Tag Archives: Begging

Custom demised: Calennig on New Year’s Day

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“Dydd calan yw hi heddiw, Rwy’n dyfod ar eich traws I ‘mofyn am y geiniog, Neu grwst, a bara a chaws. O dewch i’r drws yn siriol Heb newid dim o’ch gwedd; Cyn daw dydd calan eto Bydd llawer yn y bedd.”

Translated: “Today is the start of the New Year, and I have come to you to ask for coins, or a crust, and bread and cheese. O come to the door cheerfully without changing your appearance; Before the next arrival of the new year many will be dead.”

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On New Year’s morning the streets of parts of Wales, rural areas of Dyfed, Aberystwyth, Monmouthshire, Radnorshire, Glamorgan and Carmarthan, could be heard this curious rhyme which was associated with a strange gift. As a custom it only appears to have spread with slight variation to the boarder regions of England – Gloucestershire’s Forest of Dean, Shropshire and Worcestershire. Although we associate Christmas Day as the traditional day for gifts, New Year’s Day was also often associated with gift giving. This was more often associated with the idea of First footing – which survives albeit in a weakened form across England – even this year I remembered my bread to bring in.

Yet as noted until fairly recently Wales had a unique house visiting custom one which involved children. They would visit their relatives by midday carrying skewered apples stuck with fruit and raisins – akin to pomander. Ronald Hutton in his Stations of the Sun describes them as follows:

“an apple or orange, resting on three sticks like a tripod, smeared with flour, stuck with nuts, oats or wheat, topped with thyme or another fragrant herb and held by a skewer.”

It was the fruit which was called the Calennig it appears rather than the custom. In the book 1944 book The Pleasant Land of Gwent, Fred Hando notes a report of his friend Arthur Machen who noted:

“When I was a boy in Caerleon-on-Usk, the town children got the biggest and bravest and gayest apple they could find in the loft, deep in the dry bracken. They put bits of gold leaf upon it. They stuck raisins into it. They inserted into the apple little sprigs of box, and they delicately slit the ends of hazel-nuts, and so worked that the nuts appeared to grow from the ends of the holly leaves … At last, three bits of stick were fixed into the base of the apple tripod-wise; and so it borne round from house to house; and the children got cakes and sweets, and-those were wild days, remember-small cups of ale.”

In Gentlemens magazine march 1919:

“Children to their inexpressibly journey will be drest in their best bibs and aprons, and may be seen handed along the streets, some beating Kentish pippins, others oranges stuck with cloves, in order to crave a blessing of their godfathers and god others”

Generally states as the Calennig had a basic design. As Jacqueline Simpson in Folklore of the Welsh boarder this was an apples mounted on three wooden legs (a tripod) and decorated with sprigs of box and hazel nuts.

It was not always restricted to apples either sometimes it was an orange in this case using holly, tinsel, raisins, gold and silver glitter being added.

The Opie’s in Lore of Schoolchildren (1955) notes of a Radnorshire girl

“I always go New Year gifting with my sister and friends, about four of us. I get up about 7 O’clock and call for my friends and go around the houses and farms:

“I wish you a merry Christmas,

A happy new year,

A pocket full of money and a cellar full of beer,

A good fat pig to last you all year,

Please give me a New Year’s gift for this New Year.”

She stated that sometimes she would get apples or mince pies. She stated that gifting must finish by midday otherwise people will shout ‘fool at you.’

The custom appeared similar in south-west Shropshire in Clun where the children recited:

“Happy New Year. Happy New Year, I’ve come to wish you happy New Year.

I’ve got a little pocket and it is very thin,

Please give me a penny to put the money in,,

If you haven’t got a penny, a half penny will do, if you haven’t got a half penny – God bless you.”

