ale, the churchwardens laid in a stock of malt, which they brewed into beer, and sold it to the holiday-makers for refreshment in the church porch, or, more frequently, in the churchyard. The proceeds of such sales, as well as those from sundry games, were given to the poor, for whom the parish rates made no provision. As old Aubrey says: "There were no rates for the poor in my grandfather's days; but for Kingston St. Michael (no small parish) the church ale of Whitsuntide did the business." It would appear, also, that the tree nearest the church door had affixed to it a banner, beneath which comely maidens were stationed with contribution boxes for the same laudable object. At the church-house close by, spits, crooks, and other utensils for cooking provisions were provided, and there the housekeepers met and made merry, while without the young folk indulged in dancing, bowls, shooting at butts, and other amusements, "the ancients sitting by and looking gravely on."
446. The Midsummer Marching Watch, or grand illuminated march-past of the Watch, which in the olden times drew such a vast concourse of sightseers to London and other cities on the Vigil of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (June 24th), was a Christian survival of the pagan celebration of the return of the summer solstice, but transferred from Midsummer Day to St. John's Eve, because that saint, though not the Light, was sent into the world to give testimony of the Light. This mid-day of the year was specially set apart by the Druids for the worship of the sun, in prospect of reaping a good harvest. All night long the festival was kept up by solemn chants, processions, and sacrifices, and piling up of huge bonfires. In many parts of Ireland, even nowadays, the people dance around bonfires on St. John's Eve, as they say, "in honour of the sun." Elsewhere, firebrands are carried about, wheels with straw twisted around them are set on fire and then rolled downhill, and fireworks are discharged, ostensibly to purify the air; but which practices have undoubtedly a pagan origin (see 440).
447. An imposing spectacle, known as The Procession of the Minstrels, annually took place at Chester on the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, until the year 1756, when it was abolished. It originated as follows:--At Chester Fair, as elsewhere, the temporary exemption of criminals and debtors from arrest, which the display of a glove gave faithful promise of (see 210), naturally attracted a vast concourse of lawless and ruffianly people to the place. It was during one of these Chester Fairs that Ranuiph de Blundeville, Earl of Chester, found himself besieged in his castle at Rhuddlan by the yet unsubjugated Welsh. When the news reached the ears of John Lacy, Constable of Chester, he at once called together all the minstrels who chanced to be at the fair, and with their assistance collected a great number of disorderly people. These he armed with the readiest weapons to hand, and with the minstrels sent them off under the command of Hugh Dutton, in the hope of effecting the relief of the besieged earl. The result was even better than he anticipated. When this savage-looking horde reached Rhuddlan, the Welsh mistook them at a distance for the regular army, and without waiting to test their discipline or the efficiency of their weapons, raised the siege and fled. Whereupon, out of gratitude for the service which the minstrels had rendered him, the earl placed them under the jurisdiction of their captain for ever. This was why the minstrels were required to appear once a year before the lord of Dutton at Chester. Their place of assembly was Eastgate Street, where the earl or his heir gave them a cordial greeting. Then the banners were unfurled, and, with spirited music, they marched through the city. In more modern times, when genuine minstrels were no longer to be found, the civic authorities satisfied the public demand for an annual show in a manner that was in all respects praiseworthy.
448. The prognostication that if it rains on St. Swithin's Day (July 15th) it will rain for forty days in succession, has been very ably controverted by the Rev. John Earle, Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University. According to the popular tradition, the saint made a dying request that he might be buried just outside the church porch, exposed to the drippings from the eaves overhead, and so that the worshippers might regularly walk over his grave. Subsequently, however, steps were taken by the clergy to remove the body of the good bishop within the cathedral (Winchester), but a heavy downpour of rain necessitated a postponement of the attempt day after day for thirty-nine successive days, until, on the fortieth, they resolved to abandon it altogether. Now, by the publication of a facsimile and translation of a Saxon MS., the earliest account of St. Swithin's life extant, Professor Earle "has done the State some service" by proving, in the most conclusive manner, that the weather on the occasion of the disinterment of the deceased bishop was favourable for the attempt; that no phenomenon of any kind took place; and that, therefore, the elements did not conspire to frustrate the removal of the body into the church. The most reliable explanation of the vulgar belief concerning St. Swithin's Day which gave rise to the tradition is, as Professor Earle suggests, that in one particular year, about the time of this feast, the rainy constellations of Praesepe and Avelli arose cosmically, and caused rain to fall for more than a month together. There are similar "rainy saints' days" in France, Belgium, and Germany.
