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Christmas Eve
by Washington Irving



 Saint Francis and Saint Benedight



 Blesse this house from wicked wight;



 From the night-mare and the goblin,



 That is hight good fellow Robin;



 Keep it from all evil spirits,



 Fairies, weezels, rats, and ferrets:



 From curfew time



 To the next prime.



 CARTWRIGHT.



 IT WAS a brilliant moonlight night, but extremely cold; our chaise
whirled rapidly over the frozen ground; the postboy smacked his whip
incessantly, and a part of the time his horses were on a gallop. "He
knows where he is going," said my companion, laughing, "and is eager
to arrive in time for some of the merriment and good cheer of the
servants' hall. My father, you must know, is a bigoted devotee of
the old school, and prides himself upon keeping up something of old
English hospitality. He is a tolerable specimen of what you will
rarely meet with nowadays in its purity, the old English country
gentleman; for our men of fortune spend so much of their time in town,
and fashion is carried so much into the country, that the strong
rich peculiarities of ancient rural life are almost polished away.
My father, however, from early years, took honest Peacham* for his
text-book, instead of Chesterfield; he determined in his own mind,
that there was no condition more truly honorable and enviable than
that of a country gentleman on his paternal lands, and therefore
passes the whole of his time on his estate. He is a strenuous advocate
for the revival of the old rural games and holiday observances, and is
deeply read in the writers, ancient and modern, who have treated on
the subject. Indeed his favorite range of reading is among the authors
who flourished at least two centuries since; who, he insists, wrote
and thought more like true Englishmen than any of their successors. He
even regrets sometimes that he had not been born a few centuries
earlier, when England was itself, and had its peculiar manners and
customs. As he lives at some distance from the main road, in rather
a lonely part of the country, without any rival gentry near him, he
has that most enviable of all blessings to an Englishman, an
opportunity of indulging the bent of his own humor without
molestation. Being representative of the oldest family in the
neighborhood, and a great part of the peasantry being his tenants,
he is much looked up to, and, in general, is known simply by the
appellation of 'The Squire;' a title which has been accorded to the
head of the family since time immemorial. I think it best to give
you these hints about my worthy old father, to prepare you for any
eccentricities that might otherwise appear absurd."



 * Peacham's complete Gentleman, 1622.



 We had passed for some time along the wall of a park, and at
length the chaise stopped at the gate. It was in a heavy magnificent
old style, of iron bars, fancifully wrought at top into flourishes and
flowers. The huge square columns that supported the gate were
surmounted by the family crest. Close adjoining was the porter's
lodge, sheltered under dark fir-trees, and almost buried in shrubbery.



 The postboy rang a large porter's bell, which resounded through
the still frosty air, and was answered by the distant barking of dogs,
with which the mansion-house seemed garrisoned. An old woman
immediately appeared at the gate. As the moonlight fell strongly
upon her, I had a full view of a little primitive dame, dressed very
much in the antique taste, with a neat kerchief and stomacher, and her
silver hair peeping from under a cap of snowy whiteness. She came
courtesying forth, with many expressions of simple joy at seeing her
young master. Her husband, it seemed, was up at the house keeping
Christmas eve in the servants' hall; they could not do without him, as
he was the best hand at a song and story in the household.



 My friend proposed that we should alight and walk through the park
to the hall, which was at no great distance, while the chaise should
follow on. Our road wound through a noble avenue of trees, among the
naked branches of which the moon glittered, as she rolled through
the deep vault of a cloudless sky. The lawn beyond was sheeted with
a slight covering of snow, which here and there sparkled as the
moonbeams caught a frosty crystal; and at a distance might be seen a
thin transparent vapor, stealing up from the low grounds and
threatening gradually to shroud the landscape.



