A Christmassy post

by Nick

This is the title page to The Vindication of Christmas, or His twelve yeares observations upon the times (London, 1652). It’s George Thomason’s copy, so despite the poor quality of the image you can see where he’s methodically crossed out the New Style 1653 and replaced it with an Old Style 1652.

In the woodcut you can see Father Christmas in the middle saying “O Sir I bring good cheere”. On the left, a soldier says, “Keep out, you come not here” whilst putting one hand to his sword. On the right, a countryman (with a basket on a stick) says, “Old Christmas welcome; Do not fear”. The sub-title explains more about the politicised content underlying the woodcut:

The Vindication of Christmas, or His twelve yeares observations upon the times, concerning the lamentable game called sweepstake; acted by general plunder, and major general tax; with his exhortation to the people; a description of that oppressing ringworm called excise; and the manner how our high and might Christmas ale that formerly would knock down Hercules, & trip up the heels of a giant, strook deep consumption with a blow from Westminster.

In the text, Father Christmas laments that “some over-curious hot zealous Brethren” tried to proclaim him to be dead by preaching funeral sermons. The zealots have gone on to assume and abuse their power, but Father Christmas comforts himself that many still believe in Christ and Christmas alike.

Father Christmas then tours London, where he meets wonderful Scrooge-like characters such as Sir Achitophel Pinchgut and M. Miser: plus a spendthrift son, Mr Pound-Foolish.

He then goes to Devonshire, to spend Christmas with some farmers. There he has dinner, roasts apples on the fire, plays cards, dances with “plow-boys” and “maidservants”, and sings the following carol:

Let’s dance and sing, and make good chear,
For Christmas comes but once a year:
Draw hogsheads dry, let flagons fly,
For now the bells shall ring;
Whilst we endeavor to make good
The title ‘gainst a King.

This is supposed to be sung to “the tune of hey”. There are a few songs this might be, but I think it might be “Hey boys up go we” (although I’m happy to be corrected by any ballad experts out there!).

Merry Christmas and thanks for reading this blog during the last twelve months. For more early modern Christmas posts check out: