British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

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

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Deo. 28.]                     HOLY INNOCENTS* DAY.                                497
On the anniversary of St. Stephen it is customary for groups of young villagers to bear about a holly-bush adorned with ribbons, and having many wrens depending from it. This is carried from house to house with some ceremony, the "wren-boys" chanting several verses, the bur/then of which may be collected from the following lines of their song:
*4 The wren, the wren, the king of all birds, St. Stephen's Day was caught in the furze, Although he is little, his family's great, I pray you, good landlady, give us a treat.
My box would speak if it had but a tongue, And two or three shillings would do it no wrong; Sing holly, sing ivy—sing ivy, sing holly, A drop just to drink, it would drown melancholy.
And if you draw it of the best,
I hope in Heaven your soul may rest;
But if you draw it of the small,
It won't agree with the wren-boys at all;" ftc, &c.
A small piece of money is usually bestowed on them, and the evening concludes in merry-making with the money thus collected.—Croker, Researches in the South of Ireland, 1824, p. 233.
In consequence probably of the feelings of horror attached to such an act of atrocity as Herod's murder of the children, Innocents' Day nsed to be reckoned about the most unlucky throughout tho year; and in former times no one who could possibly avoid it began any work or entered on any under­taking on this anniversary.* To many Childermas Day
* In the play of Sir John Oldcastle, the prevalence of this belief is instanced by an objection urged to an expedition proposed on a Friday:—"Friday, quoth'a, a dismal day; Candlemas-day this year was Friday."                                                                «
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