Christmas Past: Guising and Hogmany

In today’s Christmas clipping, I. E. Aylmer rounds off an article in the 1871-2 volume of St. James Magazine and United Empire Review by pondering the decline of folk traditions. Both Christmas and New Year celebrations turn up in the author’s musings…


Folk lore, once so rife in the border country, is fast dying out; though lonely spots, where some crime his been committed are still avoided and pointed to a haunted. A few ruined Peel towers bear an evil reputation; cross-roads are regarded with suspicion; and now and then a “bogie” or “dummie” is heard of; but the days of supernatural faith have passed away, and the rising generation laugh at ghosts and goblins.

So too is passing away each relic of old-world customs. And though aster still brings its “Paste Eggs,” and Christmas its “Guisers,” the village lads are growing ashamed of even this, only the small ones come to castle or hall for their “Hogmany” (a small cake given upon New Year’s morning) and only very young voices greet you with the quaint old-world rhyme—

Get up gude wife and shake your feathers,
Dinna think that we are beggars,
We are only children come to play,
So rise and gies our hogmany.

The march of intellect is of course very admirable, and as Mr. Gladstone tells us tells us, education—the true stimulus to victory over the vices that grow out of ignorance. By all means “educate,” and explain that “Guising” or “Mumming” is a relic of the war dance of our Danish and Saxon forefathers; that the “Kern” dolly is but the 19th century method of bowing, as our Roman conquerors were used to do, before Ceres. By all means teach the origins of old rites and uses, but do not drive away their usage or memory; let each season bring its own hour of relaxation and union. Let the lads practice Saint George and the Dragon, and the “bairns” put on their Sunday clothes, to wake you with their blithe young voices and New Year’s greeting—

I wish you a merry Christmas
And a happy New Year;
Your pockets full of money,
Your barrels full of beer.

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