In Sweden and Norway, the house is thoroughly cleaned, and juniper or fir branches are spread over the floor. Then each member of the family goes in turn to the bake house, or outer shed, where he takes his annual bath.
But it is back to Old England, after all, that we look for the merriest Christmas. For two or three weeks beforehand, men and boys of the poorer cla.s.s, who were called "waits," sang Christmas carols under every window. Until quite recently these carols were sung all through England, and others of similar import were heard in France and Italy.
The English are said to "take their pleasures sadly," but in the matter of Christmas they can "give us cards and spades and still win."
Parties of Christmas drummers used to go around to the different houses, grotesquely attired, and play all sorts of tricks. The actors were chiefly boys, and the parish beadle always went along to insure order.
The Christmas dinner of Old England was a thing capable of giving the whole nation dyspepsia if they indulged freely.
The main dish was a boar's head, roasted to a turn, and preceded by trumpets and minstrelsy. Mustard was indispensable to this dish.
Next came a peac.o.c.k, skinned and roasted. The beak was gilded, and sometimes a bit of cotton, well soaked in spirits, was put into his mouth, and when he was brought to the table this was ignited, so that the bird was literally spouting fire. He was stuffed with spices, basted with yolks of eggs, and served with plenty of gravy.
Geese, capons, pheasants, carps' tongues, frumenty, and mince, or "shred" pies, made up the balance of the feast.
The chief functionary of Christmas was called "The Lord of Misrule."
In the house of king and n.o.bleman he held full sway for twelve days.
His badge was a fool's bauble and he was always attended by a page, both of them being masked. So many pranks were played, and so much mischief perpetrated which was far from being amusing, that an edict was eventually issued against this form of liberty, not to say license.
The Lord of Misrule was especially reviled by the Puritans, one of whom set him down as "a grande captain of mischiefe." One may easily imagine that this stern old gentleman had been ducked by a party of revellers following in the wake of the lawless "Captaine" because he had refused to contribute to their entertainment.
We need not lament the pa.s.sing of Christmas pageantry, if the spirit of the festival remains. Through the centuries that have pa.s.sed since the first Christmas, the spirit of it has wandered in and out like a golden thread in a dull tapestry, sometimes hidden, but never wholly lost. It behooves us to keep well and reverently such Christmas as we have, else we shall share old Ben Jonson's lament in _The Mask of Father Christmas_, which was presented before the English Court nearly two hundred years ago:
"Any man or woman ... that can give any knowledge, or tell any tidings of an old, very old, grey haired gentleman called Christmas, who was wont to be a very familiar ghest, and visit all sorts of people both pore and rich, and used to appear in glittering gold, silk and silver in the court, and in all shapes in the theatre in Whitehall, and had singing, feasts and jolitie in all places, both citie and countrie for his coming--whosoever can tel what is become of him, or where he may be found, let them bring him back again into England."
Cathedral spire and lofty architrave, Nor priestly rite and humble reverence, Nor costly fires of myrrh and frankincense May give the consecration that we crave; Upon the sh.o.r.e where tides forever lave With grateful coolness on the fevered sense; Where pa.s.sion grows to silence, rapt, intense, There waits the chrismal fountain of the wave.
By rock-hewn altars where is said no word, Save by the deep that calleth unto deep, While organ tones of sea resound above; The truth of truths our inmost souls have heard, And in our hearts communion wine we keep, For He Himself hath said it--"G.o.d is Love!"
« Previous My Bookmarks Chapters Next»