449. As often as July 25th comes round, the denizens of towns and cities are reminded, if they ever bestow a thought on such things, that it is the Feast of St. James the Greater, the patron saint of Spain. "Please remember the Grotto! " is the persistent plaint of children of tender years who, scallop-shell in hand, opportune the passers-by to contribute "only a halfpenny" towards the cost of illuminating the miniature grotto erected by them on the inner side of the street-pavement. Because, in lieu of scallop-shells, the grotto is more generally composed of oyster-shells, many Londoners entertain a hazy idea that it must have something to do with the commencement of the oyster season, since the close time for the sale and capture of English oysters expires on the eve of old St. James's Day, which was August 4th. How much they are mistaken in this view will be seen from the statement that it was formerly the custom in this country and elsewhere for persons to set up a grotto of scallop-shells on this day, as a hint to the pious who could not make a pilgrimage to the famous shrine at Compostella, that they might show their reverence to the saint equally well by bestowing alms on their poorer neighbours (see 302).
450. The well-known proverb relative to Oyster-Opening Day, "Whoever eats oysters on St. James's Day will never want money," admits of a ready explanation. As oysters are, of course, dearer on the opening day of the season than afterwards, this statement was originally published by the oyster-sellers in order to induce the town-folk to indulge in them to an extravagant degree, and hence to push business.
451. Doggett's Coat and Badge, annually rowed for on the Thames between London Bridge and Chelsea by six young watermen, whose apprenticeship comes to an end on that day, viz., on August 1st, are provided out of a fund left for the purpose by Thomas Doggett, a famous actor and zealous Whig, to commemorate "the happy accession to the throne" of George I. on August 1st, 1714. The much-prized livery was first competed for in the year 1716. Since Doggett's death, in 1721, the race has been regularly organized by the Fishmongers' Company.
452. Michaelmas Day (September 29th) is the day on which, from time out of mind, civic and municipal rulers have been elected to office all over the country. This is because Our ancestors recognized an analogy between their chief magistrates and titular protecting angels, in so far as the former presided over and protected the people. No better day, therefore, could have been hit upon for their Mayor-choosing Day, as it is often styled, than the Festival of St. Michael the Archangel, guardian and protector of the Christian Church (see 326).
453. The Michaelmas Goose is a dish without which no well-ordered dinner-table on September 29th would be complete. The story goes that Queen Elizabeth was having goose for dinner on Michaelmas Day when the news of the total defeat of the Spanish Armada was brought to her; in remembrance of which she resolved always to eat goose on that day. There is, however, a little discrepancy here. Considering that the Armada was literally swept off the seas between July 21st and 25th, it is most unlikely that the good tidings must have required two months and four days to reach England. At all events, a goose was regularly served up for dinner long, long before Queen Elizabeth made her appearance in the world. The custom arose out of the practice of the rural tenantry bringing a stubble-goose to their landlords when paying their rent, or to make them lenient if on occasion an excuse had to be tendered in place of the money. At this particular time of the year geese were plentiful and at their best, owing to the benefits they derived from stubble feeding. And since the landlords received many more such presents than they could themselves consume, they forthwith passed them over to their friends or acquaintances. In this way the Michaelmas goose became a standing dinner-dish.
454. Almost everyone has heard of the Dog-Whipping at Hull, which took place on October 10th, the eve of the annual fair. To trace the origin of this now obsolete custom we must go back to the time when the monasteries provided not only the education but also the daily food of the poor. The Carmelites and the Dominicans were particularly strong in "the good old town of Hull" before the Reformation; Whitefriar-gate and Blackfriar-gate still remind us of their old haunts. As it had always been the practice of the friars to provide a liberal allowance of food and drink for the poor wayfarers who were attracted to the town during the fair, it happened in one particular year that while they were busying themselves with the necessary preparations, a stray dog wandered into the larder, and snatching up a joint of meat, made off with it as fast as his legs could carry him. Although the cooks did not immediately discover their loss, the thief could not well pass out of the monastery gates without arousing the suspicions of the hungry mortals that lingered around; so giving chase, they succeeded at last in making him relinquish his booty. After that, whenever a dog showed himself outside the monastery while the preparations for the poor men's banquet were going forward, he was beaten off with whips, and boys considered it fine sport to chase him all over the town. This grew into such a settled custom that every dog that ventured abroad on October 10th was sure to receive a drubbing at the hands of the town boys. The introduction of the new police put a stop to this time-honoured practice once and for all.
