A Gypsy Christmas Carol from 1893 in England:
King Pharim sat a-musing,
A musing all alone;
There came a blessed Saviour,
And all to him unknown.
Say, where did you come from, good man,
Oh, where did you then pass?
It is out of the land Egypt,
Between an ox and an ass….
Since Christmas is a religious holiday, Roma all over the world celebrate it according to their chosen religion. Christmas is the main holy day for Catholics and Protestants, while Eastern Orthodox Christians place greater emphasis on celebrating Easter or the New Year.
Czech and Slovak Roma call Christmas Karachonya (or Karachon) and their celebrations display a number of elements derived from the respective majority societies around them, along with their own Romani traditions, some of which even reflect their centuries-old Indian origins. Among the traditions in which Romani Christmas differs from Czech Christmas are forgiving and reconciliation, and remembering deceased relatives.
Oh, if you come out of Egypt, man,
One thing I fain I known,
Whether a blessed Virgin Mary
Sprung from an Holy Ghost?
For if this is true, is true, good man,
That you ve been telling to me,
That the roasted cock do crow three times
In the place where they did stand….
Forgiving and reconciliation are very important for Roma, because during the time when the Roma were a completely isolated, they had to have strong solidarity within the group. They were entirely dependent on the community in which they lived, so they could have no dissension. The Roma therefore made use of the Christmas season to reinforce the relationships between members of the family or community. This custom finds expression in idioms found in all Roma groups which are inseparably connected to the Christmas holidays.
Oh, it’s straight away the cock did fetch,
And feathered to your o
Three times a roasted cock did crow,
On the place where they did stand.
Remembering deceased relatives at Christmas is connected to the belief among the Roma that a person’s soul survives them and exists after the body’s departure in the next world. The Romani word for the souls of their dead ancestors is mule and they try to be on good terms with them, since the mule can also harm them. During Christmas Roma placate them by leaving them food on the windowsill or in the corner of the room, so they won’t haunt them. Roma also talk about their deceased relatives and remeber them over Christmas.
…They travelled further and further,
The weather being so warm,
Till they came unto some husbandman
A-sowing of his corn.
Come husbandman! cried Jesus,
From over speed and pride,
And carry home your ripened corn
That you’ve been sowing this day.
For to keep your wife and family
From sorrow, grief and pain,
And keep Christ in your remembrance
Till the time comes round again!’
A fortnight before Christmas Gypsies were everywhere:
Vans were drawn up on wastes, women trailed to the fair.
‘My gentleman,’ said one, ‘you’ve got a lucky face.’
‘And you’ve a luckier,’ I thought, ‘if such grace
And impudence in rags are lucky.’ ‘Give a penny
For the poor baby’s sake.’ ‘Indeed I have not any
Unless you can give change for a sovereign, my dear.’
‘Then just half a pipeful of tobacco can you spare?’
I gave it. With that much victory she laughed content.
I should have given more, but off and away she went
With her baby and her pink sham flowers to rejoin
The rest before I could translate to its proper coin
Gratitude for her grace. And I paid nothing then,
As I pay nothing now with the dipping of my pen
For her brother’s music when he drummed the tambourine
And stamped his feet, which made the workmen passing grin,
While his mouth-organ changed to a rascally Bacchanal dance
‘Over the hills and far away.’ This and his glance
Outlasted all the fair, farmer, and auctioneer,
Cheap-jack, balloon-man, drover with crooked stick, and steer,
Pig, turkey, goose, and duck, Christmas corpses to be.