 My companion looked around him with transport:- "How often," said
he, "have I scampered up this avenue, on returning home on school
vacations! How often have I played under these trees when a boy! I
feel a degree of filial reverence for them, as we look up to those who
have cherished us in childhood. My father was always scrupulous in
exacting our holidays, and having us around him on family festivals.
He used to direct and superintend our games with the strictness that
some parents do the studies of their children. He was very
particular that we should play the old English games according to
their original form; and consulted old books for precedent and
authority for every 'merrie disport;' yet I assure you there never was
pedantry so delightful. It was the policy of the good old gentleman to
make his children feel that home was the happiest place in the
world; and I value this delicious home-feeling as one of the
choicest gifts a parent could bestow."



 We were interrupted by the clamor of a troop of dogs of all sorts
and sizes, "mongrel, puppy, whelp and hound, and curs of low
degree," that, disturbed by the ring of the porter's bell and the
rattling of the chaise, came bounding, open-mouthed, across the lawn.



 "- The little dogs and all,



 Tray, Blanch, and Sweetheart, see, they bark at me!"



cried Bracebridge, laughing. At the sound of his voice, the bark was
changed into a yelp of delight, and in a moment he was surrounded
and almost overpowered by the caresses of the faithful animals.



 We had now come in full view of the old family mansion, partly
thrown in deep shadow, and partly lit up by the cold moonshine. It was
an irregular building, of some magnitude, and seemed to be of the
architecture of different periods. One wing was evidently very
ancient, with heavy stone-shafted bow windows jutting out and
overrun with ivy, from among the foliage of which the small
diamond-shaped panes of glass glittered with the moonbeams. The rest
of the house was in the French taste of Charles the Second's time,
having been repaired and altered, as my friend told me, by one of
his ancestors, who returned with that monarch at the Restoration.
The grounds about the house were laid out in the old formal manner
of artificial flower-beds, clipped shrubberies, raised terraces, and
heavy stone balustrades, ornamented with urns, a leaden statue or two,
and a jet of water. The old gentleman, I was told, was extremely
careful to preserve this obsolete finery in all its original state. He
admired this fashion in gardening; it had an air of magnificence,
was courtly and noble, and befitting good old family style. The
boasted imitation of nature in modern gardening had sprung up with
modern republican notions, but did not suit a monarchical
government; it smacked of the levelling system- I could not help
smiling at this introduction of politics into gardening, though I
expressed some apprehension that I should find the old gentleman
rather intolerant in his creed.- Frank assured me, however, that it
was almost the only instance in which he had ever heard his father
meddle with politics; and he believed that he had got this notion from
a member of parliament who once passed a few weeks with him. The
squire was glad of any argument to defend his clipped yew-trees and
formal terraces, which had been occasionally attacked by modern
landscape gardeners.



 As we approached the house, we heard the sound of music, and now and
then a burst of laughter, from one end of the building. This,
Bracebridge said, must proceed from the servants' hall, where a
great deal of revelry was permitted, and even encouraged by the
squire, throughout the twelve days of Christmas, provided every
thing was done conformably to ancient usage. Here were kept up the old
games of hoodman blind, shoe the wild mare, hot cockles, steal the
white loaf, bob apple, and snap dragon: the Yule clog and Christmas
candle were regularly burnt, and the mistletoe, with its white
berries, hung up, to the imminent peril of all the pretty housemaids.*



 * The mistletoe is still hung up in farmhouses and kitchens at
Christmas; and the young men have the privilege of kissing the girls
under it, plucking each time a berry from the bush. When the berries
are all plucked, the privilege ceases.



 So intent were the servants upon their sports that we had to ring
repeatedly before we could make ourselves heard. On our arrival
being announced, the squire came out to receive us, accompanied by his
two other sons; one a young officer in the army, home on leave of
absence; the other an Oxonian, just from the university. The squire
was a fine healthy-looking old gentleman, with silver hair curling
lightly round an open florid countenance; in which the
physiognomist, with the advantage, like myself, of a previous hint
or two, might discover a singular mixture of whim and benevolence.



