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Christmas in Ritual and Tradition

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Erika Zimney
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« Reply #60 on: December 25, 2008, 11:21:06 pm »

p. 141 Late examples of French Christmas mysteries are the so-called “comedies” of the Nativity, Adoration of the Kings, Massacre of the Innocents, and Flight into Egypt contained in the “Marguerites” (published in 1547) of Marguerite, Queen of Navarre, sister of François I. Intermingled with the traditional figures treated more or less in the traditional way are personified abstractions like Philosophy, Tribulation, Inspiration, Divine Intelligence, and Contemplation, which largely rob the plays of dramatic effect. There is some true poetry in these pieces, but too much theological learning and too little simplicity, and in one place the ideas of Calvin seem to show themselves. 5-20

The French mystery began to fall into decay about the middle of the sixteenth century. It was attacked on every side: by the new poets of the Renaissance, who preferred classical to Christian subjects; by the Protestants, who deemed the religious drama a trifling with the solemn truths of Scripture; and even by the Catholic clergy, who, roused to greater strictness by the challenge of Protestantism, found the comic elements in the plays offensive and dangerous, and perhaps feared that too great familiarity with the Bible as represented in the mysteries might lead the people into heresy. 5-21 Yet we hear occasionally of Christmas dramas in France in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. In the neighbourhood of Nantes, for instance, a play of the Nativity by Claude Macée, hermit, probably written in the seventeenth century, was commonly performed in the first half of the nineteenth. 5-22 At Clermont the adoration of the shepherds was still performed in 1718, and some kind of representation of the scene continued in the diocese of Cambrai until 1834, when it was forbidden by the bishop. In the south, especially at Marseilles, “pastorals” were played towards the end of the nineteenth century; they had, however, largely lost their sacred character, and had become a kind of review of the events of the year. 5-23 At Dinan, in Brittany, some sort of Herod play was performed, though it was dying out, in 1886. It was acted by young men on the Epiphany, and there was an “innocent” whose throat they pretended to cut with a wooden sword. 5-24

p. 142 An interesting summary of a very full Nativity play performed in the churches of Upper Gascony on Christmas Eve is given by Countess Martinengo-Cesaresco. 5-25 It ranges from the arrival of Joseph and Mary at Bethlehem to the Flight into Egypt and the Murder of the Innocents, but perhaps the most interesting parts are the shepherd scenes. After the message of the angel—a child in a surplice, with wings fastened to his shoulders, seated on a chair drawn up to the ceiling and supported by ropes—the shepherds leave the church, the whole of which is now regarded as the stable of the Divine Birth. They knock for admittance, and Joseph, regretting that the chamber is “so badly lighted,” lets them in. They fall down before the manger, and so do the shepherdesses, who “deposit on the altar steps a banner covered with flowers and greenery, from which hang strings of small birds, apples, nuts, chestnuts, and other fruits. It is their Christmas offering to the curé; the shepherds have already placed a whole sheep before the altar, in a like spirit.” The play is not mere dumb-show, but has a full libretto.

A rather similar piece of dramatic ceremonial is described by Barthélemy in his edition of Durandus, 5-26 as customary in the eighteenth century at La Villeneuve-en-Chevrie, near Mantes. At the Midnight Mass a crèche with a wax figure of the Holy Child was placed in the choir, with tapers burning about it. After the “Te Deum” had been sung, the celebrant, accompanied by his attendants, censed the crèche, to the sound of violins, double-basses, and other instruments. A shepherd then prostrated himself before the crib, holding a sheep with a sort of little saddle bearing sixteen lighted candles. He was followed by two shepherdesses in white with distaffs and tapers. A second shepherd, between two shepherdesses, carried a laurel branch, to which were fastened oranges, lemons, biscuits, and sweetmeats. Two others brought great pains-bénits and lighted candles; then came four shepherdesses, who made their adoration, and lastly twenty-six more shepherds, two by two, bearing in one hand a candle and in the other a festooned crook. The same ceremonial was practised at the Offertory and after the close of the Mass. All was done, it is said, with such piety and edification that p. 143 St. Luke's words about the Bethlehem shepherds were true of these French swains—they “returned glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen.”

In German there remain very few Christmas plays earlier than the fifteenth century. Later periods, however, have produced a multitude, and dramatic performances at Christmas have continued down to quite modern times in German-speaking parts.

At Oberufer near Pressburg—a German Protestant village in Hungary—some fifty years ago, a Christmas play was performed under the direction of an old farmer, whose office as instructor had descended from father to son. The play took place at intervals of from three to ten years and was acted on all Sundays and festivals from Advent to the Epiphany. Great care was taken to ensure the strictest piety and morality in the actors, and no secular music was allowed in the place during the season for the performances. The practices began as early as October. On the first Sunday in Advent there was a solemn procession to the hall hired for the play. First went a man bearing a gigantic star—he was called the “Master Singer”—and another carrying a Christmas-tree decked with ribbons and apples; then came all the actors, singing hymns. There was no scenery and no theatrical apparatus beyond a straw-seated chair and a wooden stool. When the first was used, the scene was understood to be Jerusalem, when the second, Bethlehem. The Christmas drama, immediately preceded by an Adam and Eve play, and succeeded by a Shrove Tuesday one, followed mediaeval lines, and included the wanderings of Joseph and Mary round the inns of Bethlehem, the angelic tidings to the shepherds, their visit to the manger, the adoration of the Three Kings, and various Herod scenes. Protestant influence was shown by the introduction of Luther's “Vom Himmel hoch,” but the general character was very much that of the old mysteries, and the dialogue was full of quaint naïveté. 5-27

At Brixlegg, in Tyrol, as late as 1872 a long Christmas play was acted under Catholic auspices; some of its dialogue was in p. 144 the Tyrolese patois and racy and humorous, other parts, and particularly the speeches of Mary and Joseph—out of respect for these holy personages—had been rewritten in the eighteenth century in a very stilted and undramatic style. Some simple shepherd plays are said to be still presented in the churches of the Saxon Erzgebirge. 5-28

The German language is perhaps richer in real Christmas plays, as distinguished from Nativity and Epiphany episodes in great cosmic cycles, than any other. There are some examples in mediaeval manuscripts, but the most interesting are shorter pieces performed in country places in comparatively recent times, and probably largely traditional in substance. Christianity by the fourteenth century had at last gained a real hold upon the German people, or perhaps one should rather say the German people had laid a strong hold upon Christianity, moulding it into something very human and concrete, materialistic often, yet not without spiritual significance. In cradle-rocking and religious dancing at Christmas the instincts of a lusty, kindly race expressed themselves, and the same character is shown in the short popular Christmas dramas collected by Weinhold and others. 5-29 Many of the little pieces—some are rather duets than plays—were sung or acted in church or by the fireside in the nineteenth century, and perhaps even now may linger in remote places. They are in dialect, and the rusticity of their language harmonizes well with their naïve, homely sentiment. In them we behold the scenes of Bethlehem as realized by peasants, and their mixture of rough humour and tender feeling is thoroughly in keeping with the subject.

One is made to feel very vividly the amazement of the shepherds at the wondrous and sudden apparition of the angels:—

“Riepl. Woas is das für a Getümmel,

I versteh mi nit in d'Welt.

Jörgl. Is den heunt eingfalln der Himmel,

Fleugn d'Engeln auf unserm Feld?

R. Thuen Sprüng macha

J. Von oben acha!p. 145

R. I turft das Ding nit noacha thoan,

that mir brechn Hals und Boan.” 74 5-30

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Erika Zimney
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« Reply #61 on: December 25, 2008, 11:21:49 pm »

The cold is keenly brought home to us when they come to the manger:—

“J. Mei Kind, kanst kei Herberg finden?

Muest so viel Frost leiden schoan.

R. Ligst du under kalden Windeln!

Lägts ihm doch a Gwandl oan!

J. Machts ihm d'Füess ein,

Hüllts in zue fein!” 75 5-31

Very homely are their presents to the Child:—

“Ein drei Eier und ein Butter

Bringen wir auch, nemt es an!

Einen Han zu einer Suppen,

Wanns die Mutter kochen kann.

Giessts ein Schmalz drein, wirds wol guet sein.

Weil wir sonsten gar nix han,

Sind wir selber arme Hirten,

Nemts den guten Willen an.” 76 5-32

One of the dialogues ends with a curious piece of ordinary human kindliness, as if the Divine nature of the Infant were quite forgotten for the moment:—

“J. Bleib halt fein gsund, mein kloans Liebl,

Wannst woas brauchst, so komm ze mir.

*       *       *       *       *

J. Pfüet di Gôt halt!p. 146

R. Wär fein gross bald!

J. Kannst in mein Dienst stehen ein,

Wann darzu wirst gross gnue sein.” 77 5-33

Far more interesting in their realism and naturalness are these little plays of the common folk than the elaborate Christmas dramas of more learned German writers, Catholic and Lutheran, who in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries became increasingly stilted and bombastic.

The Italian religious drama 5-34 evolved somewhat differently from that of the northern countries. The later thirteenth century saw the outbreak of the fanaticism of the Flagellants or Battuti, vast crowds of people of all classes who went in procession from church to church, from city to city, scourging their naked bodies in terror and repentance till the blood flowed. When the wild enthusiasm of this movement subsided it left enduring traces in the foundation of lay communities throughout the land, continuing in a more sober way the penitential practices of the Flagellants. One of their aids to devotion was the singing or reciting of vernacular poetry, less formal than the Latin hymns of the liturgy, and known as laude. 78 These laude developed a more or less dramatic form, which gained the name of divozioni. 79 They were, perhaps (though not certainly, for there seems to have been another tradition derived from the regular liturgical drama), the source from which sprang the gorgeously produced sacre rappresentazioni of the fifteenth century.

