Friday, December 21, 2018

The People’s Christmas: Art, Tradition and Climate Change

COME, bring with a noise,
My merry, merry boys,
The Christmas log to the firing ;
While my good dame, she
Bids ye all be free ;
And drink to your heart’s desiring.
With the last year’s brand
Light the new block, and
For good success in his spending
On your psaltries play,
That sweet luck may
Come while the log is a-teending.

Ceremonies for Christmas by Robert Herrick (1591–1674)
(Psaltries: a kind of guitar, Teending: kindling)

No season has so much association with music as the mid-winter, Christmas celebrations. The aural pleasure associated with the tuneful music and carols of Christmas has been reduced in recent years by the over-playing of same in shopping malls, banks, airports etc. yet it is still enjoyed and the popularity of choirs has not diminished.
However, the visual depictions of mid-winter, Christmas celebration have also been popular since the 19th century through books, cinema and television.

The depictions of Christmas range from religious iconography through to the highly commercialised red-suited, rosy-cheeked, rotund Santa Claus.

Yet, between these two extremes of the sombre sacred and the commercialised secular lies a popular iconography best expressed in the realm of fine art and illustration.

Down through the centuries the pagan aspects of mid-winter celebration and Christmas such as the Christmas tree, the Yule log, wassailing and carol singing along with winter sports such as ice skating and skiing have been depicted by many different artists.
These paintings and illustrations are also beloved for the visual pleasure they afford.
More importantly, they show aspects of Christmas which are becoming more important now in our time of climate change. That is, their depictions of our past respect for nature.
In recent times, as we gradually learned to harness nature for our own ends through developments in science we also became less and less worried about the vicissitudes of nature.
Our forebears, however, knew all too well hunger and cold in the depths of winter and in their own religious and superstitious ways tried to attenuate the worst of winter hardship through traditions and practices which would ensure a bountiful proceeding year.
For example, the Christmas Tree is a descendant of the sacred tree which was respected as a powerful symbol of growth, death and rebirth. Evergreen trees took on meanings associated with symbols of the eternal, immortality or fertility (See my article on Christmas Trees here). Evergreen boughs and then eventually whole evergreen trees were brought into the house to ward off evil influences. Burning the Yule log was an important rite to help strengthen the weakened sun of midwinter.

The Christmas Tree (1911)
Albert Chevallier Tayler (1862–1925)

Wassailing, or blessing of the fruit trees, is also considered a form of tree worship and involves drinking and singing to the health of the trees in the hope that they will provide a bountiful harvest in the autumn. Mumming has also been associated with the spirit of vegetation or the tree-spirit and is believed to have developed into the practice of caroling even though mumming is alive and well in many places in Ireland and England.
All these nature-based practices seem to have been banned by the church at different times and then gradually integrated into church rituals (presumably because the church was not able to stop them).
Therefore our relationship with nature was demonstrated through winter activities both inside and outside the home. Outside activities consisted of ice skating, caroling, wassailing, bringing home the Yule log and the Christmas tree.

Inside activities consisted of large gatherings of family and friends eating, drinking and parlour games. The indulgence of Christmas activities was balanced by an overriding concern that nature had been propitiated or appeased.
One aspect the many depictions of these activities have in common is the festive gathering of large groups of people. Modern depictions of Christmas tend to emphasise the nuclear family gathered around the Christmas tree with the focus on what Santa brought for the children. Thus Christmas today is experienced as a more isolated experience than in the past.
The decline of the nuclear family in recent decades with single parent families, divorce, cohabitation, etc has created extended family gatherings more akin to the past village groupings. Outdoor activities have also declined though one can still hear carollers singing on occasion, though still common in city streets.
Many artists of over the years have tried to depict the essence of Christmas and midwinter traditions (see my article on midwinter traditions here) and thus helped to keep them in our consciences.
Let’s look at some of the illustrations and paintings that depict mid-winter festivities over the centuries.

Poetry and song are our earliest records of Christmas celebrations. According to Clement Miles the word “‘carol’ had at first a secular or even pagan significance: in twelfth-century France it was used to describe the amorous song-dance which hailed the coming of spring; in Italian it meant a ring- or song-dance; while by English writers from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century it was used chiefly of singing joined with dancing, and had no necessary connection with religion.”[1]
The word carol itself comes from the Old French word carole, a circle dance accompanied by singers (Latin: choraula). Carols were very popular as dance songs and processional songs sung during festivals. In medieval times the Church referred to caroling as “sinful traffic” and issued decrees against it in 1209 A.D. and 1435 A.D.
According to Tristram P. Coffin in his Book of Christmas Folklore, “For seven centuries a formidable series of denunciations and prohibitions was fired forth by Catholic authorities, warning Everyman to ‘flee wicked and lecherous songs, dancings, and leapings’” (p98).

