[Image: The Shepherd’s Calendar (December) – Carry Akroyd]

Christmass is come and every hearth
Makes room to give him welcome now
Een want will dry its tears in mirth
And crown him wi a holly bough
Tho tramping neath a winter sky
Oer snow track paths and ryhmey stiles
The hus wife sets her spining bye
And bids him welcome wi her smiles
Each house is swept the day before
And windows stuck wi evergreens
The snow is beesomd from the door
And comfort crowns the cottage scenes
Gilt holly wi its thorny pricks
And yew and box wi berrys small
These deck the unusd candlesticks
And pictures hanging by the wall

John Clare – The Shepherd’s Calendar (December - excerpt)

It was at three o'clock on the afternoon of Christmas Eve that Farmer Joyce's haywain trundled through the streets of Peterborough towards the Minster Gate. Sam Billings, Doctor's coat and hat, held the reins and Joyce's two shires lifted their feathered feet and snorted into the frozen air. Huddled in the back, horse blankets drawn about themselves their faces dark as blackamores, the rest of the Helpston players, musicians and guisers, watched the thronging shops and stalls with pink-rimmed eyes.

When they came to the market Sam reined in the horses and tied them to a rail. He threw blankets across their backs.

"There my sweet-hearts, we won't be gone for long."

The company crossed the market place, that was teeming with revellers, and stationed themselves in the archway of the Minster Gate. Straight away the musicians began to play ‘The Devil among the Tailors’ with Dick blowing his flute, John and Old Otter sawing with their bows as though they could make fire with them. Soon a crowd began to gather, drawn by the music and the four guisers standing behind in their solemn row, bright with ribbons, barely blinking. On and on they played until the crowd stood fifteen deep in a curve before them, children pushing forward to the front so that they could see.

Hugh Lupton – The Ballad of John Clare (Chapter 12 – Christmas)

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