"Christmas Comes But Once A Year"
Context: Thomas Tusser was a gentleman of good birth and a graduate of Eton and Cambridge, who forsook the world of the court and took up farming. He evidently did not prosper at it, for he moved several times and finally died in a debtor's prison; but he nonetheless became the poet of early Elizabethan farm life. His works are composed largely of practical instructions to farmers and housewives, and are written in verse. Much of this material is doggerel, but it is vivid and possesses a homely charm. The result is a faithful and realistic picture of rural England during the middle of the sixteenth century. The first eleven chapters of Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry are short verses which describe husbandry and offer general recommendations; beginning with Chapter Thirteen, Tusser covers the farmer's year month by month, discussing the various activities peculiar to each. Each month is preceded by a brief summary of the matters to be discussed, and various comments on weather, planets and climate are interspersed from time to time. The book is an early forerunner of the farmers' almanacs. Chapter Twelve is entitled "The Farmer's Daily Diet," and describes the plain but solid and substantial fare of the period. Fish is an important staple in the diet, both fresh and salted, as is salt meat. The first three stanzas of the chapter refer to Lent and Easter. "Martilmas beef" is beef dried and smoked in the chimney after the manner of bacon. The couplets which follow refer to Midsummer (St. John's Day), Michaelmas, Hallowmass, and Christmas; these in turn are followed by moral reflections and references to special days. The second and third stanzas and the first five couplets are given below:
Let Lent, well kept, offend not thee,For March and April breeders be:Spend herring first, save salt-fish last,For salt-fish is good, when Lent is past.When Easter comes, who knows not thanThat veal and bacon is the man;And Martilmas beef doth bear good tack,When country folks do dainties lack.When Mackrell ceaseth from the seas,John Baptist brings grass-beef and pease.Fresh herring plenty, Mitchell brings,With fatted crones [old ewes], and such old things.All Saints do lay for pork and souse,For sprats and spurlings for their house.At Christmas play, and make good cheer,For Christmas comes, but once a-year.Though some then do, as do they would,Let thrifty do, as do they should.