On Holdering

To Have and to Holder

The definitive collection of works relating to everyone’s favourite Christmas pastime

The totally real and not at all made up Christmas tradition known as ‘Noddy Holdering’ has a long and illustrious history. For the first time, extracts from key documents illuminating this history have been collected together in one compendium.


A TREATSIE ON THE MOST ANCIENT AND NOBLE ART OF ‘HOLDER-ING’(Circa 1600 – Author unknown)

I. ON IT’S ORIGINS AND HISTORIE

Though the Christmastime activity of ‘Holder-ing’ has only recently began to spread like a consuming fire through the gallant land of England apace, it is in fact a jollity having much historie. Since the time in which the marauding heathen Danes did ravage this fair land, the children of Bermingham —and the surrounding area—upon leaving midnight mass early on Christ-mas morning have heartily proclaimed “Rejoice! it is Christ-mas!”, such is their joy at the Lord Jesus Christ being born into the world of men.

The shout hath first taken its current form circa the year of our Lord Thirteen-Ninety.  The present pronunciation was originally engendered by Neville Holder, village idiot of Walshale[2] at that time. Recordes tell us that it was his wont to adorn his hat with shiney or reflecting objects, and when leaving the Church one Christ-mas morning he became so excited that he forgot to saieth “Rejoice!” and yelled as loud as his lungs might allow simply “It’s Christ-mas!”hough the Christmastime activity of ‘Holder-ing’ has only recently began to spread like a consuming fire through the gallant land of England apace, it is in fact a jollity having much historie. Since the time in which the marauding heathen Danes did ravage this fair land, the children of Bermingham[1]—and the surrounding area—upon leaving midnight mass early on Christ-mas morning have heartily proclaimed “Rejoice! it is Christ-mas!”, such is their joy at the Lord Jesus Christ being born into the world of men.

His distinctive pronunciation of this, best appropriated in print as “IIIITTSS CHRIIIIIIIIISSSSTT-MAAAAAAASSSSS!!!” (the capitalisation of letters being necessary to capture the fervour with which it must be sounded), so delighted and amused the children of Walshale that they began to imitate it every year, and by marriages of Walshaleites with people of the neighbouring parishes it began to spread throughout the region. It remained solely a local tradition for some time before it hath begun to hastily spread across the land, proliferated, or so rumour would have it, by its use in a play by a group of travelling actors.

 II. ON THE PRACTICE IN ITS PRESENT FASHION

Some-time between that time and now ‘Holder-ing’ hath taken its current, more worthy guise. The practice as it is now sees the children released immediately at the end of midnight mass to spread around the parish in groups of divers numbers. The adults wilfully dally behind, wishing each-other a merie Christ-mas and making such chit-chat and small talke as pleases them. They will then leave the Church and begin to walk homeward, while the children endeavour to surprise the elders, shouting “IIIITTSS CHRIIIIIIIIISSSSTT-MAAAAAAASSSSS!!!” upon encountering them. The adults will then give some small monies to the group, or some other trifling gift. After two hours of ‘Holder-ing’, a tithe of each group’s earnings is given unto the church, and the remainder split between the members of the group as a Christ-mas-tide gift.

III. ON GOOD ‘NODDIE HOLDER-ING’ PRACTICE AND STORIES OF SUCH

While all Noddie Holder-ing of recent times be done of good intent, there none-the-less still pertains…


A REVIEW UPON THE BEST METHODS OF TRANSPORT FOR MODERN ‘HOLDERING’(The Illustrated London News – 1853)

By Henry Spencer Ashbee.

A recent resurgence in popularity for the joyous Christmas art of Holdering has brought about the welcome necessity of penning this article. But for the sad and deprived few still unaware of this fine festive bit, or those simply ignorant of its history, I would be failing in my duties as a scrivener were I not to recount why transportation is needed at all.

Gone are the halcyon days where crowds of ruddy-cheeked children could gambol through the streets, Holdering merrily and receiving joyful tidings and much well-wishing for their honest efforts ; this has since been usurped by carolling and moved to different hours. In these our modern times, in which the cities are not wanting in foul, spectral smoke-fog, there are some humourless individuals—doubtless the same haughty nincompoops who constitute the members of this asinine temperance movement which aims to strip man of his right to a good stiff drink—who do not take kindly to being surprisedly accosted in the middle of the night and may become indignant, abusive, or even—if drunk, and at the other end of the metaphorical scale to the beforementioned easily offended nincompoops of the temperance brigade—violent ; regardless of the fact that their encumbrances are nought but children embracing the spirit of the season with the best of intentions. It is due to these unhappy developments in society that Holdering has become an affair of young men, and, if suitably chaperoned, young women. Its aim has changed also, being now to bring joy to those who would recognise and receive it and nuisance to those humbugs who do not. It is therefore unwise to Holder on foot, or in any slow form of transportation—which therefore immediately discounts rail-less steam carriages for the foreseeable near future.

Since speed is of the essence, some might consider horse a prime choice. Indeed, they offer a great advantage in speed and clarity of vocal resonance since one is unenclosed. However, the open air offers no protection from the winter elements, which will doubtless be bitter of a night this time of year, and furthermore offers no protection from the various uncouth curses and—if you are not as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Fortune’s Privates—projectiles that you may encounter over the course of a night’s Holdering. The second disadvantage is that Holdering is a group activity, and while Holdering on horseback you may occupy the same unit; you do not occupy the same space. That is to say that discussion and mutual laughter over your escapades must wait until after your retreat, allowing time to much dilute the mirth.

