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And see ! where, breaking from the night,
Honest Master Cotton had evidently been sitting up all night himself, when he wrote these lines :—and being therefore a boon companion, and a true observer of Christmas proprieties, we will take his warning, and to bed ourselves. So “a good new year to you, my masters! and many of them !”.
-as the bellman (not Herrick's) says, on this morning.
NEW YEAR'S DAY.
The first of January, forming the accomplishment of the eight days after the birth of Christ, has been sometimes called the octave of Christmas ;—and is celebrated in our church services, as the day of the Circumcision.
Of this day we have little left to say ;-almost all that belongs to it having been, of necessity, anticipated, in the progress of those remarks which have brought us up to it. It is a day of universal congratulation ; and one on which, so far as we may judge from external signs, a general expansion of the heart takes place. Even they who have no hearts to open-or hearts which are not opened by such ordinary occasions—adopt the phraseology of those whom all genial hints call into sympathy with their fel. low-creatures: and the gracious compliments of the season may be heard falling from lips on which they must surely wither, in the very act of passing.
Of new year's gifts--which are the distinguishing feature of this day--we have already said enough, in pointing out the distinction betwixt them and Christmas-boxes. They still
pass generally from friend to friend, and between the different members of a family; and are, in such cases, very pleasant remembrancers :—but the practice, in ancient times, had some very objectionable features. It was formerly customary for the nobles, and those about the court, to make presents, on this day, to the sovereign ;—who, if he were a prince with anything like a princely mind, took care that the returns which he made, in kind, should at least balance the cost to the subject. The custom, however, became a serious tax when the nobles had to do with a sovereign of another character; and in Elizabeth's day, it was an affair of no trifling expense to maintain ground as a courtier. The lists of the kind of gifts which she exacted from all who approached her (for the necessity of giving--the consequences of not giving-amounted to an exaction), and the accounts of the childish eagerness with which she urned over the wardrobe finery, furnished in great abundance-as the sort of gift most suited to her capacity of appreciation-furnish admirable illustrations of her mind. She is said to have taken good care that her returns should leave a very substantial balance in her own favor. The practice is said to have been extinguished in the reign of George III.
A worse custom still, however, was that of presenting gifts to the Chancellor, by suitors in his court,—for the purpose of influencing his judgments. The abuses of the new-year's-gift practice, have, however, been cleared away ;-and have left it what it now is,-a beautiful form for the interchange of affection, and the expression of friendship.
In Paris—where this day is called the Jour d'étrennes,—the practice is of still more universal observance than with us : and the streets are brilliant with the displays, made in every window, of the articles which are to furnish these tokens of kindness, and with the gay equipages, and well-dressed pedestrians, passing in all directions, to be the bearers of them, and offer the compli. ments which are appropriate to the season. The thousand bells of the city are pealing from its hundred belfries—filling the air with an indescribable sense of festival,—and would alone set the whole capital in motion, if they were a people that ever sat still. This singing of a thousand bells is likewise a striking feature of the day, in London :-and no one, who has not heard the min. gling voices of these high choristers, in a metropolis, can form any notion of the wild and stirring effects produced by the racing and crossing, and mingling of their myriad notes. It is as if the glad voices of the earth had a chorus of echoes, in the sky;—as if the spirit of its rejoicing were caught up by "airy tongues,"
”—and Aung, in a cloud of incense-like music, to the gates of heaven.
We need scarcely mention that most of the other forms in which the mirth of the season exhibits itself, are in demand on this occasion ;-and that, among the merry evenings of the Christmas. tide, not the least merry is that which closes New-year's day. To the youngsters of society, that day and eve have probably been the most trying of all; and the strong excitements of a happy spirit drive the weary head to an earlier pillow than the young heart of this season at all approves. But his is the weari. ness that the sweet sleep of youth so surely recruits; and tomorrow shall see him early a-foot,—once more engaged in those winter amusements which are to form his resource, till the noveltiee nf Twelfth-day arrive.
“ There will come an eve to a longer day,
TWELFTH DAY, AND TWELFTH NIGHT.
TWELFTH-DAY (so called from its being the twelfth after Christmasday), is that on which the festival of the Epiphany is held. This feast of the Christian church was instituted, according to Picart, in the fourth century, to commemorate the manifestation of our Saviour to the Gentiles; and the name Epiphany (Eripaveia), which signifies an appearance from above, was given to it, in allusion to the star described in Holy Writ, as the guide of the Magi, or wise men, to the cradle of the blessed Infant. “In Italy,” says Mr. Leigh Hunt, “ the word has been corrupted into Beffania or Beffana (as in England it used to be called Piffany); and Beffana, in some parts of that country, has come to mean an old fairy or Mother Bunch,—whose figure is carried about the streets, and who rewards or punishes children at night, by putting sweetmeats or stones and dirt, into a stocking, hung up for the purpose, near the bed's head. The word Beffa, taken from this, familiarly means a trick or mockery put upon any one ; to such base uses may come the most splendid terms !” But what is quite as extraordinary as that the primitive signification of a word, not familiarly understood, should, amid the revolution of centuries, be lost in a different, or distorted into an inferior meaning, is—the preservation, in popular rites, of trivial details; which, as we have before stated, conclusively identify many of the practices of our modern Christian festivals, as echoes of ancient pagan observances. Of this, Twelfth-day presents a remarkable instance.
The more we examine the Saturnalia of the Romans, and compare those revels with the proceedings of our Twelfth-night, the more satisfied do we feel of the correctness of Selden's view.