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. 25.]                         CHRISTMAS DAY.                                   457
shepherds at our Lord's Nativity, was the earliest Christmas carol. In the early ages of the Church bishops were accus­tomed to sing these sacred canticles among their clergy. The oldest printed collections in England are those of Wynkyn de Worde, 1521, and of Kele soon after. Warton, in his History of English Poetry, notices a licence granted in 1562 to John Tysdale for printing " Certayne goodly carowles to be songe to the glory of God;" and again, " Crestenmas carowles auctorisshed by my lord of London." See N. & Q. 4:th S. vol. x. p. 485. In the sixteenth century the popularity of carol-singing occasioned the publication of a duodecimo volume, published in 1642, entitled, " Psalmes or Songs of Sion, turned into the language, and set to the tunes of a strange land. By W(illiam) S(layter), intended for Christ­mas carols, and fitted to divers of the most noted and common but solemne tunes, everywhere in this land familiarly used and knowne."—See Athenceum, December 20th, 1856; Sandy's Christmas Carols, 1833.
Decorations.—Tradition, says Phillips in his Sylva Florifera (1823, vol. i. p. 281), asserts that the first Christian church in Britain was built of boughs, and that this plan was adopted as more likely to attract the notice of the people because the heathens built their temples in that manner, probably to imitate the temples of Saturn which were always under the oak. The great feast of Saturn was held in December, and as the oaks of this country were then without leaves, the priests obliged the people to bring in boughs and sprigs of evergreens; and Christians, on the 20th of the same month, did likewise, from whence originated the present custom of placing holly and other evergreens in our churches and houses to show the arrival of the feast of Christmas. The name of holly is a corruption of the word holy, as Dr. Turner, our earliest writer on plants, calls it Holy and Holy tree. It has a great variety of names in Germany, amongst which is Christdorn; in Danish it is also called Christorn; and in Swedish Christtorn, amongst other appellations.
A correspondent of Book of Days, speaking of this custom (vol. ii., p. 753), says the decking of churches, houses, and shops with evergreens at Christmas springs from a period far anterior to the revelation of Christianity, and seems proxi-
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