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WITH Christmas fast approaching, celebrations are well under way, but some local traditions have been forgotten over the years.

Christmas in Warwickshire in olden days was generally a good time for both town dwellers and the countryman for there was plenty of celebration, games and feasting.

The festive season generally got under way on St Thomas's Day, December 21.

The day falls on the winter solstice, the shortest of the year, and people had a rhyme for it:

St Thomas grey, St Thomas grey,

The longest night and the shortest day.

People in other counties generally visited the homes of the farmers and worthies to beg goods or money to help make their Christmas a bit more enjoyable.

It was known as Doleing Day or Gooding Day, but in Warwickshire it was called "Going a Corning", for the participants carried a bag around to farms where they were given corn.

As a change, many of the big houses would give cake and spiced ale which they liberally bestowed upon the dolers.

In villages with a number of large houses, it was said that participants often found it hard to find their way home at the end of the session.

One of the main rituals of old Christmas was bringing in the yule log, the bigger the log the bigger the house. This tradition is believed to have been inherited from the Vikings who burned huge log fires to celebrate the god Thor, the Saxon equivalent in this country being Thunor.

On Christmas Eve the yule log would be brought into the house with great ceremony and placed in the hearth. In the 15th century it was welcomed with:

Welcome be thou, heavenly King,

Welcome born on this morning,

Welcome for whom we shall sing,

Welcome Yule.

The firing of the yule log was said to drive all troubles from the home and protect it. The flames were often used to warm the spiced ale which was drunk from a wooden bowl, with shouts of "Wassail" from the Saxon meaning good health, to which the response would be "Drink hail".

When the log was burnt out it was preserved in the home until the following Christmas Eve when it was used to light the new yule. It was believed that the having the remains of the log would protect the home from fire.

Boar's head centrepiece of table CAROL singing by children for money used to be called Gooding.

In olden times houses were decked with wintery greenery such as holly, ivy, bay, laurel and mistletoe. All were also used to decorate churches except, of course, for mistletoe because of its pagan background.

A traditional favourite in the baronial home was the boar's head which was ceremonially brought to the table.

The second most important was the peacock. The skin with feathers intact would be removed from the bird and the flesh roasted and the result displayed back in its plumage. Other times it was served in a pie with the bird's crest on one end and the tail on the other.

Plum puddings are thought to have developed from plum porridge. The earliest mention of a basin-boiled plum pudding as we know it was in 1675.

The traditional Christmas day fare for most normal Warwickshire folk was beef and plum porridge or pudding. Turkey began to become popular only in the later part of the 19th century. THE city is, of course, famous for the Coventry Carol, written probably in the 15th century. In the Coventry Mystery plays, Mary sang it to the Christ child. Other popular carols were the Boars Head Carol, God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen and I Saw Three Ships Go Sailing By. These would have been sung in the county by carollers, normally only on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.


EXCITEMENT was caused on Christmas Eve with the appearance of the mummers. Coventry still has its Coventry Mummers who perform plays of death and resurrection and comedy. On Boxing Day the Stoneleigh Play is enacted to a large audience in that village. Thanks to historian Mary Dormer Harris, we still have the words of the Stoneleigh play, for she wrote them down in the 1920s. "This," she wrote, "I took from the lips of one who played the Doctor's part long ago."
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Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Dec 17, 2005
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