455. St. Crispin's Day (October 25th) is still observed as a holiday by the majority of shoemakers in large towns and cities in honour of their patron saint (see 336). In France and Flanders the shoemakers of the Middle Ages kept the day with religious ceremonies, enlivened with miracle plays. In England and France, pursuant to a royal proclamation, it was kept as a general holiday, because the battle of Agincourt was fought and won on St. Crispin's Day, 1415. This accounts for the shoemakers' festival surviving after every other trade festival had been suffered to die out. The chief feature of the day was the procession, in which various well-known personages were represented by shoemakers. St. Crispin and the monarch then occupying the throne were the usual objects of attraction. The processions at Edinburgh and Stirling were noted for being somewhat elaborate. At the former place the mock king was dressed in a very fair imitation of the royal robes, while at the latter both Houses of Parliament followed the pseudomonarch, as well as officers and men-at-arms without number. In London, during the Mayoralty of Sir Simon Eyre, who had once been a shoemaker, an imitation king of the City followed very closely upon the heels of the imitation monarch in the shoemakers' annual procession, and ever afterwards the Lord Mayor was generally represented. The procession over, a dinner invariably took palce, and the day closed with a dance, led off by the workman who had played the part of king. Although such shows have long ago fallen into abeyance, there are few shoemakers who are not addicted to "keeping Crispin" on October 25th.
456. The mystic rites which take place on the domestic hearth throughout the three kingdoms, but more particularly in the West of Scotland, on what is called Hallowe'en, are a relic of paganism. This is the season when superstitious influences prevail. On this night the spirits of the dead are supposed to wander abroad for a brief space, and divinations are practised, out of the belief that such spirits have the power of foreshadowing the future to their relatives still in the flesh. From the nuts requisitioned for this purpose, the Vigil of Allhallows bears the name in the North of England of Crack-nut Night. On first thoughts the apples would seem to have nothing whatever to do with the festival further than to afford the young folk some harmless necessary amusement. But stay! By the pagan Saxons November 1st was dedicated to a goddess who presided over fruits and seeds. This festival--which some writers trace to an Oriental source--was called La Maes Abhal, or "Day of the Apple Fruit," a designation easily corrupted into "Lamb's Wool," which expressed a drink of roasted apples, sugar, and ale, popularly indulged in on the evening of this day. So that the apples employed for divination and sport are well in season. Curiously enough, November 1st was also the great autumn festival of the sun, in thanksgiving for the harvest of the Druids. It was from them that our forefathers derived the superstitious notions peculiar to this season. As we know, the Druids believed in the doctrine of the transmigration of souls. Every year, according to their teaching, on the eve of the harvest thanksgiving, Saman, the Lord of Death, called together the souls that had been assigned within the last twelve months to occupy the bodies of animals to final judgment. The punishment of the wicked souls might, however, be greatly commuted by charms and magic, by sacrifices offered to Baal by their living relatives, and by presents made to the priests for intercession on their behalf. Fatted calves and black sheep were the usual sacrifices on this occasion. Here, then, we have an explanation of the house to house collection in the remote districts of Ireland of bread, cakes, butter, cheese, and eggs; the slaughter of the fatted calf and the black sheep; the baking of the griddle cakes, and the presentation of lighted candles in honour of St. Colomb Kill, which is a Christian substitute for Saman, on the Vigil of Allhallows Day. Long before the institution of All Souls' Day (see 394) the ancient Irish prayed to Saman, in front of their lighted candles, for the souls of their departed relatives. Even now fires are lighted on the hilltops and in the fields as on Beltine Day (see 440).
