Saturday 19 December 2009

Christmas customs

This is taken from A Hampshire Christmas compiled by Sara Tiller:

'In 1786 The County Magazine declared itself to be 'particularly dedicated to the inhabitants of Berkshire, Dorsetshire, Hampshire, Somersetshire and Wiltshire.' This extract comes from the 1788 edition:

"There are many good old customs appropriated to this season of the year, which, although banished by the refinement of the metropolitans, are still preserved in various parts of the country as introductive of harmless mirth, and emblematic of things almost forgotten.

On Christmas Eve it is still a custom in the North to light candles of a very uncommon size, which are called Christmas Candles; to burn also a Yule log, or Christmas block thus illuminating the house. The custom perhaps borrowed from the Saxons; they began their year on the 8th of the calends of January which is our Christmas Day. The night before was called by them 'the night of mothers' and was observed by them as sacred. The log, perhaps, was burned in imitation of the son's return.

The origin of Christmas boxes is said to be this: The priests said masses for everything. If a ship went on a distant voyage, a box was fixed to the mast and consecrated to some saint. The mariners were expected to put money into this box that masses might be said for them on their return. The mass was then called Christmas; this particular box, the Christmas box. Many other customs may be enumerated: the Christmas card; Christmas pies. At the Universities it is common to hang laurel in all the colleges and chapels, which when we consider that the laurel was emblematical of peace and victory, is easily explained. One of the earlier councils forbade Christians to deck their houses with bay leaves and green boughs - but there is, thank heaven, no restraint upon what leads to cheerfulness, and the careful cook may enjoy her mistletoe without fear of being disturbed by the censures of the church."


  1. I've thought a bit about Christmas time customs these past few years. Whether one goes at the season from a viewpoint of Christian traditions or chooses instead a combination of folk legends surrounding the solstice--there's a huge collection of choices to sort through and create the pattern for any one family.
    The themes of hospitality, warmth, food, gifting, family, prevail. Increasingly, I've thought of any holiday as turning into a one woman production--and this woman doesn't have as much energy to devote to the orchestration as in former years!
    The season for our family has never been much about shopping and spending. I like to think that we have a "home made" Christmas.
    Some of the best of it for me has always been the odd quiet moments when it feels that I have done nearly all that church and extended family may expect of me in the way of preparation!

  2. I agree with you there. I think until the grandchildren (hopefully) start to appear in a few years, Christmas is going to seem a bit like marking time anyway. I haven't felt at all Christmassy this year. We have only just bought the tree (yesterday) and put it up, and I finished the decorations today, though still no greenery in the house. I am half-waiting until Tam is home, as that is our special Christmas tradition together.

    Still, we have tried to buy carefully and some of the presents are pre-owned, some much-loved old books etc. I have made quite a few knitted gifts this year, and found some "just the thing" gifts since the summer. We're not going mad on the food and drink (can't afford to) and I will just settle for being able to collect Tam safely and bring her home on Monday, but we have had snow . . . and a threat of more countrywide, so we shall just have to hold our breath . . .

  3. I love reading about old Christmas traditions, although it's a shame the Church tried to squash so many!

    Home made gifts (IMHO) are always the best, as they have so much more thought and energy in them. I hope you start to feel more in the spirit soon, and Yule Blessings to you today :)

  4. Hope some Christmas spirit arrived along with T:) I don't envy you that drive one little bit. Being built on seven hills like Rome is very romantic but not very convenient when it snows!!

  5. Love this post...traditions that happen, often don't have to be centuries old...but make the families smile to repeat them...