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LORD MAYOR'S DAY.
In London the 9th of November has been regarded, for many centuries, as a day of special importance. It is Lord Mayor's Day. That is to say, the new Lord Mayor of the City of London, who was elected by the freemen of the City Guilds on Michaelmas Day, goes in his state coach to the Law Courts to be "sworn into" office by His Majesty's judges. Until recent times the Law Courts were situated at Westminster, and in old Westminster Hall some of the greatest trials in English history took place,--such as the trials of Lord Cobham, Strafford, and Warren Hastings. Now the Law Courts are situated in the Strand, near to the spot where stood Temple Bar.
The Lord Mayor of London has still a certain amount of authority within the City bounds, but nothing like what he used to possess. At one time, indeed, in his capacity of Head of all the great trade guilds, he was more powerful than any of the king's n.o.bles, and in London he exercised almost as much authority as the king himself. From this you will understand that when he, in the old times, journeyed from the City of London to the City of Westminster it was a great occasion, because the Lord Mayor was in truth a great man. The stately pageants wended to Westminster on Lord Mayor's Day both by coach and water-barge; glittering pageants that had a real significance. In many cases they were devised by clever play-wrights, and their glories recorded in the verses of the poet laureates.
In the year 1616 Sir John Leman, of the Fishmongers' Company, was Lord Mayor, and part of his pageant was a fishing-boat with fishermen drawing up their nets laden with living fish which they distributed among the people. This boat, set upon a wheeled stage, was followed by a dolphin with a youth on its back; then the King of the Moors, with six tributary kings on horseback; then a lemon-tree (the Mayor's name was Leman) laden with fruit and flowers; then a bower adorned with the names and arms of all members of the Fishmongers' Company; then an armed officer, with a representation of the head of Wat Tyler; lastly there was a great car drawn by mermen and mermaids, and on the top of it was a victorious angel, with a representation of King Richard surrounded by figures that symbolized all the royal virtues.
Some of the Lord Mayor's pageants were even more splendid than this one.
Gilded chariots, giants, bowers wreathed with flowers, men in armour, full-rigged ships, satyrs, bannermen--these things, and many other fanciful contrivances, found a place in the Lord Mayor's procession. And this procession still forms a part of London life, but it has lost all its significance; and a great deal of its interest, even as a show. On the 9th day of each November the Lord Mayor's gilded coach, with a few mounted soldiers, the heralds, the aldermen in coaches, the City firemen, and a few symbolical cars block the traffic of London from east to west. It is not an occasion of great historical interest, yet it still draws great crowds, for your true Londoner loves a procession that goes to the sound of brazen music. The Lord Mayor's Show is also--just like a circus procession--beloved of all boys and girls.
ST. ANDREW'S DAY.
In this little book you have already been presented to three patron saints. There was St. David, the patron saint of Wales; St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland; and St. George, the patron saint of England.
Now we come to St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland, who is honoured by Scotsmen on the 30th November in each year. The first mention of this Saint is in the New Testament where he, with his brother Simon Peter, became a disciple of Christ, after having been a disciple of John the Baptist. After the death of Christ this first disciple of his became a missionary in many lands. From tradition we learn that St. Andrew travelled and preached the gospel in Scythia, Thrace and Asia Minor.
Finally, we are told that he suffered martyrdom for the Christian faith at Patrae, in Achaia. The cross on which he died was in the form of an X, and that is now known as the St. Andrew's cross.
But how did this Saint come to be connected with Scotland? Well, the story told is this: There was once a monk who lived in the fourth century called Regulus, or Rule, who brought the bones of St. Andrew from Constantinople--where they had been deposited in a church by the Emperor Constantine--and buried them near the sea on the east coast of Scotland. There he built a church, and round the church there gradually gathered a little hamlet. In course of time, the hamlet became a City with a cathedral and a university, and in your geography books you will find it called St Andrews. I am not sure that I can ask you to believe all this story, for it is only a monkish legend. But at least part of it is true. If there was no such monk as Regulus, there is certainly a very pleasant city called St. Andrews, in which there is a building called St. Rule's Tower.