Interestingly in Glamorgan and Carmarthen they could extend it to the entire month. Whether we should include the English counties is unclear, as outside of Wales the decorated apple does not appear to be recorded. It was called The gift in Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. Interestingly, Simpson in Folklore of the Welsh boarder states they were still common in Monmouthshire and around St Briavels in 1900. In Chepstow she states before the First World War it was called a Monty and those who carried it chanted:

“Monty, Monty, Happy New Year,

A pocket full of money and cellar full of beer”

Origins of the custom

It is possible that the custom descended from adults for in Herefordshire, the 1822 Gentleman’s Magasine notes that the peasantry called with:

“a small pyramid made of leaves, apples, nuts etc,, gilt in hope of receiving gifts in exchange for the luck this conferred.”

Yet by 1880s it was only youngsters. Certainly in 17th and 18th references are made to a decorated orange with cloves being a gift for New Years in England. Brand (1900) in his Observations on popular antiquities makes note of a remark on the Christmas masque of Ben Jonson ‘he has an orange and rosemary, but not a clove to stick in it Hutton in his Stations of the Sun saw the three components as representing gifts of the Three Wise Men of sweetness, wealth and immortality. The author of The weird wonders of wales – the right way with Calennig from 12/12/1986 notes:

“This calennig apple clearly dates from ancient times, being a representation of the sun which was absent during winter.

Death of the custom?

Even by the early 20th century it was in decline as Donald Davis of Those were the days from 11/7/1936 notes:

“Lately the carrying of an apple has been discontinued and only the recitation of brief verses or greetings and the collection of new pennies mark the custom in those districts where it has survived.”             

In Llandysul, Carmarthanshire, an account on the BBCs Domesday Reloaded records:

The custom has rapidly declined over the years and this year, 1985, very few children came collecting because the children today get enough pocket money and food. Also, many children may not have been told about the custom by their parents.”

In other parts of the country it was still being recorded but it in a way the well-meaning anonymous author of The author of The weird wonders of wales – the right way with calennig from 12/12/1986 perhaps by begrudging gifts led to its decline:

“Soon it will be calennig time. That’s when youngsters come to the door asking for me years gifts. Over the last few years, those who have come to my door have been duly treated, but this year will be different. Why? Because they haven’t been doing it right! Shame on them. We shall put things right. The way it should be done….is for the children to knock day a proper calennig verse to the person who answers, and then receive the gift.

He also goes on to note he had seven such verses that the children should use.

“Os fyddech chi mor garedig, Ac agor drws y ty, Y flwyddyn fwyaf lucid a fyddo gyda chwi” ‘Blwyddyn newydd dda I chi, Ac I bawb sydd yn y ty, dyma yw’n dymuniad ni O ddechrau’r flwyddyn hon.’ If no one answers Blwyddyn newydd ddrwg, Llond y ty o fwg.’ A bad new year may your house fill with smoke and then run away like the clapper readers can help preserve the custom too by responding to those youngsters who ‘do it proper’, let’s see what we can do to keep our traditions alive”

I wonder if they heeded him. Certainly there is little reference I can find to the custom through the 90s. Today Calennig has become a name for civic New Year’s celebration, often for children, such as those held in Cardiff. Yet it is difficult to be sure with private and domestic customs. Does it still survive? Certainly it did in 2003 but by the sound of the article The custom of calennig on 16/1/03 it did not sound particularly healthy (with five children only)!:

“The old welsh tradition of calennig is still alive in Llanrhystud. At around 11 o’clock on New Year’s Day in the morning the joyful sound of children’s voices was heard at several homes in and around the village as five local children sang traditional New Year songs to wish all those they visited a happy new year. Some were rewarded sign gifts of money. In older times children would be given gifts of fruit, cakes or sweets. Calennig normally begins soon after the dawn of the New Year and continues until noon, the earliest callers are generously rewarded for their enthusiasm. It is good to see this ancient custom continuing well into the twenty first century.”