 The family meeting was warm and affectionate: as the evening was far
advanced, the squire would not permit us to change our travelling
dresses, but ushered us at once to the company, which was assembled in
a large old-fashioned hall. It was composed of different branches of a
numerous family connection, where there were the usual proportion of
old uncles and aunts, comfortable married dames, superannuated
spinsters, blooming country cousins, half-fledged striplings, and
bright-eyed boarding-school hoydens. They were variously occupied;
some at a round game of cards; others conversing around the fireplace;
at one end of the hall was a group of the young folks, some nearly
grown up, others of a more tender and budding age, fully engrossed
by a merry game; and a profusion of wooden horses, penny trumpets, and
tattered dolls, about the floor, showed traces of a troop of little
fairy beings, who, having frolicked through a happy day, had been
carried off to slumber through a peaceful night.



 While the mutual greetings were going on between young Bracebridge
and his relatives, I had time to scan the apartment. I have called
it a hall, for so it had certainly been in old times, and the squire
had evidently endeavored to restore it to something of its primitive
state. Over the heavy projecting fireplace was suspended a picture
of a warrior in armor, standing by a white horse, and on the
opposite wall hung a helmet, buckler, and lance. At one end an
enormous pair of antlers were inserted in the wall, the branches
serving as hooks on which to suspend hats, whips, and spurs; and in
the corners of the apartment were fowling-pieces, fishing-rods, and
other sporting implements. The furniture was of the cumbrous
workmanship of former days, though some articles of modern convenience
had been added, and the oaken floor had been carpeted; so that the
whole presented an odd mixture of parlor and hall.



 The grate had been removed from the wide overwhelming fireplace,
to make way for a fire of wood, in the midst of which was an
enormous log glowing and blazing, and sending forth a vast volume of
light and heat: this I understood was the Yule clog, which the
squire was particular in having brought in and illumined on a
Christmas eve, according to an ancient custom.*



 * The Yule clog is a great log of wood, sometimes the root of a
tree, brought into the house with great ceremony, on Christmas eve,
laid in the fireplace, and lighted with the brand of last year's clog.
While it lasted, there was great drinking, singing, and telling of
tales. Sometimes it was accompanied by Christmas candles; but in the
cottages the only light was from the ruddy blaze of the great wood
fire. The Yule clog was to burn all night; if it went out, it was
considered a sign of ill luck.



 Herrick mentions it in one of his songs:-



 Come, bring with a noise,



 My merrie, merrie boyes,



 The Christmas log to the firing;



 While my good dame, she



 Bids ye all be free,



 And drink to your hearts desiring.



 The Yule clog is still burnt in many farmhouses and kitchens in
England, particularly in the north, and there are several
superstitions connected with it among the peasantry. If a squinting
person come to the house while it is burning, or a person
barefooted, it is considered an ill omen. The brand remaining from the
Yule clog is carefully put away to light the next year's Christmas
fire.



 It was really delightful to see the old squire seated in his
hereditary elbow chair, by the hospitable fireside of his ancestors,
and looking around him like the sun of a system, beaming warmth and
gladness to every heart. Even the very dog that lay stretched at his
feet, as he lazily shifted his position and yawned, would look
fondly up in his master's face, wag his tail against the floor, and
stretch himself again to sleep, confident of kindness and
protection. There is an emanation from the heart in genuine
hospitality which cannot be described, but is immediately felt, and
puts the stranger at once at his ease. I had not been seated many
minutes by the comfortable hearth of the worthy old cavalier, before I
found myself as much at home as if I had been one of the family.



 Supper was announced shortly after our arrival. It was served up
in a spacious oaken chamber, the panels of which shone with wax, and
around which were several family portraits decorated with holly and
ivy. Besides the accustomed lights, two great wax tapers, called
Christmas candles, wreathed with greens, were placed on a
highly-polished beaufet among the family plate. The table was
abundantly spread with substantial fare; but the squire made his
supper of frumenty, a dish made of wheat cakes boiled in milk, with
rich spices, being a standing dish in old times for Christmas eve.



 I was happy to find my old friend, minced pie, in the retinue of the
feast; and finding him to be perfectly orthodox, and that I need not
be ashamed of my predilection, I greeted him with all the warmth
wherewith we usually greet an old and very genteel acquaintance.



