December 21st is St. Thomas Day. It was traditionally the day when Regency housewives would begin their Christmas preparations in earnest. With houses cleaned to a spit shine the Holiday baking could begin.
It is also the day when widows and older women would go ‘Thomasing’ at the doors of their more fortunate neighbors and would receive food or money. Wealthier neighbors would often distribute wheat– either in the form of baked goods or uncooked (which the Mumpers would turn into Christmas cakes, breads or frumenty –a dessert made of boiled wheat, milk, sugar and cinnamon). In some parts of England, like Warwickshire the Mumpers would “go a-corning” and would get gifts of corn or cornmeal. Children there would beg for apples.
In turn the benefactors would receive a sprig of holly, a small bunch of mistletoe or a ball of home spun wool in thanks.
The day is remembered in Christmas carols such as:
Christmas is coming and the geese are getting fat,
Please spare a penny for the old’s hat,
if you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do,
if you haven’t got a ha’penny, God bless you.
‘ Wassail, wassail, through the town,
If you’ve got any apples, throw them down ;
Up with the stocking, and down with the shoe,
If you’ve got no apples, money will do ;
The jug is white and the ale is brown,
This is the best house in the town.’
“Mumper” is a slang word for “beggar” — presumably because many beggars were often handicapped (from either disease or from wounds they suffered in the War) and hobbled around on crutches… thumping and mumping through the streets.
A parcel of wretches hopping about by the assistance of their crutches, like so many Lincoln’s Inn Fields mumpers, drawing into a body to attack [infest or beset] the coach of some charitable lord.” — Ned Ward: The London Spy, part v. [Info Please ]
And Mumpers Day was ‘celebrated’ either on St. Thomas day (December 21st) or Boxing Day (December 26th) depending on the region.
For more information on St. Thomas Day might I suggest the following links…
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