British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

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

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486                                 CHRISTMAS DAY.                      [DEO. 25.
Go 1 bless the maester of this 'ouse—
Tiie mistriss all-so. An' all the little childrun
That round the table go.
A apple, a pare, a plom, an* a cherry;
A sup a* good ale mak' a man murry," &c.
The same house will not admit a second boy. One is suffi­cient to protect it from any ill-luck that might otherwise happen. A penny is the usual gratuity for this service.— N. & Q. 3rd S. vol. v. p. 395.
WALES.
A custom prevails in Wales of carrying about at Christmas time a horse's skull dressed up with ribbons, and supported on a pole by a man who is concealed under a large white cloth. There is a contrivance for opening and shutting the jaws, and the figure pursues and bites everybody it can lay hold of, and does not release them except on payment of a fine. It is generally accompanied by some men dressed up in a grotesque manner, who, on reaching a house, sing some extempore verses requesting admittance, and are in turn answered by those within, until one party or the other is at a loss for a reply. The Welsh are undoubtedly a practical people, and these verses often display a good deal of clever­ness. This horse's head is called Mart Lwyd, which I have heard translated " Grey mare." Lywd certainly is grey, but Mart is not a mare in Welsh.*—N. & Q. 1st S. vol. i. p. 173.
Upon Christmas Day, about three o'clock in the morning, the Welsh in many parts used to assemble in church, and after prayers and a sermon, continue there singing psalms and hymns with great devotion, till it was daylight; and if, through age or infirmity, any were disabled from attending, they never failed having prayers at home, and carols on our
* This custom was also practised in one or two places in Lancashire about the year 1840. The horse was played in a similar way, but the performer was called " Old Ball." It is no doubt a vestige of the old " hobby-horse."—Ibid. p. 245.
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