Here is another sure thing that I can tell you. There is an Order of Knighthood called the Order of St. Andrew, although it is more often called the Order of the Thistle. It was created by James II. in 1687, and it includes the King and sixteen knights. The insignia of the Order consists of a gold collar composed of thistles interlaced with red; the jewel is a figure of St. Andrew in the middle of a star of eight pointed rays; and the motto of the Order is _Nemo me impune lacessit_.
This is a motto which Scotsmen carry with them all over the world.
All over the world, also, Scotsmen keep in remembrance two days; and on these days they meet together to express love of the old home. One of these days is the 30th November--St. Andrew's Day. Curiously enough, it is not a holiday in Scotland, nor do the people there hold it much in remembrance. But when a Scotsman goes into a strange country--though it be no further than London--he begins to think a very great deal of his homeland, and all the ill things he said of it when he lived there are quickly forgotten. Bleak and barren it may have been to them once, but when Scotsmen meet on St. Andrew's Day, or on the birthday of Robert Burns, they discover that Scotland is the most lovely country in the world. This is just as it should be. I hope that all you children, wherever you may travel, will keep a great love for the land where you were born.
Of all nights of the year there is not one that is more anxiously awaited by young people than the night that precedes Christmas. Then begins the great festival of the year; the festival in honour of the birth of Christ; the festival that reminds us of the Child born in a manger, of the shepherds near Bethlehem watching their flocks by night, and of the angels that sang of peace and goodwill to men. It is the most joyous of all holiday seasons; prepared for long before, and remembered pleasantly long afterwards. This is true of England to-day, and it was even more true of the England of the olden times--as you will find if you read Sir Walter Scott's poem of _Marmion_:
"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 The poor man's heart through half the year."
At midnight on Christmas Eve the bells are rung, and in Roman Catholic churches the first of the three ma.s.ses is celebrated,--Christ's ma.s.ses.
But although this is a Christian festival there are curious customs observed which take us back into the old heathen world. There is the miseltoe bough, for instance, which you hang up in the hall; and there is the Yule log. The old Druids had a feast at this season--the time of the winter solstice--when the chief Druid cut the miseltoe from the oak-tree, where it grew, and divided it among the people, who hung it up over their doorways as a charm to bring good-fortune. Then, again, the Yule log is a relic of the ceremony in which the Nors.e.m.e.n lighted great bonfires in honour of their G.o.ds. To bring home the Yule log on Christmas Eve is not so common as it used to be, but it deserves to be remembered as one of the most joyous of old English customs.
So, also, are the carols, the waits, the mummers, and the games of Christmas time. Some of these games and mummeries were a little too boisterous for our modern taste, probably because they had their origin in the heathen Saturnalia of old Rome. But we still love to hear the waits tuning up on a clear frosty night, the game of snap-dragon is still a noisy joy, and the carol-singers are still welcome. I am sure you like that old carol which begins:
"G.o.d rest you merry, gentlemen, Let nothing you dismay For Jesus Christ our Saviour Was born upon this day To save us all from Satan's power When we were gone astray."
But probably the best thing you children like about Christmas Eve is the ceremony of hanging up your stockings in expectation of all the things that are to come to you from the wallet of Santa Claus. That is the great event. Some of you, I believe, try to lie awake until Santa Claus comes with the fruit and the toys. But that is never a success. All the best gifts come to us when we do not peep and watch.
On Christmas Day, in most households, the children are the first to make themselves heard. There are shouts of wonder and glee from the nursery bedrooms when it is discovered that Santa Claus has actually paid his long-talked-about visit, and that he has brought in his wallet just the things that were desired. The shouts of one awakens all the others, and the chatter is great as the children rush about displaying their new-found treasures to one another. This morning the nursery rules are disregarded, because Christmas comes but once a year. Children are permitted to run upstairs and downstairs in their night garments; to skip about and laugh and chatter; and even to appear late at the breakfast table. It is more than likely, indeed, that the breakfast itself will be late, for the grown-ups in most households are usually as excited as the children. But it is Christmas Day, a day of joy for everybody. All the old stiff rules are relaxed for this happiest day of all the year.