Banqueting Hall

The processional aspects of caroling are linked to mumming, an ancient tradition which was mentioned in early ecclesiastical condemnations.
During the Kalends of January a sermon ascribed to St Augustine of Hippo writes that the heathen reverses the order of things as some of these ‘miserable’ men “are clothed in the hides of cattle; others put on the heads of beasts, rejoicing and exulting that they have so transformed themselves into the shapes of animals that they no longer appear to be men … How vile further, it is that those who have been born men are clothed in women’s dresses, and by the vilest change effeminate their manly strength by taking on the forms of girls, blushing not to clothe their warlike arms in women’s garments; they have bearded faces, and yet they wish to appear women.” [2]
The original idea of wearing the hides of animals, Miles writes, may have sprung “from the primitive man’s belief ‘that in order to produce the great phenomena of nature on which his life depended he had only to imitate them’. [3]
Indeed, in Ireland, mumming is a tradition that is still going strong.
In a recent article in The Fingal Independent, Sean McPhilibin notes that “In North County Dublin the masking would be traditionally made from straw and would have been big straw hats that cover the face and come down to the shoulders.” McPhilibin also states that mumming was “a mid-winter custom that in Ireland and North County Dublin and in parts of England as well, the masking element is accompanied by a play. So there’s a play in it with set characters. It’s a play where the principal action takes place between two protagonists – a hero and a villain. The hero slays the villain and the villain is revived by a doctor who has a magical cure and after that happens there’s a succession of other characters called in, each of whom has a rhyme. So every character has a rhyme, written in rhyming couplets.[…] The other thing to say about it is that you find these same type of characters all across Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, over into Slovenia and elsewhere.”
James Frazer, in The Golden Bough, discusses at length many international examples of people being being completely covered in straw, branches or leaves as incarnations of the tree-spirit or the spirit of vegetation, such as Green George, Jack-in-the-Green, the Little Leaf Man, and the Leaf King.[4]

The word wassail comes from Old English was hál, related to the Anglo-Saxon greeting wes þú hál, meaning “be you hale”—i.e., “be healthful” or “be healthy”.

There are two variations of wassailing: going from house to house singing and sharing a wassail bowl containing a drink made from mulled cider made with sugar, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, topped with slices of toast as sops or going from orchard to orchard blessing the fruit trees, drinking and singing to the health of the trees in the hope that they will provide a bountiful harvest in the autumn. They sing, shout, bang pots and pans and fire shotguns to wake the tree spirits and frighten away evil demons.

The wassail itself “is a hot, mulled punch often associated with Yuletide, drunk from a ‘wassailing bowl’. The earliest versions were warmed mead into which roasted crab apples were dropped and burst to create a drink called ‘lambswool’ drunk on Lammas day, still known in Shakespeare’s time. Later, the drink evolved to become a mulled cider made with sugar, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, topped with slices of toast as sops and drunk from a large communal bowl.” (See traditional wassail recipe here)

The Lord of Misrule
The Lord of Misrule was a common tradition that existed up to the early nineteenth century whereby a peasant or sub-deacon appointed to be in charge of Christmas revelries, thus the normal societal roles where reversed temporarily. The Lord of Misrule “would invite traveling actors to perform Mummer’s plays, he would host elaborate masques, hold large feasts and arrange the procession of the annual Yule Log.”

Mummers by Robert Seymour, 1836

The Mount Vernon Yule Log
Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930)

The Bean King
During the the Twelfth Night feast a cake or pie would be served which had a bean baked inside. The person who got the slice with the bean would be ‘crowned’ the Bean King with a paper crown and appointed various court officials. A mock respect would be shown when the king drank and all the party would shout “the king drinks”. Robert Herrick mentions this in his poem Twelfth Night: or, King and Queen:
“NOW, now the mirth comes
With the cake full of plums,
Where bean’s the king of the sport here ;
Beside we must know,
The pea also
Must revel, as queen, in the court here.”

Twelfth-night (The King Drinks)
David Teniers the Younger (1610–1690)

The King Drinks (c.1640)
Jacob (Jacques) Jordaens (1593–1678)

Merry Christmas in the Baron’s Hall (1838)
Daniel Maclise (1806-1870)

Merry Christmas in the Baron’s Hall (1838)
Daniel Maclise’s painting Merry Christmas in the Baron’s Hall (1838) contains many aspects of the traditional Christmas festivities. The Lord of Misrule stands in the centre holding his staff and leading the procession of musicians and carolers coming down the stairs. Father Christmas, ‘ivy crown’d’, sits in front of the wassail bowl and is surrounded by mummers (the Dragon and St George sit side by side) and local people. On the left side of the picture we see a group of people playing a parlour game called Hunt the Slipper.

Maclise was influenced by Sir Walter Scott’s poem Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field, published in 1808. Marmion is a historical romance in verse of 16th-century Britain, ending with the Battle of Flodden in 1513. Marmion has a section referring to Christmas festivities:

“The wassel round, in good brown bowls,
Garnish’d with ribbons, blithely trowls.
There the huge sirloin reek’d; hard by
Plum-porridge stood, and Christmas pie:
Nor fail’d old Scotland to produce,
At such high tide, her savoury goose.
Then came the merry maskers in,
And carols roar’d with blithesome din;
If unmelodious was the song,
It was a hearty note, and strong.
Who lists may in their mumming see
Traces of ancient mystery;
White shirts supplied the masquerade,
And smutted cheeks the visors made;
But, O! what maskers, richly dight,
Can boast of bosoms half so light!”
(See full text here)

It seems that Maclise was also taken enough by the poem to pen his own poem about his painting which was published in Fraser’s Magazine for May in 1838. The poem is titled: Christmas Revels: An Epic Rhapsody in Twelve Duans and was published under the pseudonym, Alfred Croquis, Esq. The painting includes over one hundred figures covering many different traditions of Christmas and in his poem Maclise describes most of the activities taking place as some these excerpts from the poem demonstrate:
“Before him, ivied, wand in hand,
Misrule’s mock lordling takes his stand;
Drummers and pipers next appear,
And carollers in motley gear;
Stewards, butlers, cooks, bring up the rear.
Some sit apart from all the rest,
And these for merry masque are drest;
But now they play another part,
Distinct from any mumming art.
First, Father Christmas, ivy-crown’d,
With false beard white, and true paunch round,
Rules o’er the mighty wassail-bowl,
And brews a flood to stir the soul:
That bowl’s the source of all their pleasures,
That bowl supplies their lesser measures”
(See full text here)

Winter Landscapes
Winter Landscape near a Village
Hendrick Avercamp (1585 (bapt.) – 1634 (buried))

The Hunters in the Snow (1565)
Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c.1525-1530–1569)

Winter Landscape with Skaters and Bird Trap (1565)
Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c.1525-1530–1569)

These famous winter landscape paintings by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, such as The Hunters in the Snow and Winter Landscape with Skaters and Bird Trap are all thought to have been painted in 1565. Hendrick Avercamp also made made many snow and ice landscapes coinciding with the Little Ice Age. Three particularly cold intervals have been described as the Little Ice Age: “one beginning about 1650, another about 1770, and the last in 1850, all separated by intervals of slight warming”.

Outdoor Activities: Skating, Markets and Fairs
Patineurs au bois de Boulogne (1868)
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919)

Russian Christmas
Leon Schulman Gaspard (1882-1964)

The Christmas Market in Berlin (1892)
Franz Skarbina (1849-1910)

Christmas Fair (1904)
Heinrich Matvejevich Maniser

Nature-Based vs Anti-Nature
Polydore Vergil (c.1470–1555), the Italian humanist scholar, historian, priest and diplomat, who spent most of his life in England, wrote this about Christmas: “Dancing, masques, mummeries, stage-plays, and other such Christmas disorders now in use with the Christians, were derived from these Roman Saturnalian and Bacchanalian festivals; which should cause all pious Christians eternally to abominate them.”[5]

However,  Clement Miles takes a more positive view of these traditions. He writes: “The heathen folk festivals absorbed by the Nativity feast were essentially life-affirming, they expressed the mind of men who said “yes” to this life, who valued earthly good things. On the other hand Christianity, at all events in its intensest form, the religion of the monks, was at bottom pessimistic as regards this earth, and valued it only as a place of discipline for the life to come; it was essentially a religion of renunciation that said “no” to the world.” [6]

Now we have a religion of consumerism and mass consumption with Santa Claus as its main protagonist. The one extreme of the sacred St Nicholas has flipped over to the other extreme of Santa, the corporate saint. Either way the pious and the consumer pose no threat to the status quo.

There is no doubt that the Christmas festivities were used by elites as a form of social catharsis. The Lord of Misrule and the Bean King, encouraged by raucous mummers and  lively caroling, allowed the lowly to throw off pent-up aggression and feel what it was like to be in a position of power for a very short period of time. This brief social revolution was an important part of midwinter celebrations such as the Roman Kalends and the Feast of Fools. Libanius (c.314–392 or 393), the fourth century Greek philosopher, wrote: “The Kalends festival banishes all that is connected with toil, and allows men to give themselves up to undisturbed enjoyment. From the minds of young people it removes two kinds of dread: the dread of the schoolmaster and the dread of the stern pedagogue. The slave also it allows, so far as possible, to breathe the air of freedom.” [7]

The survivals of an ancient time when man and nature were at peace (see article here), and not enslaved and forced to overexploit our natural resources for the benefit of the few, were allowed to resurface briefly at the time of year when the labouring classes were mostly idle and, once sated, posed little threat. Yet, retaining the memory of past respectful attitudes towards nature and old traditions of social upheaval will go a long way towards healing our damaged home into the future.

Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin  2018-12-18

[1] Clement A. Miles, Christmas Customs and Traditions: Their History and Significance, Dover Publications, 2017,  p47.
[2] Miles, Christmas Customs and Traditions, p170.
[3] Miles, Christmas Customs and Traditions, p163.
[4] James Frazer, The Golden Bough, Wordsworth, 1994. See: The tree-spirit p297, Green George p126, Jack-in-the-Green p128, the Little Leaf Man p128 and the Leaf King p130.
[5] Hazlitt, W. Carew, Faiths and Folklore of the British Isles, 2 vols, New York: Benjamin Blom, Inc., 1965, p118-19
[6] Miles, Christmas Customs and Traditions, p25.
[7] Miles, Christmas Customs and Traditions, p168.

Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin is an Irish artist, lecturer and writer. His artwork consists of paintings based on contemporary geopolitical themes as well as Irish history and cityscapes of Dublin. His blog of critical writing based on cinema, art and politics along with research on a database of Realist and Social Realist art from around the world can be viewed country by country here. He is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization.

Cultural Marxism: The Quixotic Catch-All

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.
— H. L. Mencken, In Defense of Women, 1918
Cultural Marxism is a strange catch-all term being thrown around a lot these days. Why is it strange? Because if you scratch below its surface all that seems logical melts into air.The term ‘cultural Marxism’ is used to cover feminism, multiculturalism, identity politics, civil rights, postmodernism and globalism. It has also been used recently to describe multiculturalist curricula in the education system.
Let’s take a look at these concepts in a little more detail:


Marxist ideas about women covered ideas of equality and examined the historical and contemporary position and exploitation of women. Marx and Engels wrote about death from overwork, cheap labour, women and children in the mills, etc. They appear to have had a low opinion of feminism. In a letter from Engels to Paul Ernst, Engels writes:
Furthermore, I am not at all acquainted with what you call the feminist movement in Scandinavia; I only know some of Ibsen’s dramas and have not the slightest idea whether or to what extent Ibsen can be considered responsible for the more or less hysterical effusions of bourgeois and petty bourgeois women careerists.
Therefore, the inclusion of feminism into the meaning of cultural Marxism is odd.


