Christmas in work ‘ouse
paupers ‘earts full of goodwill
bellies full of beer
When I was in high school, I watched a Christmas TV movie titled The Gathering with my Mom.
The movie starred Ed Asner who, at that time, was at the top of his fame has the News Director on the Mary Tyler Moore show.
There were a lot of scenes in that movie that stayed with me like when Asner sets off a big box load of fireworks on Christmas Eve.
Another one in particular though was when the Asner character and his buddies gathered in the back of the kitchen for a recitation by Asner of what was claimed to be a poem titled, Christmas in the Workhouse.
It was bawdy and for the off color words, Asner would pause and his buddies would clink their glasses instead of saying the word.
For some reason I always thought the poem was by Charles Dickens.
But I was unsuccessful whenever I went looking for such a poem by Mr. Dickens.
For some other reason this scene came to mind recently and I dove into the Google to see if I could track it down.
First I was able to find the scene in question.
Watching the scene again for the first time since 1977, I caught that the buddies attributed the poem to Rudyard Kipling.
So into the google goes Kipling and Christmas in the Workhouse.
And what I got back was, a poem that appeared in The Gathering, a 1977 TV movie starring Ed Asner.
Full circle and the magic of the World Wide Web.
But there were other links, including a Wikipedia page for Christmas Day in the Workhouse or In the Workhouse : Christmas Day, a dramatic monologue written as a ballad by campaigning journalist George Robert Sims and first published in The Referee for the Christmas of 1877.
This is the Wikipedia version:
It is Christmas Day in the Workhouse,
And the cold bare walls are bright
With garlands of green and holly,
And the place is a pleasant sight;
For with clean-washed hands and faces,
In a long and hungry line
The paupers sit at the tables,
For this is the hour they dine.
And the guardians and their ladies,
Although the wind is east,
Have come in their furs and wrappers,
To watch their charges feast;
To smile and be condescending,
Put pudding on pauper plates,
To be hosts at the workhouse banquet
They’ve paid for—with the rates
Wikipedia states that the poem is a criticism of the harsh conditions in English and Welsh workhouses under the 1834 Poor Law. As a popular and sentimental melodrama, the work has been parodied many times.
I am not up on my history of the 1834 Poor Law but I bet they made it against the law to be poor and any one who dared to be poor was thrown into jail or a workhouse until such time as that person would no longer be poor.
Kinda like a law against someone being homeless but not providing a home for such a person I guess.
And the version that Ed Asner recites is one of those parody versions.
There were also enough links that it seems the parody versions were quite popular in those Brit Boarding schools and lots of people posted fond memories of learning and reciting.
So here is your toast, as recited by Mr. Asner.
Feel free to adapt and use as you can this holiday season.
‘Twas Christmas in the work ‘ouse,
The best day of the year,
And the paupers all was ‘appy,
For their guts was full of beer.
Now the master of the work ’ouse,
Strode them dismal ‘alls,
And wished the men ‘Merry Christmas,’
And the workers hollered, “—–.”
Now the master he grew angry,
And swore by all the gods,
“They’ll ‘ave no Christmas pudding,
The lousy lunk of sods.”
When up stood a war scarred veteran,
Who’d stormed the Khyber Pass,
And said, “You can take your Christmas pudding
And stuff it up your a….!”