457. It is a mistake to suppose that the effigies which are carried through the streets on Guy Fawkes' Day were unheard of before the diabolical attempt to blow up both Houses of Parliament on November 5th, 1605; the only thing new about them was the designation "Guy." Throughout the preceding reign the anniversary of the accession of Queen Elizabeth on November 17th had been celebrated by parading an effigy of the Pope during the daytime, and throwing it into a bonfire after nightfall. In Queen Anne's time an effigy of the Pretender afforded similar sport to the exultant Protestants. In these days of religious toleration November 17th is allowed to pass by without any manifestations of popular rejoicing, but Guy Fawkes' Day continues to be celebrated with its wonted spirit. Many of the masqueraders who attend the guys black their faces, in imitation of the May-day Morris Dancers, who did so to make them pass for Moors (see 439). Hampstead Heath is an appropriate locale for the bonfire carnival on Guy Fawkes' Night, inasmuch as it was there-on Parliament Hill-where the fellow conspirators of the redoubtable Guy waited to see the explosion that never came. Hence its name.
458. When one considers the vast wealth and commercial importance, the ancient rights and privileges, and the traditions of the City of London--the oldest existing Corporation in the world--the public interest in that hardy annual the Lord Mayor's Show is a matter for small surprise. Let us just consider for a moment who and what the Lord Mayor of London really is. He is at once the representative of the Sovereign within the City. A few days after his election to the Chief Magistracy by the Livery on Michaelmas Day (see 452) he is formally presented to the Lord Chancellor, acting on behalf of the Queen outside the City, in the House of Lords; and the primary object of the civic procession on November 9th is the formal introduction of the Chief Magistrate to Her Majesty's judges at the Royal Palace of Justice. Now that the Law Courts have been transferred to within a stone's throw of the Temple Bar memorial, the procession to Westminster is no longer necessary, albeit the original route has only been modified to the extent of making a divergence at Charing Cross. The secondary object of the Lord Mayor's Show is to afford the citizens an opportunity of making themselves acquainted with the personality of their new ruler. In olden times, when photographs and illustrated newspapers were unheard of, the populace had no means of knowing what their rulers, princes, heroes, and other celebrities were like except by attending a processional function of this kind (see 242). Prior to the year 1851, members of the Royal Family, and even the Sovereign exercised the courtesy to knock at the gate of Temple Bar as often as they desired to enter the City in state; whereupon the Lord Mayor would deliver up the keys into the royal hands in person. The earliest intimation of a death in the Royal Family is always sent to the Lord Mayor of London by a special messenger; moreover, he is the only one of Her Majesty's subjects who possesses the passport to the Tower of London. This passport is changed quarterly. As the representative of the Queen, he attends in his robes of state to open the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey. Within the clearly-defined limitations of the City, therefore, he may be said to reign as absolute king. The senate over which he presides at Guildhall is typical of that which sways the destinies of a vast empire at Westminster. The Court of Aldermen constitutes his House of Lords, and the Court of Common Council his House of Commons. In his person the Lord Chancellor and the Speaker are combined. For him a palatial residence, a private chaplain, a mace-bearer, a sword-bearer, and custodians of the gold chain and seals of office are provided. He is addressed as "The Right Honourable the Lord Mayor," because he ranks as and wears the robes of an earl. Is it a matter for surprise, then, that the inhabitants of such an ancient city, famous for its affluence, independence, power, and hospitality, should desire to pay him honour at his inauguration, to manifest their appreciation of his many years' faithful service in the Council Chamber that have gone before? In days of old, when the procession to Westminster was by water, the new Lord Mayor was greeted on his return with congratulatory speeches, composed for the occasion by the civic poet laureate, who received an annual stipend for such services. The last City poet was Elkanah Settle, who died in 1724. As showing the importance which still attaches to the outgoing from office of the Lord Mayor, it may be observed that on November 7th, which is the eve of the expiration of his Mayoralty, his lordship leaves his card at Buckingham Palace, Marlborough House, York House, Clarence House, Gloucester House, and the Prime Minister's official residence in Downing Street. On the day following he formally inducts the Lord Mayor-elect to the civic chair by presenting him with the mace, sword, chain, and seals of office (see 5, 77).