 The mirth of the company was greatly promoted by the humors of an
eccentric personage whom Mr. Bracebridge always addressed with the
quaint appellation of Master Simon. He was a tight brisk little man,
with the air of an arrant old bachelor. His nose was shaped like the
bill of a parrot; his face slightly pitted with the small-pox, with
a dry perpetual bloom on it, like a frostbitten leaf in autumn. He had
an eye of great quickness and vivacity, with a drollery and lurking
waggery of expression that was irresistible. He was evidently the
wit of the family, dealing very much in sly jokes and inuendoes with
the ladies, and making infinite merriment by harping upon old
themes; which, unfortunately, my ignorance of the family chronicles
did not permit me to enjoy. It seemed to be his great delight during
supper to keep a young girl next him in a continual agony of stifled
laughter, in spite of her awe of the reproving looks of her mother,
who sat opposite. Indeed, he was the idol of the younger part of the
company, who laughed at every thing he said or did, and at every
turn of his countenance. I could not wonder at it; for he must have
been a miracle of accomplishments in their eyes. He could imitate
Punch and Judy; make an old woman of his hand, with the assistance
of a burnt cork and pocket-handkerchief; and cut an orange into such a
ludicrous caricature, that the young folks were ready to die with
laughing.



 I was let briefly into his history by Frank Bracebridge. He was an
old bachelor, of a small independent income, which, by careful
management, was sufficient for all his wants. He revolved through
the family system like a vagrant comet in its orbit; sometimes
visiting one branch, and sometimes another quite remote; as is often
the case with gentlemen of extensive connections and small fortunes in
England. He had a chirping buoyant disposition, always enjoying the
present moment; and his frequent change of scene and company prevented
his acquiring those rusty unaccommodating habits, with which old
bachelors are so uncharitably charged. He was a complete family
chronicle, being versed in the genealogy, history, and
intermarriages of the whole house of Bracebridge, which made him a
great favorite with the old folks; he was a beau of all the elder
ladies and superannuated spinsters, among whom he was habitually
considered rather a young fellow, and he was master of the revels
among the children; so that there was not a more popular being in
the sphere in which he moved than Mr. Simon Bracebridge. Of late
years, he had resided almost entirely with the squire, to whom he
had become a factotum, and whom he particularly delighted by jumping
with his humor in respect to old times, and by having a scrap of an
old song to suit every occasion. We had presently a specimen of his
last-mentioned talent, for no sooner was supper removed, and spiced
wines and other beverages peculiar to the season introduced, than
Master Simon was called on for a good old Christmas song. He bethought
himself for a moment, and then, with a sparkle of the eye, and a voice
that was by no means bad, excepting that it ran occasionally into a
falsetto, like the notes of a split reed, he quavered forth a quaint
old ditty.



 Now Christmas is come,



 Let us beat up the drum,



 And call all our neighbors together,



 And when they appear,



 Let us make them such cheer,



 As will keep out the wind and the weather, etc.



 The supper had disposed every one to gayety, and an old harper was
summoned from the servants' hall, where he had been strumming all
the evening, and to all appearance comforting himself with some of the
squire's home-brewed. He was a kind of hanger-on, I was told, of the
establishment, and, though ostensibly a resident of the village, was
oftener to be found in the squire's kitchen than his own home, the old
gentleman being fond of the sound of "harp in hall."



 The dance, like most dances after supper, was a merry one; some of
the older folks joined in it, and the squire himself figured down
several couple with a partner, with whom he affirmed he had danced
at every Christmas for nearly half a century. Master Simon, who seemed
to be a kind of connecting link between the old times and the new, and
to be withal a little antiquated in the taste of his
accomplishments, evidently piqued himself on his dancing, and was
endeavoring to gain credit by the heel and toe, rigadoon, and other
graces of the ancient school; but he had unluckily assorted himself
with a little romping girl from boarding-school, who, by her wild
vivacity, kept him continually on the stretch, and defeated all his
sober attempts at elegance:- such are the ill-assorted matches to
which antique gentlemen are unfortunately prone!



