British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

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464                                    CHRISTMAS DAY,                        [DEC. 25
Drusus. The Christmas tree, such as we now see it,'with its pendent toys and mannikins, is distinctly portrayed in a single line of Virgil (Georg. ii. 389) :
" Oscilla ex alta suspendunt mollia pinu."
Consult Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1849, 2nd ed. p. 846, in verb. " oscillum "), where there is given an engraving "from an ancient gem (Maffei, Gem. Ant. iii. 64) representing a tree with four oscilla hung upon its branches." Any one looking into that valuable work will see at once that it is an exact picture of a Christmas tree.
A correspondent of Book of Days (vol. ii. p. 787) says, within the last twenty years, and apparently since the marriage of Queen Victoria with Prince Albert, previous to which time it was almost unknown in this country, the Christmas tree has been introduced into England with the greatest success.
The Vessel-Cup.—There is a very pretty custom, now nearly obsolete, of bearing the " vessel," or, more properly, the wassail-cup, at Christmas. This consists of a box con­taining two dolls, dressed up to represent the Virgiti and the Infant Christ, decorated with ribbons and surrounded by flowers and apples; the box has usually a glass lid, is covered over by a white napkin, and carried from door to door on the arms of a woman; on the top, or in the box, a china bason is placed, and the bearer on reaching a house, uncovered the box and sung the carol known as the " Seven Joys of the Virgin."
The carrying of the " vessel-cup " is a fortuitous specula­tion, as it is considered so unlucky to send any one away unrequited, that few can be found whose temerity is so great as to deter them from giving some halfpence to the singer.
In Yorkshire, formerly, only one image used to be carried about—that of the Saviour, which was placed in a box surrounded by evergreens, and such flowers as could be procured at the season. The party to whose house the figure was carried were at liberty to take from the decorations of the image a leaf or a flower, which was carefully preserved and regarded as a sovereign remedy for the toothache.—Jour, of Arch. Assoc. 1853, vol. viii. p. 38; Book of Days, 1864, vol. ii. p. 725; Brand, Pop. Antiq. vol. i. p. 454.
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