459. An annual diversion called the Stamford Bull Running took place in the streets of Stamford, Lincolnshire, on November 13th, down to a recent period. Punctually at eleven o'clock in the morning, on the ringing of St., Mary's Church bell--the streets having previously been barricaded and cleared of children and infirm persons--a bull was turned loose, and chased through the town, over the bridge, into the river; allowed to swim ashore, and then chased again, until both pursuers and pursued were tired out, when the animal was slaughtered, and its flesh was sold at such a cheap rate that all could have bull-beef for supper that night. According to local tradition, this popular sport was instituted by William, Earl de Warren (temp. King John), who, while standing on the battlements of his castle, saw a couple of bulls fighting in the meadow beneath. Presently, when some butchers succeeded in parting them, one of the animals ran into the town, and created such a confusion among the inhabitants, that the Earl, who followed on horseback on purpose to see the fun, declared he would give the meadow in which the fight began to the town, provided the butchers found a bull to be annually run through the streets on November 13th "for ever after." One great point in favour of this tradition is that the town-folk of Stamford still exercise certain rights over what is known as "the Bull Meadow."
460. Almanack Day, on November 22nd, was formerly a very busy day at Stationers' Hall, when the publication of almanacks of all kinds was a sight to see. The Stationers' Company still publish a few almanacks, but they no longer possess the exclusive monopoly of this species of publication. The fact that they regularly send a copy of each of their almanacks as a present to the Archbishop of Canterbury is perhaps very little known. The custom originated in the following manner. At the time when Dr. Tenison was Archbishop, a near relative of his, who was Master of the Stationers' Company, one Lord Mayor's Day, while awaiting his lordship's return from Westminster Hall in the civic state barge at Westminster Stairs, thought he would improve the occasion by slipping over to Lambeth Palace to pay his kinsman there a flying visit. On his arrival, the Archbishop entertained him and his fellow aldermen with a pint of wine apiece, and the watermen with hot spiced ale, with bread and cheese. This grew into a settled custom year by year until the Mayoral procession by water was abolished, the Stationers' Company always acknowledging the hospitality on this occasion by presenting the Archbishop with copies of their several almanacks as soon as published.
461. St. Andrew's Day (November 30th) is a great day of reunion among Scotsmen wherever they may be. In London, every Scotsman worthy the name makes a point of attending the national concert at St. James's Hall on the evening of this day (see 348).
462. The secular observances formerly in vogue on St. Nicholas' Day (December 6th) have either died out altogether or been transferred to another date. In very few places indeed do the children now hang up their stockings on St. Nicholas' Eve in the hope of having them filled with sweetmeats by their patron saint over-night; Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, and Twelfth Night are the occasions when such gifts are more usually looked for in different parts of Europe (see 409, 413, 468). In former times, too, both in England and abroad, convent boarders placed their silk stockings at the chamber door of the Abbess, or Mother Superior, labelled, "To Great St. Nicholas;" and the next morning never failed to receive their share of good things out of the bounty of their patron saint. This was a religious adaptation of the secular custom of young women praying to St. Nicholas to provide them with good husbands and a marriage dowry (see 352). The mediaeval practice of choosing a Boy-Bishop from the choir-boys on this day was tolerated by the clergy, who had not the slightest fear of the Faith of the people being endangered by such mummeries. He was arrayed in full canonicals, and his authority lasted until Innocents' Day (December 28th). If he died in the meantime he was interred with all the honours due to a bishop; as appears from the piece of sculpture representing a boy, in episcopal robes and mitre, trampling upon a lion-headed and dragon-tailed monster, on the north side of the nave of Salisbury Cathedral. The origin of this singular custom is ascribed to the youth of the saint at the time when he became Bishop of Myra, and the fact that he is the patron saint of boys (see 352). Instead of being entirely abolished at the Reformation, it was merely secularised into the Ad Montem, i.e., "To the Mount," of the Eton boys, or in other words, the Eton Montem, which survived until the year 1874. Old Etonians will remember that the procession to Salt Hill was somewhat military in character, and that certain boys, called Salt-bearers, preceded them in fancy costumes, to levy contributions from the passers-by. These contributions were supposed to be devoted to the maintenance of their captain at college, and all who gave received a pinch of salt in return. Of course, the actual amount thus raised was insignificant, not at all to be compared with that which fell to the lot of the Boy-Bishop in more ancient times. As salt enters so conspicuously into the ceremonies of the Church, its meaning in the juvenile procession was clear; and doubtless from this the ancient college custom of Salting in a Freshman, before he was entitled to join the rest in their games and amusements, took its rise.