Marxist ideas are based on the idea of citizenship and the state, that all citizens should be treated equally under the law with the common identity of “citizen”. However, it seems that the deeper the political and financial crises of the state and the subsequent whittling down of the rights of the citizen, the more emphasis is put on multicultural policies, as if to provoke the majority population into negative reactions. Marxist ideology was reflected in Article Two of the constitution of the Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic of 1918 whereby citizenship was held :
(22) The Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic, recognizing the equal rights of all citizens, irrespective of their racial or national connections, proclaims all privileges on this ground, as well as oppression of national minorities, to be contrary to the fundamental laws of the Republic.
One description of multiculturalism in Western countries notes that multiculturalism “was seen to combat racism, to protect minority communities of all types, and to undo policies that had prevented minorities from having full access to the opportunities for freedom and equality promised by the liberalism that has been the hallmark of Western societies since the Age of Enlightenment.”
If it was necessary for minority groups to fight for rights, “to protect minority communities”, “to undo policies that had prevented minorities from having full access” to opportunities then it seems that this too also has very little to do with Marxist ideology. Being involved in the struggle for basic rights does not necessarily mean you are a Marxist.

Identity politics and civil rights

The same can be said for identity politics whereby people of a particular religion or race form exclusive political alliances and move away from traditional broad-based party politics. It is true that minority cultural groups have experienced exclusion in the past and today, and fight for their rights but Marxist ideas focus on the concept of class, not race, religion or ethnic group. Marxist politics is formulated on the basis of class struggle not the political objectives of individuals or minority groups.


Strangest of all is the inclusion of postmodernism in descriptions of Cultural Marxism. Postmodernism is a movement characterised by an attitude of rejection of meta-narratives such as Marxism. A meta-narrative (or grand narrative) is a theory that tries to give a totalizing, comprehensive account of history, culture, etc. based upon the appeal to universal truth. Postmodernism calls into question various assumptions of Enlightenment rationality, the idea of man free from Church-run society. Yet such Enlightenment ideas form the basis of Marxist philosophy and socialist ideology.


Globalism is a word associated with world-systems or other global trends. The term is associated with “post-war debates of the 1940s in the United States. In their position of unprecedented power, US planners formulated policies to shape the kind of postwar world they wanted, which, in economic terms, meant a globe-spanning capitalist order centered exclusively upon the United States.” Again, not very Marxist concepts, cultural or otherwise. You are more likely to find Marxist ideas in anti-globalisation movements.

It can be seen from all of the above that the basic ideas associated with cultural Marxism have more in common with crises of neo-liberalism and international capitalism than with Marxism. It may be true that the origins of ‘cultural Marxism’ lie in the Frankfurt school of the 1930s in the attempts of critics like Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse and Walter Benjamin to mix Marxist ideas with Freud to break down the effects of the church and state on revolutionary consciousness but it seems that later anything not associated with the conservative values of the nationalist “white”  Christian became ascribed to cultural Marxism.


While the neo-nationalist right ascribes many different ideas and movements to cultural Marxism it can be shown that in the main they all actually benefit the political right. This is through monolithism (something having a uniform or inflexible quality or character), an approach that can be used as a sleight of hand to implement other agendas. Below are three different ways monolithism can be used to stifle dissent.

It is in the education system that we can begin to see monolithism being used to appear progressive and concerned with minority issues (multiculturalism) while at the same time implementing a right wing agenda. For example, recent changes in the French education system have been criticised for devoting more time to a 14th century Malian king, Mansa Kankan Mussa, (who was also a great scholar, an economist as well as an art lover!) compared to the study of Napoleon or even replacing French revolution lessons. By treating French history as monolithic (i.e. for the political right the threatening (revolutionary) and non-threatening elements can be treated as one), the baby can be thrown out with the bath water, and the revolutionary tradition of the French people can be safely removed from the education system. Therefore the progressive parts of French history can be removed while appearing to be concerned about minority history. The added bonus is that non-threatening ethnic historical figures can be chosen too.  (A more subtle approach than in Ireland where the study of History is being made optional at junior cycle in the secondary schools)

The second way dissent can be silenced using monolithism is to portray minority groups as being made up of similar people all sharing similar views. As Kenan Malik writes:
Multiculturalists tend to treat minority communities as if each was a distinct, singular, homogenous, authentic whole, each composed of people all speaking with a single voice, each defined primarily by a singular view of culture and faith. In so doing, they all too often ignore conflicts within those communities. All the dissent and diversity gets washed out. As a result, the most progressive voices often gets silenced as not being truly of that community or truly authentic, while the most conservative voices get celebrated as community leaders, the authentic voices of minority groups.
The ‘authentic’ conservative gets privileged over the dissenting critic, once again serving the political right.

