Category Archives: Old Clem’s Night

Come all You Vulcans, Strong & Stout

We are on the fast approach to Thanksgiving, a moveable feast, and with it this year come two saints’ days worthy of note: St. Cecilia’s Day on Thanksgiving Day itself, the 22nd of November, and St. Clement’s Day the next day, the 23rd. St. Cecilia is noteworthy as she is a patron saint of musicians and so her day is a fine one to enjoy their labor. In fact, concerts in honor of St. Cecilia on her feast day go back to at least 1570 in France.

As for Old Clem, he is a patron saint of blacksmiths and metal workers. In days when there were more smiths at work, the night of his feast day was a night when they would gather and drink and process about town, stopping at all the pubs. At some point, one of their number, who was dressed as St. Clement, would arise and deliver the following lines:

I am the real St. Clement, the first founder of brass, iron, and steel, from the ore. I have been to Mount Etna, where the god Vulcan first built his forge, and forged the armour and thunderbolts for the god Jupiter. I have been through the deserts of Arabia; through Asia, Africa, and America; through the city of Pongrove; through the town of Jipmingo; and all the northern parts of Scotland. I arrived in London on the twenty-third of November, and came down to Her Majesty’s dockyard at Woolwich, to see how all the gentleman Vulcans came on there. I found them all hard at work, and wish to leave them on the twenty-fourth.

Another in the party then adds:

Come, all you Vulcans stout and strong,
Unto St. Clem we do belong.
I know this house is well prepared
With plenty of money and good strong beer;
And we must drink before we part,
All for to cheer each merry heart.
Come, all you Vulcans, strong and stout,
Unto St Clem I pray turn out;
For now St Clem’s going round the town:
His coach and six goes merrily round.

It is a day when children would go “Clementing”––knocking on doors, singing rhymes in exchange for treats like oranges and apples. Rhymes like this one:

Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement’s.
You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin’s.

As I mentioned in the Convivio Dispatch for Halloween (if you didn’t get it in your email box and would like it, let me know and I’ll send it your way, for the Convivio Dispatch is something different from the Convivio Book of Days blog), my mother does not remember trick or treating at Halloween so much as she remembers doing something like it at Thanksgiving. She is Brooklyn born and bred, and there is an old New York Thanksgiving tradition known as the Ragamuffin Parade (though the name was news to her when I told her about it recently). It was popular at the turn of the last century, and began fading away by the mid 1900s. Kids would dress as ragamuffins and knock on doors, asking, “Something for Thanksgiving?”

Such interesting days, these days of late November. Thanksgiving always falls around my grandpa’s birthday, who was born way back in 1895. It was a birthday we celebrated each year on the 23rd, even though we learned later that Grandpa’s birthday may have been the 21st. It was on a Thanksgiving night, too, that my dad was visited by the ghost of his mother (which is another story that came up in that same Convivio Dispatch for Halloween). Perhaps it is this combination of ghostly stories and Mom’s Thanksgiving variation of trick or treating that always has me thinking of Thanksgiving as an extension of the autumnal days when we remember our dead. But Thanksgiving is a bit like that, no? We gather together, we share a fine meal, and for those of us who have been on this constantly rotating planet a good many years, we remember folks who have come and gone, stories that were told ages ago, and we get a bit wistful. And there is nothing wrong with that. These are all good things to be thankful for.

It is, by the way, a good time to order Advent candles and calendars from our Convivio Book of Days Catalog! Especially if you feel a bit rushed by Christmas (Why are there wreaths hanging on the doors of Lake Worth City Hall even before Thanksgiving?), a simple thing like an Advent candle that you light each night or an Advent calendar that you open a door on each day can really help bring some perspective to things. Ours are the traditional kinds: a few of our Advent calendars are made in England, but most are made in Germany, where the tradition began. And the daily Advent candles are made in England. We light ours each night at dinner. It’s part of what we call the Slow Christmas Movement. And we offer free domestic shipping when you spend $50!

Image: “Hearty Thanksgiving Greeting.” Chromolithograph postcard by John Winsch, 1910. Missouri History Museum Photographs and Prints Collections. Postcards. [Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.]

 

Oranges & Lemons

“Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clement’s….” Here’s a reprint of last year’s Book of Days chapter from the 23rd of November, Old Clem’s Night. Sometimes (like today) it seems hard to write it any better than it was the year before, and sometimes (like today) I am on vacation: Seth and I are currently in snowy Illinois, preparing for Thanksgiving with family. Follow our adventures on Instagram (#illinoisthanksgiving) and for today, enjoy our reprint of this fascinating minor holiday. Read to the end of the chapter for a bonus gift that wasn’t part of last year’s chapter. Happy Old Clem’s Night!

