“On Christmas Day It Happened So”


A farmer goes out to plow on Christmas day. Jesus meets him there and asks him what he is doing. The farmer nervously says that he needs to work. Obviously this is not acceptable; the farmer is swallowed up by the ground and his family dies

Supplemental text

On Christmas Day It Happened So
  Partial text(s)

          *** A ***

From Geoffrey Grigson, The Penguin Book of Ballads, #6, p. 29.
From Gillington's Songs of the Open Road; said to be from a Gypsy.

In Dessexshire as it befel
A farmer there as I knew well
On a Christmas day as it happened so
Down in the meadows he went to plough.

As he was ploughing on so fast
Our Savior Christ went by at last;
He said, O man, why dost thou plough
So hard as it do blow and slow?

(3 additional stanzas)


Yet another example of fine Christian charity. This one, fortunately, is apocryphal, with almost no parallel in scripture. There is one instance of the earth swallowing up people (Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, Numbers 16:28-32). The rest has no parallel at all, except a curious passage in the early but periphrastic Gospel manuscript Codex Bezae (D/05). After Luke 6:4 it adds, "That same day, seeing someone working on the Sabbath, [Jesus] said to him, 'Fellow, if you know what you are doing, you are blessed, but if you don't know, you are cursed and a transgressor of the law.'"

I wonder if this didn't somehow arise out of the Puritan movement. During the commonwealth era in England, it was declared that Christmas was a work day, and those NOT working on that day would be punished. This produced a great deal of resentment -- but the policy long continued; Dickens wrote "A Christmas Carol" partly in response to this.

Not all such stories are associated with Jesus himself. In Ireland, there is a field associated with the Irish St. Maeve. A ploughman once vowed he would plow the field despite its association with the saint. The ground is said to have swallowed horse, plough, and man, burying them in a depression still visible today. - RBW


  1. PBB 6, "In Dessexshire As It Befel" (1 text)
  2. ST PBB006 (Partial)
  3. Roud #1078
  4. BI, PBB006


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1911 (Gillington, Songs of the Open Road)
Found in: Britain(England(South))