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Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?

Penny S. 30 Dec 02 - 07:19 AM
GUEST,Ed 30 Dec 02 - 07:24 AM
Mr Happy 30 Dec 02 - 07:25 AM
Acme 30 Dec 02 - 11:28 AM
Genie 30 Dec 02 - 04:28 PM
Cluin 30 Dec 02 - 04:53 PM
Genie 30 Dec 02 - 04:59 PM
GUEST,Q 30 Dec 02 - 05:11 PM
GUEST 30 Dec 02 - 05:20 PM
Liz the Squeak 30 Dec 02 - 06:36 PM
GUEST 30 Dec 02 - 06:42 PM
Liz the Squeak 30 Dec 02 - 07:01 PM
Malcolm Douglas 30 Dec 02 - 09:00 PM
Malcolm Douglas 30 Dec 02 - 09:01 PM
Genie 30 Dec 02 - 09:26 PM
DMcG 31 Dec 02 - 05:04 AM
Malcolm Douglas 31 Dec 02 - 09:32 AM
Mudlark 31 Dec 02 - 01:09 PM
Penny S. 31 Dec 02 - 01:12 PM
Cluin 31 Dec 02 - 01:42 PM
GUEST,Q 31 Dec 02 - 03:08 PM
McGrath of Harlow 31 Dec 02 - 03:15 PM
MMario 31 Dec 02 - 03:22 PM
GUEST,Q 31 Dec 02 - 03:40 PM
Liz the Squeak 31 Dec 02 - 10:39 PM
CapriUni 01 Jan 03 - 12:40 AM
GUEST,Nerd 01 Jan 03 - 02:29 AM
Penny S. 01 Jan 03 - 05:16 AM
GUEST,Q 01 Jan 03 - 09:26 AM
GUEST,Nerd 02 Jan 03 - 12:52 AM
Dave Bryant 02 Jan 03 - 06:32 AM
Malcolm Douglas 02 Jan 03 - 08:37 AM
Joe Offer 25 Dec 10 - 09:50 PM
FreddyHeadey 19 Dec 15 - 10:51 AM
Jim Dixon 19 Dec 15 - 06:40 PM
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Subject: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: Penny S.
Date: 30 Dec 02 - 07:19 AM

I have a tape of carols by Johnny Coppin, called "A Country Christmas". One of the tracks, collected from Esther Smith at Dilwyn near Weobley in Herefordshire by Ella Mary Leather and Ralph Vaughan Williams, and published in 1920 in their "Twelve Traditional Carols from Herefordshire", is a very miserable piece indeed, and I would like to know more about the society in which it arose.
The plot is basically that a farmer goes ploughing on Christmas Day, and is met by Jesus, who asks why he is doing so. The farmer answers that he needs to in order that his family may be fed, whereupon Jesus strikes him dead, leading to dire consequences for the family. (I'll try and do a transcription later, if no one else has the words more easily available.)
Does anyone have any idea as to the origins of this merry piece - the sort of people who make a big issue of not working on Christmas Day seem to be those unlikely to make or sing carols, even miserable ones? Compared with songs which bring God out on the side of the ploughman against his master, or against situations which compel the lower strata of society to work at unsocial times, this seems to stick out like a sore thumb from the folk tradition.

Penny


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Subject: RE: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: GUEST,Ed
Date: 30 Dec 02 - 07:24 AM

You can find the words (and music) at folkinfo.org


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Subject: RE: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: Mr Happy
Date: 30 Dec 02 - 07:25 AM

i worked xmas day.

for those in human services like doctors, nurses,police, fire,etc, & care homes- it would b totally immoral & unethical not to work when others lives are depending on you- regardless of religion- imo.


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Subject: RE: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: Acme
Date: 30 Dec 02 - 11:28 AM

That web site seems to be down right now. Can Guest,Ed tell us any more about the song?

