Arts and Leisure

What New Englanders Say About Christmas

To celebrate Christmas, we bring you some New England sayings and superstitions about the holiday from What They Say in New England, by Clifton Johnson in 1896.

Johnson, born in 1865 in Hadley, Mass., wrote 125 books published during his lifetime despite receiving little formal education. He also illustrated and photographed his books.

Among his many interests were traditional New England sayings and folklore. He collected several about Christmas.

Christmas card courtesy Boston Public Library.

Christmas card courtesy Boston Public Library.

Here they are:

When the clock strikes midnight before Christmas the cows kneel in their stalls. Some young girls in Hadley, years ago, sat up to discover whether this was true or not. At midnight they went out to the barn, and sure enough when the hour struck the cows knelt. At any rate,  the girls said it happened.

A still older story told in the town is that at midnight when Christmas Day begins, all the cattle in the yards and fields kneel with their heads turned to the east in adoration. Two girls of the olden time, eager to see for themselves the truth of the tale, sat up on Christmas Eve until the spellbound hour. Then they visited the farm's cattleyard. But the cattle made no sign that they were at all affected.

Christmas Sayings

Half the pork and half the hay
On Christmas Day.

Back in the day, the men would spend a part of Christmas Day making a tour of the neighbors to see how their hay was holding out.

A green Christmas makes a full churchyard. The reason? Winters with  constant freezings and thawings are very unhealthy. Therefore they fill the graveyard.

The twelve days of Christmas indicate the weather for the following year. Each day in order shows the weather for one month.

If the sun shines through the limbs of the apple-trees on Christmas Day, there will be a good crop of fruit next year.

This story was updated in 2018.



  1. Richard Pirozzi

    December 25, 2013 at 10:51 am

    Merry Christmas

  2. New England Historical Society

    December 25, 2013 at 11:25 am

    ^Merry Christmas to you!

  3. Linda Hanley

    December 25, 2013 at 6:32 pm

    Link won’t open, but it does turn into an AD

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