The Ladies' Tea Guild

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas and Its Customs, from Godey's _Lady's Book_, December 1855: part 5

Furmity or Frumenty.  Image from WDict.
In many parts of Yorkshire, and other places in England, to this day, furmity (a dish made of new wheat boiled in milk) is the usual breakfast and supper on Christmas Eve.  Can this custom be related to the ancient offering of a sheaf of corn to Ceres, at the Saturnalia?
It is also common to give the women who go “a gooding,” as the phrase is (that is, visiting for alms the farm-houses in their vicinities), wheat for their Christmas furmity, though they sometimes collect sufficient to repay them for having it ground; and in return for this, and whatever else they may receive, they present their benefactors with sprigs of evergreens to deck their houses.

In Essex this fashion is still retained; but instead of making their circuit on St. Thomas’s Day, which is elsewhere the custom, the good dames put it off until the eve of the great festival, when you may see groups of them in their well-kept red cloaks, and lace-trimmed black silk bonnets, wandering across, perchance, snow-clad fields, to the different homesteads at which they are in the habit of receiving dole.
Image from Grandma's Graphics.
Speaking of evergreens, by the way, reminds us of the beautiful superstition of druidical times, when, according to Dr. Chandler, the people were in the habit of dressing their houses with green boughs on the first of December, in order that the sylvan spirits might repair to them, and remain unnipped by the frosts and cold winds till the return of spring renewed the foliage of their beloved abodes.
We know that the Christmas-boughs of our own times have gentle influences—that the tenderest sympathies of human nature nestle beneath them—that round the yule log fire, the world-worn links of kindred affection are re-forged, old covenants renewed, and friendships strengthened, and could almost deem this sheltering of the sylvan spirits of the past a type of the kindly gatherings and gracious feelings kept alive by this annual garlanding of our household hearths in the present.
May it long be continued amongst us, for these old-world usages are the pictorial embellishments of life’s book, and have in them a wordless poetry, full of refining and happy influences.


No comments:

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)