463. On St. Thomas's Day in the country women and girls go the rounds of the district collecting money for the purpose of enabling them to lay in a store of good things against Christmas. This is called in some parts " a-gooding," in others "mumping," in others, "doleing." In Warwickshire it is "corning," because originally a large bag was carried to receive contributions of corn from the farmers. Sprigs of evergreen are in every case left at the houses in return for such presents. These acknowledgments are a relic of paganism. It was the custom of the Druids to send their young students from house to house with sprigs of holly and mistletoe, a few days before the approach of the great winter festival, as a peace-offering (see 464). What is called the Vessel Cup is still carried about by carol singers from house to house in the north of England, between St. Thomas's Day and Christmas Day. The term is clearly a corruption of "Wassail Cup," from the cup originally borne by one of the party as a reminder of the festivities of the approaching season. In the absence of such a cup, a small box decorated with holly, within which two dolls, representing the Virgin and Child, are seen under a glass cover, now bears the name of the Vessel Cup. This idea is of course borrowed from the Crib set up in the Roman Catholic churches at this season. Like the country folk above mentioned, these carol singers invariably give a twig from the Vessel Cup in return for the gratuity bestowed upon them.
464. Of all the festivals of the year, religious as well as secular, Christmas is at once the most important. During the dead season, when Nature sleeps beneath its snowy mantle; when the harvest has been gathered in, and tillagetime has not yet come round; when the days are shortest, and the nights long and dreary; when the scattered members of the family are for the nonce re-assembled round the glowing hearth: this is the season for mirth and jollity in cottage and in hall. It needed not the institution of a new religion to instil feelings of peace and goodwill into the minds of men at such a time. On the contrary, each and all the practices which mark the close of the Christian year have been derived most directly from pagan sources. The holly, box, ivy, laurel, and bay, which enter so largely into our Christmas-tide Church Decorations adorned not only the temples and private houses of the Romans during their Saturnalia, but also the rude huts of the ancient Britons at their great winter festival, which occurred at the same period. Mention has already been made (see 463) of the sprigs of holly and mistletoe which the Druids sent round to the people a few days prior to the great event. Though intended as a peace-offering, they were really a reminder to deck their dwellings with evergreens, so that the sylvan spirits might repair to them, and in this way shelter their inmates from frost and wintry blasts until the milder season of spring had renewed their natural foliage. We know how greatly the Mistletoe was venerated by the Druids; partly because they ascribed peculiar medicinal virtues to it, and partly because it was found on the stalwart oak, the favourite tree of their god Tulane:, or Bel, corresponding to the Phoenician sun-god Baal, who was worshipped under so many different names by the nations of antiquity. On stated days they cut the sacred plant with a golden knife, and distributed it among the people; but on December 21st, when the sun resumed its upward course, in addition to the usual ceremonies, two white bulls were sacrificed in the thickest part of the grove, and huge fires were lighted in honour of that bright luminary whose festival was now inaugurated. In the early days of Christianity the clergy made the most strenuous attempts to prevent the decoration of the churches with evergreens, but all to no avail. All they could do was to prevent the mistletoe from being employed in combination with them. The white and everlasting flowers which have latterly come into general use for adorning the principal parts of the church, are emblems of purity and everlasting woe. For the social custom of Kissing under the Mistletoe we are indebted to Scandinavian mythology. Baldur, the Apollo of the North, and the favourite of the gods, was hated by Loki; but as nothing that sprang from fire, earth, air, or water, could harm him, the wicked spirit accomplished the death of Baldur by means of a mistletoe dart. As some reparation for this/injury the plant was afterwards dedicated to Frigg, Baldur's mother, so long as it did not touch earth, Loki's empire. In her hands it became the emblem of love, for everyone who passed under it received a kiss to show that it was no longer the instrument of enmity and death. This is why the mistletoe is suspended in our houses during the season when amity, peace, and good-feeling abound.
465. The Burning of the Yule Log had a Scandinavian rather than a Druidical origin. Although a counterpart of the Midsummer fires lighted out of doors in all parts of the country at the festival of the summer solstice (see 446), the Scandinavian nations gave the name of Yuul to their great winter festival, at which immense bonfires were enkindled in honour of their god Thor. The bringing in from the woods and placing on the hearth of the baronial hall the ponderous block was a time-honoured observance on Christmas Eve.
