With the spirit of Christmas thwarted at every turn by misers & City types we finally see how Christmas should be celebrated in Early Modern England, and who provides this demonstration, why the good old yeoman of course!
A Farmer & a warm welcome
In which a farmer shows how hospitality should be shown
So away went I and my traine, having little comfort yet as you may perceive, but as wee were walking and talking of our bad fortune, wee might perceive a plaine Country man come towards us: hee had high-shooes on that look’d as blacke as a Bullice, white stockings made of the wooll of his owne Sheepe, gray Trunke hose, with all accoutriments belonging to this Country plainenesse: As soone as hee came somewhat nigh mee, he began to salute mee and bid mee welcome into the Country, telling me if it pleased me I should be welcome to his house: So without many circumstances I tooke his proffer, and with my (now) merry mates went toward his Farme, which was not farre off. As soone as we came into the yard (well stored with Poultrey) the Farmer himselfe shooke me by the hand, and bid all the rest welcome. The Dame of the house drest up in her home-spunne Gowne, came to meet me; the Maid-servants rejoyced to see mee, and the Plow-mens hearts leap’d in their straw-colour’d letherd Doublets for joy of my approach.
Beef, Beer and music abound
Then with all Country solemnity I was had into the Parlour and set downe by a good fire. I was presented with a cup of browne Ale, seasoned with Sinamon, Nutmegs, and Sugar. When dinner was ready, I was set at the upper end of the Table, my owne company set round about me, and the rest eat with the servants. We had Brawne of their owne feeding, Beefe of their owne killing; wee had brave plum broth in bole-dishes of a quart. The Whiteloafe ranne up and downe the Table, like a Bowle in an Alley, every man might have a fling at him: the March Beere march’d up and downe, and wee were all merry without the helpe of any Musicians. We had good cheere, and good welcome which was worth all: for the Good-man of the house did not looke with a sower or stoicall brow, but was full of mirth and alacrity, so that it made the house merry.
“A, ha”, quoth I, “this is something like, our dinner is better than our breakfast, this is as Christmas would have it, here is neither too delicate cheere, which doth cost much, or will cause surfeits, or too little or meane, but such as will kill hunger. They are the best feasts where the poore are releeved, the rich are able to helpe themselves.”
Card, Carols and hotcockles
Dinner being done, Grace being said, the Cloth taken away, the poore refresh’d, wee went to the fire: before which, lay store of Apples piping hot, expecting a bole of Ale to coole themselves in. Evening Prayer drew nigh, so we all repaired to Church, where I heard my selfe much spoken of, but after Service was done, few respected me: some indeed, invited me to their houses, but I thought my entertainment would not bee worth
my labour, considering my company: so went I home againe with my honest Hobnaile-wearer, with whom I past the time away in discourse while supper, which being ended, wee went to Cards. Some sung Carrols, merry songs, some againe to waste the long nights, would tell Winter-tales. At last came in a company of Maids with Wassell, Wassell, iolly Wassell: I tasted of their Cakes, and sup’d of their Bole: and for my sake, the
White-loafe and Cheese were set before them, with Mince-Pies, and other meat. These being gone, the jolly youths and plaine dealing Plow-swaines, being weary of Cards, fell to dancing; from dancing to shew mee some Gambols. Some ventured the breaking of their shinnes to make mee sport, some the scalding of their lippes to catch at Apples tyed at the end of a sticke, having a lighted candle at the other; some shod the wilde Mare; some at hotcockles, and the like. These Country revels expiring with the night, early in the morning we all tooke our leave of them, being loth to be too troublesome; and rendring them unfained thanks for our good cheere (who still desired that we would stay with them a little longer) wee instantly travelled towards the City.
Being entred into it, we saw very few look with a smiling countenance on us, but a few Prentices or Journeymen that were trick’d up in their Holliday cloathes; but we conjectured their Masters were not up, or
else wee could not goe so farre unbidden. At last the Bels began to ring, every house-holder began to bestirre himselfe, the Maid-servants wee saw run hurrying to the Cookes shops with Pies, and the Jacks went as nimbly as any of the wives tongues: and before we were aware, whole Parishes of people came to invite vs to dinner: Some tooke me by the hands and would have me his guest, another tooke Saint Stephen; a third, Saint Iohn; a fourth, Childermasse; but New-yeares day was welcome to them all, especially to the rich; but all this while the poore was not look’d on, they were not invited: It grieved me, as it did them (poore soules) and I spake as much as I could for them; but I was answered, the Parish had taken order for the poore already, and that their houses were onely for their friends, and not Beggers; and for my part, if I would stay with them for a weeke or so, I should bee as welcome to them as any of their rich neighbours.
