BOOK OF CHRISTMAS - online book

The Customs, Ceremonies, Traditions, Superstitions, Fun, Feeling,
And Festivities Of The Christmas Season.

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SIGNS OF THE SEASON.                                   109
" When laurell spirts i' th' fire, and when the hearth Smiles to itselt'e and guilds the roofe with mirth; When up the Thyrse is rais'd, and when the sound Of sacred orgies flyes around, around,"
says Herrick. At the two English universities, the windows of the college-chapels are still carefully decked with laurel, at the season of Christmas.
The holly is a plant of peculiar veneration at this period of the year,—so much so as to have acquired to itself, by a popular metonymy, the name of the season itself—being vulgarly called " Christmas." It is, no doubt, recommended to the general esti­mation in which it is held, by the picturesque forms of its dark glossy leaves, and the brilliant clusters of its rich red berries. There is, in the Harleian Manuscripts, a very striking carol, of so remote a date as the reign of Henry VI., which is quoted by most of the writers on this subject,—and gives a very poetical statement of the respective claims of this plant and of the ivy to popular regard. The inference from the second and fourth verses (taken in connexion with the authorities which place it amongst the plants used for the Christmas ornaments), would seem to be, that, while the former was employed in the decora­tions within doors, the latter was confined to the exteriors of build­ings. Mr. Brand, however, considers those passages to allude to its being used as a vintner's sign ; and infers, from others of the verses, that it was, also, amongst the evergreens employed at funerals. It runs thus :—
" Nay, Ivy ! nay, it shall not be, I wys ; Let Holy hafe the maystry, as the manner ys.
Holy stond in the halle, fayre to behold, Ivy stond without the dore; she ys ful sore a cold.
Nay, Ivy ! &c.
Holy and hys mery men they dawnsyn and they syng. Ivy and hur maydenys they wepyn and they wryng.
Nay, Ivy ! &c
Ivy hath a lyve; she laghtyt with the cold, So mot they all hafe that wyth Ivy hold.
Nay, Ivy! &c.
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