466. Bringing in the Boar's Head was formerly an elaborate ceremonial during the Christmas Day repast at all the mansions of the wealthy. This was a survival of the Middle Ages, when a whole boar, richly gilded, was served up at table by way of brawn. The time-honoured custom still obtains, if nowhere else, at Queen's College, Oxford, in memory of an incident connected with the history of that establishment. One day, while walking in Shotover Forest, absorbed in the study of his Aristotle, a young collegian was suddenly made aware of the presence of a wild boar, in consequence of the animal making a rush at him openmouthed. With extraordinary presence of mind he made no more to do of it than to exclaim "Graecum est," and thrust the philosopher's ethics down his assailant's throat; then, having effectually choked the monster, went on his way rejoicing. At least so runs the story.
467. The Christmas Mummeries of a bygone day, which were brought to an end on Twelfth Night, all traced their being, like the modern Carnival (see 423) to the Roman Saturnalia, a festival said to have been instituted B.C. 497, to commemorate the equality which prevailed on the earth in the golden reign of Saturn. Whatever its origin, the Saturnalia was unquestionably a season of remarkable licence. Slaves were freed for the time being, and even waited upon by their masters. Everyone had full liberty to speak his mind. Work was stopped, the schools were closed, and war was temporarily suspended. Gifts were exchanged by all classes, who went about in masks and fantastic attire, while feasting and debauchery marked the hour. To check the mischievous tendencies of these excitements, which suffered no abatement during the first centuries of Christianity, the clergy invented plays, farces, and pantomimes, founded upon mythological subjects and popular legends, and these they performed in the churches during the holiday season, hoping thereby to divert the people from the more dangerous amusements out of doors. The Easter and Whitsuntide plays were of a different kind, being essentially religious in character; but even these contained a modicum of buffoonery, suited to the coarse tastes of the age. As for the Christmastide entertainments, they were burlesques of the most extravagant order. So outrageously did even the highest dignitaries of the Church disport themselves with their congregations, that the season soon received the name of The Feast of Fools. About the same time similar buffooneries were introduced at Court and in the castles of the nobility, all the retainers taking part therein under the direction of "the Lord of Misrule," a personage corresponding to the "Abbot of Misrule" in the monasteries and churches. In the sixteenth century these displays became more refined, and thenceforward received the name of Masques, from the large masks still worn by some of the performers. They were really the private theatricals of the nobility, answering the same purpose as the drawing-room plays and acting charades of the present time. How much the Court masque had in common with the modern Christmas pantomime is shown in another place (see 230).
468. The custom of making presents at Christmas time was derived from the Romans, who made gifts to one another during the Saturnalia (see 467). They are called Christmas Boxes from the alms-boxes formerly placed in the churches to receive the donations of the congregation for the benefit of the poor on Christmas morning. As the alms were not doled out until the following day, December 26th came to be known as Boxing Day. On the same occasion watchmen, scavengers, and others made the rounds of the parish collecting perquisites (see 416, 469). The early Christians presented their children with toys, fruits, and clothing on Christmas morning, under the pretence that they had been dropped through the roof by the Christ Child while passing over the houses during the night. A similar deception is practised in Germany, where "Kriss Kringle" has almost entirely usurped the place of St. Nicholas in the minds of the little folk. In Holland and Belgium it is still Santa Klaus who is supposed to fill the stockings and shoes with good things over-night, though why he should do this on Christmas Eve rather than St. Nicholas' Eve, as of old, surpasses understanding. True, there may be a few out-of-the-way places where the original date is still observed. Years ago it was the custom in Friesland to send round to all the houses on St. Nicholas' Eve a fellow dressed in imitation episcopal robes and mitre to impersonate the saint, inquiring whether the children had been good or bad, and promising them toys or a rod, as the case might be, against the morning. An adaptation of this custom still lingers in many German villages, where on Christmas Eve, one "Knecht Rupert," in high buskins and an enormous flaxen wig, brings the children their presents if good, or a rod if disobedient, according to instructions received from their parents. In some places he is called "Pelsnichol," or Nicholas with the fur, from the fur cap and coat trimmed with fur that he wears. It should be mentioned in this place that our Father Christmas, represented as an old man with snow-white beard and locks, is taken from the Priapus of Virgil and Petronius, who held in his capacious bosom all manner of fruits and dainties.
