St. Clement’s Day: Explosions Upon the Anvil and Singing for Treats

November 23 marks both the traditional first day of winter (now recognized as the twenty-first of December) and the feast of St. Clement. St. Clement is the patron saint of blacksmiths. Why Clement has this honor is a matter of some disagreement. Some legends claim he was martyred by having an anchor tied around his neck and cast into the sea, thus becoming to the patron saint of anchor-smiths. Other legends claim he was the first man to refine iron from ore. His feast day may also have melded with that of Wayland the Smith of Norse mythology.

Blacksmiths and their apprentices typically took this day as a holiday. The evening of “Old Clem’s Day” would be marked by the tradition of “firing the anvil”, in which gunpowder would be packed into a small hole in an anvil; the smith would then hit the anvil with his hammer, causing a small explosion. Smiths would also dress up as “Old Clem” donning a great coat, mask, white beard, and wig. Smiths would then go door to door, carrying an iron pot, and petitioning their neighbors to fund their feast day.

Eventually, children took charge of this celebration, going out “clemencing” on November 23. Children would go door-to-door begging for gifts and food, singing chants all the while. Such as:

Clemany! Clemany! Clemany mine!
A good red apple and a pint of wine,
Some of your mutton and some of your veal,
If it is good, pray give me a deal;
If it is not, pray give me some salt.
Butler, butler, fill your bowl;
If thou fill’st it of the best,
The Lord’ll send your soul to rest;
If thou fill’st it of the small,
Down goes butler bowl and all…

or (I love this one):

Pray, good mistress, send to me
one for Peter, one for Paul,
one for him who made us all;
Apple, pear, plum, or cherry,
Any good thing to make us merry;
A bouncing buck and a velvet chair,
Clement comes but once a year;
off with the pot and on with the pan,
A good red apple and I’ll be gone.

These Old Clem songs even make an appearance in Dicken’s Great Expectations. When asked to sing a song for Miss Havisham, Pip sings a song he has heard Old Joe sing to the rhythm of beating upon the iron, “…hammer boys round – Old Clem! With a thump and a sound – Old Clem! Beat it out, beat it out – Old Clem! Blow the fire, blow the fire – Old Clem! Roaring dryer, soaring higher, Old Clem!”

It seems a rather fun holiday to me! Maybe I’ll take the kids out ‘clemencing’ this evening!

By Immanuel Giel (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Immanuel Giel (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons