Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Days of Long Ago, Part II

Dear Readers,

How did you enjoy the first installment of "The Christmas Days of Long Ago"? In part two, we get to enjoy "peacock pye"! :)

May you all have a most merry, wonderful Christmas, and may the spirit of Christ dwell in your hearts always. We're getting our Christmas snow today, so we'll be going out to play!

No ceremonious feast was complete without the "stately pye" was made of peacocks or pheasants. To have roasted peacock was as imperative as roast turkey is imperative in our day. Some of the peacock "pyes" were huge affairs, and were served with the neck and head of the slaughtered bird thrust up above the pie, while the tail was spread out to to its full and gorgeous width. The Master of Revels was expected to keep his wits at work creating all sorts of diversions for the entire twelve days of the Christmas festival. One of the favorite games was that of snapdragon, when raisins were thrown into hot brandy and the revelers attempted to pluck them out. There would be a season of rest from so much active merriment, and then the guests would gather around the great, open fires and there would be a season of singing and story-telling, when happenings were chronicled equal to the wildest fairy tales ever put into print. Then, as now, there was a lavish use of evergreens for decoration, and the holly has for centuries been a favorite at Christmas time. The following story is extant regarding the reason why evergreens were so freely used as Christmas decorations:

"The ivy and holly and pine tree never told a word where our Savior was hiding himself, and so they keep alive all winter, and look green all the year. But the ash, like the oak, told of him, when he was hiding, so they have to remain dead through the winter."

The use of the mistletoe is of very ancient origin. The Romans held it in the highest veneration, and they made free use of it in their religious festivals. It was commonly supposed to be a protection against all evil spirits, and it was also supposed to have great medicinal power. No "green thing a-growing" had quite so much of a hold on the people as the mistletoe, and there are many legends associated with it.

The Christmas carols of the olden time were, many of them, very quaint, and the common custom of singing them at night by the merry carolers who went abroad expressly for this purpose, was a very pretty custom that some people would like to see revived. The carol attained its highest degree of popularity in the sixteenth century when it was sung all over England, and a volume could be made at the different carols song at that time.

One of the most prominent personages in the Christmas festivals of other days was the Lord of Misrule. He  was a person who devised every conceivable sort of "misrule" in the way of  Christmas games and sports, many of which it was well enough to allow to pass out of existence. The decrees of the Lord of Misrule were absolute, and some of the things ordered by this individual were in such bad taste and were even so vulgar that the clergy began to preach against them.
There was at one time a belief that bread baked at Christmas time would remain good for ten years, and that it would cure certain deceases in cattle. In one part of Yorkshire it was customary to toll the bells at Christmas Eve in token that the devil died when Christ was born.

A very curious and absurd custom obtained in a part of France in the fourteenth century. It was called the Feast of Asses. In its observance the flight into Egypt was represented in the church. The handsomest young woman who could be found, rose into church with a babe in her arms. After entering the church, the girl and the ass were placed near the pulpit, and High Mass was celebrated. It ended with an imitation of the braying of the ass, the priest "hee-hawing" like an ass, and the people solemnly responding in the same ludicrous way. 

We are indebted to the past for many of the good and pleasant Christmas customs of the present, and we believe that there is more of the real Christ spirit in the Christmas observances of today than there ever was in the centuries that are behind us.   



p.s. The small dolls have been getting ready for Christmas, too~ Come have a peek!


  1. Wishing you a very merry Christmas to you and your dear family! XO

  2. Really fascinating information, I loved it. I would like to revive some of those customs, like caroling. I LOVE to carol. The only time my friends and I actually tried it, NO ONE would open their doors. We weren't THAT bad!
    Now, as for those peacock pies... I don't think my Peabody boys would go for that, in fact, I won't even tell them about it, they would be most affronted!
    Have a wonderful Christmas with your family.


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