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. 21.]                      ST. THOMAS* DAY.                                   439
round the parish and call at the houses of the principal inhabitants, begging money or provisions wherewith to celebrate the approaching festivity of Christmas. In return for the alms bestowed during these " gooding " peregrinations, it was customary for the recipients, in former times, to present to their benefactors a sprig of holly or mistletoe.— Book of Days, vol. ii. p. 724; see Gent. Mag. 1794, vol. lxiv. p. 292.
Girls, says Halliwell, used to have a method of divination with a " St. Thomas's Onion," for the purpose of ascertaining their future partners. They peeled the onion, wrapped it up in a clean handkerchief, and then, placing it under their heads, said the following lines :
" Good St. Thomas, do me right, And see my true love come to-night, That I may see him in the face, And him in my kind arms embrace."
One of the old cries of London was, " Buy my rope of onions—white St. Thomas's Onions."—Popular Rhymes, 1849, p. 224.
An ancient annual payment of 51. out of an estate at Biddenham, formerly belonging to the family of Boteler, and now the property of Lord Viscount Hampden, is regularly paid on St. Thomas's Day to the overseers of the poor for the purchase of a bull, which is killed, and the flesh thereof given amongst the poor persons of the parish. For many years past the annual fund, being insufficient to purchase a bull, the deficiency has been made good out of other charities belonging to the parish. It was proposed some years ago by the vicar that the 51. a year should be laid out in buying meat, but the poor insisted on the customary purchase of a bull being continued, and the usage is accordingly kept up.—Edwards, Old English Customs and Charities, 1842, p. 64.
The cruel practice of bull-baiting was continued annually on St. Thomas's Day, in the market-place of the town of
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