A Northumbrian version of the Christmas story
By Robert Allen
It aall began wi’ young Mary. At the time she was ganin wi a lad caalled Joe wee was a joiner be trade. He an Mary wes aall fixed up ti git wed an she’d named the day, an ivridbody wes leukin forrit tid. But Joe wes sair worrit, Ah can tell ye.
Seeminly Mary’d hed had a visit frae this Angel fella an’ noo she was carryin a bairn. Leastways that wes hor story, and neeebody cud talk hor oot on’t.
If ownly she’d teld is the truth thowt Joe, ah cud forgiv hor. He wes loosin a canny bit sleep ower the shame ont. Yin neet howsomevvor he did git away te sleep an started te dream. An in his dream anithor Angel cums doon tiv him and sez, “Divn’t be see daft Joe man – ye git yorsel marrit on Mary. She’s a canny lass an’ deun nowt rang. Aye, thor’s a bairn cumin allreet, bit it’s not the way ye think. This is ganin te be God’s bairn, and the greet King an’ Messiah, that aall the prophets, Essiah an’ them wes crackin aboot i’ the days gone by.
So when Joe wakes up he thowt tiv hissel, why man that’s ganna mek a bit diffrence then. If wor Mary’s gann be the muther uv a King, aa’ll say ne mair aboot it. Thor’s nee shame i’ that an Aall be reet prood te be hor man. An if the neebors say owt, aa’ll just keep mum.
Noo jist aboot this time the govornment maede an order for a coont o’ heeds – whaat they caal a census, the same like we hev nowadays whiles. Aall folks hev te gan back tiv where they wor born an’ browt up te be counted, an’ hev thor names put iv a big beuk, so the government knaas huw many folk thor’s aboot. So Joe had te gan tiv a little oot-bye place caalled Bellingham an he had te tek Mary wiv him.
Nuw it waas a canny waalk frae Morpeth an Mary wes gay close tiv hor time. So Joe yokes the powney for hor, an they just took it nice and stiddy. Thor wes nee busees in them days and ye cudn’t beuk aheed. So when Joe an’ Mary lands theor efter dark, the pubs wor aall full up and they cudn’t git nee place ti sleep for luv nor muney. So they set off doon the lonnen an oot o’ the village a mile or see til they cums across a broken doon hemmel.
“Howway, Joe” says Mary. “Let’s gan in heor. The pains is cumin on summit aaful noo.” Ye see she’d gittin a fair jogglin aboot on the powney cumin ower Billsmoor an Hareshaw. So Joe lifts hor doon an’ they aall gan inside the hemmel. Joe lit his lantorn so they cud see bettor, and theor was neebody theor but an owld doon-calving cuw chowin hor cud. Aye she’d be company for the powney Joe thowt.
An when it wes aall ower, Joe rove the linin oot uv his top-coat an wrapped it roond the bit bairn an laid him doon in the cattle trow like it wes a cradle. An away i’ the corner the aad cuw wes sharin hor bit hay wi the powney. An then they both cam ower ti the trow ti snuff at the bairn. Then the cuw gi’ him a bit lick abacka the lugs wi’ hor greet raspy tung like she alwes did wi hor ahn calves.
An ye knaa them twee beasts must hev smelt the glory o’ God on that bit bairn, cos deed on the stroke o’ midnight, they baith knelt doon an’ droop’d thor lugs i’ silent worship.
At the saem time, oot on the fell thor waas twa-three shephord laddies lukin thor yowes. It was a bit late mind ye but thor’d bin a bit bothor wi’ a fox aboot. They’d just lowsed an’ wor tekin thor pipes i the dyke back when aall of a sudden – aye yiv guessed it – anithor o’ them greet shiny Angels lit doon afrunt o’ them. Man they reckoned yon wes the clivvorist yeor for seein Angel, and although thor was a lot of them aboot, the heord laddies had nivor seen ony afore.
An by lad they wor fair gliffed an’thor collie dogs wor cowrin ahint them wi’ aall thor hackles up. But the ad Angel sean stopped thor lathor. He cam ower aall cany an particlar like:
“Hoo’s yor fettle then lads?’ - he ses. “It’s been a bit bettor day oot bye”.
“Aye”, ses the shepherds “Yons a clarty bit wind but. There’ll be snoa afore daylight likely.” The yin o’ the shephers – cocky little beggor he wes, fear’t o’ nowt, gans right up tiv the Angel an ses. “Hey lad, are ye from God”?
An’ the Angel ses, “Aye”. Mind he wes a bit huffed cos aallwes afore fowks hed been bendin thor knees an’ hidin thor facees from the leet.
Then the little shephord laddies ses, “Mind, them’s a canny pair o’ wings He’s geen ye”!
Then the Angel gi’s his showdors a bit hike. “Aye weel” he ses, they’ve got te be strang for wor job. And then he gans aall serious like an ses – “Onnyways, Ah’ve got mair important things te taalk aboot than me wings.” “Ah’ve been sent ti tell ye that God’s kept his word, what he telt the add prophets, that the new King, the Messiah hes just gittin born i’ that aad hemmel doon the end o’ the lonnen yonder.
“Gittaway” ses the shepherds. “Kings aalwes gits born iv pallises man, not hemmels. For-bye, thor’s nowt in theor but an aad cuw.”
“It’s reet enuff but gan an see for yorsells” ses the Angel.
But afore they cud git started, aall of a sudden, the whoal neet sky wes lit up wi’ thousands an thoosands uv Angels – aall fair singing thor heeds off man – hymns, carrols, glorias, an a sang aboot peace on orth tiv aall men. Man ye wud hev thowt Newcassel has won the cup.
An when they’d deun, thor waas deed hush, an the leet went oot just like a poower cut. An as seun as they cud heor thorsels think, yin o’ the shephord laddies ses - “Hey mebe it’s reet what the aad Angel sed, cos thor waddent hev put on a consort like that for nowt. Howay, we’ll gan away doonbye an’ hev a bit leuk.” So away they went tappy-lappy doon the lonnen.
Nuw when they cum doon inte the slack, they cud see a leet in the hemmel, so they crept up and had a bit keek thru the winda. An theor waas the little bairn, lyin asleep i’ the trow. An they gans roond ti the big door for a bit bettor leuk, an theor waas Joe and Mary, an the aad cuw and powney i’ the corner. Man they’d nivor seen out like it afore.
But reet away they knew it waas God’s bairn alrite, cos they cud see the little ring o’ lite roond his heed that’s caalled a halo, like Rubens and them paintor blokes made oot i’ thor pictors.
An they doffed thor caps and knelt doon i’ wondor an’ respect. An the little shephord laddie teuk the sheepskin off his showdors an lade it ower the bairn cos thor was some gay snell drafts whistling roond the add hemmel.
Then efor a while, they gans away heme ti thor breakfasts an they telt aall the folks what a neet it had been. Thor was sum that half believed them, but a canny few thowt they’d mebes had a sup ower much beor. It’s var nigh the same thing the day when ye try te tell folk the same owld story.
Published in Northumbriana 1977 ISBN 0308-4809
Robert Allen's farming and historical poems have been sourced from the Northumberland Language Society. Please contact the NLS as a source (www.northumbriana.org.uk/langsoc/) of more of these brilliant works, and for recordings. The copyright is held by Nigel and Georgina Hall - for enquiries email them on firstname.lastname@example.org.