Christmas Carols, Ancient And Modern

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Croker, in his " Researches in the South of Ire­land," (p. 233,) mentions a custom on St. Stephen's Day for the young villagers to carry about from house to house a holly bush adorned with ribbons, having many wrens depending from it, the " Wren boys" chaunting several verses, the burthen of which may be collected from the following lines of their song:—
The Wren, the Wren, the king of all birds, St. Stephen's day was caught in the furze. Although he is little, his family's great, I pray you, good landlady, give us a treat.
My box would speak if it had but a tongue,
And two or three shillings would do it no wrong,
Sing holly, sing ivy—sing ivy, sing holly,
A drop just to drink, it would drown melancholy.
And if you draw it of the best,
I hope in Heaven your soul may rest;
But if you draw it of the small,
It won't agree with the Wren boys at all, &c. &c.
A small piece of money is usually bestowed on them, and the evening concludes with merry­making.
Childermas, or Innocents' Day as is well known, is in commemoration of the slaughter of the children at Bethlehem by command of Herod, and therefore considered a day of unlucky omen; and the day of the week on which it fell was thought unpropitious throughout the year. Brand mentions a custom in Catholic countries on this day, " to run through all the rooms of a house, making a pretended search in and under the beds, in memory of the search made by Herod for the discovery and destruction of the child Jesus, and his having been imposed upon and deceived by the Wise Men, who, contrary to his orders and expectation, * returned to their own country another way.' " *
* Popular Antiquities, by Ellis, p. 116.

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E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III