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Rambling Thoughts about Christmas Years Ago

Published January 10, 2008        by Nicole

A great many of the sports and ceremonies had long ceased to be performed at the time I was ushered "into this breathing world", still I was fortunate in having for parents those who dearly loved old Terra Nova and whose memories were well stored with anecdotes and history of ye olden time, handed down from sire to son for many generations. Consequently, on each Christmas Eve, when the Christmas votive candles were lighted, and the chairs drawn up in front of the Christmas "back-junk", the yulelog of Newfoundland and as the "mighty flame went roaring up the chimney wide", we were told the oft-repeated stories of early life in Newfoundland - some enchanting, some too sombre to be repeated at this glad time. It is no wonder, then, that I take as much boyish delight on each return of this festival, amid the worry, hurry and scurry of this busy city, as I did some years ago in my island home, when I pleaded with all of a child's persistence to be allowed to "sit up" on Christmas Eve that I might attend the mid-night mass.

For the commemoration of this day we are certainly all the better.

Although the younger generation of St. John's, indeed the whole island for that matter, will probably never realize the great mirth that once attended the return of this glad season, when the ear was' 'cocked" to hear the gun that announced the first family who had partaken of dinner on Christmas Day; when the "I wish you a Merry Christmas" was the "open sesame" to all the good things in the larder; when the Christmas gift box was bestowed; when the poor and needy were made, at the hands of the charitable, to forget the misery and toils of the past year. I remember, when a boy, playing one Christmas Eve in the basement of the Church of England Cathedral, where my father was cutting a "gang" or rigging for the church-ship "Hawk". In running around the basement, chased by my companions, my way was suddenly blocked by boards placed upon empty barrels, and upon these boards were stored "mountains" of beef and loaves of sweet white bread. Running back to father, I asked what it meant, and he told me it was to be distributed among the poor on Christmas morning.

The younger generations remember the "fools." Their time of appearing was the Twelfth Day. They had full sway until the disguise was made a cloak by which to revenge some petty spite. Then they were ordered to be numbered and finally, were allowed out only on condition that they should appear unmasked. This was the command that terminated this old custom in St. John's. It was not, I believe, a statutory law, but merely the will of a stipendiary magistrate, the late Mr. Justice Carter. Some years after they had ceased to appear, one came out on the "Cross" on Christmas Day. He struck right and left, and finally ran into the arms of a policeman who locked him up.

But what I most particularly want to speak about is the "Tragedy of St. George", which was another of the sports of the season of Christmas. Those noble fellows, who, perhaps, all the week were culling or stowing fish, stride and strut as King George, the Turkish Knight, Valentine and Orson and other characters of the tragedy. Acceptably well, too, as I am informed, they read their lines. Old Newfoundlanders who have lived here in Boston 40 or 50 years will repeat the lines of the tragedy today with as much fire and pride as Edwin Booth would the lines of Richard the Third.

Much the same as the "fools" of more recent times, Father Christmas was personified as a very old man, whose face was completely covered by a mask. Each character in the play differed in dress, to describe which would consume too much valuable space.

The following is the cast of characters: - St. George, The Doctor, St. Patrick, Turkish Knight, Dan Donnelly, Father Christmas, Valentine and Orson, and Alexander the Czar of Russia.

The Tragedy

Enter Father Christmas:

Make room; make room, my gallant boys, And give us space to rhyme; We've come to show

St. George's playUpon this Christmas time. (The fiddler stands up and all stand around him)

(Enter St. Patrick)

Yes, St. Patrick you are a famous champion, Besides a worthy knight. But you are not St. George to fight.

What was St. Patrick but

St. George's stable boy, Who fed his horse seven long years on oats and hay. And after that he ran away.

St. Patrick: - I swear by George, you lie, sir.

St. George: -

Pull out your sword and try, sir. Pull out your purse and pay, sir. For satisfaction I will have Before you go away, sir.

St. Patrick: -

Satisfaction you will have; The satisfaction that you crave; Before ten minutes are at an end I'll have your head tumbling in the grave. So now the fight is between you and I; I will conquer and you must die. (St. George falls wounded and calls for a doctor)

St. George. -

Five pounds for a doctor. That won't do. Ten pounds for a doctor. That won't do. Twenty pounds for a doctor. That will and must do. Is there a doctor who can be found, who will cure Your champion of his deep and deadly wound? (Enter doctor) Here I am. I can cure the itch, the palsy and the gout, And if the Devil is in him I can root him out.

St. George: -

What is your medicine? Doctor:- I have here a little bottle in the waistband of my breeches called hectum spectum high generosity, mixed up with a hen's tooth and a eat's feather. Put this into a bottomless skillet, boil it over a slow turf fire; knock it 99 times against the walls of Jerusalem, first found out by old Methusalem, whose wife was sick and in great pain, I made her rise and walk again. She lived and bore children seven, and when she died she went to heaven. (The doctor rubs his patient with his wonderfullinament and pronounces in a loud voice):- Rise champion and act your part. (St. George rises and assumes a warlike attitude when he is challenged to mortal combat by the Turkish Knight.)

Turkish Knight: -

Here come I a Turkish KnightWho learned in Turkish lands to fightI'll fight this man with courage bold If his bloods hot it will soon run cold. (St. George accepts the challenge and they engage in deadly strife.) Enter Alexander,

Czar of


Here am I, Alexander, commander of the train; My noble deeds and great exploits have given me great fame; I made the lion to tremble, which did my name indite; Full fifty thousand soldiers - I put them all to flight. The Great Sham, the Great Mogul, with their dignity and splendor; Their honor and their opulence to me they did surrender. King George and Great Monsieur, I made quit the field And Fred Galloway unto me did yield. If any doubt my words, I say scratch up Bradley and boldly play. (music by Bradley)

Enter Orson: -

Here am I, Orson, the wild man of the wood; I never feared danger, but slew all I could; First I was taken by a wondrous bear, And was fed by him for many a long year. Then I was taken by Prince Valentine And little I thought he was a brother of mine; To prove the truth of what I say, My brother Valentine is here today.

Dan Donnelly: -

Come all you heroes and men that would witty,

Come listen unto Donnelly the wight of

Dublin city.The shamrock green I wear over my brow And show me the man who dare oppose me now.

No one I do insist, For I have conquered nations with my mighty fists.

I have given a few of the 36 verses of this "powerful" tragedy; sufficient to show one of the good old customs prevailing in

St. John's years ago.