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.]                  st. Stephen's Day                               495
perish by human hand. In consequence of this legend, on the specified anniversary, every man and boy in the island (except those who have thrown off the trammels of supersti­tion) devote the hours between sunrise and sunset to the hope of extirpating the fairy, and woe be to the individual birds of that species who show themselves on this fatal day to the active enemies of the race; they are pursued, pelted, fired at, and destroyed, without mercy, and their feathers preserved with religious care, it being an article of belief that every one of the relics gathered in this laudable pursuit is an effec­tive preservative from shipwreck for one year; and that fisherman would be considered extremely foolhardy who should enter upon his occupation without such a safeguard ; when the chase ceases, one of the little victims is affixed to the top of a long pole with its wings extended, and carried in front of the hunters, who march in procession to every house, chanting the following rhyme:
"We hunted the wren for Robin the Bobbin, We hunted the wren for Jack of the Can, We hunted the wren for Robin the Bobbin, We hunted the wren for every one."
After making the usual circuit and collecting all the money they could obtain, they laid the wren on a bier and carried it in procession to the parish churchyard, where, with a whimsi­cal kind of solemnity, they made a grave, buried it and sang dirges over it in the Manks language, which they call her knell. After the obsequies were performed, the company, outside the churchyard wall, formed a circle and danced to music which they had provided for the occasion.
At present there is not a particular day for pursuing the wren : it is captured by boys alone, who follow the old custom principally for amusement. On St. Stephen's Day a group of boys go from door to door with a wren suspended by the legs, in the centre of two hoops crossing each other at right angles, decorated with evergreens and ribbons, singing lines called Hunt the Wren. If at the close of this rhyme they are fortunate enough to obtain a small coin, they give in return a feather of the wren ; and before the close of the day the little bird may sometimes be seen hanging about featherless. The ceremony of the interment of this bird in the churchyard, at
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