Most regional collections report a belief that at midnight on Christmas Eve cattle kneel to welcome the Holy Child, and bees buzz, or hum the Hundredth Psalm (e.g. Harland and Wilkinson, 1882: 253). During this night cocks crow, and ‘the powers of darkness can have no evil influence on mankind’ (Udal, 1922: 51; cf. Hamlet I. i).
Babies born on Christmas Day are fortunate, either in general, or because they cannot be drowned or hanged, or cannot see ghosts and spirits. Brand (1849: i. 478–80) quotes a long poem from a manuscript of c.1525 setting out for each day of the week what it will mean if Christmas falls on that day, as regards the weather and events of the coming year, and the destiny of children born on that Christmas Day. It was also an appropriate time for divinations, though less so than the New Year; in 19th-century Yorkshire a girl who had been kissed under the mistletoe would take a berry and a leaf to her room, swallow the berry, prick the man's initials on to the leaf, and stitch it inside her corset to keep him true (Blakeborough, 1898: 69).
Some New Year beliefs applied to Christmas Day too, including the taboo on taking fire out of the house or borrowing from neighbours, and the custom of first footing, especially in Herefordshire (Leather, 1912: 108–9). Many households ‘let Christmas in’ by opening doors early in the morning and saying ‘Welcome, Father Christmas’ or the like. A handful of sources call it unlucky to bring new shoes, or new leather into the house (Opie and Tatem, 1989: 230, 350). More common, from the mid-19th century to the present, is the idea that you will have as many happy months in the coming year as you eat mince-pies—in different houses, most say (Opie and Tatem, 1989: 248–9).
See also ASHEN FAGGOT.
Opie and Tatem, 1989: 74–8.