198 THE BOOK OF CHRISTMAS.
have been the practice, at this season, to hang up in our churches, the work of the most skilful penman in the parish, after it had been generally exhibited; the subject of which was the life of some saint, or other religious legend. Pepys thus mentions the custom :—" 26 December, 1665. Saw some fine writing work and flourishing of Mr. Hore, with one that I knew long ago, an acquaintance of Mr. Tomson's at Westminster, that is this man's clerk. It is the story of the several Archbishops of Canterbury, engrossed on vellum, to hang up in Canterbury cathedral, in tables, in lieu of the old ones, which are almost worn out."
To this usage—which was no doubt of monkish origin,—we are inclined to refer the specimens of caligraphy, upon gaudily ornamented sheets of paper, brought round, on St. Stephen's-day, by parish boys and charity school children, and displayed for admiration and reward. The walls of school-rooms, and of the houses of the children's parents, are afterwards decorated with these " Christmas pieces,"—in the same manner as were anciently the walls of churches.
There are, in the different Christian countries of Europe, a variety of popular practices connected with St. Stephen's day :— such as that of bleeding horses, which is mentioned by old Tusser, in his " December's Abstract :"—
" At Christmas is good To let thy horse blood;"
and more particularly in his " December's Husbandry :"—
" Ere Christmas be passed, let horse be let blood, For many a purpose, it doth them much good, The day of St. Stephen old fathers did use."
These various popular observances, however, are generally of that local and peculiar kind which we are compelled to omit in our enumeration, for reasons already given. But there is one of so striking a character, that we must pause to give some account of it.
This custom,—which is called " hunting the wren,"—is generally practised by the peasantry of the south of Ireland, on St. Stephen's-day. It bears a close resemblanoe to the Manx pro-