Our Records: Christmas names

Christmas is a time for celebration, but for those who welcome a baby to their family on 25 December, it makes it even more special. Our registers of baptisms and births record the arrival of these babies – some with the surname ‘Christmas’, and also infants named after the day itself! A few people even chose to be married on Christmas Day.

From our surviving Old Parish Registers, it appears that no babies born in Scotland before 1855 were given ‘Christmas’ as a first or middle name. This was probably because after the Reformation in Scotland Christmas was an illicit and ‘Popish’ feast day. In 1575 the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland had abolished ‘all days that heretofore have been kept holy except the Sabbath day, such as Yule day, saints’ day and such others.’ Kirk sessions often scolded and punished revellers who took joy in the season. In 1574 a group of 14 women in St Nicholas Kirk session, Aberdeen, found this out to their cost when they were rebuked for ‘plaing, dansink, and singin off filthy karrells on youll day.’

In more recent times, giving a child a Christmas middle name became an acceptable way to commemorate the birth of a child on 25 December. William Fraser, a stationer, and his wife Ann Henry chose to do this when their daughter, Rose Christmas Fraser, was born in 1881 at 10 South Mount Street, Aberdeen.

Birth entry of Rose Christmas Fraser, 25 December 1881

Birth entry of Rose Christmas Fraser, 25 December 1881
National Records of Scotland, Statutory Register of Births, 1881, 168/2 54

Sergeant Sparks

The name ‘Christmas’ seems to have been a tradition for the Sparks family, who originated from Norfolk, England. Christmas William Sparks, Sergeant in the 78th Highlanders, was stationed at Edinburgh Castle when he married Isabella Clarke on 20 August 1860 at Castlehill. He was born in Norfolk, the son of another Christmas Sparks, a butler, and his wife, Maria Bishop.

Marriage entry of Christmas W Sparks and Isabella Clark, 20 August 1860

Marriage entry of Christmas W Sparks and Isabella Clark, 20 August 1860
National Records of Scotland, Statutory Register of Marriages, 1860, 685/4 218

The 1861 census records the couple as living in army quarters at Edinburgh Castle. In 1865, Christmas requested discharge from the army after 21 years of service, including 14 years in the East Indies, and a period at Aden (now Yemen). He earned two good conduct badges and for service in the Indian Mutiny he gained the campaign medal with two clasps.

After Christmas left the army he was living on his army pension in Church Street, Inverness in 1871, but by 1881, aged 53 years old, he was a Sergeant Instructor of Volunteers (the Highland Rifle Volunteers, according to the Post Office directory). One of their five children, George, married Jeanie Johnstone in 1897. Ten years later, they had a son, who they named John Christmas Sparks. Unfortunately, on 5 January 1917 John died of scarlet fever.

Birth entry of John Christmas Sparks, 11 December 1907

Birth entry of John Christmas Sparks, 11 December 1907
National Records of Scotland, Statutory Register of Births, 1907, 644/13 1460

Christmas surnames

The surname ‘Christmas’ is rare in Scotland and has been more common in England. The name 'Cristmas' appears in the Old Parish Registers for the Canongate in Edinburgh. Thomas Cristmas and his wife Jean Cristmas had two baby girls baptised:  Margaret Cristmas on 16 March 1667 and Elizabeth Cristmas on 23 November 1669.

Baptism entry of Elizabeth Cristmas, 23 November 1669

Baptism entry of Elizabeth Cristmas, 23 November 1669
National Records of Scotland, Old Parish Registers, 1669, 685/3 50 122

Thomas is recorded as being ‘trump[e]ter to the Earle Rothes Lord Chanc[el]lor of Scotland’. The Lord Chancellor was John Leslie, Earl of Rothes who had been awarded the title of Lord Chancellor for life in October 1667. Thomas would have attended the Chancellor's arrival at official and important events.

As in the Old Parish Registers, the surname ‘Christmas’ also appears occasionally in Scotland after the introduction of Statutory Registration in 1855. Only 44 babies have been born into ‘Christmas’ families in Scotland to the present day. One such baby was Albert Christmas, born on 5 November 1915 in Dundee, the son of Owen Albert Christmas, a Royal Navy stoker from Camberwell, Surrey, and Bella Fenton Graham.

Birth entry of Albert Christmas, 5 November 1915

Birth entry of Albert Christmas, 5 November 1915
National Records of Scotland, Statutory Register of Births, 1915, 282/3 569

Christmas - a holiday and wedding day

Hogmanay remained the focus of Scottish mid-winter festivities for centuries. Christmas was marked as a religious festival mainly by Episcopalians and Roman Catholics. At the start of Queen Victoria’s reign interest in Christmas celebrations began to spread north of the border, and families exchanged Christmas cards and gifts. However, Christmas was treated as a normal working day for most Scots until 1974, when Christmas Day, and Boxing Day on 26 December, were made public holidays.

As Christmas Day was still an ordinary working day for most adults, couples married on this day, too. This is reflected in our statutory registers. The marriage of Jean Christmas McCormack to Gilbert Reid is just one of those recorded. Jean was not only born on 25 December 1912, but 24 years later, she enjoyed double celebrations when she married Gilbert, a railway platelayer, on her birthday, Christmas Day, 1936.

Marriage entry of Jean Christmas Cairns McCormack and Gilbert Reid, 25 December 1936

Marriage entry of Jean Christmas Cairns McCormack and Gilbert Reid, 25 December 1936
National Records of Scotland, Statutory Register of Marriages, 1936, 479/ 311

 

Subscribe to Articles