British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

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

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494                             st. Stephen's day.                     [Dec. 26.
The usage gave rise to so much rioting that it was discon­tinued, and an annual sum was distributed instead in propor­tion to the number of the claimants. In time, the number of inhabitants, however, increased so considerably, that about the year 1827 the custom was dropped.—Ibid. p. 121.
St. Stephen's Day was formerly observed at Cambridge. Slicer, a character in the old play of the Ordinary says,
" Let the Corporal Come sweating under a breast of mutton, stuffed With pudding."
This, says the annotator, was called St. Stephen's pudding; it used formerly to be provided at St. John's College, Cam­bridge, uniformly on St. Stephen's Day.—Dodsley's Old Plays, 1721, vol. x. p. 229; Med. AEvi Kalend. vol. i. p. 119.
Isle of Man.
Hunting the wren has been a pastime in the Isle of Man from time immemorial. In Waldron's time it was observed on the 24th of December, though afterwards it was observed on St. Stephen's Day. This singular ceremony is founded on a tradition that, in former times, a fairy of uncommon beauty exerted such undue influence over the male popula­tion, that she, at various times, induced, by her sweet voice, numbers to follow her footsteps, till by degrees she led them into the sea where they perished. This barbarous exercise of power had continued for a great length of time, till it was apprehended that the island would be exhausted of its de­fenders, when a knight-errant sprang up, who discovered some means of countervailing the charms used by this siren, and even laid a plot for her destruction, which she only escaped at the moment of extreme hazard by taking the form of a wren. But though she evaded instant annihilation, a spell was cast upon her by which she was condemned, on every succeeding New Year's Day, to reanimate the same form with the definite sentence that she must ultimately
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