On December 26, the “Second Day of Christmas,” I offered my observation that for many Americans, the day after Christmas ― the twenty-sixth of December ― is the end of the Christmas season.
Though we are not a religious family, we enjoy many Christmas traditions. I resolved to enjoy all the Twelve Days of Christmas, from Christmas Day until Epiphany on January 6th, and to do so in part by writing a bit each day about some aspect of the Christmas season. All the essays may be read here.
Today, to mark the Sixth Day of Christmas, I’ll share an anonymous 14th-century Christmas text, “Wolcum Yole!”
The “Twelve days of Christmas” which fall between the Feast of the Nativity (December 25) and Epiphany (January 6) have traditionally been a time of merrymaking and visiting, as well as the celebration of the feast days of several important saints and martyrs. In this anonymous 14th century text, Wolcum! is offered to one and all; the feast days and the winter solstice are marked; Epiphany is anticipated; and the New Year is welcomed with joy.
Here’s the original text, followed by a modern English “translation,” followed by some notes on the text.
Wolcum be thou hevenè king,
Wolcum, born in one morning,
Wolcum for whom we sall sing!
Wolcum be ye, Stevene and Jon,
Wolcom, Innocentes everyone,
Wolcum, Thomas marter one,
Wolcum be ye, good Newe Yere,
Wolcum, Twelfthe day
both in fere,
Wolcum, Seintes lefe and dere,
Wolcum be ye, Candelmesse,
Wolcum be ye, Quene of bliss,
Wolcum bothe to more and lesse.
Wolcum be ye that are here,
Wolcum alle and make good cheer.
Wolcum alle another yere.
Welcome be Thou, heavenly King,
Welcome born on this morning,
Welcome for whom we shall sing,
Welcome be ye, Stephen and John
Welcome, Innocents, ev’ry one,
Welcome, Thomas, Martyred one
Welcome be ye, good New Year,
Welcome, Twelfth day, almost here
Welcome, Saints, loved and dear,
Welcome be ye, Candlemas
Welcome be ye, Queen of Bliss,
Welcome, both to more and less,
Welcome be ye that are here,
Welcome all, and make good cheer,
Welcome all, another year,
Yole = Yule, a pagan winter solstice festival; also, the feast of Jesus’ nativity, held on December 25
Stevene = St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, whose feast day is December 26
Jon = St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, whose feast day is December 27
Innocentes = Feast of the Holy Innocents (December 28), which commemorates the children slain by Herod in his vain attempt to kill the infant Christ
Thomas = Thomas à Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, murdered in Canterbury Cathedral, December 29, 1170; his feast day is December 29
marter = martyr
Newe Year = January 1, the Octave of Christmas, and the start of the New Year
Twelfth Day = Epiphany, January 6, the twelfth day after Christmas; Epiphany, the last day of Christmas in the Western Christian calendar
in fere = “well-nigh” or “in company”
Candelmesse = Candlemas, the blessing of the candles, he Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, celebrated on February 2
more and less = great and small