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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