The sacre rappresentazioni corresponded, though with considerable differences, to the miracle-plays of England and France. Their great period was the fifty years from 1470 to 1520, and p. 147 they were performed, like the divozioni, by confraternities of religious laymen. The actors were boys belonging to the brotherhoods, and the plays were intended to be edifying for youth. They are more refined than the northern religious dramas, but only too often fall into insipidity.

Among the texts given by D'Ancona in his collection of sacre rappresentazioni is a Tuscan “Natività,” 5-36 opening with a pastoral scene resembling those in the northern mysteries, but far less vigorous. It cannot compare, for character and humour, with the Towneley plays. Still the shepherds, whose names are Bobi del Farucchio, Nencio di Pucchio, Randello, Nencietto, Giordano, and Falconcello, are at least meant to have a certain rusticity, as they feast on bread and cheese and wine, play to the Saviour on bagpipe or whistle, and offer humble presents like apples and cheese. The scenes which follow, the coming of the Magi and the Murder of the Innocents, are not intrinsically of great interest.

It is possible that this play may have been the spectacle performed in Florence in 1466, as recorded by Machiavelli, “to give men something to take away their thoughts from affairs of state.” It “represented the coming of the three Magi Kings from the East, following the star which showed the Nativity of Christ, and it was of so great pomp and magnificence that it kept the whole city busy for several months in arranging and preparing it.” 5-37

An earlier record of an Italian pageant of the Magi is this account by the chronicler Galvano Flamma of what took place at Milan in 1336:—

“There were three kings crowned, on great horses, ... and an exceeding great train. And there was a golden star running through the air, which went before these three kings, and they came to the columns of San Lorenzo, where was King Herod in effigy, with the scribes and wise men. And they were seen to ask King Herod where Christ was born, and having turned over many books they answered, that He should be born in the city of David distant five miles from Jerusalem. And having heard this, those three kings, crowned with golden crowns, holding in their hands golden cups with gold, incense, p. 148 and myrrh, came to the church of Sant’ Eustorgio, the star preceding them through the air, ... and a wonderful train, with resounding trumpets and horns going before them, with apes, baboons, and diverse kinds of animals, and a marvellous tumult of people. There at the side of the high altar was a manger with ox and ass, and in the manger was the little Christ in the arms of the Virgin Mother. And those kings offered gifts unto Christ; then they were seen to sleep, and a winged angel said to them that they should not return by the region of San Lorenzo but by the Porta Romana; which also was done. There was so great a concourse of the people and soldiers and ladies and clerics that scarce anything like it was ever beheld. And it was ordered that every year this festal show should be performed.” 5-38

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Erika Zimney
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« Reply #62 on: December 25, 2008, 11:22:25 pm »

How suggestive this is of the Magi pictures of the fifteenth century, with their gorgeous eastern monarchs and retinues of countless servants and strange animals. No other story in the New Testament gives such opportunity for pageantry as the Magi scene. All the wonder, richness, and romance of the East, all the splendour of western Renaissance princes could lawfully be introduced into the train of the Three Kings. With Gentile da Fabriano and Benozzo Gozzoli it has become a magnificent procession; there are trumpeters, pages, jesters, dwarfs, exotic beasts—all the motley, gorgeous retinue of the monarchs of the time, while the kings themselves are romantic figures in richest attire, velvet, brocade, wrought gold, and jewels. It may be that much of this splendour was suggested to the painters by dramatic spectacles which actually passed before their eyes.

I have already alluded to the Spanish “Mystery of the Magi Kings,” a mere fragment, but of peculiar interest to the historian of the drama as one of the two earliest religious plays in a modern European language. Though plays are known to have been performed in Spain at Christmas and Easter in the Middle Ages, 5-39 we have no further texts until the very short “Representation of the Birth of Our Lord,” by Gómez Manrique, Señor de Villazopeque (1412-91), acted at the convent at Calabazanos, of which the author's sister was Superior. The characters p. 149 introduced are the Virgin, St. Joseph, St. Gabriel, St. Michael, St. Raphael, another angel, and three shepherds. 5-40

Touched by the spirit of the Renaissance, and particularly by the influence of Virgil, is Juan del Encina of Salamanca (1469-1534), court poet to the Duke of Alba, and author of two Christmas eclogues. 5-41 The first introduces four shepherds who bear the names of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and are curiously mixed personages, their words being half what might be expected from the shepherds of Bethlehem and half sayings proper only to the authors of the Gospels. It ends with a villancico or carol. The second eclogue is far more realistic, and indeed resembles the English and French pastoral scenes. The shepherds grumble about the weather—it has been raining for two months, the floods are terrible, and no fords or bridges are left; they talk of the death of a sacristan, a fine singer; and they play a game with chestnuts; then comes the angel—whom one of them calls a “smartly dressed lad” (garzon repìcado)—to tell them of the Birth, and they go to adore the Child, taking Him a kid, butter-cakes, eggs, and other presents.

Infinitely more ambitious is “The Birth of Christ” 5-42 by the great Lope de Vega (1562-1635). It opens in Paradise, immediately after the Creation, and ends with the adoration of the Three Kings. Full of allegorical conceits and personified qualities, it will hardly please the taste of modern minds. Another work of Lope's, “The Shepherds of Bethlehem,” a long pastoral in prose and verse, published in 1612, contains, amid many incongruities, some of the best of his shorter poems; one lullaby, sung by the Virgin in a palm-grove while her Child sleeps, has been thus translated by Ticknor:—

“Holy angels and blest,

Through these palms as ye sweep,

Hold their branches at rest,

For my babe is asleep.

And ye Bethlehem palm-trees,

As stormy winds rushp. 150

In tempest and fury,

Your angry noise hush;

Move gently, move gently,

Restrain your wild sweep;

Hold your branches at rest,

My babe is asleep.

My babe all divine,

With earth's sorrows oppressed,

Seeks in slumber an instant

His grievings to rest;

He slumbers, he slumbers,

O, hush, then, and keep

Your branches all still,

My babe is asleep!” 5-43

Apart from such modern revivals of the Christmas drama as Mr. Laurence Housman's “Bethlehem,” Miss Buckton's “Eager Heart,” Mrs. Percy Dearmer's “The Soul of the World,” and similar experiments in Germany and France, a genuine tradition has lingered on in some parts of Europe into modern times. We have already noticed some French and German instances; to these may be added a few from other countries.

In Naples there is no Christmas without the “Cantata dei pastori”; it is looked forward to no less than the Midnight Mass. Two or three theatres compete for the public favour in the performance of this play in rude verse. It begins with Adam and Eve and ends with the birth of Jesus and the adoration of the shepherds. Many devils are brought on the stage, their arms and legs laden with brass chains that rattle horribly. Awful are their names, Lucifero, Satanasso, Belfegor, Belzebù, &c. They not only tempt Adam and Eve, but annoy the Virgin and St. Joseph, until an angel comes and frightens them away. Two non-Biblical figures are introduced, Razzullo and Sarchiapone, who are tempted by devils and aided by angels. 5-44 In Sicily too the Christmas play still lingers under the name of Pastorale. 5-45

p. 151 A nineteenth-century Spanish survival of the “Stella” is described in Fernan Caballero's sketch, “La Noche de Navidad.” 5-46 At the foot of the altar of the village church, according to this account, images of the Virgin and St. Joseph were placed, with the Holy Child between them, lying on straw. On either side knelt a small boy dressed as an angel. Solemnly there entered the church a number of men attired as shepherds, bearing their offerings to the Child; afterwards they danced with slow and dignified movements before the altar. The shepherds were followed by the richest men of the village dressed as the Magi Kings, mounted on horseback, and followed by their train. Before them went a shining star. On reaching the church they dismounted; the first, representing a majestic old man with white hair, offered incense to the Babe; the others, Caspar and Melchior, myrrh and gold respectively. This was done on the feast of the Epiphany.

A remnant possibly of the “Stella” is to be found in a Christmas custom extremely widespread in Europe and surviving even in some Protestant lands—the carrying about of a star in memory of the Star of Bethlehem. It is generally borne by a company of boys, who sing some sort of carol, and expect a gift in return.

The practice is—or was—found as far north as Sweden. All through the Christmas season the “star youths” go about from house to house. Three are dressed up as the Magi Kings, a fourth carries on a stick a paper lantern in the form of a six-pointed star, made to revolve and lighted by candles. There are also a Judas, who bears the purse for the collection, and, occasionally, a King Herod. A doggerel rhyme is sung, telling the story of the Nativity and offering good wishes. 5-47 In Norway and Denmark processions of a like character were formerly known. 5-48

In Normandy at Christmas children used to go singing through the village streets, carrying a lantern of coloured paper on a long osier rod. 5-49 At Pleudihen in Brittany three young men representing the Magi sang carols in the cottages, dressed in their holiday clothes covered with ribbons. 5-50

p. 152 In England there appears to be no trace of the custom, which is however found in Germany, Austria, Holland, Italy, Bohemia, Roumania, Poland, and Russia. 5-51

In Thuringia a curious carol used to be sung, telling how Herod tried to tempt the Wise Men—

“‘Oh, good Wise Men, come in and dine;

I will give you both beer and wine,

And hay and straw to make your bed,

And nought of payment shall be said.’”

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Erika Zimney
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« Reply #63 on: December 25, 2008, 11:23:01 pm »

But they answer:—

“‘Oh, no! oh, no! we must away,

We seek a little Child to-day,

A little Child, a mighty King,

Him who created everything.’” 5-52

In Tyrol the “star-singing” is very much alive at the present day. In the Upper Innthal three boys in white robes, with blackened faces and gold paper crowns, go to every house on Epiphany Eve, one of them carrying a golden star on a pole. They sing a carol, half religious, half comic—almost a little drama—and are given money, cake, and drink. In the Ilsethal the boys come on Christmas Eve, and presents are given them by well-to-do people. In some parts there is but one singer, an old man with a white beard and a turban, who twirls a revolving star. A remarkable point about the Tyrolese star-singers is that before anything is given them they are told to stamp on the snowy fields outside the houses, in order to promote the growth of the crops in summer. 5-53

In Little Russia the “star” is made of pasteboard and has a transparent centre with a picture of Christ through which the light of a candle shines. One boy carries the star and another twirls the points. 5-54 In Roumania it is made of wood and adorned with frills and little bells. A representation of the “manger,” illuminated from behind, forms the centre, and the star also shows pictures of Adam and Eve and angels. 5-55

p. 153 A curious traditional drama, in which pagan elements seem to have mingled with the Herod story, is still performed by the Roumanians during the Christmas festival. It is called in Wallachia “Vicleim” (from Bethlehem), in Moldavia and Transylvania “Irozi” (plural from Irod = Herod). At least ten persons figure in it: “Emperor” Herod, an old grumbling monarch who speaks in harsh tones to his followers; an officer and two soldiers in Roman attire; the three Magi, in Oriental garb, a child, and “two comical figures—the paiaţa (the clown) and the moşul, or old man, the former in harlequin accoutrement, the latter with a mask on his face, a long beard, a hunch on his back, and dressed in a sheepskin with the wool on the outside. The plot of the play is quite simple. The officer brings the news that three strange men have been caught, going to Bethlehem to adore the new-born Messiah; Herod orders them to be shown in: they enter singing in a choir. Long dialogues ensue between them and Herod, who at last orders them to be taken to prison. But then they address the Heavenly Father, and shout imprecations on Herod, invoking celestial punishment on him, at which unaccountable noises are heard, seeming to announce the fulfilment of the curse. Herod falters, begs the Wise Men's forgiveness, putting off his anger till more opportune times. The Wise Men retire.... Then a child is introduced, who goes on his knees before Herod, with his hands on his breast, asking pity. He gives clever answers to various questions and foretells the Christ's future career, at which Herod stabs him. The whole troupe now strikes up a tune of reproach to Herod, who falls on his knees in deep repentance.” The play is sometimes performed by puppets instead of living actors. 5-56

Christmas plays performed by puppets are found in other countries too. In Poland “during the week between Christmas and New Year is shown the Jaselki or manger, a travelling series of scenes from the life of Christ or even of modern peasants, a small travelling puppet-theatre, gorgeous with tinsel and candles, and something like our ‘Punch and Judy’ show. The market-place of Cracow, especially at night, is a very pretty spectacle, its sidewalks all lined with these glittering Jaselki.” 5-57 In Madrid p. 154 at the Epiphany a puppet-play was common, in which the events of the Nativity and the Infancy were mimed by wooden figures, 5-58 and in Provence, in the mid-nineteenth century, the Christmas scenes were represented in the same way. 5-59

Last may be mentioned a curious Mexican mixture of religion and amusement, a sort of drama called the “Posadas,” described by Madame Calderon de la Barca in her “Life in Mexico” (1843). 5-60 The custom was based upon the wanderings of the Virgin and St. Joseph in Bethlehem in search of repose. For eight days these wanderings of the holy pair to the different posadas were represented. On Christmas Eve, says the narrator, “a lighted candle was put into the hand of each lady [this was at a sort of party], and a procession was formed, two by two, which marched all through the house ... the whole party singing the Litanies.... A group of little children, dressed as angels, joined the procession.... At last the procession drew up before a door, and a shower of fireworks was sent flying over our heads, I suppose to represent the descent of the angels; for a group of ladies appeared, dressed to represent the shepherds.... Then voices, supposed to be those of Mary and Joseph, struck up a hymn, in which they begged for admittance, saying that the night was cold and dark, that the wind blew hard, and that they prayed for a night's shelter. A chorus of voices from within refused admittance. Again those without entreated shelter, and at length declared that she at the door, who thus wandered in the night, and had not where to lay her head, was the Queen of Heaven! At this name the doors were thrown wide open, and the Holy Family entered singing. The scene within was very pretty: a nacimiento.... One of the angels held a waxen baby in her arms.... A padre took the baby from the angel and placed it in the cradle, and the posada was completed. We then returned to the drawing-room—angels, shepherds, and all, and danced till supper-time.” 5-60 Here the religious drama has sunk to little more than a “Society” game.

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Erika Zimney
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« Reply #64 on: December 25, 2008, 11:23:48 pm »


(Berlin: Kaiser Friedrich Museum)

p. 155


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« Reply #65 on: December 25, 2008, 11:24:28 pm »


Before we pass on to the pagan aspects of Christmas, let us gather up our thoughts in an attempt to realize the peculiar appeal of the Feast of the Nativity, as it has been felt in the past, as it is felt to-day even by moderns who have no belief in the historical truth of the story it commemorates.

This appeal of Christmas seems to lie in the union of two modes of feeling which may be called the carol spirit and the mystical spirit. The carol spirit—by this we may understand the simple, human joyousness, the tender and graceful imagination, the kindly, intimate affection, which have gathered round the cradle of the Christ Child. The folk-tune, the secular song adapted to a sacred theme—such is the carol. What a sense of kindliness, not of sentimentality, but of genuine human feeling, these old songs give us, as though the folk who first sang them were more truly comrades, more closely knit together than we under modern industrialism.

One element in the carol spirit is the rustic note that finds its sanction as regards Christmas in St. Luke's story of the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. One thinks of the stillness over the fields, of the hinds with their rough talk, “simply chatting in a rustic row,” of the keen air, and the great burst of light and song that dazes their simple wits, of their journey to Bethlehem where “the heaven-born Child all meanly wrapt in the rude manger lies,” of the ox and ass linking the beasts of the field to the Christmas adoration of mankind. 80

For many people, indeed, the charm of Christmas is inseparably associated with the country; it is lost in London—the city is too vast, too modern, too sophisticated. It is bound up with the thought of frosty fields, of bells heard far away, of bare trees p. 156 against the starlit sky, of carols sung not by trained choirs but by rustic folk with rough accent, irregular time, and tunes learnt by ear and not by book.

Again, without the idea of winter half the charm of Christmas would be gone. Transplanted in the imagination of western Christendom from an undefined season in the hot East to Europe at midwinter, the Nativity scenes have taken on a new pathos with the thought of the bitter cold to which the great Little One lay exposed in the rough stable, with the contrast between the cold and darkness of the night and the fire of love veiled beneath that infant form. Lux in tenebris is one of the strongest notes of Christmas: in the bleak midwinter a light shines through the darkness; when all is cold and gloom, the sky bursts into splendour, and in the dark cave is born the Light of the World.

There is the idea of royalty too, with all it stands for of colour and magnificence, though not so much in literature as in painting is this side of the Christmas story represented. The Epiphany is the great opportunity for imaginative development of the regal idea. Then is seen the union of utter poverty with highest kingship; the monarchs of the East come to bow before the humble Infant for whom the world has found no room in the inn. How suggestive by their long, slow syllables are the Italian names of the Magi. Gasparre, Baldassarre, Melchiorre—we picture Oriental monarchs in robes mysteriously gorgeous, wrought with strange patterns, heavy with gold and precious stones. With slow processional motion they advance, bearing to the King of Kings their symbolic gifts, gold for His crowning, incense for His worship, myrrh for His mortality, and with them come the mystery, colour, and perfume of the East, the occult wisdom which bows itself before the revelation in the Child.

Above all, as the foregoing pages have shown, it is the childhood of the Redeemer that has won the heart of Europe for Christmas; it is the appeal to the parental instinct, the love for the tender, weak, helpless, yet all-potential babe, that has given the Church's festival its strongest hold. And this side of Christmas is penetrated often by the mystical spirit—that sense of the Infinite in the finite without which the highest human life is impossible.

p. 157 The feeling for Christmas varies from mere delight in the Christ Child as a representative symbol on which to lavish affection, as a child delights in a doll, to the mystical philosophy of Eckhart, in whose Christmas sermons the Nativity is viewed as a type of the Birth of God in the depths of man's being. Yet even the least spiritual forms of the cult of the Child are seldom without some hint of the supersensual, the Infinite, and even in Eckhart there is a love of concrete symbolism. Christmas stands peculiarly for the sacramental principle that the outward and visible is a sign and shadow of the inward and spiritual. It means the seeing of common, earthly things shot through by the glory of the Infinite. “Its note,” as has been said of a stage of the mystic consciousness, the Illuminative Way, “is sacramental not ascetic. It entails ... the discovery of the Perfect One ablaze in the Many, not the forsaking of the Many in order to find the One ... an ineffable radiance, a beauty and a reality never before suspected, are perceived by a sort of clairvoyance shining in the meanest things.” 6-1 Christmas is the festival of the Divine Immanence, and it is natural that it should have been beloved by the saint and mystic whose life was the supreme manifestation of the Via Illuminativa, Francis of Assisi.