When Charity began to sicken
“Alas, alas”, said I, “is Charity as well as Conscience banish’d out of your freedome? How can you make me truly welcome, except the poore feed with me? It doth me more good to see a prisoner releas’d, and the poore man relieved, than taste of your daintiest meat. Yet I will confesse I have scene many famous and memorable deeds done by well-disposed Citizens; the Hospitals and other charitable houses can witnesse it, and that some in these daies follow the foot-steps of their predecessors; but the present compared to those past, are no more in comparison than the least Starre to the Sunne, or a Gloworme to a Starre. Charity in those times was in her youth, in her prime, in her perfect ripenesse; now shee is old, decrepit, and lame: for she is seldome seene walking in the streets, shee is now onely an Umbra, a Shadow, a Ghost: her substance is vanish’d; nay, sheeis dead: And will you know when shee died? I will tell you, When Prodigality, Drunkennesse, and Excesse began to live, then she died; their generation was her destruction.”
“When Prodigality spent as much one day as would keepe her a moneth; when Pride wore as many cloathes on her backe as would cloath an Hospitall of fatherlesse children; when Drunkennesse swallowed, in the
whirlepoole of his belly, more drinke at one draught than would quench the thirsts of many poore children; when Gluttony spent more at one meale than would content many hungry Lazars; when Farmers began to make their sonnes Gentlemen, and young Gentlemen began to be devoured by Usurers: then, then, Charity lay on her sicke-bed, nay, on her death-bed. Will you know when she was in her perfect health? I will tell you. When Gentlemen did not know what a yard of Sattin, Veluet, Cloth of Gold, or Tissue is worth; when gold and silver lace were not seen in Cheap-side; when Bever Hats, blew, red, yellow, and greene Starch were not worne; when Lords went in good Cloth, and their Servingmen in good Frize, or Stuffe; when the Gentry did not know what did belong to Tobacco, Anchovies, Chaviare, and Pickled-Oysters; when such walking-Spirits as Foot-boyes and Pages went invisible; when we went not hurrying along the streets in their French Carts, as fast as if the Divell had beene the Coach-man: then, then. Charity was well, was in health, and look’d cheerefully.”
“The Roman Catholikes boast they have Charity living with them (which they reverence as much as they doe their Saints) by which, with the helpe of good works they hope to merite. Alas, alas, they are deceived, their
Charity will doe them little good, except they have the helpe of her elder sister, Faith. Therefore I thinke it not amisse, if the Romanists would borrow some of our Faith for some of their Charity and good deeds, for wee
want one, as much as they doe the other.”
Christmas’ Message for England
“But I beginne to bee weary with talking thus to no purpose: Therefore England, beautifull, fruitfull, and yet blessed Land, take heed lest thy Gluttony, Pride, and Excesse, Covetousnesse, Bribery, and Extortion, have
that Adamantine force to pull downe Heavens Judgements on thee as they did on Sodome. Thou art as sumptuous as that City was, be not thou so sinfull. Before it was burnt it was compared to a Garden, nay, to a
Paradise for the neat and pleasant scituation, and the happy plentifulnesse of all things: But now it is a place destitute of water and fruit; onely, there are such growing, that onely delight the eye, but deride the touch
and taste: for on those stinking and burnt bankes, grow Apples, that being toucht fall in dust. Thou maist be so, thou wilt be so, except some of thy fulnesse have vent toward the poore. Thou art such a fortunate Iland, that Histrographers write of, blest with an excellent temperature of Ayre, and singular Clemencie of Heauen: where about March, the Spring begins to cloath the earth in a Summer liuery. Heauen is bountifull and patient, bee thou penitent and thankfull.”
But as I was going forward with my Admonition, they stop’d my mouth by their entreating me to be their guest for three or foure daies: so for such a small quantity of time, I bestowed my selfe among them. But I was the most royallest, noblest, and worthiliest entertained at Court, Innes of Court and Temples, where I was resident while Candlemas, and then left this Land.
In the next installment; Christmas visits England’s neighbours, feasts with them and reveals to us their natures.