Mary Howitt (1799-1888) is best remembered nowadays for her poem The Spider and the Fly, with that memorable first line, “Will you walk into my parlour? said the Spider to the Fly.” She also wrote many books, some co-authored with her husband, some written by her husband and published in her name. In 1845 she looked back to her own childhood in My Own Story or The Autobiography of a Child , and remembered a Christmas tradition from her childhood of giving money to the poor on “Begging Monday”.
In another distribution of money we also took a lively interest, even from the time when we were very little children indeed. This was on the occasion of begging Monday, or the first Monday before Christmas, when the poor of the parish had the privilege of going from house to house, where they received money or provisions; such as potatoes, flour, or meal, etc. Originally, probably, this dispensing to the poor had been general; now it was only confined to certain wealthy or old housekeepers, who, for charity’s sake, or for the sake of the family custom, still continued it. It had always been given in our family, and our mother was no way inclined to discontinue it, and we children took a most lively interest in it. On the preceding Saturday there came from one of the tradespeople a large basket full of pence, and we were up early on the Monday morning to be the dispensers of it. After breakfast, our mother, in her bonnet and cloak and gloves, stood at the open door, and we two, one on each side, the one as her right hand and the other as her left, stood and gave, according to her directions, more or less, as she knew the applicants to be deserving or in distress.
Many and many were the blessings that both we and our mother received on that day. Pity is it that such a good old custom should ever fall into disuse.
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