 The young Oxonian, on the contrary, had led out one of his maiden
aunts, on whom the rogue played a thousand little knaveries with
impunity: he was full of practical jokes, and his delight was to tease
his aunts and cousins; yet, like all madcap youngsters, he was a
universal favorite among the women. The most interesting couple in the
dance was the young officer and a ward of the squire's, a beautiful
blushing girl of seventeen. From several shy glances which I had
noticed in the course of the evening, I suspected there was a little
kindness growing up between them; and, indeed, the young soldier was
just the hero to captivate a romantic girl. He was tall, slender,
and handsome, and, like most young British officers of late years, had
picked up various small accomplishments on the continent- he could
talk French and Italian- draw landscapes, sing very tolerably- dance
divinely; but, above all, he had been wounded at Waterloo:- what
girl of seventeen, well read in poetry and romance, could resist
such a mirror of chivalry and perfection!



 The moment the dance was over, he caught up a guitar, and, lolling
against the old marble fireplace, in an attitude which I am half
inclined to suspect was studied, began the little French air of the
Troubadour. The squire, however, exclaimed against having any thing on
Christmas eve but good old English; upon which the young minstrel,
casting up his eye for a moment, as if in an effort of memory,
struck into another strain, and, with a charming air of gallantry,
gave Herrick's "Night-Piece to Julia."



 Her eyes the glow-worm lend thee,



 The shooting stars attend thee,



 And the elves also,



 Whose little eyes glow



 Like the sparks of fire, befriend thee.



 No Will o' the Wisp mislight thee;



 No snake nor slow-worm bite thee;



 But on, on thy way,



 Not making a stay,



 Since ghost there is none to affright thee,



 Then let not the dark thee cumber;



 What though the moon does slumber,



 The stars of the night



 Will lend thee their light,



 Like tapers clear without number.



 Then, Julia, let me woo thee,



 Thus, thus to come unto me,



 And when I shall meet



 Thy silvery feet,



 My soul I'll pour into thee.



 The song might or might not have been intended in compliment to
the fair Julia, for so I found his partner was called; she, however,
was certainly unconscious of any such application, for she never
looked at the singer, but kept her eyes cast upon the floor. Her
face was suffused, it is true, with a beautiful blush, and there was a
gentle heaving of the bosom, but all that was doubtless caused by
the exercise of the dance; indeed, so great was her indifference, that
she amused herself with plucking to pieces a choice bouquet of
hot-house flowers, and by the time the song was concluded the
nosegay lay in ruins on the floor.



 The party now broke up for the night with the kind-hearted old
custom of shaking hands. As I passed through the hall, on my way to my
chamber, the dying embers of the Yule clog still sent forth a dusky
glow, and had it not been the season when "no spirit dares stir
abroad," I should have been half tempted to steal from my room at
midnight, and peep whether the fairies might not be at their revels
about the hearth.



 My chamber was in the old part of the mansion, the ponderous
furniture of which might have been fabricated in the days of the
giants. The room was panelled with cornices of heavy carved work, in
which flowers and grotesque faces were strangely intermingled; and a
row of black-looking portraits stared mournfully at me from the walls.
The bed was of rich, though faded damask, with a lofty tester, and
stood in a niche opposite a bow window. I had scarcely got into bed
when a strain of music seemed to break forth in the air just below the
window. I listened, and found it proceeded from a band, which I
concluded to be the waifs from some neighboring village. They went
round the house, playing under the windows. I drew aside the
curtains to hear them more distinctly. The moonbeams fell through
the upper part of the casement, partially lighting up the antiquated
apartment. The sounds, as they receded, became more soft and aerial,
and seemed to accord with the quiet and moonlight. I listened and
listened- they became more and more tender and remote, and, as they
gradually died away, my head sunk upon the pillow, and I fell asleep.



 THE END

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