SRS


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Subject: RE: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: Genie
Date: 30 Dec 02 - 04:28 PM

That song doesn't seem in keeping with what the Gospels say about Jesus. He got ticked off at the pharisees for being legalistic pedants about his thrashing a few grains of wheat to eat on the Sabbath.

Genie


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Subject: RE: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: Cluin
Date: 30 Dec 02 - 04:53 PM

I guess even Jesus can get up on the wrong side of bed some days.


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Subject: RE: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: Genie
Date: 30 Dec 02 - 04:59 PM

sounds like one of those songs from the early days of The Church, like "The Bitter Withy" to me.


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Subject: RE: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: GUEST,Q
Date: 30 Dec 02 - 05:11 PM

?Like late Victorian hidebound Presbyterianism. And then I remembered that in Edinburgh work on Christmas Day was not uncommon in the old days.

Substitute Saddam for the Lord, and it becomes more believable.


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Subject: RE: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: GUEST
Date: 30 Dec 02 - 05:20 PM

Genie,

The "early days of the church" would be the first century AD. I trust that you're not as stupid as you sound.


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Subject: RE: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: Liz the Squeak
Date: 30 Dec 02 - 06:36 PM

There is one song that tells that the farmer was ploughing because he was too poor to afford not to. The Holy Family passed by that way on their escape to Egypt and blessed the field, so that it grew overnight and they could harvest it. When Herod's men came looking for the Holy Family, The farmer said truthfully that they had passed by when he was plouging the field. Herod's men took that to mean 9 months prevously and so went back to Herod to tell him they were too late.

LTS


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Subject: RE: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: GUEST
Date: 30 Dec 02 - 06:42 PM

What song would that be, Liz?


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Subject: RE: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: Liz the Squeak
Date: 30 Dec 02 - 07:01 PM

If I could remember the song, I'd post it... Short term memory is shot to pieces and I can't find the tape it's on.

I've tried the DT but I keep getting server errors.

LTS


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Subject: RE: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 30 Dec 02 - 09:00 PM

That's CARNAL AND THE CRANE, and KING PHARIM, both Child no.55, and not related to the song Penny was asking about.


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Subject: RE: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 30 Dec 02 - 09:01 PM

The song she asks about (number 1078 in the Roud Folk Song Index) has rarely been found in tradition; presumably its rather savage nature would have limited appeal, in the later 20th century at least. We should bear in mind, though, that strict observation of the Sabbath -and even more so, such important religious holidays as Christmas- was still common in all sectors of society when Ella Leather and Vaughan Williams were collecting; and one did not as a rule attempt to get songs on a Sunday. The great Norfolk singer, Harry Cox, was very unwilling to sing or play music on a Sunday, and he died in 1971. He wasn't very untypical.

Roud lists only three (perhaps four) examples. The earliest was printed in Alice Gillington's Songs of the Open Road in 1911 as In Dessexshire as it Befell, and was noted from "a Gypsy singer". (The text was reproduced more recently in Geoffrey Grigson, The Penguin Book of Ballads, 1975).

In 1912, Ella Leather and Ralph Vaughan Williams got a set, On Christmas Day, from Mrs. Esther Smith at Dilwyn, near Weobley in Herefordshire; that is the set for which Ed provided a link earlier. Mrs. Smith was also of Gypsy stock. Finally, Fred Hamer recorded the song in 1959 from May Bradley at Ludlow, Shropshire. She described the song as having been her mother's favourite; her mother turned out to be none other than Esther Smith. Esther wasn't particularly severe or puritanical; she also gave Vaughan Williams the quite racy Riding Down to Portsmouth, though he didn't make a note of the words.

Essentially, then, we have only two discrete versions of the song, which appears to have been found only in Gypsy tradition, though it will doubtless have been known in settled communities too at one time. Cecil Sharp noted a tune (without text) in Armscote, Warwickshire, 1910, from an unknown singer, that may belong to this song. It appears never to have been published.