Yet the church must not be neglected, nor must it be forgotten that Christmas is a sacred festival. To do honour to the Babe Jesus that was born in a manger at Bethlehem--that is the real meaning of the gladness of Christmas Day. So all you children should love to go to the church in the forenoon. It will be pleasant for you in many ways, especially if the air is clear, with a touch of frost in it, and the winter sun shining brightly. In any case you will find that the service in church, like the church itself, is brighter on Christmas Day than at ordinary times. You will like to see the old church trimmed up with holly and holly-berries; you will join in the cheerful Christmas hymns with more than your usual heartiness. It will be pleasant for you to think that all over the world, men and women of every nation are doing honour to One who was once a child like yourselves.
Then it is home to dinner, a real Christmas Dinner. I do not suppose that you will dine with a boar's head on the table, or that you will be permitted to taste a peac.o.c.k stuffed with spices and sweet herbs. These were two of the dishes that figured in the good old times, but they have long been discarded. Yet the Christmas goose is still popular, and in almost equal favour is the roast beef of Old England. With you children, however, the plum-pudding and the mince pies and the fruit will be in most demand. How many helpings? I dare not say how many, for Christmas Day brings its own appet.i.te, but you must try--just a very little--not to be greedy when the pudding comes in ablaze.
Because greediness is ugly, and also because Christmas does not end with dinner-time. There is the evening with its romps, its games, its dances and its Christmas Tree. It is the Christmas Tree, probably, that will give you most pleasure, with all its glittering ornaments, its coloured flags, and its lighted candles. This is a pleasure which English children, in the old times, did not share, because the Christmas Tree for children was only introduced to this country in the reign of Queen Victoria. Indeed, the whole tendency nowadays is to make of Christmas a children's holiday. This is well; because by so doing--by making the lives of all children, and especially all poor children, brighter at this season--we shall give most honour and praise to the Babe that was born in lowly Bethlehem.
When people are in a good humour--and everybody is supposed to be in a good humour at Christmas--they find it easy to give little gifts to their relations, friends, children and servants. On Christmas Day these gifts are given to friends and the children of the household, but on the day after Christmas the servants and dependents obtain their share of the gifts in what is called a Christmas Box. Hence the 26th December has come to be recognized as Boxing Day. This is a very old custom, and probably it has its origin in certain customs that were observed by the Romans during the Saturnalia. At that season presents were distributed to all, and for one day, at least, the Roman slaves received the gift of freedom. That was a good custom.
It was wise for the early Christian Church to adopt this method of giving presents at Christmastide, but the custom has lost some of its wisdom by use. The art of giving wisely is a very difficult art; almost as difficult as the art of receiving wisely. At Christmas time this becomes very plain to us, and it is especially obvious to us on Boxing Day. Many of the gifts bestowed on that day are bestowed with a grudge, and received as a matter of right. That is not as it should be, for all pleasure is lost when a gift is bestowed in a stingy spirit, and taken with a thankless hand. I feel sure that you children do not give or receive your Christmas boxes in that manner. If you have any little gift to bestow upon the people who do you a service throughout the year, you will do it cheerfully. And if any one gives you a little gift, do not turn it over and over looking at all sides, but accept it with thankfulness and a cheerful countenance. By so doing you will find that Boxing Day is one of the most pleasant days in all the year.
For a London child there is an interesting event that always happens on the 26th December. The pantomimes begin upon Boxing Day. Your old friends the Harlequin, the Clown, the Pantaloon bounce upon the stage with all their old antics and most of their old jokes. But the more ancient the jokes are, I think you like them the better. When I was a boy I liked to see the Clown play tricks upon the policeman, and startle innocent people with a red-hot poker. I am sure that you feel just like that to-day, and that you laugh as heartily as I did. There is nothing better than laughter; and throughout England, in every playhouse, a great tide of laughter begins upon Boxing Day.
And now we have reached almost the last day of the year, and quite the last page of this little book. Since New Year's Day we have travelled together, and I have tried to explain to you the meaning of the various Holy Days and Holidays. I have tried to make the explanations interesting, and not exactly like the dull books that grown-ups read.
But I am not sure that I have succeeded; holidays are stupid things when they are set down in print. It is far better to take them just as they come along, and enjoy the good things they bring. Holidays are like the pictures in a dry book. When I was a boy I sometimes skipped the reading and enjoyed the pictures. You can skip the reading in this book if you like.