The fact that the custom survived into the 80s with no mention as a living custom by folklorists is astounding, survival into the 21st century even more amazing, but of course such customs can survive like the New Year’s Penny Scramble in Driffield which was then absent from books and sites like the excellent Calendercustoms. Certainly people are aware of it as the Youtube clip and Twitter feeds shows and guides how to make one exist. But does any child still go out properly house visiting with one? Has it died a death completely like other house visiting customs succumbed to the power of Hallowe’en! Does it still survive where you are? Please comment and perhaps add photos.

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Custom demised: Thomasing on St. Thomas’ Day

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This was a common begging custom nationwide, where poorer households would avail themselves upon wealthier houses for simple provisions for the Christmas period and is recorded in most counties it appears in variants of names from Mumping from Mompen (Saxon to beg), Gooding, Corning and Thomasing or Washaeling surprising in Leicestershire. One would have thought these may have been local variants of the name but as Porter (1969) in Cambridgeshire Customs and folklore gives Gooding (Haddenham), Gathering (Doddington) or Mumping (Chatteris) as names all in the same county. Despite an association with St. Thomas the Apostle, there is no early reference. One of the earliest accounts is from an 1870s Hertfordshire notes:

“The women that I knew always called at the same houses and were evidently expected, for they told me that they always got a something at each place of call. One gentleman gave a new sixpence each year to every Thomaser at his house. I asked what they said or did when calling at the houses. Said they: All we ses is o please we’ve cum a Thomasing, remember St. Thomas’s Day.”

In Dorset it was called Christmasing and a note made in Notes and Queries from 1872 records they would ask:

“Please give me something to keep up Christmas or keeping up o’Christmas’

Palmer (2003) in his work on Worcestershire tells us that:

“wives, mothers, and children of all those who worked on the Beckford Estate were expected to call on Mr. King-Ross at Beckford Hall to be given a six penny piece each which was solemnly produced from a leather bag. The recipients, some 40 in number, then went round the back to be given a steaming hot cup of hot coffee and plenty of bread, spread thickly with lovely farm butter.

In Lincolnshire Ethel Rudkin in Lincolnshire folklore records:

“The women of Hemswell used to join together and go around ‘mumping’ to the various houses on St. Thomas’s Day-women who were ashamed to beg – but it was not looked on as begging, but as their due. They were given goods in kind.”

Sutton in her Lincolnshire Calendar notes that in Connisby in 1914:

“Old women would come mumping and mother would give them homemade cakes, half a cake or a whole one sometimes.. They came very early, I was still in bed, before 7 o’clock. They used to sing ‘Here we come a mumping..”

Whilst commonly old women, particularly widows were central to the custom, the men at the time were probably working, a contributor to Fenland Notes and Queries said:

 “old men and old women and even young women pass from house to house begging for alms.”

.A common rhyme was:

“Bud well, bear well, God send spare well, A bushel of apples to give on St. Thomas’s morning”

In Staffordshire a local author notes:

“In the days of the Georges, when red cloaks were commonly worn by the beldames of every parish, it was a usual sight to see, in the grey light of a December, groups of figures bent and withered, going from door to door, wrapped in these curious garments and hear them piping ‘in a childish treble voice; the following rhyme:

“Well a day, well a day, St Thomas goes too soon away, the yiyr goodinf we do pray, For the good time will not stay, St Thomas grey, the longest night and shortest day, please remember St. Thomas’s Day.”

Palmer (1976) notes in Warwickshire the rhyme would go:

“A Christmas gambol oft can cheer, The Poor man’s heart through the year.”

Another Warwickshire chant went:

“Little Cock Robin sat on a wall, We wish you a merry Christmas, and a great snowfall, apples to eat and nuts to crack, we wish you a merry Christmas, with a rap, tap, tap.”

In Mansfield they said the following:

Hip-Hip hurray, Saint Thomas’ Day Fetch a bit, And leave a bit, Hip-Hip hurray.”                                          

The food varied in Dorset they:

“Receive substantial pieces or ‘hunks or bread and cheese, bread and meat, or small sums of money.”