This desire for speed and enclosure, and the general mania for all things new, had led to some foolish steamphiles to attempt Holdering from the passenger coaches of locomotives. This is a hanged idea on all facets. Due to the scheduled nature of trains, the Holdering must be moved from the early hours of Christmas to some other time, thus breaking with the long tradition that gives Holdering so much of its spirit. Foremost however is due to the extreme speeds these locomotives attain one is only able to perform the shout at stations—if one is wise whilst the train pulls away. However, the offence discussed earlier may be felt by any friends or relatives of those just Holdered, and then one finds oneself in the undesirable scenario of being trapped in a confined space with them.

 That therefore leaves only one reasonable choice for the discerning Holderer—some sort of fly or light, fast carriage. I can only apologise heartily for such a short and perchance unsatisfying conclusion, but it really is that simple. So long as the party swaps drivers, if it is not a hire vehicle, for the sake of fairness and to avoid the issue of the biting cold earlier discussed, this method curtails all of the disadvantages of the others. All that remains is for me to heartily exclaim “IIIITTSS CHRIIIIIIIIISSSSTT-MAAAAAAASSSSS!!!” and wish happy Holdering to all!


Forty Years and Still Going Strong – Noddy Holdering on the Streets of Mansfield (Q Magazine – 2010)

Wes Green

The pubs shut at midnight on Christmas Eve, and we’re kicked out into the amber-dyed snow of the car park. Sam and Pete have both had a few; Elliot (our driver for the night) thankfully has not. I’ve had a couple too. My ride for the night is a tiny, navy Renault Clio Liberete; and this blue midget of a car is about to spread drunken Christmas cheer through the roadways of Mansfield, whether it’s wanted or not.

Mansfield is a nowhere town if ever there was one; second largest settlement in a county where not many care much for the largest. But it is here that, 37 years ago upon the release of Slade’s Merry Xmas Everyone, that the ancient Christmas tradition of Holdering underwent the biggest comeback since Elvis.

Renamed ‘Noddy Holdering’ for the song’s use of Holdering’s ubiquitous cry of “IIIITTSS CHRIIIIIIIIISSSSTT-MAAAAAAASSSSS!!!” (though Mr Holder claims never to have even heard of the obscure old custom), it gained a reputation as an excuse for parties of youths to make an inebriate nuisance of themselves ‘in the name of Christmas spirit’.

There are a few poor attempts cruising down Sutton Road. I quickly learn that Holdering is more suited to side roads – the wide road and pavement along with the speed we’re travelling at makes our yells of “IIIITTSS CHRIIIIIIIIISSSSTT-MAAAAAAASSSSS!!!” more ineffective, and causes difficulty in gauging reactions.

Still, if we see them we must shout; that’s the rule.

Holdering in the snow is a rare treat. Seldom does this time of year look like Christmas cards and TV specials tell us it should, but the soft white blanket covering everything makes this yuletide activity feel right; it is almost literally the icing on the cake.

“Psychosomatic!”

“That boy need’s therapy!”

“Purely psychosomatic!”

“That boy need’s therapy!”

“Lie down on the couch! What does that mean?”

“You’re a nut! Crazy in the coconut!!”

“What does that mean?”

“That boy…!”

…isn’t exactly the most festive soundtrack, but it nicely captures the air of elated madness, driving around darkened snowy streets in the early hours of Christmas morning shouting at unsuspecting pedestrians. Pete and Sam are so engaged in singing along to Frontier Psychiatrist that they are about to miss a person, causing Elliot to shout “Eyes on the prize! SAM-SIDE, MOTHERFUCKERS!” This is quickly adopted as a trope and repeated throughout the night.

* * *

Unsurprisingly, the streets are quiet early on a Christmas morning. But there are people. There’s always people. Kicked out of bars at closing, coming home from midnight masses, insomniacs taking the air – each starts their Christmas in the same way: Having what they must assume are song lyrics from a piece of seventies cheese shouted at them by four youths in various states of inebriation.

In the snow, what could be more festive?

Reactions are varying. Surprising a group of large, drunk women getting into a cab, Pete assures us that “Oh yeah! They want to fuck us!” We’re sworn at at least once, and there are a couple of “Youth of today…” type grumblings. One bloke, staggering home, turns around and shouts “Merry Christmas!” back at us, instantly being labelled a ‘legend’. There is a point when we pull up next to another battered old car of four lads. Looks are exchanged. “IIIITTSS CHRIIIIIIIIISSSSTT-MAAAAAAASSSSS!!!” They grin. One cracks up. No likewise reply. Clearly not fellow Holderers then.

In fact, we don’t come across any other Holderers during the night. While it is a shame that this ancient festivity’s revival is not quite as widespread as it was 37 years ago, there is something satisfying about being the only ones. One small blue car of cheer and mayhem on a snowy Christmas morn.

You see why this is a game for drunks though. In addition to the confidence boost, I’m well wrapped up and it’s still freezing with the windows open at all times, ready to lean out and shout. After an hour and a half Sam falls into the sleepy stage of intoxication and we decide to quit.

The little car drops me at the crest of a hill near where I need to be. The air is chill, clear and crisp. The sharp contrast throws our past hour into relief; in the stillness and icy quiet, the sounds of the night deadened by the thick blanket of snow, our merrymaking seems almost surreal now.

Soon it will be Christmas Proper, and the night feels expectant in that way that is unique to Christmas Eve. I wish my companions farewell and a Merry Christmas, and watch the little Clio as it trundles crunchily through the powder, out of sight and into the memories of the best night before Christmas I’ve ever had.

[1] Birmingham

[2] Walsall

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