Christmas Comes but Once a Year
Payments to Playwrights (Henslowe's Diary)
F. 117v (Greg I.184)
Lent vnto Thomas hewode & John webster } the 2 of novmber 1602 in earneste of a playe } called chyssmas comes bute one ayeare the } some of } iijli
F. 118 (Greg, I.185)
Lent vnto John dewcke the 23 of novmber 1602 } to paye vnto hareye chettell & thomas deckers } in parte of paymente of a playe called crysmas } comes but once a yeare the some of } xxxxs
pd at the a poyntment of Thomas hawode the } 26 of novmber 1602 … to harey chettell in } fulle paymente of a playe called cryssmas } comes but once a yeare the some of } xxxxs
Payments for Properties (Henslowe's Diary)
F. 118v (Greg, I. 186)
Layd owt for the companye the 9 of novmber } 1602 to by ij calleco sewtes & ij buckerom } sewtes for the playe of cryssmas comes but } once a yeare the some of } xxxviijs 8d Sowld vnto the company the 9 of desember } 1602 ij peces of cangable taffetie to macke } a womones gowne & a Robe some of } iiijli xs for the play of crysmas comes but once a year
"Christmas Comes but Once a Year" was written for Worcester's players while they were at the Rose, 1602-3; the purchase of apparel in December 1602 invites the conjecture that the play was in performance by February 1603. If so, its maiden run would have been disrupted by London playhouse closures due to the fatal illness of Queen Elizabeth in mid-March 1603 and further by the general raggedness of theatrical schedules later in the year due to the onset of plague.
Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues
The impetus behind the play is likely to have been the proverbial saying that is the title. Books of proverbs record the appearance of the phrase as early as 1573, in Five hundreth pointes of good Husbandrie ... by Thomas Tusser (Tusser). In Tusser, the phrase occurs in the following stanza of a holiday-themed verse:
- All Saints doe laie for porke and souse,
- for sprats and spurlings for their house.
- At Christmas play and make good cheere,
- for Christmas comes but once a yeere.
Five hundreth points of good Husbandrie began in 1557 as A Hundred Good Points of Husbandry; the Christmas proverb occurs in the 1573 expansion to five hundred points. Very popular, the book enjoyed reprintings every few years to 1604, then sporadically until 1692.
References to the Play
Fleay made no guesses about the content of Christmas Comes but Once a Year (BCED); Greg was equally silent, saying "Nothing is known of this piece" (II, #272).
Clark was bolder, suggesting that the play "may have been a Christmas show for the holiday season" (35). Observing that "Henslowe proved more lavish than usual" by expenditures for costumes, Clark posited that an entry immediately following the payment in earnest to Heywood and Webster on 2 November might also be for the Christmas play; that purchase was for "vj yardses of tynsell" at the cost of £3 (Greg I.184).
For What It's Worth
Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas at Little Rock; updated 28 March 2015.