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Attempts Of Puritans To Put Down Christ-tide






As soon as the Puritans became at all powerful, their iconoclastic
zeal naturally attacked Christmas, and the Scotchmen, such as Baillie,
Rutherford, Gillespie, and Henderson, in the Westminster Assembly of
Divines, tried in 1643 to get the English observance of Christmas
abolished--but they only succeeded so far as coming to a resolution
that whilst preaching on that day, withal to cry down the
superstition of that day. Next year they were happier in their
efforts, as is shortly told in Parliamentary History, December 19,
1644. The lords and commons having long since appointed a day for a
Fast and Humiliation, which was to be on the last Wednesday in every
Month, it happening to fall on Christmas day this month, the Assembly
of Divine sent to acquaint the lords with it: and, to avoid any
inconveniences that might be by some people keeping it as a Feast, and
others as a Fast, they desired that the Parliament would publish a
Declaration the next Lord's day in the Churches of London and
Westminster; that that day might be kept as it ought to be, that the
whole kingdom might have comfort thereby. The houses agreed to this
proposal, and directed the following Ordinance to be published; which
bore this title--

AN ORDINANCE FOR THE BETTER OBSERVATION OF THE FEAST OF THE NATIVITY
OF CHRIST.

Whereas some doubts have been raised whether the next Fast shall be
celebrated, because it falleth on the day which, heretofore, was
usually called the Feast of the Nativity of our Saviour; the lords and
commons do order and ordain that public notice be given, that the Fast
appointed to be kept on the last Wednesday in every month, ought to be
observed until it be otherwise ordered by both houses; and that this
day particularly is to be kept with the more solemn humiliation,
because it may call to remembrance our sins and the sins of our
forefathers, who have turned this Feast, pretending the memory of
Christ, into an extreme forgetfulness of him, by giving liberty to
carnal and sensual delights; being contrary to the life which Christ
himself led here upon earth, and to the spiritual life of Christ in
our souls; for the sanctifying and saving whereof Christ was pleased
both to take a human life, and to lay it down again.

The lords ordered That the Lord Mayor of London take care that this
Ordinance should be dispersed to all churches and chapels, within the
line of communication and the bills of mortality. Afterwards it was
made general through the kingdom; in consequence of which Christmas
day was no longer observed as a Festival, by law, till the
Restoration.

But the popular love of Christmas could not be done away with by
restrictive legislation, as the movers therein very well knew, teste
Lightfoot, who, in his Journal, says Some of our members were sent to
the houses to desire them to give an order that the next Fast day
might be solemnly kept, because the people will be ready to neglect
it, being Christmas day.

Nor was anything neglected to repress this Christ-tide, because its
keeping was inbred in the people, and they hated this sour puritanical
feeling, and the doing away with their accustomed festivities. Richard
Kentish told the House of Commons so in very plain language. Said he:
The people of England do hate to be reformed; so now, a prelatical
priest, with a superstitious service book, is more desired, and would
be better welcome to the generality of England, than the most learned,
laborious, conscientious preacher, whether Presbyterian or
Independent. These poor simple creatures are mad after superstitious
festivals, after unholy holidays.

The houses of Parliament baked their pie for themselves, and
deservedly had to eat it; for two red hot gospellers, Calamy and
Sedgewick, preached on the iniquity of keeping Christ-tide to the
Lords in Westminster Abbey; whilst in the contiguous Church of S.
Margaret, Thorowgood and Langley expatiated on the same theme to the
Commons, and, as if they could not have enough of so good a thing,
all four sermons were printed by order of the Houses.

Calamy in his sermon said, This day is the day which is commonly
called the Feast of Christ's Nativity, or Christmas Day, a day that
hath hitherto been much abused in superstition and profaneness. I have
known some that have preferred Christmas Day before the Lord's Day,
and have cried down the Lord's Day and cried up Christmas Day. I have
known those that would be sure to receive the Sacrament on Christmas
Day though they did not receive it all the year after. This was the
superstition of this day, and the profaneness was as great. There were
some that did not play cards all the year long, yet they must play at
Christmas. This year, God, by a providence hath buried this Feast in a
Fast, and I hope it will never rise again. You have set out, Right
Honourable, a strict Order for the keeping of it, and you are here
to-day to observe your own Order, and I hope you will do it strictly.
And he finished with a prayer, in which he begged they might have
grace to be humbled, especially for the old superstition and
profaneness of this Feast.