A third way monolithism works is in the change from the Marxist idea of class struggle (the proletariat vs the bourgeoisie) to categories of the oppressed vs the oppressor (a postmodern non-class concept). Yet again, we see a non-Marxist idea being ascribed to cultural Marxism. The oppressor is changed from the bourgeoisie to all privileged people. So, for example, white people become the ‘oppressor’ and black people become the ‘oppressed’, the privileged vs the underprivileged, despite the fact that white people can have very varied economic backgrounds from very poor to ultra-rich. This way of grouping people (colour, creed, ethnicity) creates identities which are not class-based and therefore, from the perspective of the political right, also non-threatening.

Moving targets

It is ironic that what the main targets described by the term cultural Marxism all have in common is the removal of the class (or individual) dissenting elements, or simply have no connection with Marxist ideology at all. The overriding concern, then, is that politics will be reduced to competing groups realigned along specific cultural boundaries, all blind to clever elite manipulation. Firing the term cultural Marxism at any divergent social, cultural or political activity will not enlighten people about what is really happening under their noses but will send them off tilting at windmills instead.

Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin / December 20th, 2018

Monday, December 10, 2018


BY ALFRED CROQUIS, ESQ. (Daniel Maclise)

(After the painting:
Merry Christmas in the Barons Hall by Daniel Maclise)

HURRAH ! Hurrah!
'Tis the Feast of Yule, and all are gay
For Christendom's brave holiday.
Room for old Christmas, crowned with holly:
No other days are half so jolly!
Room, room for Christmas, ivy-crown'd :
No merry days like his are found!
We cast our cares and maxims trite,
And wise remarks away to-night !

Up to the fretted roof is sent
The mingled roar of merriment :
With blithesome laugh and joyous shout
Of comely maid or handsome lout,
That oaken roof full oft has rung
To laughing lilt from lusty lung,-
To boisterous mirth and honest glee
Reflected from its canopy;
But never lent its sheltering aid
To blither groups than here portray'd ;
And never will its arch spread o'er
Such merry-making Christmas more.
The Baron with a courteous grace
Then sits him down, in pride of place;
And ready vassals near him stand,
And watch his eye for a command;
Towards gentle dames turn valiant knights,
Fierce from the brunt of fifty fights;
The haught eye quenched, the voice hushed low,
Quailing beneath a fairer foe, -
That voice the war-cry erst above,
Sunk in soft accents to his love.
Oh! not alone in youth's soft hour
Love can assert his mystic power,
But may in manhood's hour of noon
To soft strains his stern heart attune;
The ills of man's decline assuage,
And tinge the sunset of his age.
Circling the fire, a merry band
The slipper hunt from hand to hand;
A romping group of happy faces,
As bright with ribands as with graces.
That shriek of glee! that laugh—that shout—
Tell the hid slipper is found out,
But not yet gain'd ; though yon page tries
To check its progress as it flies.

Ah, happy boyhood ! merry page;
Of just the frolic-loving age,
Ere serious chase your life engage.
The oaken table's mighty length
Will soon require its utmost strength,-
For, heap'd upon its ample board,
Good cheer in mountains will be stored ;
A numerous clan,—but first, and chief,
In place and space, bold Baron Beef.
A merry king, in festive prank,
His virtues felt, and gave his rank;
Sir Loin, as renown'd a name
As heralds' blazon'd parchments claim,
For virtues rare, and wide-spread ſame.
His vassal-meats are ranged around,
And pasties huge might there be found,
Where every dainty did abound;
The mighty chine, the savoury goose,
Capons, and turkeys crammed for use,
The lusty brawn, the venison haunch,
And all that wholesome was, and stanch :
Such famous sweetmeats, too, stood nigh,
Plumb-porridge there, and eke mince-pie;
And now the boar's head is brought in,
'Mid song, and shout, and music's din,
By lusty serving man, in pride,
With form erect, and scarf o'er side;
Between the tusks a pippin's placed,
Rosemary wreaths around it traced,
Garlands of flowers the dish has graced ;
With laurel his fierce head is crown'd,
And loud the applause that rings around.
Before him, ivied, wand in hand,
Misrule's mock lordling takes his stand;
The baron's spear lauds to the skies,
And eke the boar's vast strength and size.
With vauntings huge he well can tell
The time, the place, and how he fell;
How such a famous hound he tore,
Describe his eye, his crest, his roar;
And, ending, swear such chase, such boar,
He ne'er shall see, nor saw before.
On either side a gay page stands,
Mustard and spice-box 'tween his hands;
And close behind might there be seen
The woodman in his garb of green ;
Drummers and pipers next appear,
And carollers in motley gear;
Stewards, butlers, cooks, bring up the rear.
Some sit apart from all the rest,
And these for merry masque are drest;
But now they play another part,
Distinct from any mumming art.
Ah! we're not able for the task,
To conjure up “The Christmas Masque;”
Or, if we were, what needs it, when
Preserv'd in pages of “rare Ben,”
It shines on us in all its glory,
From the bright regions of his story—
A Poet's heaven; and now not fainter
Glows on the canvass of the Painter;
And, as our tints cannot be warmer,
We'll merely name you each performer.

