My lord Sir Christemas, good day!
Good day, Sir Christemas, our king,
For every man, both old and young,
Is glad and blithe for your coming;
God's son so great of might
From heaven to earth down is alight
And born is of a maid so bright;
Heaven and earth and also hell,
And all that ever in them dwell,
Of your coming they are full snelle; [glad, excited]
Of your coming the clerks find:
Ye come to save all mankind
And of their sorrows them unbind;
All manner of mirths we will make
And solace to our hearts take,
My noble lord, for your sake;
To me this carol just pure joy from beginning to end, one of the merriest of all medieval carols! It comes from the 'Selden carol-book' (now part of Bodleian Library MS. Arch. Selden B. 26); here's a picture of the page with this carol and its music.
This collection of carols was put together in the fifteenth century, probably at the cathedral priory at Worcester, "a house where there was much carolling", according to Richard Greene. I love his description of merry times at Worcester in the Middle Ages:
William More, last prior of Worcester, gave a Christmas feast every year to officials of the city; among the most frequent items of expense in the years 1518 to 1532 are malmsey and other wines, minstrels and other entertainers, and singers of carols. It is plain that all of these are regarded as regular components of a large holiday dinner for which a whole ox was bought...Richard Greene, The Early English Carols (Oxford, 1977), p.xl.
Those who would put churchmen and popular merry song into separate worlds are advised to look further into these good times at Worcester Priory, not to mention the entertainments paid for through many decades at Selby Abbey in Yorkshire, Winchester College, and Magdalen College, Oxford, and through almost three centuries at Durham Priory. Fountains Abbey appears to have been both hospitable and generous to entertainers, distinguishing in its accounting among minstrels, fools, players, and ‘fabulatores’, or story-tellers.
Worcester's accounts of expenses at Christmas suggest that manuscripts like the Selden carol-book were added to when the monks learned new carols from visitors. Greene notes that in 1518 a scribe called Richard was paid for writing down new carols - rewarded with an unusually large sum of money, overtime rates for working on Christmas Day!
This is the carol in unmodernised form:
Go day, go day,
My lord Syre Christemas, go day!
Go day, Syre Christemas, our kyng,
For every man, both olde & yynge,
Ys glad & blithe of your comynge;
Godys sone so moche of myght
Fram heven to erthe doun is lyght
And borne ys of a mayde so bryght;
Heven & erthe & also helle,
And alle that ever in hem dwelle,
Of your comynge they beth ful snelle;
Of your comynge this clerkys fynde:
Ye come to save al mankynde
And of her balys hem unbynde;
Alle maner of merthes we wole make
And solas to oure hertys take,
My semely lorde, for your sake;
I can't resist including some images of medieval merriment, from the British Library's Queen Mary Psalter. What might you have at a medieval Christmas celebration? Well, feasting:
This is the game of bob-cherry!
Dancing monks and nuns:
And some more unusual musicians, perhaps?:
See also: Farewell, Advent, Christmas is come!