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.                                   405
Turkey.—The turkey has graced the Christmas table from the date of its introduction into England, about the year 1524. Tusser mentions the bird as forming part of the Christmas fare in 1587 :
*' Beefe, mutton, and porke, shred pies of the best; Pig, veale, goose, and capon, and turkie well drest."
Waits.—Musicians who play by night for two or three weeks before Christmas, terminating their performances generally on Christmas Eve. It is uncertain, says a corre­spondent (f Book of Bays (vol ii. p. 742), whether the term Waits denoted originally musical instruments, a particular kind of music, or the persons who played under certain special circumstances. There is evidence in support of all these views. At one time the name of waits was given to minstrels attached to the king's court, whose duty it was to guard the streets at night and proclaim the hour, something in the same manner as the watchmen were wont to do in London before the establishment of the metropolitan police. Down to the year 1820, perhaps later, says the same writer (p. 743), the waits had a certain degree of official recognition in the cities of London and Westminster. In London, the post was purchased; in Westminster, it was an appointment under the control of the high constable and the court of burgesses. A police inquiry about Christmas time in that year brought the matter in a singular way under public notice. Mr. Clay had been the official leader of the waits for Westminster, and, on his death, Mr. Monro obtained the post. Having employed a number of persons in different parts of the city and liberties of Westminster to serenade the inhabitants, trusting to their liberality at Christmas as a re­muneration, he was surprised to find that other persons were, unauthorized, assuming the right of playing at night, and making applications to the inhabitants for Christmas boxes. Sir E. Baker, the police magistrate, promised to aid Mr. Munro in the assertion of his claims, and the result, in several cases, showed that there really was this " vested right" to charm the ears of the citizens with nocturnal music. At present, however, there is nothing to prevent any number of such itinerant minstrels from plying their midnight calling.
2 u
Previous Contents Next