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December 26.

St. Stephen, the first Martyr. St. Dionysius, Pope, A. D. 269. St. Jarlath, 1st Bp. of Tuam, 6th Cent.

St. Stephen.

The church of England observes this festival, and the name of the apostle is in the almanacs accordingly. The circumstances that led to his death, and the particulars of it by stoning, are related in the seventh chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. He is deemed the first martyr for the christian faith.

The notice of this festival by Naogeorgus is thus translated by Barnaby Googe:—

Then followth Saint Stephens day,
      whereon doth every man
His horses jaunt and course abrode,
      as swiftly as he can,
Until they doe extreemely sweate,
      and than they let them blood,
For this being done upon this day,
      they say doth do them good,
And keepes them from all maladies
      and sickensse through the yeare,
As if that Steven any time
      took charge of horses heare.


Whether Stephen was the patron of horses does not appear; but our ancestors used his festival for calling in the horse-leech. Tusser, in his "Five Hundred Points of Husbandry," says,

Yer Christmas be passed,
       let Horsse, be lett blood,
For many a purpose
      it doth him much good:
The day of St. Steven,
      old fathers did use,
If that do mislike thee,
      some other day chuse.

An annotator on Tusser subjoins, "About Christmas is a very proper time to bleed horses in, for then they are commonly at house, then spring comes on, the sun being now coming back from the winter solstice, and there are three or four days of rest, and if it be upon St. Stephen's day it is not the worse, seeing there are with it three days of rest, or at least two." In the "Receipts and Disbursements of the Canons of St. Mary in Huntingdon," is the following entry: "Item, for letting our horses blede in Chrystmasse weke iiijd."*[1] According to one of Mr. Douce's manuscript notes, he thinks the practice of bleeding horses on this day is extremely ancient, and that it was brought into this country by the Danes. It is noticed in "Wits Fits and Fancies," an old and rare book, that on "S. Stevens-day it is the custome for all horses to be let bloud and drench'd. A gentleman being (that morning) demaunded whether it pleased him to have his horse let bloud and drencht, according to the fashion? He answered, no, sirra, my horse is not diseas'd of the fashions." Mr. Ellis in a note on Mr. Brand quotes, that Aubrey says, "On St. Stephen's-day the farrier came constantly and blouded all our cart-horses."[2]

The Finns upon St. Stephen's-day, throw a piece of money, or a bit of silver, inot the trough out of which the horses drink, under the notion that it prospers those who do it.‡[3]

Heit! Heck! Whoohe! and Geho!

The well-known interjection used by country people to their horses, when yoked to a cart, &c. Heit! or Heck! is noticed by Mr. Brand to have been used in the days of Chaucer:—

They saw a cart, that charged was with hay,
The which a carter drove forth on his way:
Depe was the way, for which the carte stode;
The carter smote and cryde as he were wode,
Heit Scot! Heit Brok! what spare ye for the stones?
The Fend quoth he, you fetch, body and bones."§[4]

Brok is still in frequent use amongst farmer's draught oxen.*[5]

Whoohe! a well-known exclamation to stop a team of horses, is derived by a writer in the "Gentleman's Magazine," 1799, from the Latin. "The exclamation used by our waggoners when they wish for any purpose to stop their team (an exclamation which it is less difficult to speak than to write, although neither is a task of great facility,) is probably a legacy bequeathed us by our Roman ancestors: precisely a translation of the ancient Ohe! an interjection strictly confined to bespeaking a pause—rendered by our lexicographers, Enough! Oh, Enough!

"Ohe, jani satis est—Ohe, Libelle."

A learned friend of Mr. Brand's says, "The exclamation 'Geho, Geho,' which carmen use to their horses is probably of great antiquity. It is not peculiar to this country, as I have heard it used in France. In the story of the milkmaid who kicked down her pail, and with it all her hopes of getting rich, as related in a very ancient 'Collection of Apologues,' entitled 'Dialogus Creaturarum,' printed at Gouda, in 1480, is the following passage: 'Et cum sic gloriaretur, et cogitaret cum quanta gloria duceretur ad illum virum super equum dicendo gio gio, cepit pede percutere terram quasi pungeret equum calcaribus.'"

It appears from a memoir on the manner in which the inhabitants of the north riding of Yorkshire celebrate Christmas, in the "Gentleman's Magazine," 1811, that "On the feast of St. Stephen large goose pies are made, all of which they distribute among their needy neighbours, except one which is carefully laid up, and not tasted till the purification of the virgin, called Candlemas."

Boxing Day.

On the day after Christmas, tradespeople are visited by persons in the employment of their customers for a "Christmas-box," and every man and boy who thinks he is qualified to ask, solicits from those on whom he calculates as likely to bestow. A writer, in 1731, describes Boxing-day at that time from his own experience. "By that time I was up, my servants could do nothing but run to the door. Inquiring the meaning, I was answered, the people were come for the Christmas-box: this was logic to me; but I found at last, that, because I had laid out a great deal of ready-money with my brewer, baker, and other tradesmen, they kindly thought it my duty to present their servants with some money for the favour of having their goods. This provoked me a little; but being told it was 'the custom,' I complied. These were followed by the watch, beadles, dustmen, and an innumerable tribe; but what vexed me the most was the clerk, who has an extraordinary place, and makes as good an appearance as most tradesmen in the parish; to see him come a boxing, alias begging, I thought was intolerable: however, I found it was 'the custom' too, so I gave him half-a-crown; as I was likewise obliged to do to the bellman, for breaking my rest for many nights together.

"Having talked this matter over with a friend, he promised to carry me where I might see the good effects of this giving box-money. In the evening, away we went to a neighbouring alehouse, where abundance of these gentry were assembled round a stately piece of roast beef, and as large a plum-pudding. When the drink and brandy began to work, they fell to reckoning of their several gains that day: one was called stingy dog for giving but sixpence; another called an extravagant fool for giving half-a-crown, which perhaps he might want before the year was out; so I found these good people were never to be pleased. Some of them were got to cards by themselves, which soon produced a quarrel and broken heads. In the interim came in some of their wives, who roundly abused the people for having given them money; adding, that instead of doing good, it ruined their families, and set them in a road of drinking and gaming, which never ceased till not only their gifts, but their wages, were gone. One good woman said, if people had a mind to give charity, they should send it home to their families: I was very much of her opinion; but, being tired with the noise, we left them to agree as they could.

"My friend next carried me to the upper end of Piccadilly, where, one pair of stairs over a stable, we found near a hundred people of both sexes, some masked, others not, a great part of which were dancing to the music of two sorry fiddles. It is impossible to describe this medley of mortals fully; however, I will do it as well as I can. There were footmen, servant-maids, butchers, apprentices, oyster and orange-women, and sharpers, which appeared to be the best of the company. This horrid place seemed to be a complete nursery for the gallows. My friend informed me, it was called a 'three-penny hop;' and while we were talking, to my great satisfaction, by order of the Westminster justices, to their immortal honour, entered the constables and their assistants, who carried off all the company that was left; and, had not my friend been known to them, we might have paid dear for our curiosity."*[6]


Purple Heath. Erica purpurea.
Dedicated to St. Stephen.

Notes [all notes are Hone's unless otherwise indicated]:

1. Mr. Nichols's Illustration of Anc. Times. [return]

2. In Lansdowne MS. 226. British Museum. [return]

3. Tooke's Russia. [return]

4. Frere's T. ed. Tyrwh. Chaucer. [return]

5. Brand. [return]

6. Cited in Malcolm's London, 18th Cent. [return]