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. 26.
a crooked stick to a given point, while an adversary en­deavours to drive it in a contrary direction.—Mason, Stat. Ace. of Ireland, 1814, vol. ii p. 160.
Dec. 26.]              ST. STEPHEN'S DAY.
For some unexplained reason St. Stephen's Day was a great period with our ancestors for bleeding their horses, which was practised by#people of all ranks, and recommended by the old agricultural poet Tusser, in his Five Hundred Points of Husbandry (chap. xxii. st. 16), who says :
" Yer, Christmas be passed, let horsse be let blood, For manie a purpose it dooth him much good; The day of S. Steeven old fathers did use; If that do mislike thee, some other day chuse."
Mr. Douce says that the practice was introduced into this country by the Danes.
Naogeorgus, according to his translator, Barnaby Googe, refers to it, and assigns a reason :
" Then followeth Saint Stephen's Day, whereon doth every man, His horses jaunt and course abrode, as swiftly as he can, Until they doe extreemely sweate, and then they let them blood; For this being done upon this day, they say doth do them good, And keepes them from all maladies, and sicknesse through the yeare, As if that Steven any time took charge of horses heare."
In explanation, it may be stated that the Saint was the patron of horses, and that on this day, which the Germans call Der grosse Pferdstag, the Pope's stud was physicked and bled for the sake of the blood which was supposed to be a remedy in many disorders.
Aubrey, in his Remains of Gentilisme (MS. Lansd. 226), says : " On St. Stephen's day, the farrier came constantly and blouded all our cart-horses." In the "Eeceipts and Disbursements of the canons of St. Mary in Huntingdon," is the following entry: " Item, for letting our horses blede in Chrystmasse weke, iiijV—Med. AEvi Kalend. 1841, vol. i. p- 118.
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