Christmas is the most human and lovable of the Church's feasts. Easter and Ascensiontide speak of the rising and exaltation of a glorious being, clothed in a spiritual body refined beyond all comparison with our natural flesh; Whitsuntide tells of the coming of a mysterious, intangible Power—like the wind, we cannot tell whence It cometh and whither It goeth; Trinity offers for contemplation an ineffable paradox of Pure Being. But the God of Christmas is no ethereal form, no mere spiritual essence, but a very human child, feeling the cold and the roughness of the straw, needing to be warmed and fed and cherished. Christmas is the festival of the natural body, of this world; it means the consecration of the ordinary things of life, affection and comradeship, eating and drinking and merrymaking; and in some degree the memory of the Incarnation has been able to blend with the pagan joyance of the New Year.

p. 158 p. 159


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« Reply #66 on: December 25, 2008, 11:25:54 pm »

Part II—Pagan Survivals
p. 160 p. 161


The Church and Superstition—Nature of Pagan Survivals—Racial Origins—Roman Festivals of the Saturnalia and Kalends—Was there a Teutonic Midwinter Festival?—The Teutonic, Celtic, and Slav New Year—Customs attracted to Christmas or January 1—The Winter Cycle of Festivals—Rationale of Festival Ritual: (a) Sacrifice and Sacrament, (b) the Cult of the Dead, (c) Omens and Charms for the New Year—Compromise in the Later Middle Ages—The Puritans and Christmas—Decay of Old Traditions.

Click to enlarge


An Asiatic example of animal masks.

We have now to leave the commemoration of the Nativity of Christ, and to turn to the other side of Christmas—its many traditional observances which, though sometimes coloured by Christianity, have nothing to do with the Birth of the Redeemer. This class of customs has often, especially in the first millennium of our era, been the object of condemnations by ecclesiastics, and represents the old paganism which Christianity failed to extinguish. The Church has played a double part, a part of sheer antagonism, forcing heathen customs into the shade, into a more or less surreptitious and unprogressive life, and a part of adaptation, baptizing them into Christ, giving them a Christian name and interpretation, and often modifying their form. The general effect of Christianity upon pagan usages is well suggested by Dr. Karl Pearson:—

“What the missionary could he repressed, the more as his church grew in strength; what he could not repress he adopted or simply left unregarded.... What the missionary tried to repress became mediaeval witchcraft; what he judiciously disregarded survives to this p. 162 day in peasant weddings and in the folk-festivals at the great changes of season.” 7-1

We find then many pagan practices concealed beneath a superficial Christianity—often under the mantle of some saint—but side by side with these are many usages never Christianized even in appearance, and obviously identical with heathen customs against which the Church thundered in the days of her youth. Grown old and tolerant—except of novelties—she has long since ceased to attack them, and they have themselves mostly lost all definite religious meaning. As the old pagan faith decayed, they tended to become in a literal sense “superstition,” something standing over, like shells from which the living occupant has gone. They are now often mere “survivals” in the technical folk-lore sense, pieces of custom separated from the beliefs that once gave them meaning, performed only because in a vague sort of way they are supposed to bring good luck. In many cases those who practise them would be quite unable to explain how or why they work for good.

Mental inertia, the instinct to do and believe what has always been done and believed, has sometimes preserved the animating faith as well as the external form of these practices, but often all serious significance has departed. What was once religious or magical ritual, upon the due observance of which the welfare of the community was believed to depend, has become mere pageantry and amusement, often a mere children's game. 7-2

Sometimes the spirit of a later age has worked upon these pagan customs, revivifying and transforming them, giving them charm. Often, however, one does not find in them the poetry, the warm humanity, the humour, which mark the creations of popular Catholicism. They are fossils and their interest is that of the fossil: they are records of a vanished world and help us to an imaginative reconstruction of it. But further, just as on a stratum of rock rich in fossils there may be fair meadows and gardens and groves, depending for their life on the denudation of the rock beneath, so have these ancient religious products largely supplied the soil in which more spiritual and more p. 163 beautiful things have flourished. Amid these, as has been well said, “they still emerge, unchanged and unchanging, like the quaint outcrops of some ancient rock formation amid rich vegetation and fragrant flowers.” 7-3

The survivals of pagan religion at Christian festivals relate not so much to the worship of definite divinities—against this the missionaries made their most determined efforts, and the names of the old gods have practically disappeared—as to cults which preceded the development of anthropomorphic gods with names and attributes. These cults, paid to less personally conceived spirits, were of older standing and no doubt had deeper roots in the popular mind. Fundamentally associated with agricultural and pastoral life, they have in many cases been preserved by the most conservative element in the population, the peasantry.

Many of the customs we shall meet with are magical, rather than religious in the proper sense; they are not directed to the conciliation of spiritual beings, but spring from primitive man's belief “that in order to produce the great phenomena of nature on which his life depended he had only to imitate them.” 7-4 Even when they have a definitely religious character, and are connected with some spirit, magical elements are often found in them.

Before we consider these customs in detail it will be necessary to survey the pagan festivals briefly alluded to in  I, to note the various ideas and practices that characterized them, and to study the attitude of the Church towards survivals of such practices while the conversion of Europe was in progress, and also during the Middle Ages.

The development of religious custom and belief in Europe is a matter of such vast complexity that I cannot in a book of this kind attempt more than the roughest outline of the probable origins of the observances, purely pagan or half-Christianized, clustering round Christmas. It is difficult, in the present state of knowledge, to discern clearly the contributions of different peoples to the traditional customs of Europe, and even, in many cases, to say whether a given custom is “Aryan” or pre-Aryan. The proportion of the Aryan military aristocracy to the peoples whom they conquered was not uniform in all countries, and p. 164 probably was often small. While the families of the conquerors succeeded in imposing their languages, it by no means necessarily follows that the folk-practices of countries now Aryan in speech came entirely or even chiefly from Aryan sources. Religious tradition has a marvellous power of persistence, and it must be remembered that the lands conquered by men of Aryan speech had been previously occupied for immense periods. 7-5 Similarly, in countries like our own, which have been successively invaded by Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Danes, and Normans, it is often extraordinarily hard to say even to what national source a given custom should be assigned.

It is but tentatively and with uncertain hands that scholars are trying to separate the racial strains in the folk-traditions of Europe, and here I can hardly do more than point out three formative elements in Christian customs: the ecclesiastical, the classical (Greek and Roman), and the barbarian, taking the last broadly and without a minute racial analysis. So far, indeed, as ritual, apart from mythology, is concerned, there seems to be a broad common ground of tradition among the Aryan-speaking peoples. How far this is due to a common derivation we need not here attempt to decide. The folk-lore of the whole world, it is to be noted, “reveals for the same stages of civilization a wonderful uniformity and homogeneity.... This uniformity is not, however, due to necessary uniformity of origin, but to a great extent to the fact that it represents the state of equilibrium arrived at between minds at a certain level and their environment.” 7-6

The scientific study of primitive religion is still almost in its infancy, and a large amount of conjecture must necessarily enter into any explanations of popular ritual that can be offered. In attempting to account for Christmas customs we must be mindful, therefore, of the tentative nature of the theories put forward. Again, it is important to remember that ritual practices are far more enduring than the explanations given to them. “The antique religions,” to quote the words of Robertson Smith, “had for the most part no creed; they consisted entirely of institutions and practices ... as a rule we find that while the practice was p. 165 rigorously fixed, the meaning attached to it was extremely vague, and the same rite was explained by different people in different ways.” 7-7

Thus if we can arrive at the significance of a rite at a given period, it by no means follows that those who began it meant the same thing. At the time of the conflict of the heathen religions with Christianity elaborate structures of mythology had grown up around their traditional ceremonial, assigning to it meanings that had often little to do with its original purpose. Often, too, when the purpose was changed, new ceremonies were added, so that a rite may look very unlike what it was at first.

With these cautions and reservations we must now try to trace the connection between present-day or recent goings-on about Christmas-time and the festival practices of pre-Christian Europe.

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« Reply #67 on: December 25, 2008, 11:27:22 pm »

Christmas, as we saw in  I, has taken the date of the Natalis Invicti. We need not linger over this feast, for it was not attended by folk-customs, and there is nothing to connect it with modern survivals. The Roman festivals that really count for our present purpose are the Kalends of January and, probably, the Saturnalia. The influence of the Kalends is strongest naturally in the Latin countries, but is found also all over Europe. The influence of the Saturnalia is less certain; the festival is not mentioned in ecclesiastical condemnations after the institution of Christmas, and possibly its popularity was not so widespread as that of the Kalends. There are, however, some curiously interesting Christmas parallels to its usages.

The strictly religious feast of the Saturnalia 7-8 was held on December 17, but the festal customs were kept up for seven days, thus lasting until the day before our Christmas Eve. Among them was a fair called the sigillariorum celebritas, for the sale of little images of clay or paste which were given away as presents. 81 Candles seem also to have been given away, perhaps p. 166 as symbols of, or even charms to ensure, the return of the sun's power after the solstice. The most remarkable and typical feature, however, of the Saturnalia was the mingling of all classes in a common jollity. Something of the character of the celebration (in a Hellenized form) may be gathered from the “Cronia” or “Saturnalia” of Lucian, a dialogue between Cronus or Saturn and his priest. We learn from it that the festivities were marked by “drinking and being drunk, noise and games and dice, appointing of kings and feasting of slaves, singing naked, clapping of tremulous hands, an occasional ducking of corked faces in icy water,” and that slaves had licence to revile their lords. 7-9

The spirit of the season may be judged from the legislation which Lucian attributes to Cronosolon, priest and prophet of Cronus, much as a modern writer might make Father Christmas or Santa Klaus lay down rules for the due observance of Yule. Here are some of the laws:—

“All business, be it public or private, is forbidden during the feast days, save such as tends to sport and solace and delight. Let none follow their avocations saving cooks and bakers.

All men shall be equal, slave and free, rich and poor, one with another.

Anger, resentment, threats, are contrary to law.

No discourse shall be either composed or delivered, except it be witty and lusty, conducing to mirth and jollity. ”

There follow directions as to the sending of presents of money, clothing, or vessels, by rich men to poor friends, and as to poor men's gifts in return. If the poor man have learning, his return gift is to be “an ancient book, but of good omen and festive humour, or a writing of his own after his ability.... For the unlearned, let him send a garland or grains of frankincense.” The “Cronosolon” closes with “Laws of the Board,” of which the following are a few:—

“Every man shall take place as chance may direct; dignities and birth and wealth shall give no precedence.p. 167

All shall be served with the same wine.... Every man's portion of meat shall be alike.

When the rich man shall feast his slaves, let his friends serve with him. ” 7-11

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« Reply #68 on: December 25, 2008, 11:28:43 pm »

Over the whole festival brooded the thought of a golden age in the distant past, when Saturn ruled, a just and kindly monarch, when all men were good and all men were happy.

A striking feature of the Saturnalia was the choosing by lot of a mock king, to preside over the revels. His word was law, and he was able to lay ridiculous commands upon the guests; “one,” says Lucian, “must shout out a libel on himself, another dance naked, or pick up the flute-girl and carry her thrice round the house.” 7-12 This king may have been originally the representative of the god Saturn himself. In the days of the classical writers he is a mere “Lord of Misrule,” but Dr. Frazer has propounded the very interesting theory that this time of privilege and gaiety was once but the prelude to a grim sacrifice in which he had to die in the character of the god, giving his life for the world. 7-13 Dr. Frazer's theory, dependent for its evidence upon the narrative of the martyrdom of a fourth-century saint, Dasius by name, has been keenly criticized by Dr. Warde Fowler. He holds that there is nothing whatever to show that the “Saturn” who in the fourth century, according to the story, was sacrificed by soldiers on the Danube, had anything to do with the customs of ancient Rome. 7-14 Still, in whatever way the king of the Saturnalia may be explained, it is interesting to note his existence and compare him with the merry monarchs whom we shall meet at Christmas and Twelfth Night.

How far the Saturnalian customs in general were of old Latin origin it is difficult to say; the name Saturnus (connected with the root of serere, to sow) and the date point to a real Roman festival of the sowing of the crops, but this was heavily overlaid with Greek ideas and practice. 7-15 It is especially important to bear this in mind in considering Lucian's statements.

The same is true of the festival of the January Kalends, a few days after the Saturnalia. On January 1, the Roman New p. 168 Year's Day, the new consuls were inducted into office, and for at least three days high festival was kept. The houses were decorated with lights and greenery—these, we shall find, may be partly responsible for the modern Christmas-tree. As at the Saturnalia masters drank and gambled with slaves. Vota, or solemn wishes of prosperity for the Emperor during the New Year, were customary, and the people and the Senate were even expected to present gifts of money to him. The Emperor Caligula excited much disgust by publishing an edict requiring these gifts and by standing in the porch of his palace to receive them in person. Such gifts, not only presented to the Emperor, but frequently exchanged between private persons, were called strenae, a name still surviving in the French étrennes (New Year's presents). 7-16

An interesting and very full account of the Kalends celebrations is given in two discourses of Libanius, the famous Greek sophist of the fourth century:—

“The festival of the Kalends,” he says, “is celebrated everywhere as far as the limits of the Roman Empire extend.... Everywhere may be seen carousals and well-laden tables; luxurious abundance is found in the houses of the rich, but also in the houses of the poor better food than usual is put upon the table. The impulse to spend seizes everyone. He who the whole year through has taken pleasure in saving and piling up his pence, becomes suddenly extravagant. He who erstwhile was accustomed and preferred to live poorly, now at this feast enjoys himself as much as his means will allow.... People are not only generous towards themselves, but also towards their fellow-men. A stream of presents pours itself out on all sides.... The highroads and footpaths are covered with whole processions of laden men and beasts.... As the thousand flowers which burst forth everywhere are the adornment of Spring, so are the thousand presents poured out on all sides, the decoration of the Kalends feast. It may justly be said that it is the fairest time of the year.... The Kalends festival banishes all that is connected with toil, and allows men to give themselves up to undisturbed enjoyment. From the minds of young people it removes two kinds of dread: the dread of the schoolmaster and the dread of the stern pedagogue. The slave also it allows, so far as possible, to breathe the air of freedom.... p. 169 Another great quality of the festival is that it teaches men not to hold too fast to their money, but to part with it and let it pass into other hands.” 7-17

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« Reply #69 on: December 25, 2008, 11:29:55 pm »

The resemblances here to modern Christmas customs are very striking. In another discourse Libanius speaks of processions on the Eve of the festival. Few people, he says, go to bed; most go about the streets with singing and leaping and all sorts of mockery. The severest moralist utters no blame on this occasion. When morning begins to dawn they decorate their houses with laurels and other greenery, and at daybreak may go to bed to sleep off their intoxication, for many deem it necessary at this feast to follow the flowing bowl. On the 1st of January money is distributed to the populace; on the 2nd no more presents are given: it is customary to stay at home playing dice, masters and slaves together. On the 3rd there is racing; on the 4th the festivities begin to decline, but they are not altogether over on the 5th. 7-18

Another feature of the Kalends, recorded not in the pages of classical writers but in ecclesiastical condemnations, was the custom of dressing up in the hides of animals, in women's clothes, and in masks of various kinds. 7-19 Dr. Tille 7-20 regards this as Italian in origin, but it seems likely that it was a native custom in Greece, Gaul, Germany, and other countries conquered by the Romans. In Greece the skin-clad mummers may have belonged to the winter festivals of Dionysus supplanted by the Kalendae. 7-21

The Church's denunciations of pagan festal practices in the winter season are mainly directed against the Kalends celebrations, and show into how many regions the keeping of the feast had spread. Complaints of its continued observance abound in the writings of churchmen and the decrees of councils. In the second volume of his “Mediaeval Stage” 7-22 Mr. Chambers has made an interesting collection of forty excerpts from such denunciations, ranging in date from the fourth century to the eleventh, and coming from Spain, Italy, Antioch, northern Africa, Constantinople, Germany, England, and various districts of what is now France.

p. 170 As a specimen I may translate a passage describing at some length the practices condemned. It is from a sermon often ascribed to St. Augustine of Hippo, but probably composed in the sixth century, very likely by Caesarius of Arles in southern Gaul:—

“On those days,” says the preacher, speaking of the Kalends of January, “the heathen, reversing the order of all things, dress themselves up in indecent deformities.... These miserable men, and what is worse, some who have been baptized, put on counterfeit forms and monstrous faces, at which one should rather be ashamed and sad. For what reasonable man would believe that any men in their senses would by making a stag (cervulum) turn themselves into the appearance of animals? Some are clothed in the hides of cattle; others put on the heads of beasts, rejoicing and exulting that they have so transformed themselves into the shapes of animals that they no longer appear to be men.... How vile, further, it is that those who have been born men are clothed in women's dresses, and by the vilest change effeminate their manly strength by taking on the forms of girls, blushing not to clothe their warlike arms in women's garments; they have bearded faces, and yet they wish to appear women.... There are some who on the Kalends of January practise auguries, and do not allow fire out of their houses or any other favour to anyone who asks. Also they both receive and give diabolical presents (strenas). Some country people, moreover, lay tables with plenty of things necessary for eating ... thinking that thus the Kalends of January will be a warranty that all through the year their feasting will be in like measure abundant. Now as for them who on those days observe any heathen customs, it is to be feared that the name of Christian will avail them nought. And therefore our holy fathers of old, considering that the majority of men on those days became slaves to gluttony and riotous living and raved in drunkenness and impious dancing, determined for the whole world that throughout the Churches a public fast should be proclaimed.... Let us therefore fast, beloved brethren, on those days.... For he who on the Kalends shows any civility to foolish men who are wantonly sporting, is undoubtedly a partaker of their sin.” 7-23

There are several points to be noted here. First, the zeal of the Church against the Kalends celebrations as impious relics of p. 171 heathenism: to root them out she even made the first three days of the year a solemn fast with litanies. 7-24 Next, the particular offences should be observed. These are: first, the dressing up of men in the hides of animals and the clothes of women; next, the New Year auguries and the superstition about fire, the giving of presents, and the laying of tables with good things; and last, drunkenness and riot in general. All these we shall find fully represented in modern Christmas customs.

That Roman customs either spread to Germany, or were paralleled there, is shown by a curious letter written in 742 by St. Boniface to Pope Zacharias. The saint complained that certain Alamanni, Bavarians, and Franks refused to give up various heathen practices because they had seen such things done in the sacred city of Rome, close to St. Peter's, and, as they deemed, with the sanction of the clergy. On New Year's Eve, it was alleged, processions went through the streets of Rome, with impious songs and heathen cries; tables of fortune were set up, and at that time no one would lend fire or iron or any other article to his neighbour. The Pope replied that these things were odious to him, and should be so to all Christians; and next year all such practices at the January Kalends were formally forbidden by the Council of Rome. 7-25

So much for Roman customs; if indeed such practices as beast-masking are Roman, and not derived from the religion of peoples conquered by the imperial legions. We must now turn to the winter festivals of the barbarians with whom the Church began to come into contact soon after the establishment of Christmas.

Much attention has been bestowed upon a supposed midwinter festival of the ancient Germans. In the mid-nineteenth century it was customary to speak of Christmas and the Twelve Nights as a continuation of the holy season kept by our forefathers at the winter solstice. The festive fires of Christmas were regarded as symbols of the sun, who then began his upward journey in the heavens, while the name Yule was traced back to the Anglo-Saxon word hwéol (wheel), and connected with the circular p. 172 course of the sun through the wheeling-points of the solstices and equinoxes. More recent research, however, has thrown the gravest doubts upon the existence of any Teutonic festival at the winter solstice. 82 It appears from philology and the study of surviving customs that the Teutonic peoples had no knowledge of the solstices and equinoxes, and until the introduction of the Roman Calendar divided their year not into four parts but into two, three, and six, holding their New Year's Day with its attendant festivities not at the end of December or beginning of January, but towards the middle of November. At that time in Central Europe the first snowfall usually occurred and the pastures were closed to the flocks. A great slaughter of cattle would then take place, it being impossible to keep the beasts in stall throughout the winter, and this time of slaughter would naturally be a season of feasting and sacrifice and religious observances. 83 7-26

The Celtic year, like the Teutonic, appears to have begun in November with the feast of Samhain—a name that may mean either “summer-end” or “assembly.” It appears to have been in origin a “pastoral and agricultural festival, which in time came to be looked upon as affording assistance to the powers of growth in their conflict with the powers of blight,” and to have had many features in common with the Teutonic feast at the same season, for instance animal sacrifice, commemoration of the dead, and omens and charms for the New Year. 7-27

There is some reason also to believe that the New Year p. 173 festival of the Slavs took place in the autumn and that its usages have been transferred to the feast of the Nativity. 7-29 A description based on contemporary documents cannot be given of these barbarian festivals; we have, rather, to reconstruct them from survivals in popular custom. At the close of this book, when such relics have been studied, we may have gained some idea of what went on upon these pre-Christian holy-days. It is the Teutonic customs that have been most fully recorded and discussed by scholars, and these will loom largest in our review; at the same time Celtic and Slav practices will be considered, and we shall find that they often closely resemble those current in Teutonic lands.

The customs of the old New Year feasts have frequently wandered from their original November date, and to this fact we owe whatever elements of northern paganism are to be found in Christmas. Some practices seem to have been put forward to Michaelmas; one side of the festivals, the cult of the dead, is represented especially by All Saints’ and All Souls’ days (November 1 and 2). St. Martin's Day (November 11) probably marks as nearly as possible the old Teutonic date, and is still in Germany an important folk-feast attended by many customs derived from the beginning-of-winter festival. Other practices are found strewn over various holy-days between Martinmas and Epiphany, and concentrated above all on the Church's feast of the Nativity and the Roman New Year's Day, January 1, both of which had naturally great power of attraction. 7-30

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« Reply #70 on: December 26, 2008, 12:08:00 am »

The progress of agriculture, as Dr. Tille points out, 7-31 tended to destroy the mid-November celebration. In the Carolingian period an improvement took place in the cultivation of meadows, and the increased quantity of hay made it possible to keep the animals fattening in stall, instead of slaughtering them as soon as the pastures were closed. Thus the killing-time, with its festivities, became later and later. St. Andrew's Day (November 30) and St. Nicholas's (December 6) may mark stages in its progress into the winter. In St. Nicholas's Day, indeed, we find a feast that closely resembles Martinmas, and seems to be the same folk-festival transferred to a later date. Again, as regards England we p. 174 must remember the difference between its climate and that of Central Europe. Mid-November would here not be a date beyond which pasturing was impossible, and thus the slaughter and feast held then by Angles and Saxons in their old German home would tend to be delayed. 7-32

Christmas, as will be gathered from the foregoing, cannot on its pagan side be separated from the folk-feasts of November and December. The meaning of the term will therefore here be so extended as to cover the whole period between All Saints’ Day and Epiphany. That this is not too violent a proceeding will be seen later on.

For the purposes of this book it seems best to treat the winter festivals calendarially, so to speak: to start at the beginning of November, and show them in procession, suggesting, as far as may be, the probable origins of the customs observed. Thus we may avoid the dismemberment caused by taking out certain practices from various festivals and grouping them under their probable origins, a method which would, moreover, be perilous in view of the very conjectural nature of the theories offered.

Before we pass to our procession of festivals, something must be said about the general nature and rationale of the customs associated with them. For convenience these customs may be divided into three groups:—

I. Sacrificial or Sacramental Practices.

II. Customs connected with the Cult of the Dead and the Family Hearth.

III. Omens and Charms for the New Year.

Though these three classes overlap and it is sometimes difficult to place a given practice exclusively in one of them, they will form a useful framework for a brief account of the primitive ritual which survives at the winter festivals.

I. Sacrificial and Sacramental Practices.
To most people, probably, the word “sacrifice” suggests an offering, something presented to a divinity in order to obtain his favour. Such seems to have been the meaning generally given to p. 175 sacrificial rites in Europe when Christianity came into conflict with paganism. It is, however, held by many scholars that the original purpose of sacrifice was sacramental—the partaking by the worshipper of the divine life, conceived of as present in the victim, rather than the offering of a gift to a divinity. 7-33

The whole subject of sacred animals is obscure, and in regard, especially, to totemism—defined by Dr. Frazer 7-34 as “belief in the kinship of certain families with certain species of animals” and practices based upon that belief—the most divergent views are held by scholars. The religious significance which some have seen in totemistic customs is denied by others, while there is much disagreement as to the probability of their having been widespread in Europe. Still, whatever may be the truth about totemism, there is much that points to the sometime existence in Europe of sacrifices that were not offerings, but solemn feasts of communion in the flesh and blood of a worshipful animal. 7-35 That the idea of sacrificial communion preceded the sacrifice-gift is suggested by the fact that in many customs which appear to be sacrificial survivals the body of the victim has some kind of sacramental efficacy; it conveys a blessing to that which is brought into contact with it. The actual eating and drinking of the flesh and blood is the most perfect mode of contact, but the same end seems to have been aimed at in such customs as the sprinkling of worshippers with blood, the carrying of the victim in procession from house to house, the burying of flesh in furrows to make the crops grow, and the wearing of hides, heads, or horns of sacrificed beasts. 7-36 We shall meet, during the Christmas season, with various practices that seem to have originated either in a sacrificial feast or in some such sacramental rites as have just been described. So peculiarly prominent are animal masks, apparently derived from hide-, head-, and horn-wearing, that we may dwell upon them a little at this point.

We have already seen how much trouble the Kalends custom of beast-masking gave the ecclesiastics. Its probable origin is thus suggested by Robertson Smith:—

“It is ... appropriate that the worshipper should dress himself in p. 176 the skin of a victim, and so, as it were, envelop himself in its sanctity. To rude nations dress is not merely a physical comfort, but a fixed part of social religion, a thing by which a man constantly bears on his body the token of his religion, and which is itself a charm and a means of divine protection.... When the dress of sacrificial skin, which at once declared a man's religion and his sacred kindred, ceased to be used in ordinary life, it was still retained in holy and especially in piacular functions; ... examples are afforded by the Dionysiac mysteries and other Greek rites, and by almost every rude religion; while in later cults the old rite survives at least in the religious use of animal masks.” 84 7-37

If we accept the animal-worship and sacrificial communion theory, many a Christmas custom will carry us back in thought to a stage of religion far earlier than the Greek and Roman classics or the Celtic and Teutonic mythology of the conversion period: we shall be taken back to a time before men had come to have anthropomorphic gods, when they were not conscious of their superiority to the beasts of the field, but regarded these beings, mysterious in their actions, extraordinary in their powers, as incarnations of potent spirits. At this stage of thought, it would seem, there were as yet no definite divinities with personal names and characters, but the world was full of spirits immanent in animal or plant or chosen human being, and able to pass from one incarnation to another. Or indeed it may be that animal sacrifice originated at a stage of religion before the idea of definite “spirits” had arisen, when man was conscious rather of a vague force like the Melanesian mana, in himself and in almost everything, and “constantly trembling on the verge of personality.” 7-38 “Mana ” better than “god” or “spirit” may express that with which the partaker in the communal feast originally sought contact. “When you sacrifice,” to quote some words of Miss Jane Harrison, “you build as it were a bridge between your mana, your will, your desire, which is weak and impotent, and p. 177 that unseen outside mana which you believe to be strong and efficacious. In the fruits of the earth which grow by some unseen power there is much mana; you want that mana. In the loud-roaring bull and the thunder is much mana; you want that mana. It would be well to get some, to eat a piece of that bull raw, but it is dangerous, not a thing to do unawares alone; so you consecrate the first-fruits, you sacrifice the bull and then in safety you—communicate.” 7-39 “Sanctity”—the quality of awfulness and mystery—rather than divinity or personality, may have been what primitive man saw in the beasts and birds which he venerated in “their silent, aloof, goings, in the perfection of their limited doings.” 7-40 When we use the word “spirit” in connection with the pagan sacramental practices of Christmastide, it is well to bear in mind the possibility that at the origin of these customs there may have been no notion of communion with strictly personal beings, but rather some such mana idea as has been suggested above.

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« Reply #71 on: December 26, 2008, 12:08:52 am »

It is probable that animal-cults had their origin at a stage of human life preceding agriculture, when man lived not upon cultivated plants or tamed beasts, but upon roots and fruits and the products of the chase. Some scholars, indeed, hold that the domestication of animals for practical use was an outcome of the sacred, inviolable character of certain creatures: they may originally have been spared not for reasons of convenience but because it was deemed a crime to kill them—except upon certain solemn occasions—and may have become friendly towards man through living by his side. 7-41 On the other hand it is possible that totems were originally staple articles of food, that they were sacred because they were eaten with satisfaction, and that the very awe and respect attached to them because of their life-giving powers tended to remove them from common use and limit their consumption to rare ceremonial occasions.

Closely akin to the worship of animals is that of plants, and especially trees, and there is much evidence pointing to sacramental cults in connection with the plant-world. 7-42 Some cakes and special vegetable dishes eaten on festal days may be survivals of sacramental feasts parallel to those upon the flesh and blood of p. 178 an animal victim. Benediction by external contact, again, is suggested by the widespread use in various ways of branches or sprigs or whole trees. The Christmas-tree and evergreen decorations are the most obvious examples; we shall see others in the course of our survey, and in connection with plants as well as with animals we shall meet with processions intended to convey a blessing to every house by carrying about the sacred elements—to borrow a term from Christian theology. Even the familiar practice of going carol-singing may be a Christianized form of some such perambulation.

It is possible that men and women had originally separate cults. The cult of animals, according to a theory set forth by Mr. Chambers, would at first belong to the men, who as hunters worshipped the beasts they slew, apologizing to them, as some primitive people do to-day, for the slaughter they were obliged to commit. Other animals, apparently, were held too sacred to be slain, except upon rare and solemn occasions, and hence, as we have seen, may have arisen domestication and the pastoral life which, with its religious rites, was the affair of the men. To women, on the other hand, belonged agriculture; the cult of Mother Earth and the vegetation-spirits seems to have been originally theirs. Later the two cults would coalesce, but a hint of the time when certain rites were practised only by women may be found in that dressing up of men in female garments which appears not merely in the old Kalends customs but in some modern survivals. 85 7-43

Apart from any special theory of the origin of sacrifice, we may note the association at Christmas of physical feasting with religious rejoicing. In this the modern European is the heir of an agelong tradition. “Everywhere,” says Robertson Smith, p. 179 “we find that a sacrifice ordinarily involves a feast, and that a feast cannot be provided without a sacrifice. For a feast is not complete without flesh, and in early times the rule that all slaughter is sacrifice was not confined to the Semites. The identity of religious occasions and festal seasons may indeed be taken as the determining characteristic of the type of ancient religion generally; when men meet their god they feast and are glad together, and whenever they feast and are glad they desire that the god should be of the party.” 7-45 To the paganism that preceded Christianity we must look for the origin of that Christmas feasting which has not seldom been a matter of scandal for the severer type of churchman.

[transcriber's Note: The marker for note  7-44 was not present in the page scan]

A letter addressed in 601 by Pope Gregory the Great to Abbot Mellitus, giving him instructions to be handed on to Augustine of Canterbury, throws a vivid light on the process by which heathen sacrificial feasts were turned into Christian festivals. “Because,” the Pope says of the Anglo-Saxons, “they are wont to slay many oxen in sacrifices to demons, some solemnity should be put in the place of this, so that on the day of the dedication of the churches, or the nativities of the holy martyrs whose relics are placed there, they may make for themselves tabernacles of branches of trees around those churches which have been changed from heathen temples, and may celebrate the solemnity with religious feasting. Nor let them now sacrifice animals to the Devil, but to the praise of God kill animals for their own eating, and render thanks to the Giver of all for their abundance; so that while some outward joys are retained for them, they may more readily respond to inward joys. For from obdurate minds it is undoubtedly impossible to cut off everything at once, because he who strives to ascend to the highest place rises by degrees or steps and not by leaps.” 7-46

We see here very plainly the mind of the ecclesiastical compromiser. Direct sacrifice to heathen gods the Church of course could not dream of tolerating; it had been the very centre of her attack since the days of St. Paul, and refusal to take part in it had cost the martyrs their lives. Yet the festivity and merrymaking to which it gave occasion were to be left to the p. 180 people, for a time at all events. The policy had its advantages, it made the Church festivals popular; but it had also its dangers, it encouraged the intrusion of a pagan fleshly element into their austere and chastened joys. A certain orgiastic licence crept in, an unbridling of the physical appetites, which has ever been a source of sorrow and anger to the most earnest Christians and even led the Puritans of the seventeenth century to condemn all festivals as diabolical.

Before we leave the subject of sacrificial survivals, it must be added that certain Christmas customs may come, little as those who practise them suspect it, from that darkest of religious rites, human sacrifice. Reference has already been made to Dr. Frazer's view of the Saturnalian king and his awful origin. We shall meet with various similar figures during the Christmas season—the “King of the Bean,” for instance, and the “Bishop of Fools.” If the theories about human sacrifice set forth in “The Golden Bough” be accepted, we may regard these personages as having once been mock kings chosen to suffer instead of the real kings, who had at first to perish by a violent death in order to preserve from the decay of age the divine life incarnate in them. Such mock monarchs, according to Dr. Frazer, were exalted for a brief season to the glory and luxury of kingship ere their doom fell upon them; 7-47 in the Christmas “kings” the splendour alone has survived, the dark side is forgotten.

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« Reply #72 on: December 26, 2008, 12:10:14 am »

II. The Cult of the Dead and the Family Hearth.

Round the winter festival cluster certain customs apparently connected with distinctively domestic religion, rather than with such public and communal cults as we have considered under the heading of Sacrifice and Sacrament. A festival of the family—that is, perhaps, what Christmas most prominently is to-day: it is the great season for gatherings “round the old fireside”; it is a joyous time for the children of the house, and the memory of the departed is vivid then, if unexpressed. Further, by the Yule log customs and certain other ceremonies still practised in the remoter corners of Europe, we are carried back to a stage of thought at which the dead were conceived as hovering about or p. 181 visiting the abodes of the living. Ancestral spirits, it seems, were once believed to be immanent in the fire that burned on the hearth, and had to be propitiated with libations, while elsewhere the souls of the dead were thought to return to their old homes at the New Year, and meat and drink had to be set out for them. The Church's establishment of All Souls’ Day did much to keep practices of tendance of the departed to early November, but sometimes these have wandered to later dates and especially to Christmas. In folk-practices directed towards the dead two tendencies are to be found: on the one hand affection or at all events consideration for the departed persists, and efforts are made to make them comfortable; on the other, they are regarded with dread, and the sight of them is avoided by the living.

In the passage quoted from Caesarius of Arles there was mention of the laying of tables with abundance of food at the Kalends. The same practice is condemned by St. Jerome in the fifth century, and is by him specially connected with Egypt. 7-48 He, like Caesarius and others, regards it as a kind of charm to ensure abundance during the coming year, but it is very possible that its real purpose was different, that the food was an offering to supernatural beings, the guardians and representatives of the dead. 7-49 Burchardus of Worms in the early eleventh century says definitely that in his time tables were laid with food and drink and three knives for “those three Sisters whom the ancients in their folly called Parcae.” 7-50 The Parcae were apparently identified with the three “weird” Sisters known in England and in other Teutonic regions, and seem to have some connection with the fairies. As we shall see later on, it is still in some places the custom to lay out tables for supernatural beings, whether, as at All Souls’ tide, explicitly for the dead, or for Frau Perchta, or for the Virgin or some other Christian figure. Possibly the name Modranicht (night of mothers), which Bede gives to Christmas Eve, 7-51 may be connected with this practice.

Not remote, probably, in origin from a belief in “ghosts” is the driving away of spirits that sometimes takes place about p. 182 Christmas-time. Many peoples, as Dr. Frazer has shown, have an annual expulsion of goblins, ghosts, devils, witches, and evil influences, commonly at the end of the Old or beginning of the New Year. Sometimes the beings so driven away are definitely the spirits of the departed. An appalling racket and a great flare of torches are common features of these expulsions, and we shall meet with similar customs during the Christmas season. Such purifications, according to Dr. Frazer, are often preceded or followed by periods of licence, for when the burden of evil is about to be, or has just been, removed, it is felt that a little temporary freedom from moral restraints may be allowed with impunity. 7-52 Hence possibly, in part, the licence which has often attended the Christmas season.

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« Reply #73 on: December 26, 2008, 12:11:05 am »

III. Omens and Charms for the New Year.

Customs of augury are to be met with at various dates, which may mark the gradual shifting of the New Year festival from early November to January 1, while actual charms to secure prosperity are commonest at Christmas itself or at the modern New Year. Magical rather than religious in character, they are attempts to discover or influence the future by a sort of crude scientific method based on supposed analogies. Beneath the charms lie the primitive ideas that like produces like and that things which have once been in contact continue to act upon one another after they are separated in space. 7-53 The same ideas obviously underlie many of the sacramental practices alluded to a few pages back, and these are often of the nature of charms. Probably, too, among New Year charms should be included such institutions as the bonfires on Hallowe'en in Celtic countries, on Guy Fawkes Day in England, and at Martinmas in Germany, for it would seem that they are intended to secure by imitation a due supply of sunshine. 7-54 The principle that “well begun is well ended”—or, as the Germans have it, “Anfang gut, alles gut ”—is fundamental in New Year practices: hence the custom of giving presents as auguries of wealth during the coming year; hence perhaps partly the heavy eating and drinking—a kind of charm to ensure abundance.

p. 183 Enough has already been said about the attitude of the early Church towards traditional folk-customs. Of the position taken up by the later mediaeval clergy we get an interesting glimpse in the “Largum Sero” of a certain monk Alsso of Brĕvnov, an account of Christmas practices in Bohemia written about the year 1400. It supplies a link between modern customs and the Kalends prohibitions of the Dark Ages. Alsso tells of a number of laudable Christmas Eve practices, gives elaborate Christian interpretations of them, and contrasts them with things done by bad Catholics with ungodly intention. Here are some of his complaints:—

Presents, instead of being given, as they should be, in memory of God's great Gift to man, are sent because he who does not give freely will be unlucky in the coming year. Money, instead of being given to the poor, as is seemly, is laid on the table to augur wealth, and people open their purses that luck may enter. Instead of using fruit as a symbol of Christ the Precious Fruit, men cut it open to predict the future [probably from the pips]. It is a laudable custom to make great white loaves at Christmas as symbols of the True Bread, but evil men set out such loaves that the gods may eat of them.

Alsso's assumption is that the bad Catholics are diabolically perverting venerable Christmas customs, but there can be little doubt that precisely the opposite was really the case—the Christian symbolism was merely a gloss upon pagan practices. In one instance Alsso admits that the Church had adopted and transformed a heathen usage: the old calendisationes or processions with an idol Bel had been changed into processions of clergy and choir-boys with the crucifix. Round the villages on the Eve and during the Octave of Christmas went these messengers of God, robed in white raiment as befitted the servants of the Lord of purity; they would chant joyful anthems of the Nativity, and receive in return some money from the people—they were, in fact, carol-singers. Moreover with their incense they would drive out the Devil from every corner. 7-55

Alsso's attitude is one of compromise, or at least many of the old heathen customs are allowed by him, when reinterpreted in a p. 184 Christian sense. Such seems to have been the general tendency of the later Catholic Church, and also of Anglicanism in so far as it continued the Catholic tradition. It will be seen, however, from what has already been said, that the English Puritans were but following early Christian precedents when they attacked the paganism that manifested itself at Christmas.

A strong Puritan onslaught is to be found in the “Anatomie of Abuses” by the Calvinist, Philip Stubbes, first published in 1583. “Especially,” he says, “in Christmas tyme there is nothing els vsed but cardes, dice, tables, maskyng, mumming, bowling, and suche like fooleries; and the reason is, that they think they haue a commission and prerogatiue that tyme to doe what they list, and to followe what vanitie they will. But (alas!) doe they thinke that they are preuiledged at that time to doe euill? The holier the time is (if one time were holier than an other, as it is not), the holier ought their exercises to bee. Can any tyme dispence with them, or giue them libertie to sinne? No, no; the soule which sinneth shall dye, at what tyme soeuer it offendeth.... Notwithstandyng, who knoweth not that more mischeef is that tyme committed than in all the yere besides?” 7-56

When the Puritans had gained the upper hand they proceeded to the suppression not only of abuses, but of the festival itself. An excellent opportunity for turning the feast into a fast—as the early Church had done, it will be remembered, with the Kalends festival—came in 1644. In that year Christmas Day happened to fall upon the last Wednesday of the month, a day appointed by the Lords and Commons for a Fast and Humiliation. In its zeal against carnal pleasures Parliament published the following “Ordinance for the better observation of the Feast of the Nativity of Christ”:—

“Whereas some doubts have been raised whether the next Fast shall be celebrated, because it falleth on the day which, heretofore, was usually called the Feast of the Nativity of our Saviour; the lords and commons do order and ordain that public notice be given, that the Fast appointed to be kept on the last Wednesday in every month, ought to be observed until it be otherwise ordered by both houses; p. 185 and that this day particularly is to be kept with the more solemn humiliation because it may call to remembrance our sins and the sins of our forefathers, who have turned this Feast, pretending the memory of Christ, into an extreme forgetfulness of him, by giving liberty to carnal and sensual delights; being contrary to the life which Christ himself led here upon earth, and to the spiritual life of Christ in our souls; for the sanctifying and saving whereof Christ was pleased both to take a human life, and to lay it down again.” 7-57

But the English people's love of Christmas could not be destroyed. “These poor simple creatures are made after superstitious festivals, after unholy holidays,” said a speaker in the House of Commons. “I have known some that have preferred Christmas Day before the Lord's Day,” said Calamy in a sermon to the Lords in Westminster Abbey, “I have known those that would be sure to receive the Sacrament on Christmas Day though they did not receive it all the year after. This was the superstition of this day, and the profaneness was as great. There were some that did not play cards all the year long, yet they must play at Christmas.” Various protests were made against the suppression of the festival. Though Parliament sat every Christmas Day from 1644 to 1656, the shops in London in 1644 were all shut, and in 1646 the people who opened their shops were so roughly used that next year they petitioned Parliament to protect them in future. In 1647 the shops were indeed all closed, but evergreen decorations were put up in the City, and the Lord Mayor and City Marshal had to ride about setting fire to them. There were even riots in country places, notably at Canterbury. With the Restoration Christmas naturally came back to full recognition, though it may be doubted whether it has ever been quite the same thing since the Puritan Revolution. 7-58

Protestantism, in proportion to its thoroughness and the strength of its Puritan elements, has everywhere tended to destroy old pagan traditions and the festivals to which they cling. Calvinism has naturally been more destructive than Lutheranism, which in the Scandinavian countries has left standing many of the externals of Catholicism and also many Christmas customs that are purely pagan, while in Germany it has tolerated and even hallowed the p. 186 ritual of the Christmas-tree. But more powerful than religious influences, in rooting out the old customs, have been modern education and the growth of modern industry, breaking up the old traditional country life, and putting in its place the mobile, restless life of the great town. Many of the customs we shall have to consider belong essentially to the country, and have no relation to the life of the modern city. When communal in their character, a man could not perform them in separation from his rustic neighbours. Practices domestic in their purpose may indeed be transferred to the modern city, but it is the experience of folk-lorists that they seldom descend to the second generation.

It is in regions like Bavaria, Tyrol, Styria, or the Slav parts of the Austrian Empire, or Roumania and Servia, that the richest store of festival customs is to be found nowadays. Here the old agricultural life has been less interfered with, and at the same time the Church, whether Roman or Greek, has succeeded in keeping modern ideas away from the people and in maintaining a popular piety that is largely polytheistic in its worship of the saints, and embodies a great amount of traditional paganism. In our half-suburbanized England but little now remains of these vestiges of primitive religion and magic whose interest and importance were only realized by students in the later nineteenth century, when the wave of “progress” was fast sweeping them away.

Old traditions have a way of turning up unexpectedly in remote corners, and it is hard to say for certain that any custom is altogether extinct; every year, however, does its work of destruction, and it may well be that some of the practices here described in the present tense have passed into the Limbo of discarded things.

p. 187 p. 188 p. 189

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« Reply #74 on: December 26, 2008, 12:12:18 am »


All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days, their Relation to a New Year Festival—All Souls’ Eve and Tendance of the Departed—Soul Cakes in England and on the Continent—Pagan Parallels of All Souls’—Hallowe'en Charms and Omens—Hallowe'en Fires—Guy Fawkes Day—“Old Hob,” the Schimmelreiter, and other Animal Masks—Martinmas and its Slaughter—Martinmas Drinking—St. Martin's Fires in Germany—Winter Visitors in the Low Countries and Germany—St. Martin as Gift-bringer—St. Martin's Rod.

All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days.
In the reign of Charles I. the young gentlemen of the Middle Temple were accustomed to reckon All Hallow Tide (November 1) the beginning of Christmas. 8-1 We may here do likewise and start our survey of winter festivals with November, in the earlier half of which, apparently, fell the Celtic and Teutonic New Year's Days. It is impossible to fix precise dates, but there is reason for thinking that the Celtic year began about November 1, 86 8-2 and the Teutonic about November 11. 8-3

On November 1 falls one of the greater festivals of the western Church, All Saints’—or, to give it its old English name, All Hallows’—and on the morrow is the solemn commemoration of the departed—All Souls’. In these two anniversaries the Church has p. 190 preserved at or near the original date one part of the old beginning-of-winter festival—the part concerned with the cult of the dead. Some of the practices belonging to this side of the feast have been transferred to the season of Christmas and the Twelve Days, but these have often lost their original meaning, and it is to All Souls’ Day that we must look for the most conscious survivals of that care for the departed which is so marked a feature of primitive religion. Early November, when the leaves are falling, and all around speaks of mortality, is a fitting time for the commemoration of the dead.

The first clear testimony to All Souls’ Day is found at the end of the tenth century, and in France. All Saints’ Day, however, was certainly observed in England, France, and Germany in the eighth century, 8-5 and probably represents an attempt on the part of the Church to turn the minds of the faithful away from the pagan belief in and tendance of “ghosts” to the contemplation of the saints in the glory of Paradise. It would seem that this attempt failed, that the people needed a way of actually doing something for their own dead, and that All Souls’ Day with its solemn Mass and prayers for the departed was intended to supply this need and replace the traditional practices. 8-6 Here again the attempt was only partly successful, for side by side with the Church's rites there survived a number of usages related not to any Christian doctrine of the after-life, but to the pagan idea, widespread among many peoples, that on one day or night of the year the souls of the dead return to their old homes and must be entertained.

All Souls’ Day then appeals to instincts older than Christianity. How strong is the hold of ancient custom even upon the sceptical and irreligious is shown very strikingly in Roman Catholic countries: even those who never go to church visit the graves of their relations on All Souls’ Eve to deck them with flowers.

The special liturgical features of the Church's celebration are the Vespers, Matins, and Lauds of the Dead on the evening of November 1, and the solemn Requiem Mass on November 2, with the majestic “Dies irae” and the oft-recurrent versicle, “Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat p. 191 eis,” that most beautiful of prayers. The priest and altar are vested in black, and a catafalque with burning tapers round it stands in the body of the church. For the popular customs on the Eve we may quote Dr. Tylor's general description:—

“In Italy the day is given to feasting and drinking in honour of the dead, while skulls and skeletons in sugar and paste form appropriate children's toys. In Tyrol, the poor souls released from purgatory fire for the night may come and smear their burns with the melted fat of the ‘soul light’ on the hearth, or cakes are left for them on the table, and the room is kept warm for their comfort. Even in Paris the souls of the departed come to partake of the food of the living. In Brittany the crowd pours into the churchyard at evening, to kneel barefoot at the grave of dead kinsfolk, to fill the hollow of the tombstone with holy water, or to pour libations of milk upon it. All night the church bells clang, and sometimes a solemn procession of the clergy goes round to bless the graves. In no household that night is the cloth removed, for the supper must be left for the souls to come and take their part, nor must the fire be put out, where they will come to warm themselves. And at last, as the inmates retire to rest, there is heard at the door a doleful chant—it is the souls, who, borrowing the voices of the parish poor, have come to ask the prayers of the living.” 8-7

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