British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

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

Home Main Menu Order Support About Search

Share page  

Previous Contents Next

Dec. 28.]                 holy innocents' day.                           499
belonging to the Abbey of Oseney, communicated to him by his friend, Dr. Gerard Langbain, the Provost of Queen's College, Oxford, from which it appears that, at the church of Oseney, " they were wont to bring out, upon this day, the foot of a child prepared after their fashion, and put upon with red and black colours, as to signify the dismal part of the day. They put this up in a chest in the vestry, ready to be produced at the time, and to be solemnly carried about the church to be adored by the people."— Gregorie's Works, Episcopus Puerorum in Die Innocentium, 1684, p. 113.
At Woodchester a muffled peal is rung on this day.— Kalendar of the English Church, 1866, p. 194.
In Northamptonshire this festival was called " Dyzemas Day." Miss Baker, in her Glossary of Northamptonshire Words (1854, vol. i. p. 207), says she was told by a sexa­genarian on the southern side of the county that, within his remembrance, this day was kept as sacred as the Sabbath, and it was considered particularly unlucky to commence any undertaking, or even to wash, on the same day of the -week throughout the year on which the anniversary of this day last fell, and it was commonly said, " What is begun on Dyzemas Day will never be finished."
The source of the ill-omened Dyzemas has not been settled: its origin has been suggested from Greek dus, and mass, as being expressive of misfortune, evil, peril, in allusion to the massacre of the Innocents. A correspondent of N. & Q. (2nd S. vol. iii. pp. 289 and 495) asks if it has not reference to the name Desmas, given to one of the thieves crucified with our Lord; universal tradition seeming to attach Desmas to the penitent, and Gestas (or Yesmas) to the impenitent thief? And if the local tradition has any reference to these names, it would seem as if Desmas was the name of ill-omen. It has also been suggested that Dyzemas Day is tithe day : in Portuguese, dizimas, dizimos, tenths, tithes ; in law Latin,
2 k 2
Previous Contents Next