As for the implicit cruelty of the narrative, we shouldn't be too surprised. Such "cautionary tales", whether religious or secular, have never been uncommon. Consider the enormously popular Struwelpeter stories, for example. The past wasn't, much of the time, a very nice place.


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Subject: RE: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: Genie
Date: 30 Dec 02 - 09:26 PM

Guest, I didn't know the word "early" had such a specific referent! LOL!


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Subject: RE: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: DMcG
Date: 31 Dec 02 - 05:04 AM

On the wild assumption the "early" does have such a specific meaning, a Google search using "gnostic withy" comes up with a book review as the second entry, which claims The Bitter Withy is based on Gnostic tradition. Obviously, no-one is claiming the song is anything like that old, but its not impossible that the story could be. (I spend a few minutes looking through a pile of gnostic writings but got bored before I found anything like the story. Others are welcome to try.)

If anyone does have the patience to plough through all that stuff, and they come across the tale for "On Christmas Day", please post a full reference!


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Subject: RE: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 31 Dec 02 - 09:32 AM

There's more on The Bitter Withy / The Holy Well in earlier discussions, chiefly History of 'Mary Mild'.

It wouldn't be at all surprising if On Christmas Day derived from the homilectic chapbooks that circulated widely in the earlier part of the 19th century; as, it appears, did The Holy Well, whatever its antecedents may have been.

I should mention that Fred Hamer's recording of May Bradley can be heard on A Century of Song (EFDSSCD02, 1998), a CD of archive recordings isssued by the English Folk Dance and Song Society to celebrate the centenary of the Folk Song Society:

http://www.efdss.org/century.htm


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Subject: RE: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: Mudlark
Date: 31 Dec 02 - 01:09 PM

Ah, these are the kind of threads that make me love the Mudcat. From speculation to erudition--interesting, absorbing information about stuff I care about. It doesn't get much better than that!


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Subject: RE: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: Penny S.
Date: 31 Dec 02 - 01:12 PM

Thanks for all that - shall I still post the words, since I've got them down now - on a different machine? There are oddities about it, which could be explained by the singer not being part of a particular church tradition.

Penny


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Subject: RE: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: Cluin
Date: 31 Dec 02 - 01:42 PM

So, Malcolm... there was no coaxing Harry Cox on a No'folk Sunday, eh?


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Subject: RE: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: GUEST,Q
Date: 31 Dec 02 - 03:08 PM

Penny S, if you have different lyrics from Coppin, by all means post.


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Subject: RE: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 31 Dec 02 - 03:15 PM

Incidentally, January 7th is Plough Monday, and that's when ploughing is supposed to start.


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Subject: RE: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: MMario
Date: 31 Dec 02 - 03:22 PM

I would assume then that the soil isn't frozen? (as it will be here for another three months)


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Subject: RE: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: GUEST,Q
Date: 31 Dec 02 - 03:40 PM

Thanks for the laugh, McGrath. MMario, you can plow by April first? Our average last killing frost is approx. June 1.
O, 'tis a bloody shame, who takes the blame?
Not to be in England's tropic clime....
(well, it rhymes-)


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Subject: RE: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: Liz the Squeak
Date: 31 Dec 02 - 10:39 PM

Except that January 7th is a Tuesday....

Distaff day is Sunday Jan 5th, Plough Monday 6th, although there are some who would argue that as 6th is 12th Night (Old Christmas), Distaff day is Sunday 12th Jay and Plough Monday is 13th Jan.

Jan 7th is memorable in that it's the day Bratling returns to school.

LTS


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Subject: RE: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: CapriUni
Date: 01 Jan 03 - 12:40 AM

Hey, then!! My birthday, and old Distaff day are the same... (just thought I'd say that, 'cause my profile isn't up yet... ;-)). I wonder if this is one reason why I've been fascinated with the folklore of spinning, recently....