Oranges and Lemons

November 23 is the feast day of St. Clement: St. Clement’s Day, or Old Clem’s Night in England. He’s the patron saint of metal workers and blacksmiths, and Old Clem’s Night traditionally begins at the anvil, which is struck pretty consistently in the blacksmith’s trade, but on Old Clem’s Night, there is the addition of a small measure of gunpowder. The ensuing small explosion is what rings in the celebration. It’s a boisterous one, to be sure, involving processions of smiths, some of whom are dressed as St. Clement, with stops at every tavern along the way. We can assume there was no shortage of ale on Old Clem’s Night, and there also was no shortage of toasts and huzzahs for the smiths. Toasts like:

Health to the jolly blacksmith, the best of all fellows,
Who works at his anvil while the boy blows the bellows!

One of the legends of St. Clement places him as the very first man to refine iron, and to shoe a horse. That’s not terribly likely, however, and our ancestors may have been confusing Old Clem with a mythical blacksmith of Saxon origin: Wayland the Smith, whose feast day was also about this same time of year. But St. Clement has always gathered romantic legends about him. What we know for sure is he was one of the early Christian martyrs, being thrown overboard from a boat and fixed to an old iron anchor in the First Century AD.

He’s an interesting fellow, Old Clem. While the smiths were most likely getting drunk on ale, the children were going about clementing: going door to door, begging for apples and pears and nuts in exchange for singing old rhymes. When I asked my mother many years ago about her recollections of trick-or-treating when she was a little girl in Brooklyn, one thing she remembered was going door-to-door not at Halloween but rather around Thanksgiving. She didn’t call it clementing, but it sure sounds like it to me, especially when you realize that on some years, Thanksgiving and St. Clement’s Day would even fall on the same day.

One of the rhymes clementing kids may have sung in exchange for apples and pears was probably an old nursery rhyme that is still well known. Do you know it?

Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement’s.
You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin’s.

When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.
When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch.

When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney.
I do not know,
Says the great bell of Bow.

Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!

The bells in the song refer to the bells of churches in and around London. The ending is rather abrupt, isn’t it? But it’s part of a game that’s being played by the girls in the old engraving above. Two players form an arch with their arms, and at the end of the rhyme, things really speed up––both the song and the running through the arches. But finally the arches come down… and then that’s it for the kid who’s trapped in those arms: Off with her head! Or at least out of the game.

Image: “Oranges and Lemons” by Nicholl Bouvier Games. Engraving on paper, from the book The Pictorial World by Agnes Rose Bouvier, 1874. [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons.

Who remembers Book of Love? Who remembers the 80s? Here’s Book of Love singing their song Oranges and Lemons in concert in 1989, and yes… they do mention the bells of St. Clement’s!

 

Oranges & Lemons

Oranges and Lemons

November 23 is the feast day of St. Clement: St. Clement’s Day, or Old Clem’s Night in England. He’s the patron saint of metal workers and blacksmiths, and Old Clem’s Night traditionally begins at the anvil, which is struck pretty consistently in the blacksmith’s trade, but on Old Clem’s Night, there is the addition of a small measure of gunpowder. The ensuing small explosion is what rings in the celebration. It’s a boisterous one, to be sure, involving processions of smiths, some of whom are dressed as St. Clement, with stops at every tavern along the way. We can assume there was no shortage of ale on Old Clem’s Night, and there also was no shortage of toasts and huzzahs for the smiths. Toasts like:

Health to the jolly blacksmith, the best of all fellows,
Who works at his anvil while the boy blows the bellows!

One of the legends of St. Clement places him as the very first man to refine iron, and to shoe a horse. That’s not terribly likely, however, and our ancestors may have been confusing Old Clem with a mythical blacksmith of Saxon origin: Wayland the Smith, whose feast day was also about this same time of year. But St. Clement has always gathered romantic legends about him. What we know for sure is he was one of the early Christian martyrs, being thrown overboard from a boat and fixed to an old iron anchor in the First Century AD.

He’s an interesting fellow, Old Clem. While the smiths were most likely getting drunk on ale, the children were going about clementing: going door to door, begging for apples and pears and nuts in exchange for singing old rhymes. When I asked my mother many years ago about her recollections of trick-or-treating when she was a little girl in Brooklyn, one thing she remembered was going door-to-door not at Halloween but rather around Thanksgiving. She didn’t call it clementing, but it sure sounds like it to me, especially when you realize that on some years, Thanksgiving and St. Clement’s Day would even fall on the same day.

One of the rhymes clementing kids may have sung in exchange for apples and pears was probably an old nursery rhyme that is still well known. Do you know it?

Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement’s.
You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin’s.

When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.
When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch.

When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney.
I do not know,
Says the great bell of Bow.

Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!

The bells in the song refer to the bells of churches in and around London. The ending is rather abrupt, isn’t it? But it’s part of a game that’s being played by the girls in the old engraving above. Two players form an arch with their arms, and at the end of the rhyme, things really speed up––both the song and the running through the arches. But finally the arches come down… and then that’s it for the kid who’s trapped in those arms: Off with her head! Or at least out of the game.

 

Image: Oranges and Lemons by Nicholl Bouvier Games. Engraving on paper, from the book The Pictorial World by Agnes Rose Bouvier, 1874. [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons.