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Christmas in 1842

Published January 15, 2008        by Nicole

Two special seasons are, however, devoted in the large towns to merry meetings - Christmas and New Year's Eve. At St. John's on St. Stephen's Day, little boys go about from door to door with a green bush from the spruce trees decorated with ribands and paper (in which, if they can get one, is a little bird, to represent the wren) and repeat the following verse, or something of the same kind:- The wren, the wren, the king of all birds, Was caught on St. Stephen's Day in the firs, Although he is little, his honor is great; So rise up, kind madam, and give us a treat. Up with the kettle, and down with the pan;

A penny, or two-pence, to bury the wren.

Your pocket full of money, and your cellar full of beer,

I wish you all a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.

This ancient custom as well as that of the mummers, who assemble on New Year's Day is, of course, derived from home, the former from Ireland, probably, the latter from the West of England.

There was, and still is, a sort of saturnalia amongst the lower classes, in St. John's particularly, which lasts three days, commencing at Christmas.

The mummers prepare, before the New Year, dresses of all possible shapes and hues, most of which are something like that of the harlequin and the clown in pantomimes, but the general color is white, with sundry bedaubments of tinsel and paint. A huge paper cocked hat is one favorite headpiece, and everyone among the gentlemen, excepting the captain or leader and his two or three assistants are masked. The ladies are represented by young fishermen, who are painted, but not masked. Some of the masks are very grotesque, and the fools or clowns are furnished with thongs and bladders, with which they belabor the exterior mob. Much ingenuity is observable in the style of the cocked hats, which are surmounted with all sorts of things, feathers in profusion, paper models of ships, etc.

They go to the Government House first, and then round to the inhabitants; and it has been customary to make the captain a present of money for a ball, if it may be so styled, which is given at the end of the carnival.

They perform at those houses which admit them, a sort of play, in which the unmasked characters only take a part, and which is very long and tiresome after one hearing. It is a dialogue between the captain and a sailor, and commences with Alexander the Great and continues down to Nelson and Wellington. They are both armed with swords and a mock fight goes on all the while, till one is supposed to be slain and the doctor is called in to bring him to life again.

I cannot recollect the doggerel used but, as it is a relic of the days of the Abbot of Unreason and the Lord of Misrule, it is interesting and harmless. I never remember to have seen anything in England resembling it (though, to be sure, I have not been much in my native country since my boyhood) excepting the now very rare Morris dancers, whom I once saw in perfection near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, when a boy ...

The custom of decorating the churches and houses with holiday evergreen, at Christmas, prevails here also...