Wednesday, 14 December 2011

'Twas The Night Before Christmas.

"Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house,
                                 Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse."
                                 Clement Clark Moore (1779 - 1863)


At this stop on the Virtual Advent Tour, to get you in the Christmas spirit I'm posting about some of the traditions surrounding Christmas Eve.

In modern times it seems Christmas decorations go up as soon as the Halloween ones come down, but this would have been unheard of for our great-grandparents. In their day it was considered unlucky to decorate the house before Christmas Eve and a busy time was had by all putting up greenery and trimming the tree, buying in fresh food (there were no fridges or freezers!) and visiting church. Holly, mistletoe and pine were the most popular decortaions.The Victorians are widely attributed with the introduction of kissing under the mistletoe, but in fact the tradition dates back to the 16th century. An interesting but little known twist to the mistletoe tradition is:
"… once kissed under the mistletoe should be burnt, or those couples who kissed beneath it would be foes for the rest of the year."

It was said that any girl NOT kissed under the mistletoe would not be kissed in the forthcoming year, and to put mistletoe under a young woman's pillow would cause her to dream of her future husband.  
Incidentally, any holly brought into the house at any time other than Christmas was believed to result in death.
A table being readied with Christmas fare.
For farmers, Christmas Eve was a time to give extra food to the animals - not just as a treat, but in the hope that they needed less attention on Christmas day itself.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Christmas eve was also a popular time for traditional 'performers' to visit, such as carol singers, or sword dancers (if you lived in North East England), the Hooden Horse (a Kentish tradition) or guise dancers (a Cornish tradition) Not only were the performers likely to find people at home but they would likely be filled with good cheer, and even if no money was forthcoming, they would likely welcome strangers with food and drink.

The Gentleman's Magazine of 1824 records some Christmas Eve celebrations in Yorkshire.
"At eight o'clock in the evening, the bells greet 'old Father Christmas' with a merry peal. The children parade the streets wth drums, trumpets, bells or…even a poker and a shovel, taken from the humble cottage fire."
Christmas Eve was also said to be a good night for an unmarried woman to divine the identity of her future husband. Apparently this good time to meddle in the dark arts because ghosts and other spirits were said to be powerless on this night. The method of doing this was recorded by Sidney Addy in 1890.
"If a girl walk backwards to a pear tree, on Christmas Eve and walk around the tree three times, she will see an image of her future husband."
And finally, at the midnight hour church bells would ring and many people would open their doors to welcome Christmas in. It was said that on the stroke of midnight cattle would kneel down in their stalls and bees hum the Old Hundreth Psalm in their hives.

Do you have any Christmas Eve traditions - do leave a comment and share them.


  1. Hi Grace,

    Hubbie always says that reading fiction is a waste of time, when you could be reading something factual and learning something. I have always maintained that if the fiction has been well enough researched by the author, then you can actually learn quite a lot fom it. I have been proved right several times and now is another of those occasions .... purely as a result of reading various works of historical fiction, I knew of all the traditions you wrote about!!

    I have to say that Christmas is not one of my favourite times of the year, hence the fact that we usually spend it abroad on holiday. Financial blips have meant that this is only the second Christmas in over twenty years, that we are spending at home and I really just can't get into it at all.

    Sorry about the case of 'Bah Humbug'!! I am not generally a killjoy and I do love to see children enjoying themselves. I really think it is we adults who have lost something of the true meaning of Christmas and whose expectations often far exceed those of their children.

    We even had seasonal snow for a couple of hours, here in Somerset yesterday, although fortunately it was a little too wet for it to settle.

    Great post, as always.

    Thanks for following my 'tweets', I do try to find things that are as interesting as possible to all the book addicts like myself out there.


  2. My hubs wont read fiction either - strictly non-fiction for him and if it involves war so much the better! Same with TV, he wont watch a soap or a film but prefers B&W WWI or II documentaries.
    Hey ho! They dont know what they're missing.
    G x

  3. Hi Grace,

    This must be an ex-services mentality block, 'coz with my hubbie having been in the RAF, he tends to watch a channel which concentrates on aircraft crash investigations! and he loves programmes about space and space travel!!

  4. Thanks for so much interesting information on the origins of our traditions!

  5. My pleasure!
    More Christmas trivia on Wednesday 21st December- watch this space!
    Grace x

  6. I think I am going to have to make a special effort to be kissed under the mistletoe this year, so that I have some hope for the coming year!

    Thanks so much for putting together such a fun post for the advent tour! I hope you enjoyed participating too!


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