THE WORDS WE USE

 

"I'D love to be going home for the Christmas," said a friend from Cheshire to me the other evening. He's been in Ireland a long time, and I thought he had picked up the definite article here, where it is a relic of the Irish, an Nollaig. I mentioned it to him. "The Christmas is used all over rural England," he said. "Check it out." I did. He is right.

This is from Shropshire: "Such a thing happened," the folk say, "in the Christmas" ... one special care was in putting away any suds for washing purposes; it was most unlucky to keep them in the house during the Christmas."

The English made a verbal noun of Christmas - Christmasing.

You'll find it in various guises in Wordsworth's special place it still means coming home for the Christmas holidays: "I see that Mary's kermassing." In Surrey Christmasing meant to go about collecting the Christmas presents. Christmasing in old London meant selling any evergreen used for decoration. Mayhew (the 19th century one) has: "There is a large trade done in Christmasing."

In Cornwall the word still means a Christmas present. My little grand daughter phoned me from there a month ago to remind me not to forget her Christmasing.

"The Christmas" in her part of the world was a special cake made on Christmas Eve. Notes and Queries had this to say about it back in 1878: "The peculiarity of the cake is that a small portion of the dough in the centre of the top of each is pulled up and made into a form which resembles a very small cake on the top of a large one, and this centre piece is specially called the Christmas. Each person in the house has his or her special cake."

They have their Bloc na Nollag, too, in Cornwall, the Yule log, only they call it the Christmas Mock. Why I don't know, but it may have something to do with the figure of a man they draw on the block before burning it.

In Dorset the Christmas Sheaf is still given to cattle on Christmas morning. The stables and byres are decorated with Christ's Thorn - the original Christmas tree, the holly. They say the crown of thorns was made from it.

Do any of these words and traditions sound familiar to you? I'm sure they do. In some respects, we are not native here, nor anywhere, as the poet said.

Anyway, as the old people used to say where I come from, a happy Christenmas to you all.