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Subject: RE: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: GUEST,Nerd
Date: 01 Jan 03 - 02:29 AM

Another possible background to the song would be the Anglican/Puritan conflict in England. The Puritans did not believe in Christmas, as it has no biblical basis; the date of December 25 was in fact selected by the 4th Century Roman Emperor Constantine as Christ's birthday because it had been Mithras's birthday before that. Constantine had a vested interest in converting his armies (largely Mithraists) smoothly to Christianity, which he had selected as his state religion. The English Puritans thus essentially considered Christmas to be Pagan.

Many of the Puritans who came to the colonies--such as the first Governor at Plymouth--expressly forbade their citizens from taking the day off, on the grounds that the economy could not afford people frivolously avoiding work. Anglicans among the Plymouth settlers wanted to celebrate Christmas, but were effectively prevented.

It's purely speculative, of course, but it's possible that this story derives from the conflict between Puritans ("we can't afford NOT to work") and Anglican or even Catholic authority ("you must not work"), with the Anglicans being given the upper hand.

DMcG, I think the concept you were looking for was the Apocryphal Gospels. The Bitter Withy is indeed based on or inspired by a story that was recorded in one of the Apocryphal Gospels. I think it's the one known as Pseudo-Thomas, though it's been a long time since I did the research.


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Subject: RE: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: Penny S.
Date: 01 Jan 03 - 05:16 AM

Puritan Anglican dispute seems possible - and would explain the nastiness - the feel isn't the same as, say, the tales of Merry Maidens turned to stone for dancing on the Sabbath.
The time of year and the readiness of the soil for ploughing was once of the oddities I noticed - if the carol did originate in the 17th century, that was during the Little Ice Age, and the ground would have been hard.
Another was the observer - "we" went to plough, but thereafter everything in third person, including Jesus speaking of himself.

Penny


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Subject: RE: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: GUEST,Q
Date: 01 Jan 03 - 09:26 AM

The song doesn't seem to have any history. Speculation about a Puritan origin is just that. There were a number of hidebound fire and brimstone sects in the 19th century. One of their preachers could have written it (my own speculation).


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Subject: RE: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: GUEST,Nerd
Date: 02 Jan 03 - 12:52 AM

Agreed, it's all speculation. However Penny has a decent point that if a Catholic or a fire-and-brimstone preacher in England wanted to make his point, the puritan might not have been at the plough but at some other task...an apocryphal connection would thus become more plausible.


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Subject: RE: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: Dave Bryant
Date: 02 Jan 03 - 06:32 AM

I have a recording of "On Christmas Day It Happened So" on "All Bells in Paradise" a record of carols made by the Valley Folk - an unaccompanied harmony quartet - which included Steve Heap (of Towersey FF and Mrs Casey Records).

There are several other carols on the record (which was researched by Bert Lloyd) which are no less miserable including the title one and "The Moon Shone Bright" which you can find in the DT HERE.

Although traditional carols can be associated with many seasons of the year (the sole connection with Christmas is quite modern) the majority seem to have been sung at Christmas, New Year and Easter. It must have been quite cold and miserable in rural comunities during the winter and this could have well influenced the lack of jollity - Easter, of course, would have been considered a sad time - the emphasis always seems to be on the crucifixion than the resurrection.

The term "God Fearing" perhaps gives an insight into the fact that working class folk were encouraged to take a very serious and sombre view of their religion - the verse (from "All Things Bright and Beautiful") of

"The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly, and gave them their estate."

hardly gives them much hope of improvement.


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Subject: RE: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 02 Jan 03 - 08:37 AM

Although the DT entry includes some useful notes, no mention is made of the traditional source of the version of The Moon Shines Bright transcribed from the record you mention. Did Lloyd's notes include that information?


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Subject: RE: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 25 Dec 10 - 09:50 PM

Looks like we need some more work on this song. It's the song for Dec 25 on Jon Boden's A Folk Song A Day project. Reinhard Zierke has a very nice page on the song here (click)

ON CHRISTMAS DAY
(as sung by Spiers & Boden)

On Christmas Day it happened so,
Down in the meadows forth to plough.
As we were a ploughing on so fast,
Up comes sweet Jesus, himself at last.

