Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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common formerly in Protestant England, is that of making and giving " soul-cakes." These and the quest of them by children were customary in various English counties and in Scotland.*6 The youngsters would beg not only for the cakes but also some­times for such things as " apples and strong beer," presumably to make a " wassail-bowl" of " lambswool," hot spiced ale with roast apples in it. I7 Here is a curious rhyme which they sang in Shropshire as they went round to their neighbours, collecting contributions :—
" Soul ! soul ! for a soul-cake ! I pray, good missis, a soul-cake ! An apple or pear, a plum or a cherry, Any good thing to make us merry. One for Peter, two for Paul, Three for Him who made us all. Up with the kettle, and down with the pan, Give us good alms, and we'll be gone."18
Shropshire is a county peculiarly rich in "souling" traditions, and one old lady had cakes made to give away to the souling-children up to the time of her death in 1884. At that period the custom of " souling " had greatly declined in the county, and where it still existed the rewards were usually apples or money. Grown men, as well as children, sometimes went round, and the ditties sung often contained verses of good-wishes for the house­hold practically identical with those sung by wassailers at Christmas.,
The name " soul-cake " of course suggests that the cakes were in some way associated with the departed, whether given as a reward for prayers for souls in Purgatory, or as a charity for the benefit of the " poor souls," or baked that the dead might feast upon them.* It seems most probable that they were relics or a feast once laid out for the souls. On the other hand it is just possible that they were originally a sacrament of the corn-spirit.
* In Burne and Jackson's " Shropshire Folk-Lore " (p. 305 f.) there are details about cakes and other doles given to the poor at funerals. These probably had the same origin as the November " soul-cakes."
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