British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

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

Home Main Menu Order Support About Search

Share page  

Previous Contents Next

Dec. 25.]                       Christmas day.                                459
old English cookery books the crust of a pie is generally called " the coffin."
Minced pies, says Timbs {Something for Everybody, 1861, p. 149), were derived from the paste images and sweetmeats given to the Fathers of the Vatican at Home on Christmas-Eve. Eating minced pies at Christmas was formerly a test of orthodoxy against recusants.
Mistletoe.—At what period mistletoe came to be recognised as a Christmas evergreen, is not by any means certain. We have Christmas carols in praise of holly and ivy of even earlier date than the fifteenth century, but allusion to mistle­toe can scarcely be found for two centuries later, or before the time of Herrick. Coles, too, in his Knowledge of Plants, 1656, says of mistletoe, "it is carried many miles to set up in houses about Christmas-time, when it is adorned with a white glistening berry." In the tract, Round about our Coal-Fire, published early in the last century, we are told the rooms were embowered with holly, ivy, cypress, bays, laurel, and mistletoe. Brand (Pop. Antiq., 1849, vol. i. p. 523) thinks that mistletoe was never put in churches among ever­greens but by mistake or ignorance; for, says he, it was tha heathenish, or profane plant, as having been of such distinc­tion in the pagan rites of druidism, and it had its place therefore assigned it in kitchens, where it was hung in great state.—See Timbs' Things Not Generally Known, 1856, pp. 159-160.
Lord of Misrule.—His office was to preside over the fes­tivities of Christmas, and his duties consisted in directing the various revels of the season. In some great families, aud occasionally at Court, he was also called the Abbot of Misruler corresponding with the French Abbe de Liesse, a word which implies merriment. Stow, in his Survey of London, alluding to this whimsical custom says:—" In the feast of Christmas there was in the king's house, wheresoever he lodged, a Lord of Misrule, or master of merry disports, and the like, had ye in the house of every nobleman of honour, or good worship, were he spiritual or temporal. The Mayor of London, and cither of the sheriffs, had their several lords of misrule, ever contending, without quarrel or offence, who should make the rarest pastime to delight the beholders, these lords beginning
Previous Contents Next