"Oh man, oh man, what makes you plough
So hard upon the Lord's birthday?"
The farmer he answered him with great speed,
"For to plough this day we have great need."

His arms did quaver to and fro,
His arms did quaver, he could not plough.
The ground did open and let him in,
Before that he could repent of sin.

His wife and children are out of place,
His beasts and cattle, they die away.
His beasts and cattle, they die away,
For the breaking of our Lord's birthday.


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Subject: RE: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: FreddyHeadey
Date: 19 Dec 15 - 10:51 AM

Notes


http://www.joe-offer.com/folkinfo/songs/58.html 


Vaughan Williams Library
http://www.vwml.org.uk/record/RVW2/12/3/230# 


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Subject: RE: Origins: On Christmas Day - miserable message?
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 19 Dec 15 - 06:40 PM

An excerpt from "Rather Suspicious: A Story of Some Christmas Minstrels" by Robert Hudson, in London Society: The Christmas Number for 1867, page 652:

'Eh, what is this?' said he; 'a carol? Pray begin again, and let me take it down.' For Mr. Sebright was busy just then on an article for the 'Oxbridge Review' on this special subject of Christmas carols, upon which he held himself specially great.

Then having got 'The Sunny Bank' into his note-book, 'Now, boy,' he asked, 'have you any more?'

'Oh yes, sir,' said Jemmy, 'as many as ever you like. Will you have John Collier?'

'By all means,' said Sebright, 'whatever it may be.' And the piping trebles began—
'One Christmas Day it did befel.'
'Stop a minute,' said Sebright; 'is not it "did befal?" '

'No,' said Jemmy, decisively, 'befel;' for which a reason was soon apparent in the ensuing rhyme:—
'One Christmas Day it did befel,
It is as true as tongue can tell,'
[Jemmy nodded at Sebright, triumphant]:—
'That one John Collier, a farmer there,'
[Sebright asked 'Where?' but was simply answered 'There,' and could get no better address. The singer repeated the line emphatically]:—
'That one John Collier, a farmer there,
Out of his house he did repair.
Went in the meadows for to plough,
And as he were a ploughing along so fast—'
[The note-taker stopped the singer again, read this last line over too, and was assured he had got it down quite correctly]:
'Our Saviour Christ come by at last.
"O man, O man, what makes you plough,
So fast upon our Lord's birthday?"
The man made answer the Lord in speed,
"To plough this day I have good need."
And his hands did tremble through and through,
He could scarcely hold the plough;
And the ground it opened and let him in,
Before he could repent of his sin.
And all his sheep and cattle were lost,
His wife and family out of place,
And all his corn was consumed away,
By breaking of our Lord's birthday.
And all his corn was consumed away,
By breaking of a Christmas Day.'
Sebright asked which of the last two couplets was the right one, and was told both of them. Jemmy, indeed, under the influence of soup and fire, began to show some little tendency to patronise. 'Now,' he said, 'this is it:—
'And all his corn was consumed away,
By breaking of our Lord's birthday.'
'Have you got that?' Sebright said he had. 'Then write again' (speaking with a persuasive emphasis, as if it put tho matter in an entirely new light)—
'And all his corn was consumed away,
By breaking of a Christmas Day.'
Then Lady Diana asked if he knew which was our Lord's birthday, and Jemmy, somewhat crestfallen, had to answer 'No,' and was told that Christmas Day was generally so reputed.

Jemmy's repertoire proved inexhaustible. It was true he repeated the verses he had learnt only as a parrot repeats her task, and knew but little more than the parrot of the meaning of what he repeated. But Sebright enriched, or thought he enriched, his note-book with several curious pieces at the lad's dictation, and partly out of idleness, partly out of vanity, partly out of a wish to do the lads some service, he set to work devising how he could introduce Jemmy and Bob to Sir Felix, and how he himself could air his new hobby in public at the same time.


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