First, Father Christmas, ivy-crown'd,
With false beard white, and true paunch round,
Rules o'er the mighty wassail-bowl,
And brews a flood to stir the soul:
That bowl's the source of all their pleasures,
That bowl supplies their lesser measures;
And as he brews, loud rings the laughter,
He tastes before, and likewise after;
For as he throws in each ingredient
To try th' effect is but expedient.
And see them still fresh bottles bringing,
While loud the hall with mirth is ringing.
Once more the mixture, then, he tries,—
His lips approve, judge by his eyes.
Spices and wine are in the bowl,
And o'er the surface apples roll;
With rosemary sprig he stirs the whole.
At Christmas time, whate'er betide,
The hobby-horse was ne'er denied;
And dull that festal day had been
Where his gay prancing was not seen,
The maddest sport upon the green.
Where'er he bounds among the crowd,
There is the laugh and scream most loud,
Resounding as he goes along
Amid the gay and shifting throng.
All day the village through to roam,
At eve he makes the hall his home;
And, tired of being such a ranger,
Behold him now at rack and manger,
Replenishing his faded prime
To grace the sports of supper-time.
And so the hobby's turned his tail,
And sits his half-man to regale
On mighty beef and humming-ale.
Enters the wonder of the night,
The Dragon, with St. George to fight;
Armed cap-à-pie, from head to tail,
Against St. George in scaly mail.
What face is from his jaws a peeper
But that of honest John the Reaper.
The village tailor only all knows,
But keeps the secret of his smallclothes.
John deems an extra cup no sin,
Well to sustain his man within,
And thus to fortify his heart
Up to the pitch of Dragon part;
A reason John thinks of besides,
He carries with him two insides.
But, oh beware, my worthy Reaper,
Wassail may turn you to a sleeper.
Wassail a Dragon's eyes will close,
And lull e'en him into repose;
Lifting too oft a foaming flagon
Is not decorous in a Dragon.
But now he sets him at the table,
To eat and drink while he is able, -
Folds up his tail, thrusts forth his head,
And asks of Saint George to be fed;
For mark how Christmas old feuds ends,
The Dragon and Saint George are friends.

Enters Saint George in all his pride,
And takes his seat by Dragon's side,
Completely armed in pasteboard bright,
A famous champion and a knight.
The maidens wond'ringly admire
The hero in his rich attire.
One ties a sash, one pins a shawl,
And one a scarf flings over all.
The merry rogue who acts the Saint,
With smutted beard and cheek of paint,
Repays these favours of the misses,
Beneath the misletoe, with kisses.
And well they know the laughing eyes
That peep beneath the helm's disguise.
He now forgets both helm and mail,
And Dragon's wings and scaly tail;
Both from the same full beaken quaff,
And shout and sing, and roar and laugh.
That Turk, by Christian knight to fall,
"Mid laughter and applause of all,
The creed forgets which Turk denies;
Unchristianlike, the bowls supplies:
Yet he's rehearsing but his part
Allotted of the drama's art,
And lifts the brimming cup on high,
His nerve's firm steadiness to try,
With practised hand and steady eye;
Judge by that cup, which sheds no drop
Till at his mouth the brimmer stop,
That the wide whirling of his sabre
Will be performed with little labour.
Others in tiring room are nigh—
Sir Loin, Saint Distaff, and Mince Pie,
Plum Porridge, Carol, Wassail, enter,
Straight to the board as their own centre;
Mumming and Misrule, Baby Cake,
Now altogether merry inake;
And he who acted to his name
Did best perform his part of game:
They ate and drank, till they in fact did
Look quite the heroes they enacted.
Such are the persons of the masque;
And now proceed we with our task.
Rogues, gipsies, jugglers, have got in,
From simple souls their pence to win.
Mark, first they sit in lowly place,
Nor of their calling shew a trace;
But as the strong ale goes about,
And lulls suspicion, they come out;
Till, bolder grown, they may be found
Where jokes and laughter most abound,
Tricking and juggling all around.
See, one on table takes his stand,
And one beside on either hand—
Wonder on wonder quick succeeds;
And good folks, puzzled, praise the deeds.
The old, with ill-concealed shame,
Look on and wonder, while they blame;
The young devour with ardent gaze,
And looks half doubting—whole amaze—
And give youths' ever ready praise.

The brave old Hall was then to be seen
Prank'd out in garb of bright evergreen.
Over the hearth, and over the door,
Adown the wainscot from roof to the floor,
Along the cornice, and over the arch,
The triumph of holly and ivy doth march.
Suits of grim armour look bright and look gay—
Garlands of berries, like scarfs, o'er them lay;
And corslet and helm, shield, battle-axe, and blade,
Together in green robe of peace were arrayed.
High on the places where ladies may go,
Roof, door, and mantel-shelf, hangs mistletoe:
The maiden who stays 'neath this licensing bough,
To the gallant who claims it a kiss must allow.
Hail to the mistletoe’s magic, that spreads,
Like a glory, its circle above their young heads!
Hail to the bough that, like wizard's wand, weaves
A spell such as this from its mystical leaves—
Rains its sweet dew as from heaven above,
And hovers protecting o'er those who may love!

The license much they seem to prize,
For many a pair the charm still tries.
Judge by the kissing that is there,
The mistletoe hangs every where.
An honest mirth flows all around,
Rasing distinctions to the ground.
No stateliness is to be seen,
Nor chilling distance intervene—
Good humour flows, and fills between.
The baron, see, nods to the squire;
The serf unto his lord sits nigher :
And hooded coif, and cap of pride,
Were oft seen seated side by side.
The village damsel might be seen,
In scarlet vest and kirtle green,
Blushing acceptance to the heir,
Who seeks a tenant's daughter fair,
Her dimpled land as boon to crave,
In accents humble as a slave,
To join with him the festive dance,
And thus the day's delights enhance.
For Rank stooped from his airy height,
In honour of this single night;
State kept his robe for other places,
Nor of his grandeur shewed the traces;
And Ceremony's jewelled gear,
As deem'd too cumberous to wear,
Was changed for lightsome trappings gay,
Such as best serve a holiday.
Then, room for Christmas, crown'd with holly!
No other days are half so jolly.

