December 24, 2017Posted by on
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the houseNot a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;The children were nestled all snug in their beds;While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.Away to the window I flew like a flash,Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,Gave a lustre of midday to objects below,When what to my wondering eyes did appear,But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer,With a little old driver so lively and quick,I knew in a moment he must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen!On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen!To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the housetop the coursers they flew
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too—
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry!His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow;The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round bellyThat shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;A wink of his eye and a twist of his headSoon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,And laying his finger aside of his nose,And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
Some after festive season reading: starting with an Anglo-Saxon Christmas: If you’re anything like me, you’ll be looking forward to overindulging in food and drink throughout the coming Christmas period. Living, as we are, in the post-Victorian period, our notion of Christmas is inevitably informed by Charles Dickens and his peers, who solidified the modern version of Christmas as a time of generous gift-giving, charity, and copious food and drink. But, as the presence of ghosts in many of Dickens’s Christmas stories indicates, the modern idea of Christmas is also a time for reflection on the past.
A Medieval Christmas: In the Early Middle Ages, Christmas was not as popular as Epiphany on 6 January, the celebration of the visit from the three kings or wise men, the Magi, to the baby Jesus bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Indeed, Christmas was not originally seen as a time for fun and frolics but an opportunity for quiet prayer and reflection during a special mass. But by the High Middle Ages (1000-1300) Christmas had become the most prominent religious celebration in Europe, signalling the beginning of Christmastide, or the Twelve Days of Christmas as they are more commonly known today.
A Tudor Christmas: Carols flourished throughout Tudor times as a way to celebrate Christmas and to spread the story of the nativity. Celebrations came to an abrupt end however in the seventeenth century when the Puritans banned all festivities including Christmas. Surprisingly carols remained virtually extinct until the Victorians reinstated the concept of an ‘Olde English Christmas’ which included traditional gems such as While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night and The Holly and the Ivy as well as introducing a plethora of new hits – Away in a Manger, O Little Town of Bethlehem – to mention but a few.
A Georgian Christmas: Traditional decorations included holly and evergreens. The decoration of homes was not just for the gentry: poor families also brought greenery indoors to decorate their homes, but not until Christmas Eve. It was considered unlucky to bring greenery into the house before then. By the late 18th century, kissing boughs and balls were popular, usually made from holly, ivy, mistletoe and rosemary. These were often also decorated with spices, apples, oranges, candles or ribbons. In very religious households, the mistletoe was omitted.
A Victorian Christmas: Before Victoria‘s reign started in 1837 nobody in Britain had heard of Santa Claus or Christmas Crackers. No Christmas cards were sent and most people did not have holidays from work. The wealth and technologies generated by the industrial revolution of the Victorian era changed the face of Christmas forever. Sentimental do-gooders like Charles Dickens wrote books like “Christmas Carol”, published in 1843, which actually encouraged rich Victorians to redistribute their wealth by giving money and gifts to the poor – Humbug! These radical middle class ideals eventually spread to the not-quite-so-poor as well.