British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

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

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454                                       CHRISTMAS DAY.                          [DjEC. 25.
liquor used on such occasions whence our word ale. A much more probable derivation, however, of the term in question is from the Gothic giul or hiul, the origin of the modern word wheel, and bearing the same significance. According to this very probable explanation, the yule festival received its name from its being the turning-point of the year, or the period at which the fiery orb of day made a revolution in his annual circuit and entered on his northern journey. A confirmation of this view is afforded by the circumstance that, in the old clog almanacs, a wheel is the device employed for marking the season of yule-tide.
The season of the Nativity is now no longer marked by that hospitality which characterized its observance among our forefathers. At present Christmas meetings are chiefly confined to family parties. The wassail-bowl, the yule-clog, and the lord of misrule, with a long train of sports and customs which formerly prevailed at this season are forgotten, even Christmas carols are nearly gone by; and the decking of churches, and occasionally of houses, with holly and other evergreens, forms now almost the only indication that this great festival is at hand.—Knight's English Cyclopcedia, 1859, vol. ii. p. 882.
Christmas, says Pere Cyprian (quoted by Agnes Strickland, Lives of the Queens of England, 1865, vol. iv. pp. 320, 321), was always observed in this country, especially at the King's palaces, with greater ceremony than in any other realm in Europe. Among other ancient ceremonies, he tells us how a branch of the Glastonbury thorn used to be brought up in procession, and presented in great pomp to the King and Queen of England on Christmas morning.
Under the Commonwealth.—In the Diary of John Evelyn (1859, vol. i. p. 297), under the date of the 25th of December, occurs the following:—
11 Christmas Day. No sermon anywhere, no church being permitted to be open, so observed it at home,''
Again, under the same date in 1654 (p. 341), the statement is renewed:
" Christmas Day. No churches or public assembly. I was fain to pass the devotions of that Blessed Day with my family at home."
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