CHRISTMAS AT ST IVES.
"WE doubt if there is a spot in 'merrie England' where Christmas receives so hearty a welcome, and is 'made so much of,' as in the old-fashioned 'antient borough of beloved St Ives.' It is often said that 'extremes meet;' but as well might we expect the extremities of Britain-- John o'Groat's and Cape Cornwall--to meet, as that the frolic-loving descendants of Albion will ever imitate the cold, mountain-nurtured Caledonians in their observance of Christmas time. For months previous to the merry-making time, preparations are made for the approaching 'carnival;' we can assure our readers that never were the real 'carnivals' ushered in with greater festivities at Rome or Venice, in the zenith of their glory, than is observed here at Christmas. Were many of the denizens of our large towns to witness the making up of the scores of 'sugar loaf,' 'three-cocked,' and indescribable-shaped hats, caps, bonnets, bloomer skirts, leggings, jackets, &c., numberless et ceteras of the most grotesque and pantomimic character, colour, and shape, which goes on in October and November, they would imagine there was to be a bal masque on a large scale, or a pantomime at 'the theatre,' of metropolitan proportions. But not so, for there is not even a singing-class in the town, if we except the choirs of the various congregations; and all 'this wilful waste' of long cloth, scarlet, ringstraked, and speckled, is to do honour to King Christmas during the twelve nights which intervene 'twixt the birth of Christmas common and Christmas proper, which said outward manifestations of honour are known in the neighbourhood as 'Christmas geezze-daancing,' or guise-dancing; but of this presently. Not only are the 'lovers of pleasure' on the alert, but the choirs of the different places of worship strive to 'get up' a piece or two to tickle the ears of their hearers on Christmas-night, and the house that boasts the best 'singing seat' is sure to be crammed by persons attracted by the twofold advantage of a short sermon and a good lively tune. A pretty brisk trade is carried on by children in the retailing unquenched lime, in small quantities to suit the convenience of purchasers; and few are the domiciles but have had a lick of the lime brush, either on the wall, window-sill; door-post, or chimney. 'A slut, indeed,' is she declared who refuses to have a thorough clean out before Christmas. New shoes and clothes are worn for the first .time on the great holiday; and woe betide the unlucky Crispin who, by some unaccountable oversight, has neglected to make Jennifer's bran new shoes, for, her to go and see how Smart the church is on Christmas-day. As in other parts of England, a pretty large sum is spent in evergreens, such as holly, or, as it is called here, 'prickly Christmas,' bays, and laurels. Of mistletoe and cypress there is very little in the neighbourhood, and the windows of shops and private dwellings, as well as the parish church, are profusely and tastefully decorated. As to provisions, there is no lack. Many a flock of geese has been bespoken and set apart for private customers; whilst the ears of the grocers, who generally do a supplementary trade in swine's flesh, are so accustomed to receive a month's notice for 'a nice bit of flea (spare) rib,' that they are loath to engage any of the porcine fraternity that are not all rib. The Christmas market is not a mean affair at St Ives; if the butchers cannot boast of many prize oxen or 'South Downs,' they generally manage to make the best of their 'home-raised' and well-fed cattle, and the stalls are 'titivated off' nicely too. This year, however, the inspector of nuisances, who is also market-toll collector and police constable, sergeant, and inspector, actually refused to clean, or allow to be cleaned, the St Ives Market on Tuesday for the Christmas-eve market, because there was no extra tolls payable for the Christmas markets, and, as may be expected, the epithets bestowed on him were by no means flattering or complimentary--we did hear of a suggestion to put the 'gentleman' policeman in an aldermanic stall on the 5th of next November, or maybe during the guise-dancing. Tradesmen have for the most part 'cacht their jobs,' and the good house' wife 'done her churs in season' on Christmas-eve. In many families, a crock of ' fish and tatees' is discussed in West-Cornwall style before the 'singers' commence their time-honoured carol, 'While Shepherds,' which is invariably sung to 'the same old tune,' struck by some novice in u flat. There is usually a host of young men and maidens to accompany the 'singers;' these are composed of the choirs of two or three dissenting bodies, who chiefly select the members of their respective congregations for the honour of being disturbed from a sound nap on the eventful morning. The last two or three years the choirs have done their carolling amongst the most respectable of the inhabitants on the evening of Christmas-day, after divine service.
"On Christmas-day the mayor, aldermen, and councillors walk in pro. cession to church from the house of the mayor for the time being. The church is, as we have before remarked, gaily decked with evergreens. Two or three days after the singers make a call 'for something for singing,' the proceeds, which are pretty handsome, being spent in a substantial supper for the choir.
"But of the 'guise-dancing,' which has found a last retreat at St Ives,--this is the only town in the country where the old Cornish Christmas revelry is kept up with spirit. The guise-dancing time is the twelve nights after Christmas, i.e., from Christmas-day to Twelfth-day. Guise-dancing at St Ives is no more nor less than a pantomimic representation or bal masque on an extensive scale, the performers outnumbering the audience, who in this case take their stand at the corners of the streets, which are but badly lighted with gas, and rendered still more dismal of late years by the closing of the tradesmen's shops after sunset during this season, on account of the noise and uproar occasioned, the town being literally given up to a lawless mob, who go about yelling and hooting in an unearthly manner, itt a tone between a screech and a howl, so as to render their voices as undistinguishable as their buffoon-looking dresses. Here a Chinese is exhibiting 'vite mishe' and 'Dutch dops;' there a turbaned Indian asks you if you 'vant a silver vatch.' A little further on you meet with a Highlander with 'dops to cure the gout.' The home-impoverishing packman, or duffer, has also his representative, urging to be allowed just to leave 'a common low-price dress at an uncommon high price, and a quartern of his 6s. sloe-leaves of the best quality.' Faithless swains not infrequently get served out by the friends of the discarded one at this time, whilst every little peccadillo meets with a just rebuke and exposure. About eighteen years ago, a party of youngsters, to give more variety to the sports, constructed a few nice representations of elephants, horses, and--start not gentle reader--lifelike facsimiles of that proverbially stupid brute, the ass. For several seasons it was quite a treat to witness the antics of the self-constituted elephants, horses, and asses, in the thoroughfares of this little town. On the whole, the character of the guise-dancing has degenerated very much this last twenty years. It was formerly the custom for parties to get up a little play, and go from house to house to recite their droll oddities, and levy contributions on their hearers in the form of cake or plum-pudding. Wassailing, as far as I can learn, never obtained much in this neighbourhood. Old Father Christmas and bold King George were favourite characters. It is not uncommon to see a most odiously-disguised person with a bedroom utensil, asking the blushing bystanders if there is 'any need of me.' Some of the dresses are, indeed, very smart, and even costly; but for the most part they consist of old clothes, arranged in the oddest manner, even frightfully ugly. It is dangerous for children, and aged or infirm persons, to venture out after dark, as the roughs generally are armed with a sweeping-rush or a shillalagh. The uproar at times is so tremendous as to be only equalled in a 'rale Irish row.' As may be anticipated, these annual diversions have a very demoralising influence on the young, on account of the licentious nature of the conversation indulged in, though we really wonder that there are not many more instances of annoyance and insult than now take place, when we consider that but for such times as Christmas and St Ives feast, the inhabitants have no place of amusement, recreation, or public instruction; there being no library, reading-room, institution, literary or scientific, or evening class; and unless there is one at the National School room, not a night school or even a working-men's institution is in the town.
"We should not omit that one of the old customs still observed is the giving apprentices three clear holidays (not including Sunday) after Christmas-day, though we hear of attempts being made to lessen this treat to the youngsters. If we don't wish success to these efforts, we do desire those should succeed who will endeavour to impart to our rising population a thorough contempt for guise-dancing and all such unmeaning buffoonery. There is one thing which must not be overlooked--viz., the few drunken brawls that occur at such times. Cases of drunkenness certainly occur, but these are far below the average of towns of its size, the population being in 1861 (parliamentary limits) 10,354."--St lves: Correspondent.