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.                                       485
The sword or morisco dance used to be practised at Richmond, during the Christmas holidays, by young men dressed in shirts ornamented with ribbons folded into roses, having swords, or wood cut in the form of that weapon. They exhibited various feats of activity, attended by an old fiddler, by Bessy in the grotesque habit of an old woman, and by the fool almost coveied with skins, a hairy cap on his head, and the tail of a fox hanging from his head. These led the festive throng, and diverted the crowd with their droll antic buffoonery. The office of one of these characters was to go about rattling a box, and soliciting money from door to door to defray the expenses of a feast and a dance in the evening.—History of Richmond, 1814, p. 296.
In Sheffield, a male must be the first to enter a house on the morning of both Christmas Day and New Year's Day ; but there is no distinction as to complexion or colour of hair. In the houses of the more opulent manufacturers, these first admissions are often accorded to choirs of work­people, who, as " waits," proceed at an early hour and sing before the houses of their employers and friends Christmas carols and hymns, always commencing with that beautiful composition;
" Christians, awake, salute the happy morn, Whereon the Saviour of mankind was born.**
On expressing their good wishes to the inmates, they are generally rewarded with something warm and occasionally with a pecuniary present.
Among the class called " respectable," but not manu­facturers, a previous arrangement is often made ; that a boy, the son of a friend, shall come and be first admitted, receiving for his good wishes a Christmas-box of sixpence or a shilling. The houses of the artisans and poor are successively besieged by a host of gaming, who, soon after midnight, spread them­selves over the town, shouting at the doors, and through key­holes, as follows:
MAu wish ya a murry Chrismas,— A 'appy new year,— A' pockit full of munny, An' a celler full a' beer.
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