Christmas Past: When Did Santa First Go Ho Ho Ho?

Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle – call him what you will, the development of this composite folkloric figure has been pretty thoroughly mapped. Much has been written about how writers like Washington Irving, Clement Clarke Moore and Robert Lewis May, along with artists like Thomas Nast and Haddon Sundblom helped to develop the popular image of Santa: name an aspect of Santa’s persona, and the origin typically won’t be hard to trace.

There’s a notable exception to this, however. When, exactly, did Santa first say “ho ho ho”? A search on Google will reveal discussions about why he goes “ho ho ho” rather than, say, “ha ha ha” (consensus is that “ho ho ho” indicates general joviality, while “ha ha ha” could be construed as laughing in mockery) but little or nothing about when “ho ho ho” became the officially-sanctioned Santa laugh.

So, I decided to finish my trip through festive history by researching the question myself.

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Christmas Past: Victorian Drinking Song

Our Victorian ancestors not only drank alcohol on Christmas; they also sang songs about snogging it. At least, that’s the impression given by the Angel Illustrated Pocket Keepsake and Book of Christmas Amusements, for 1877 (the same publication that gave us an amusing set of conundrums).

Brighten the Flame.
Published by Hopwood & Crew,
42, New Bond Street;
Poetry by Daise J. Curry; Composed by W. Bush

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Christmas Past: Victorian Conundrums


Today’s festive clipping is from the Angel Illustrated Pocket Keepsake and Book of Christmas Amusements for 1877. The book contains a chapter devoted to conundrums, which even today will no doubt bemuse and bewilder your friends and family.

What possesses the more cheerful disposition, gas or candles?
Why, we often hear of laughing-gas, but the best candles are always waxy

Why is wine spoilt by being converted into negus?
Because you make a mull of it.

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Christmas Past: Whitby Customs

My last Christmas clipping of the week comes from F. K. Robinson’s Glossary of Words Used in the Neighbourhood of Whitby (1876), the preface of which has a section on festive customs…

The mode of announcing the season in our country places is similar to what has been told of the town; though the rustic, when he calls at the farmstead, lacks not his peculiar address on the occasion:—

‘I wish ye a merry Kessenmas an’ a happy New Year,
A pooakful o’ money an’ a cellar full o’ beer;
A good fat pig an’ a new cawven coo,
Good maisther an# misthress, hoo do yo do;’

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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.

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Christmas Past: Traditions Remembered

My latest Christmas clipping is from an 1851 edition of Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal. After quoting a song by George Wither celebrating hospitality and a description from 1770 of a Christmas pie (that included four geese, two turkeys, four partridges, seven blackbirds and more), the article comments on the changing face of Christmastime. I was particularly intrigued by the (uncited) account of folklore relating to animals kneeling on Christmas Eve reaching the indigenous population of Canada.

But times have changed. There is but little noisy jollity in Christmas as at present celebrated: people go no longer to see the Glastonbury thorn blow on the 25th December, either Old or New Style; not visit cattle-lairs at midnight of Christmas-Eve, to see the oxen fall on their knees, as they are said to have done at the time of the Nativity in the stable at Bethlehem—a superstition which one would hardly expect to find reproduced in Canada, where an Indian was detected stealing out ‘to see the deer kneel;’ for, as he replied to his questioner, ‘it was Christmas night, when all the deer fall upon their knees to the Great Spirit, and look up.’

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Christmas Past: The Kneeling Oxen


Just a short piece today, from an 1883 edition of Notes and Queries. Here, F. C. Birkdeck Terry writes about a regional superstition that involves oxen, horses and bees honouring Christ’s birth at Christmastime; this belief was the basis for Thomas Hardy’s poem “The Oxen”.

Folk-lore of Christmas Eve (see notice of Shropshire Folk-Lore, 6th 8. Viii. 309).—It is stated at the above reference that it is believed in Nottinghamshire that “at midnight on Christmas Eve the horses and oxen fall on their knees in prayer in honour of our blessed Lord’s nativity.” This belief is not confined to Nottinghamshire. I remember many years ago hearing a great-aunt of mine narrate how, if we went out precisely at twelve o’clock and visited the place where the cattle were stabled, we should hear them fall upon their knees in adoration, whilst if we went into the garden where the bees were, we should hear them humming in honour of our Saviour’s birth. The same belief prevails in Lancashire.

Christmas Past: More Lords of Misrule

Last week I posted an excerpt from an 1845 London Journal article discussing the erstwhile Christmas tradition of the Lord of Misrule. The relevant section of the article was rather long so I didn’t quote the whole thing, but here’s the remainder. This time the author reproduces two more historical accounts involving the Lord of Misrule, wrapping up with comments that shed light on the gift-giving aspect of Christmas in the mid-nineteenth century.

In 1594 there was a celebrated Christmas festival held in Gray’s Inn, London, and a Lord of Misrule was duly appointed. His name was Henry Holmes, and he was dubbed with the following titles:— “The high and mighty Prince Henry, Prince of Purpoole, Archduke of Stapuha and Bernardia; Duke of High and Low Holborn; Marquis of Saint Giles and Tottenham; Count Palatine of Bloomsbury and Clerkenwell; Great Lod of the Cantons of Islington, Kentish Town, Paddington, and Knightsbridge; Knight of the most Heroical Order of the Helmet, and Sovereign of the same.” If these were not titles enough we are sadly mistaken; they best the honourable distinction of him whom Sir Walter Scott thus addressed:—

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