Room, room for Christmas, ivy crown'd!
No merry days like his are found.
All mirth, all games throughout the year,
At merry Christmas reappear.

To Christmas each a tribute pays,
Levies of merriment to raise.
More joyous each seems to have grown,
When Christmas takes them for her own.
Then, room for Christmas, crown'd with holly!
No other days are half so jolly.
The proof of this truth is quite ample—
Take what succeeds for an example.
On New Year's eve, a tinge of sorrow,
Reverting to the past, may borrow.
The future of an untried year
Less food for hope may give than fear.
The past, or friends or foes removed--
The next year's fealty must be proved.
Then, room for Christmas, ivy crown'd
No merry days like his are found.
A Twelfth Night's jollity, at best,
Is but a little Christmas drest
In smiles and trappings of the old,
But less in mirth a hundred fold :
It is from borrowed lustre light,
But dimmer by a good twelfth night;
Yet let none from that lustre take,
Hid in the bushel of Twelfth Cake.
But, room for Christmas, crown'd with holly!
No other days are half so jolly.
Shrove Tuesday's grave guests but appear
To bid adieu to all good cheer;
And o'er that night a shade is cast,
That for a while its feast's the last,
For morrow brings the sacred fast.
So, room for Christmas, ivy crown'd!
No merry days like his are found.
Then through the Holy Passion week,
If joy there be, 'tis joy so meek,
When you reflect on Christmas gladness,
It seems to be allied to sadness.
Could o'er the soul such wish be stealing,
A kiss, in point of fact or feeling,
Could then be but committed kneeling.
But, room for Christmas, crown'd with holly
No other days are half so jolly.

May-day was gamesome eke of yore,
But all his pranks are wellnigh o'er;
Or else th' observance's so degraded,
'Twere better far if all had faded.
Though earth is clad in vesture meet,
Fit to receive May's dancing feet;
Though April sheds her rainbow showers,
To give to May her brightest flowers—
Lends to the hedge a sweet perfume,
And gifts it with a precious bloom ;
Falls the laburnum's showers of gold
To earth's, like Danae's lap of old,

When Jove omniscient took that form
Deem'd surest maiden's heart to warm,
And shelter gained in Danae's bower
By virtue of a golden shower;
Clusters the lilac's flowery cone,
Luxuriant piled for May alone,
That takes the sky's sweet violet hue,
And heaven so bathes with its own dew,
It seems as if in heaven it grew,
Without one taint of earthly soil
Its native purity to spoil.
Though still the fields expect their queen,
Bedecked in daisied garb of green;
And the glad streams have found a voice
To wake an anthem, and rejoice;
And the lark heavenward soars and sings,
O'er earth exulting as he wings;
And the wide landscape round looks gay,
In honour of her own sweet May:
Man seldom now his homage pays
In gaudy groups and gay arrays,
That cheer'd the May of other days.
No more the village Maypole high
Tapers into the clear blue sky;
By joyous youths 'twas reared erect,
By maids with flowers and ribands decked,
While both, uniting, gaily trace
The dance in circles round the base.
Wide as December is from May,
Or Christmas-night from young May-day,
The mirth with which each is supplied
— Though mirth 'tis still — is still as wide.
Christmas the hearth-stone clusters round ;
May o'er the fields is to be found:
Yet something in our feelings tell,
If May we love, ’tis not so well —
They're centered in that place of pride,
Our hearty, homely, warm fireside.
Lo, room for Christmas, crowned with holly!
No other days are half so jolly.

When the blithe year is in its spring,
And 'neath its influence the woods ring,
With notes of life, and joy, and love,
Springing from dell, and glade, and grove,
The earth wakes from its trance supine,
To honour sweet Saint Valentine;
And Nature, like a bride, rejoices
To greet her lover with glad voices,
Framing for him such roundelays
As she, in spring, can only raise.
Still, room for Christmas, ivy-crowned!
No merry days like his are found:
For there be other merry days,
Deserving well a separate praise.

And Michaelmas and Hallowe'en
Has each his merriment, I ween ;
And many more than I can name
To joy and jollity lay claim,

Gladdening the heart as they appear,
Like stars to light us through the year;
Till breaks upon our view the light
That issues from the Christmas night.
The sky of life would be but dark,
If stars like these withheld their spark;
But, shining through this life-long night,
They give us glimpses of the light.
Blessings of peace and joy we call
On festive days, whene'er they fall;
But be more bounteously supplied,
Above the rest, to Christmas tide.
Then, room for Christmas, ivy-crowned!
No merry days like his are found:
Room, room for Christmas, crowned with holly!
No other days are half so jolly.