But although the English people were crushed for a time under the iron
heel of the Puritan boot, they had no sympathy with their masters, nor
their ways--vide the rebound, immediately after Oliver Cromwell's
death, and the return to the old state of things, which has never
altered since, except as a matter of fashion. Yet, even then, there
were protests against this effacement of Christ-tide, and many have
been handed down to us, differing naturally very much in style. One
really amusing one has the merit of being short: and when the reader
of this book has perused it, I believe he will thank me for having
reproduced it. It is--

THE

ARRAIGNMENT

Conviction and Imprisonment

of

CHRISTMAS

On S. Thomas Day last,

And

How he broke out of Prison in the Holidayes and got away,
onely left his hoary hair, and gray beard, sticking between
two Iron Bars of a Window.

With

An Hue and Cry after CHRISTMAS, and a Letter from Mr.
Woodcock, a Fellow in Oxford, to a Malignant Lady in LONDON.

And divers passages between the Lady and the Cryer, about Old
Christmas: And what shift he was fain to make to save his
life, and great stir to fetch him back again.

With divers other Witty Passages.

Printed by Simon Minc'd Pye, for Cissely Plum-Porridge;
And are to be sold by Ralph Fidler, Chandler, at the signe
of the Pack of Cards in Mustard-Alley, in Brawn Street.
1645.

This little Tract commenced with the supposed Letter,

Lady,

I Beseech you, for the love of Oxford, hire a Cryer (I will see him
paid for his paines), to cry old father Christmas, and keep him with
you (if you can meet with him, and stay him), till we come to London,
for we expect to be there shortly, and then we will have all things as
they were wont, I warrant you; hold up your spirits, and let not your
old friends be lost out of your favour, for his sake, who is

Your ever servant,

JO. WOODCOCK.

Lady--Honest Crier, I know thou knewest old Father Christmas; I am
sent to thee from an honest schollar of Oxford (that hath given me
many a hug and kisse in Christmasse time when we have been merry) to
cry Christmas, for they hear that he is gone from hence, and that we
have lost the poor old man; you know what marks he hath, and how to
cry him.

Cryer--Who shall pay me for my paines?

Lady--Your old friend, Mr. Woodcock, of Oxford. Wilt thou take
his word?

Cryer--I will cry him, I warrant you, through the Citie and
Countrie, and it shall go hard but I will finde him out; I can partly
ghesse who can tell some newes of him, if any people in England can,
for I am acquainted with all his familiar friends. Trust me in this
businesse, I will bring you word within fewe dayes.

Ho-o-o-o-o-o-o yes, ho-o-o-o-o-o yes, ho-o-o-o-o-o yes;

Any man or woman, whether Popish or Prelaticall, Superstitious or
Judaicall, or what person so ever, of any Tribe or Trullibub,[6] that
can give any knowledge, or tell any tidings of an old, old, old, very
old, grey-bearded Gentleman, called Christmas, who was wont to be a
verie familiar ghest, and visite all sorts of people, both poor and
rich, and used to appear in glittering gold silk and silver in the
Court, and in all shapes in the Theater in Whitehall, and had ringing
feasts and jollitie in all places, both in the Citie and Countrie for
his comming; if you went to the Temple, you might have found him there
at In and In, till many a Gentleman had outed all the mony from his
pocket, and after all, the Butlers found him locked up in their Boxes:
And in almost every house, you might have found him at Cards and Dice,
the very boyes and children could have traced him and the Beggers have
followed him from place to place, and seen him walking up and downe,
and in every house roast Beefe and Mutton, Pies and Plum-porrige, and
all manner of delicates round about him, and every one saluting merry
Christmas: If you had gone to the Queene's Chappel, you might have
found him standing against the wall, and the Papists weeping, and
beating themselves before him, and kissing his hoary head with
superstitious teares, in a theater exceeding all the plays of the
Bull, the Fortune, and the Cock-pit.

For age, this hoarie headed man was of great yeares, and as white as
snow; he entred the Romish Kallender time out of mind; is old, or very
neer, as Father Mathusalem was; one that looked fresh in the
Bishops' time, though their fall made him pine away ever since; he was
full and fat as any dumb Docter of them all. He looked under the
consecrated Laune sleeves as big as Bul-beefe--just like Bacchus upon
a tunne of wine, when the grapes hang shaking about his eares; but,
since the catholike liquor is taken from him, he is much wasted, so
that he hath looked very thin and ill of late; but the wanton women
that are so mad after him, do not know how he is metamorphised, so
that he is not now like himselfe, but rather like Jack-a-lent.