469. The Christmas Waits were originally Court pages, and afterwards town musicians, who, to show that they dispensed the Lord Mayor's music, wore his cognizance on a badge on their arms. At a later period, the civic watchmen employed to call out the successive hours of the night took upon themselves the doubtful pleasure of serenading the sleeping inhabitants with joyful song at the approach of Christmas. These performances certainly enhanced their prospects of receiving a gratuity when Boxing Day came round (see 468). Last of all, when the watchmen were displaced by the police in 1829, private musicians embraced the opportunity of earning a little money in the character of waits. The reader will scarcely require to be informed that the hymns rendered on such occasions had their origin, like the Christmas Carols, in the "Gloria in excelsis Deo," sung by the angels in the hearing of the shepherds at the birth of the Saviour. If there is one country more than another where the people enter thoroughly into the spirit of the Nativity, it is Holland. In nearly every Dutch town, at two o'clock on Christmas morning, the young men assemble in the market-place, singing the "Gloria," and various other appropriate hymns. One of them carries a large artificial star, within which is a lighted candle, aloft on a pole. This is supposed to represent the star that guided the steps of the three kings to the stable at Bethlehem. The effect of the solitary light in the surrounding darkness is very marked. Their devotions ended, the whole party make a parade through the town to the house of some opulent inhabitant, where a supper is spread before them.
470. The Christmas Tree was introduced into England by the Prince Consort shortly after his marriage with Queen Victoria. In America it is much more popular than among ourselves, having been introduced over there long ago by the German and Dutch emigrants. That it should be peculiar to Germany is strange, seeing that its origin carries us back to a period long anterior to Christianity. It is a well-known fact that the palm-tree puts forth a branch every month; wherefore the ancient Egyptians employed a spray of the palm, having twelve shoots upon it, at the time of the winter solstice as a symbol of the completed year.
471. The Christmas Candles which in some remote parts of the country are still burned from the early dawn until the close of day, lest some evil should befall the house during the ensuing year, are a survival of the monstre Yule candle which in former times shed its light upon the festive board at this season. Although an accompaniment of the Yule log, the candle had a totally different significance. Whereas the former claimed a pagan origin, the latter was a sign of the Light that came into the world, as prophesied by John the Baptist. The lighting of the tiny coloured candles on the Christmas tree (see 470) has the like meaning. It was the presentation of these candles by the tallow chandlers to their regular customers at Christmas time that made other tradesmen follow suit with a Christmas box (see 468).
472. The Roast Beef of Old England still enters most conspicuously into our Christmas dinner fare. It will doubtless be news to many to learn that the object of serving it up at this season was really to remind our forefathers of the bulls sacrificed by the Druids when the sacred mistletoe was cut (see 464). The Christmas Pudding is supposed to be emblematical of the rich offerings made by the three kings to the Infant in the stable at Bethlehem. The Mince Pies are all that are left to us of the immense Christmas pie of forced meat and sweet materials, formerly placed upon the festive board in the shape of a cratch or cradle, emblematical of the manger in which our Saviour was laid. When the large pie first gave place to a multitude of smaller ones, they were made coffin-shaped instead of round as nowadays, the better to realize the idea of the manger.
473. The Pantomime on Boxing Day is a time-honoured institution. It was on December 26th, 1717, that John Rich produced the first English pantomime, "Harlequin Executed," at the Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre, and from that time to the present King Pantomime has regularly followed close upon the heels of Father Christmas. Pantomimes are said to be "invented" rather than written nowadays. Here again we note the analogy between the pantomime and the Court masque. A masque produced upon a scale of unparalleled splendour at Whitehall on Shrove Tuesday, 1663, was announced as "invented" by Inigo Jones and Thomas Carew, the Cavalier poet (see 230).
474. Innocents' Day (December 28th) was formerly regarded as the most unlucky day of the whole year. To instil into their minds a horror of Herod's Massacre of the Innocents on this day, children were soundly whipped in their beds before rising by their parents. This was an ecclesiastical idea. Being undeserving of such punishment, the young folk were thus taught to suffer pain, like the Innocents, for Christ's sake.
475. A strange superstition prevails in many English families in connection with the Christmas Holly. Before midnight on New Year's Eve every vestige of holly must be removed, or ill-luck will be sure to fall upon the house. The inference to be drawn from this is that the New Year must be entered upon in all seriousness, with nothing to put them in mind of the late festivities. According to old-established rule, the holly should not be taken down until after Twelfth Night.