But, well-a-day, those days are o'er!
Christmas may smile, but laughs no more
With all the lustiness of yore;
And faint the picture; vain to say,
The mirth that lighted up that day —
That light, which spread o'er home and heart,
Was of the Sun of Joy a part;
A gladsome beam, from heaven astray,
To cheer and bless us with its ray.
That light o'er lordly fane was spread,
And glistened through the cheerless shed —
Cheerless no more when hut and hall
Partakes the joy which pervades all.
For, like the sun, which lends his beam
To the vast sea and petty stream,
To objects bright new lustre brings,
And glorifies the meanest things.
Like that rare stone by sages told,
Which all it touched turned into gold,
So Christmas time made all hearts gay —
Made lord and slave alike that day;
And which the happiest — who can say?
Equality of joy to all,
In honour of high festival

Large were man's thoughts, for notions vast
Possessed his soul in days long past.
Huge was the table; vast the hall;
And free the bounty that gave all.
This gave the Yule-log to the fire,
And made the blaze burn brighter, higher;
The board with plenteous cheer supplied,
Nor to the guest aught wished denied.
In all wise-dwarfed, small is our praise,
For there were giants in those days;
Unlike to these, where, glories yet,
The Sun of Christmas had not set.
If snow-wreathed gable, roof, and wall,
Flower-wreaths decked window, hearth, and all;
If casements shook to winter wild,
The hearth with glow more ruddy smiled;
And eke our hearts with warmth were stored,
Chill winter's contrast to afford;

And treasured up those feelings gay
Which may illume the darkest day.
Young bright-winged Joy, with aspect fair,
His herald's flag waved every where,
And held a truce with hostile care.
Oh! that was not the olden time,
When the glad world was in its prime;
Then was its youth, and then its bloom:
Now it seems fitted for the tomb :
Its lustiness and vigour fled —
Its graces gone — its joys lie dead.
We're the true ancients. Habits fine
Serve but to glorify decline.
Our age is age, not youth imbued
With life, but eld's decrepitude.
If those were barbarous ages then,
Let us be barbarous again.

Then, room for old Christmas, with his crown of bright holly!
May his days all be glad, and his nights be kept jolly!
Laurel, holly, and joy, entwine in his crown,
For no king that e'er reigned merits half his renown.
For he smiles in due season, when our hearts want a cheer,
When all nature and man are both chilly and drear,
And illumes the decline and the dawn of each year.
Thus he's loved, as the nightingale's loved for his song,
When the village he cheers through the summer-night long,
By a soft serenade to his sweet-blushing rose,
As she peeps from her lattice, but feigns to repose:
For one love-song's more precious, while the moon shines so bright,
Than a hundred and one by the day's garish light.
Thus he's loved, as the robin is loved, when his lay
Is sung near the window the cold winter's day;
When, trusting to us, and forgetting his fears,
As the winter approaches our shelter he nears—
(Such reliance we love !), his small claim to allow.
He has ever been sacred — we worship him now.
Thus he's loved, as we love his own sweet evergreen,
Which rejoices our hearts when no flower is seen;
When bright holly, old ivy, themselves all alone,
Make of winter itself a spring-time of their own.
And the other gay festival days that appear,
Are the sunshiny summer-day things of the year.
But more grateful we feel for the sweet, precious light,
Which shines through our winter from bright Christmas night;
And winter is but the long night of the year,
Brightened up with the full light of good Christmas cheer.
And the full heart that speaks in the nightingale's tone,
Is not half so joyous or full as our own ;
Nor the summer's long day of bright birds and gay flowers,
Half so gay or so bright as this night-time of ours:
For we turn from the bowers when the bird's song is loudest,
And regard not the flowers when the parterre is proudest.
They rejoice not for us. In the sunlight they smile,
And when his eyelids droop, then they slumber awhile.
No, for us they shine not; but, when summer is o'er,
The bird, and the flower, and the sun are no more.
Then the bird of the moon; and the rose we love best,
That a sentinel seems to watch over our rest;
And the robin we love, as he sings his sweet lay,
Near the window, to cheer us the cold winter's day;
And the flowers that love us, and to us are most dear,
Are the green things which help our old Christmas to cheer.

Then, long life to King Christmas! his reign has been long
In our hearts and our homes, in our story and song.
Though his doubtful accession's enigma's not solved,
Obscure in the gloom of past ages involved,
Yet of one thing we're sure — it is no little while
Since “King Arthur kept Christmas in merry Carlisle.”
Through the long list of kings do his triumphs appear,
And their pageants and battles are not half so dear;
With a king oft for guest, and a prince for his slave,
He his honours received, and in like manner gave.
He created his peers, too, so generous and grand,
To equal them none might be found in the land,
With power complete o'er the great feast of Yule;
A noble and churchman, of the true good old school,
Yclept Un-reason's Abbot and Lord of Misrule.
Then, room for old Christmas, with his crown of bright holly!
May his days all be glad, and his nights be kept jolly!
Laurel, holly, and ivy, entwine in his crown,
For no king that e'er reigned merits half his renown!

Merry Christmas in the Barons Hall
By Daniel Maclise

6 ft. H., 12 ft. w.

This picture, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy
in 1838, is an example both of the merits and defects of Maclise,
The interior of an English Baron's hail in the olden time
towards Christmas evening, it is crowded with figures of various
ranks and degrees, each engaged in some appropriate action.
The whole picture is full of varied expression and complicated
grouping ; unhappily the colour is bad and the impasto leathery.
Signed and dated. Purchased in 1872.

This picture was the subject of a long description in verse in Fraser's
Magazine for May, 1838, written by Maclise himself, also in the Dublin
University Magazine, 1847 (vol. xxix.).

Digital copy: