Wednesday, December 27, 2017

...and when it goes it leaves us here, and what shall we do for the rest of the year?

If I remember correctly (which may not be the case), the title of this post is the last two lines of a little four-line poem (that's a quatrain, folks) that I learned a very long time ago:

Christmas comes but once a year,
And when it comes it brings good cheer,
And when it goes it leaves us here,
And what shall we do for the rest of the year?

Since I Google practically everything nowadays, it turns out that the first two lines were published in The Real Mother Goose in 1916 under the title "CHRISTMAS" and the whole poem consisted of those two lines alone. I have no idea where the last two lines come from that I learned so long ago (not in 1916, mind you), but learn them I certainly did.

For your information, The Real Mother Goose contains a second poem entitled "CHRISTMAS" that goes like this:


Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat,
Please to put a penny in an old man's hat;
If you haven't got a penny a ha'penny will do,
If you haven't got a ha'penny, God bless you.

I remember that poem from my childhood as well, but I never committed it to memory. Finding it again was rather like finding an old friend, I suppose, except I haven't found any old friends lately so I do not know what that feels like exactly.

In the South, Christmas is often over on Christmas afternoon. People grow tired of a decorated tree that has stood in their home since Thanksgiving, so they take it down on Christmas Day. The hardiest and most persistent of Southerners may let their tree stay up until New Year's Day, but no longer. And some Southerners are superstitious enough to insist that it come down no later than New Year's Eve. Hardly anyone celebrates Christmas all the way to Epiphany. That would be ridiculous. If you don't know what or when Epiphany is, look it up in your Funk & Wagnalls (as Rowan and Martin used to say), if you have a Funk & Wagnalls, else just Google it on your iPhone.

Cultural rot is not pretty.

One year we didn't take our tree down until February, and then only because we didn't want to be accused of having a Valentine's Day tree. Someday someone brave enough or lazy enough will start a new trend and we'll all keep our trees up until St. Patrick's Day or April Fool's Day or the Fourth of July. Maybe it will be mandated by Donald Trump as a part of Making America Great Again. Southerners would get behind that in a heartbeat.

When I was very small, Santa brought the Christmas tree as well as the presents. Christmas in our little third-floor apartment in Rhode Island always meant that a three-foot-tall tabletop tree decorated with tinsel and other shiny decorations would miraculously be standing on the kitchen table when I woke up on the morning of December 25th. I really don't know how the grownups did it back in those days. I would have been completely exhausted. Maybe they were.

Speaking of short versions of longer poems, here's another one:


Hey, diddle, diddle!
The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon;
The little dog laughed
To see such sport,
And the dish ran away with the spoon.

Actually, this is all that remains of a longer poem that Frodo Baggins said was invented by Bilbo:


There is an inn, a merry old inn
beneath an old grey hill,
And there they brew a beer so brown
That the Man in the Moon himself came down
One night to drink his fill.

The ostler has a tipsy cat
that plays a five-stringed fiddle;
And up and down he runs his bow,
Now squeaking high, now purring low,
Now sawing in the middle.

The landlord keeps a little dog
that is mighty fond of jokes;
When there's good cheer among the guests,
He cocks an ear at all the jests
And laughs until he chokes.

They also keep a hornéd cow
as proud as any queen;
But music turns her head like ale,
And makes her wave her tufted tail
and dance upon the green.

And O! the rows of silver dishes
and the store of silver spoons!
For Sunday there's a special pair,
And these they polish up with care
on Saturday afternoons.

The Man in the Moon was drinking deep,
and the cat began to wail;
A dish and a spoon on the table danced,
The cow in the garden madly pranced,
and the little dog chased his tail.

The Man in the Moon took another mug,
and then rolled beneath his chair;
And there he dozed and dreamed of ale,
Till in the sky the stars were pale,
and dawn was in the air.

Then the ostler said to his tipsy cat:
'The white horses of the Moon,
They neigh and champ their silver bits;
But their master's been and drowned his wits,
and the Sun'll be rising soon!'

So the cat on his fiddle played hey-diddle-diddle,
a jig that would wake the dead:
He squeaked and sawed and quickened the tune,
While the landlord shook the Man in the Moon:
'It's after three!' he said.

They rolled the Man slowly up the hill
and bundled him into the Moon,
While his horses galloped up in rear,
And the cow came capering like a deer,
and a dish ran up with the spoon.

Now quicker the fiddle went deedle-dum-diddle;
the dog began to roar,
The cow and the horses stood on their heads;
The guests all bounded from their beds
and danced upon the floor.

With a ping and a pong the fiddle-strings broke!
the cow jumped over the Moon,
And the little dog laughed to see such fun,
And the Saturday dish went off at a run
with the silver Sunday spoon.

The round Moon rolled behind the hill
as the Sun raised up her head.
She hardly believed her fiery eyes;
For though it was day, to her surprise
they all went back to bed!

Personally, I like that poem better than anything else J.R.R. Tolkien ever wrote, including Elvish languages.

Since time flies when you're having fun, my post must come to an end.

See how easy it is to come up with things to do for the rest of the year?

Here is a link to Project Gutenberg's online copy of The Real Mother Goose so that you can go explore it on your own.


  1. A thought inspiring post. You offered many nursery rhymes which I love. And tree dismantling is a source of merriment to me. I take mine down when I feel like it.

  2. All of the poems you quoted today are familiar to me, and most I know by heart. To my shame, not the Tolkein one though. Perhaps that is something to fill in the rest of the year with... Or perhaps not.
    I hope you and your wife have a fabulous year ahead.

  3. Emma, I neglected to mention in the post that we always intend to take down our tree before January 6th, and some
    years we actually make it.

    EC (Sue), I haven’t memorized the Tolkien one either, but it has always been fun to read. And of course “The Cat and the Fiddle” is much older than “The Man In The Moon Stayed Out Too Late” — and that fact only adds to the merriment!

  4. Ah, my illustrious friend, I'm most familiar with those poems. One year, back in my youthful roommate days, we didn't decorate the Christmas tree until February.

    Just for the heck of it, near where I live is a pub named, The Cat and the Fiddle. Hey, diddle, diddle...

    The year is nearly over and here's to a peaceful 2018.


  5. Gary, the English have such quaint names for their pubs, don’t you think?, and all of them derivative. The Owl and the Pussycat, The Holly and The Ivy, Mortar and Pestle, Pillar and Post, The Golden Egg. I’m just pulling your leg — I made all of those up. But I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them actually existed.

    A peaceful 2018, now that’s something worth having. Yes indeed.