The article below, apparently written on Christmas Day 1790, appeared in the Caledonian Mercury on 1 January 1791.
It is possible that the subject matter appealed to some Presbyterian editor sucking in his cheeks at the celebration of a Rome-ish mass south of the Border. But it is more probable that the Editor enjoyed the deadpan humour of a supposed 'member of the Church of England' urging abstemiousness in terms that would have struck many disapproving or hypocritical Scots as excessive.
Today, Yuletide festivities in Scotland and England are almost indistinguishable, now commencing in retail and hospitality-sector terms immediately after Halloween and stammling boozily well into the first week of January.
The following article – an item of historic humbuggery – has lost none of its ironic relevance in the intervening 229 years. We wish all our readers a moderately merry Christmas and unhiccuppy New Year.
Note: Where time has rendered the original newspaper illegible, Spurtle has inserted a plausible word in square brackets.—AM
CHRISTMAS AND NEW YEAR.
THE mixture of religion and gluttony, of piety and punch-making, which takes place at this season, has often been a matter of serious consideration.
If I may be allowed to speak freely, I must confess I am no friend to the numerous days of fasting which I find in the kalendar. The use that is made of them cannot be said merely to approach to abuse; it is profaneness.
Our days of fasting are distinguished by the dearness of provisions, owing to the great demand from all families; and days of prayer are changed for nights of singing, dancing, and drinking.—Alas! the primitive integrity of our pious ancestors is gone from us.—We employ ourselves in trimming our sweet persons for an hour or two, then hire horses, and ride for an appetite; then sit down to a dinner of which we have the pleasing satisfaction of having got—a surfeit.
They took a single cup of nut-brown ale, to cheer their spirits, and drink King and Constitution.1—We drink whole bottles and bowls of punch, and wine, and brandy, and the devil himself only knows what, until we can neither speak, stand, nor see.
A modern landlord never thinks he has done his duty, if his guests depart with all their senses about them. But he is happy, if their eyes are so swollen that they cannot distinguish a pavement from a ditch—if their ears are so clogged that they hear not the hours—if their touch is so deadened, that they know not a post from a chairman—if their taste is so debauched, that they mistake rum for pump water—and if their organs of smelling are so impeded in their office,2 that they know not an out-house from a bed-chamber.
This scene of dissipation generally commences at Christmas, and continues without the smallest intermission till several weeks after New Year's Day, which has, time out of mind, been ever famous for feasting and rioting.
Allow me, then, to offer a few [licensable] advices on this head: In the first place, I would advise all citizens, who are said to be fond of eating, not to sit down to table as if it were the last they were ever to see; nor to consider the turkies and the chine, the house-lamb and the fish, as so many things, which it is absolutely necessary they should devour.
There is no precept in Scripture which enjoins great eating, nor is there any act of Parliament to this effect, at least none that I am acquainted with. To a robust, well-built healthy citizen, I allot two pounds and three ounces of dishes,3 and to those more delicate citizens, commonly called [In-valids], I allow a leg and a a wing of a turkey, two cuts of a chine,4 a plate of cod's head, besides a proportional quantity of four ounces of choice.5
Secondly, I would advise all [who imbibe] choice spirits, to restrict themselves to a moderate quantity of liquor, two bottles of punch or port, but at any rate not to exceed three; and I particularly wish that they would not be intemperate in their cups, to the great detriment of the neighbourhood; and if any quarrel happen, I would advise that the combatants be left to decide them immediately; because when a broken nose or bloody head is the consequence there is always a [warning] for future occasions.
I would advise such as are sure to get drunk, not to make so free with the characters of ladies who never spoke to them, nor boast of their intrigues with [beauties] which they never fix. Such vain and idle cups [serve] only to betray the weakness of the speaker's mind; a most vile prostitution of the parts of speech.
Thirdly, As cards will no doubt be considered a part of the amusement of the ladies, I would recommend to them to keep their tempers, and never cheat. This may seem a libel against the sex—but I mean it not as a general accusation since it is well known, many ladies insist on the privilege of cheating at cards.
After cards are over, I would make all disputes waved. How often has an excellent supper been spoiling, while Sir George and Lady Chambers were determining how the odd trick was lost? and how often the peace of a family has been disturbed by the weak memories of two whist-players, neither of whom could remember whether a club or a spade led, or which was the suit in hand when they lost the last rubber?
Other advices on this subject I might offer, but I hope the good sense of the parties wll prevent the beginning of the New Year from being an area in the annals of dissipation.
A MEMBER OF THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND.
Dec. 25. 1790
1 A loyal toast.
2 Office here is also a euphemism for lavatory (perhaps in an out-house) or act of defecation.
3 Just under a kilogram.
4 Cut of meat containing part of the backbone.
5 Four ounces equals about 114g.