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Christmas Poem: Christmas In The Olden Time by Sir Walter Scott

Written by Lisa Spurgin, 24th December 2010

That time of year is here once again – it seems like barely a month has passed, never mind twelve of them, since the last Christmas poem full of cheer and goodwill was posted on The Reader Online. But the festive season is in full swing, the days have been ticked off/the windows upon the advent calendar opened and the big day is just around the corner. For some, feelings of anticipation and unabashed excitement will be running high; for others, it might be just stress levels that are being raised. Whatever your Christmastime brings – be it snow, travel delays or a fetching garish knitted garment – I sincerely hope it’s not too chaotic but rather calm, jolly and joyful.

I don’t know about everyone else, but when Christmas rolls around I get overwhelmingly nostalgic. The faintest whiff of tinsel brought out of the cardboard box of decorations transports me back to the time when I used to drape myself in the stuff in an over-excited state, and there are certain little traditions that have to be carried out such as making sure I’m in bed before midnight and hanging up the same stocking I’ve had since I was tiny, the snowman sewn onto it with his hat nearly falling off from wear year after year. As much as Christmas is still my favourite time of year, it is never quite the same as in times gone by. The tree will still twinkle, Christmas spirit will still be aglow – but it’s not quite as magical as it used to be, no matter how much I will it.

It’s with a nostalgic view that I post this year’s Christmas poem, entitled Christmas In The Olden Time and written by Sir Walter Scott, taken as an excerpt from his epic poem Marmion. Hopefully it will get you reminiscing of your Christmases of old, as well as get you in the mood for the coming Christmas. Of course, Scott’s ‘olden time’ is far older than any of us could remember or even imagine. Merry Christmas to one and all from all at The Reader Organisation.

Christmas In The Olden Time

Heap on more wood! — the wind is chill;
But let it whistle as it will,
We’ll keep our Christmas merry still.
Each age has deemed the new born year
The fittest time for festal cheer.
And well our Christian sires of old.
Loved when the year its course had rolled,
And brought blithe Christmas back again,
With all his hospitable train.
Domestic and religious rite
Gave honour to the holy night:
On Christmas eve the bells were rung;
On Christmas eve the mass was sung;
That only night, in all the year,
Saw the stoled priest the chalice rear.
The damsel donned her kirtle sheen;
The hail was dressed with holly green;
Forth to the wood did merry men go,
To gather in the mistletoe,
Then opened wide the baron’s hail
To vassal, tenant, serf, and all;
Power laid his rod of rule aside,
And ceremony doff’d his pride.
The heir, with roses in his shoes,
That night might village partner choose.
The lord, underogating, share
The vulgar game of “post and pair!”
All hailed with uncontroll’d delight
And general voice, the happy night
That to the cottage, as the crown,
Brought tidings of salvation down.
The fire with well dried logs supplied,
Went roaring up the chimney wide;
The huge hail table’s oaken face,
Scrubb’d till it shone, the day to grace,
Bore then upon: its massive board
No mark to part the squire and lord.
Then was brought in the lusty brawn,
By old, blue-coated serving-man;
Then the grim boar’s head frowned on high,
Crested with bays and rosemary.
Well can the green-garbed ranger tell,
How, when, and where, the monster fell;
What dogs before his death he tore,
And all the baiting of the boar.
The wassail round in good brown bowls,
Garnished with ribbon, blithely trowls.
There the huge sirloin reeked: hard by
Plum-porridge stood, and Christmas pie;
Nor failed old Scotland to produce
At such high tide her savoury goose.
Then came the merry masquers 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 visor made
But oh! what masquers, richly dight,
Can boast of bosoms half so light!
England was merry England when
Old Christmas brought his sports again.
’Twas Christmas broached the mightiest ale,
’Twas Christmas told the merriest tale;
A Christmas gambol oft would cheer
A poor man’s heart through half the year.

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)

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