Some specifically asked for corn and hence the term ‘a-corning’ was used. More often it was used to make frumenty, with it baked and sugar and currants being added, it was then boiled in milk and egg and flour added.  In Worksop, Jackson (1992) notes that gifts of money, foodstuffs, oatmeal, potatoes, pieces of bacon, milk, eggs, currants and cheese were commonly given. Rudkin (1936) notes that in Willoughton, they were always given potatoes and on the Isle of Axholme tea or bread. In East Anglia they often took a spray of holly as a gift of thanks according to Porter (1974). In Staffordshire, gifts of a substantial amount were given a mistletoe sprig instead.

The decline

The decline was in the 1930s it appears, although Palmer notes someone undertaking it in the 1950s. Perhaps this snippet from Sutton (1996) gives an idea of one of the reasons why:

“This old lass went mumping for spuds, the farmer told her to clear off. so she said ‘You might not get a good crop next year’. The funny thing was, he didn’t. Not many were as mean as that.”

An account in the Lincolnshire Magazine from 1932-4 bores:

“Look out of the window facing the road and on the 21st, any time between 7.30 am and 12 noon, you will probably see groups of women apparently eagerly discussing where to call. They will cast dubious looks at some houses, shake their heads at others and finally decide on points of attack, chiefly amongst the old residents. Those residents who favour old customs are usually armed with small change, coppers, or food tickets of small value, such will have as many as seventy or eighty callers.”

Of course this indicated the ultimate reason for the decline, as communities became disparate and less cohesive, the very close knit nature of these villages began to disappear and so the custom began to die out. Sometimes as in Dorset this lead to Thomasers going further afield:

“those only refused the dole who did not belong to the parish.”

Not only that, but as Charlotte Burne notes in Shropshire folklore of 1883:

“It is in fact a custom very likely to be abused and to degenerate into a nuisance; the strongest, who could walk farthest, getting the greater number of doles; several members of a family going to the same house at different times in the day, and thus getting an unfair share.”

Such an action lead to the establishment of doles and Burne notes that in:

“1870, the farmers around Clun determined to put a stop to the begging, and instead of giving to all comers, they agreed to send their contributions of corn to the town hall to be distributed under proper supervision to the deserving poor.”

Nottinghamshire had a large number had a dozen with doles ranging from 3s to £50 for 10 poorest widows and at Worksop Priory in 1884 upwards of two hundred people, mainly widows, received a few shillings each. In the Warwickshire the Rev. John Dobyn left a bequest to ‘aged widows, and parents of large families’ in Beckford and Grafton and they would receive tickets which could be exchanged for food supplies from local tradesmen. At Alfrick, twelve penny loaves were given to each of five poor people under Thomas Markham’s 17th century Will. Some had stipulations, such as Samuel Higgs’s Will for the poor of Farnsfield and the interest given on the 21st December for equal numbers of men and women who could recite the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments before the vicar. This may have seen hard, but if they could do it they would have the money each year for the rest of their lives. Others provided garments. In Sturton-Le-Steeple, it is noted that the work of the charity worked in 1911:                                                                  

“They received suits ranging from 2s to 10s according to circumstances. The suits of the clothes were arranged who were to have them this Christmas. Finally it was restricted to have six suits to be given to the deserving of the village. The distribution took place in the school at noon. There was, however, very little mumping around the village this year, this old practice is obsolete.”

In Nottinghamshire, Diana Gibson left £50 at Rolleston in 1882 to invest the interest being paid to 10 of the poorest families on St. Thomas’s Day. The dole was worth £21 74p between 1967 and 1972 and it was noted locally such small amounts could be considered demeaning and divisive in a small community as Rolleston and as such it was wound up by 1996, the £450 being used to provide a village seat, with plaque and fine trees. With such movements clearly this was the final coffin in the custom.