British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

A calendar of the traditional customs, practices & rituals of the British Isles.

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Jan. i.]                  NEW YEAR'S DAY.
New Year's Day has always been a time of general rejoicing and festivity, its observance being characterised by many a curious custom and superstitious practice. History tells us how on this day the Druids were accustomed, with much pomp and ceremony, to distribute branches of the sacred mistletoe amongst the people; those precious gifts having the night before been cut from the oak-tree in a forest dedicated to the gods. Among the Saxons of the northern nations the new year was ushered in by friendly gifts, and celebrated with such extraordinary festivity that people actually used to reckon their age by the numbers of annual merry-makings in which they had participated, Fosbroke, in his Encyclopedia of Antiquities, notices the continua­tion of the Roman practice of interchanging gifts during the middle and later ages; a custom which prevailed especially amongst our kings, queens, and the nobility. According to Matthew Paris, Henry III., following the discreditable example of some of the Roman emperors, even extorted them from his subjects.
In Rymer's Foedera (vol. x. p. 387) a list is given of the gifts received by Henry VI. between Christmas Day and February 4th, 1428, consisting of sums of 40s., 20s., 13s. 4d., 10s., 6s. 8d., and 3s. 4d.
In the reign of Henry VII. the reception of the New Year's gifts presented by the king and queen to each other
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