British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

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

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Dec, 6.]                      st. Nicholas' day.                             433
church; and the first thing they did upon the eve of their patron's festival was to elect from among themselves, in every parish church, cathedral, and nobleman's chapel, a bishop and his officials, or, as they were then called, " a Nicholas and his clerks." This boy-bishop and his ministers after­wards sang the first vespers of their saint, and, in the evening, arrayed in their appropriate vestments, walked all about the parish; all were glad to see them, and those who could afford it asked them into their houses to bestow a gift of money, sweetmeats, or food upon them. In the year 1299 we find Edward I., on his way to Scotland, permitting one of these boy-bishops to say vespers before him in his chapel at Heton, near Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and making a considerable present to the said bishop and certain other boys that came and sang with him on the occasion, on the 7th of December, the day after St. Nicholas' Day. What was the custom in the houses of our nobles we may learn from the Northumberland Household Book, which tells us that " My lord useth and accustomyth to gyfe yerly, upon Saynt Nicolas-Even, if he kepe chapell for Saynt Nicolas, to the master of his childeren of his chapell, for one of the childeren of his chapell, yerely, vi8, viiid*; and if Saynt Nicolas com owt of the towne wher my lord lyeth, and my lord kepe no chapell, than to have yerely iii8' iiijd*" At Eton College, it was on St. Nicholas' Day, and not on Childermas, that the boy-bishop officiated, which he did not only at evensong, but at mass, which he began and went on with up to the more solemn part at the offertory : " In festo Sancti Nicholai, in quo, et nullatenus in festo Sanctorum Innocentium, divina officia praeter missse secreta exequi et dici permittimus per episcopum puerorum scholiarium ad hoc de eisdem annis singulis eligendum."
It was upon this festival that some wealthy man or other of the parish would make an entertainment on the occasion for his own household, and invite his neighbours' children to come and partake of it; and, of course, Nicholas and his clerks sat in the highest place. The Golden Legend tells how "a man, for the love of his sone that wente to scole for to lerne, halo wed every year the feest of Saynt Nycholas moche solemply. On a time it happed that the fader had doo make
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