“And if you wanted to be ensure good health and happiness in the upcoming year, you should eat one mince pie every day for the Twelve Days of Christmas, from Christmas Eve until the 5th of January.”
Every year some mentions it as they open a box of mince pies as the festive season begins. Then I think I’ll try and eat one for each day of twelfth night and then fail miserably!! But it seems so easy. However, it looks like I’ve been failing before I begin as research shows I needed to do more than eat them!
Mince your words!
The earliest reference to this custom appears to by from 1853 Denham Christmas
“As many mince pies as you taste at Christmas so many happy months you will have….general though..Westermorland and Cumberland counties celebrated extreme hospitality.”
What is interesting is that it is not found before the 1850s but becomes widespread soon after. Furthermore the basic concept behind the tradition is outlined twelve mince pies one for each day.
However soon after a variant appears. Within the decade, a copy of the 1861 Notes and queries 2nd Series states that:
“Eating mince pies in different houses. This saying is so well known that it need not relate it at length.”
Well perhaps it would have been good if it had because the appearance of different houses appears new but is it hinted by Denham when discussing the hospitality of those households. Certainly by 1883 Charlotte Sophia Burne’s Shropshire: A Sheaf of Gleanings stated that:
“There is ‘luck’ about mince pie damd iit is this. For every house during the Twelve days he will enjoy a happy month in the ensuing twelve months.”
By the 1921 Notes and Queries 12 Series an anonymous reported stated:
“Fifty years ago I was taught that the first mince pie should be eaten on Stirrup Sunday’ and every ne eaten between then and Twelfth night, in a different house, meant one month of happiness in the New Year.”
However, in 1908 Arnold Bennett Old Wives Tale had immortalised it in fiction in the following:
“Now Mr Scales, you must taste my mine A happy month for every tart you eat, you know’ Mrs Barnes reminded him.”
Wiltshire Folklore by Kathleen Wiltshire in 1975 notes:
“Mince pies too, have their own magic; if you eat twelve of them, from twelve, separate friends, during the twelve days of Christmas, you are promised a lucky twelve months to follow.”
Again suggesting the simpler tradition. But why mince pieces?
Having your pie and eat it
An account of 1923 from Martock Somerset in Folklore records a confused account:
“Even if a currant of each, taste as many mince-pies and Christmas puddings as possible between Christmas Day and the 6th January – each is a happy month.”
By 1960 another proviso had occurred. A woman from Steep Hampshire states that:
“You will get a happy month for each mince pie you eat, as long as you don’t speak whole you are eating it.”
Yet another reason why I haven’t been successful. I would have to be careful though because when I had opened those mince pies in early December I was already going against my luck. John Symonds Udal’s 1922 Dorsetshire folklore
“Amongst strict observers of old customs…no one would think of eating a mince-pie before Christmas Eve or later than Twelfth Night.”
Pie in the sky
The luck associated appeared to be associated with the need to wish as an account from 1923 notes:
“When you eat the first mince pie you must wish.”
Finally, in the 1932 G.K. Chesterton New Poems he says:
“Some wishes at Xmas: Mince-pieces grant wishes, let each name his prize; but as for us, we wish for more Mince pies.”
More mince pieces surely not!