But yet some other markes that you may know him by, is that the
wanton Women dote after him; he helped them to so many new Gownes,
Hatts, and Hankerches, and other fine knacks, of which he hath a pack
on his back, in which is good store of all sorts, besides the fine
knacks that he got out of their husbands' pockets for household
provisions for him. He got Prentises, Servants, and Schollars many
play dayes, and therefore was well beloved by them also, and made all
merry with Bagpipes, Fiddles, and other musicks, Giggs, Dances, and
Mummings, yea, the young people had more merry dayes and houres before
him whilst he stayd, which was in some houses 12 dayes, in some 20, in
some more, in some lesse, than in all the yeare againe.

* * * * *

All you, therefore, that by your diligent inquirie, can tell me anie
tidings of this ould man called Christmas, and tell me where he may be
met withall; whether in any of your streets, or elsewhere, though in
never so straitned a place; in an Applewoman's staul or Grocer's
Curren Tub, in a Cooke's Oven or the Maide's Porrige pot, or crept
into some corner of a Translater's shop, where the Cobler was wont so
merrily to chant his Carolls; whosoever can tel what is become of him,
or where he may be found, let them bring him back againe into England,
to the Crier, and they shall have a Benediction from the Pope, an
hundred oaths from the Cavaliers, 40 kisses from the Wanton Wenches,
and be made Pursevant to the next Arch Bishop. Malignants will send
him a piece of Braune, and everie Prentice boy will give him his point
(? pint of wine) next holie Thursday, the good Wives will keepe him
in some corners of their mince pies, and the new Nuncio Ireland will
returne him to be canonized the next Reformation of the Calender.

And so Pope save Christmas.

Cryer--Lady, I am come to tell you what returne I can make you of
the crying of old Father Christmas, which I have done, and am now here
to give you an answer.

Lady--Well said, honest Cryer, Mr. Woodcock will remember you for
it.

Cryer--The poor old man upon St. Thomas his day was arraigned,
condemned, and after conviction cast into prison amongst the King's
Souldiers; fearing to be hanged, or some other execution to be done
upon him, and got out at so narrow a passage, between two Iron Bars of
a Window, that nothing but onely his old gray beard and hoarie haire
of his head stuck there, but nothing else to be seen of him; and, if
you will have that, compound for it, lest it be sold among the
sequestred goods, or burnt with the next Popish pictures, by the hand
of the hangman.

Lady--But is old, old, good old Christmas gone? Nothing but the
hair of his good, grave old head and beard left! Well I will have
that, seeing I cannot have more of him, one lock whereof will serve
Mr. Woodcock for a token. But what is the event of his departure?

Cryer--The poor are sory for it, for they go to every door
a-begging as they were wont to do (Good Mrs., somewhat against this
good Time); but Time was transformed (Away, begone, here is not for
you); and so they, instead of going to the Ale-house to be drunk,
were fain to work all the Holidayes. The Schollers came into the Hall,
where their hungry stomacks had thought to have found good Brawn and
Christmas pies, Roast Beef and Plum-porridge; but no such matter.
Away, ye prophane, these are superstitious meats; your stomacks must
be fed with wholesome doctrine. Alas, poor tallow-faced Chandlers, I
met them mourning through the streets, and complaining that they could
get no vent for their Mustard, for want of Brawn.

Lady--Well, if ever the Catholiques or Bishops rule again in
England, they will set the Church dores open on Christmas day, and we
shall have Masse at the High Altar, as was used when the day was first
instituted, and not have the holy Eucharist barred out of School, as
School boyes do their Masters against the festival![7] What! shall we
have our mouths shut to welcome old Christmas? No, no, bid him come by
night over the Thames, and we will have a back door open to let him
in. I will, myself, give him his diet for one year, to try his fortune
this time twelve month, it may prove better.

[Footnote 7: This Saturnalia of barring out the Schoolmaster at
Christmas--just before breaking up--was in use certainly as late as
1888. Vide Notes and Queries, 7th series, vol. vi. p. 484.]





Next: The Popular Love Of Christmas

Previous: Christmas's Lamentation



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