The Ladies' Tea Guild

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas and Its Customs, from Godey's _Lady's Book_, December 1855: part 4

Image from Grandma's Graphics

The burden of the angels’ song for us is not for days, but to the end of time, and every year brings us more nearly to its full fruition.  The same jubilant feeling, therefore, that hung the portals of the Roman houses with boughs indicative of victory and peace, that bound their brows with bacchanalian ivy, and their staffs with branches of the vine, may well deck Christian hearts and houses at this period; they read another myth in the bright evergreens than the immortal youth of the Boy-God (even their own), and in their practical translation of the angelic chorus—feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and letting in the light of intellect on those who sit in darkness, even the thick “darkness of ignorance;” for, with Olivia’s Clown, we believe there is no other—do honor to no fancied retrospect, no bygone golden age, but link the present days with brighter ones to come.

Herrick has left us, in his fresh and racy rhyme, a lively notion of Christmas Eve in his days:--
“Come bring with a noise,
My merry, merry boys,
The Christmas log to the firing;
While my good dame, she
Bides ye all to be free,
And drink to your heart’s desiring;
With the last year’s brand
Light the new block, and
For good success in his spending,
On your psalteries play
That sweet luck may
Come while the log is tending.”

     What a picture these lines present to us, if we but follow the images they represent! the laughing, boisterous Group, hauling to the wide hearth the mighty block, and raising it upon the massive andirons (the Romans, by the way, burnt whole trees)!  We can see the smiling face of the good dame, on hospitable cares intent, and yet not so much so as to forget the remnant of the last year’s brand, which, according to the formula, was only to be burnt in the next year’s yule fire; and then the filling of drinking-horns, the interchanging of good wishes, the feasting on good cheer, and, while the Christmas-log hisses and roars in the capacious chimney a chorus to their mirth, the pouring forth of such rude minstrelsy and merry songs as best befitted the season and the singers.
(to be continued)

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Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)