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Christmas in Ritual and Tradition

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Author Topic: Christmas in Ritual and Tradition  (Read 5484 times)
Erika Zimney
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« Reply #75 on: December 26, 2008, 12:13:07 am »

To this may be added some further accounts of All Souls’ Eve as the one night in the year when the spirits of the departed are thought to revisit their old homes.

In the Vosges mountains while the bells are ringing in All Souls’ Eve it is a custom to uncover the beds and open the windows in order that the poor souls may enter and rest. Prayer is made for the dead until late in the night, and when the last “De profundis” has been said “the head of the family gently covers up the beds, sprinkles them with holy water, and shuts the windows.” 8-8

The Esthonians on All Souls’ Day provide a meal for the dead and invite them by name. The souls arrive at the first ****-crow and depart at the second, being lighted out of the house by the head of the family, who waves a white cloth after them and bids them come again next year. 8-9

In Brittany, as we have seen, the dead are thought to return at p. 192 this season. It is believed that on the night between All Saints’ and All Souls’ the church is lighted up and the departed attend a nocturnal Mass celebrated by a phantom priest. All through the week, in one district, people are afraid to go out after nightfall lest they should see some dead person. 8-10 In Tyrol it is believed that the “poor souls” are present in the howling winds that often blow at this time. 8-11

In the Abruzzi on All Souls’ Eve “before people go to sleep they place on the table a lighted lamp or candle and a frugal meal of bread and water. The dead issue from their graves and stalk in procession through every street of the village.... First pass the souls of the good, and then the souls of the murdered and the damned.” 8-12

In Sicily a strange belief is connected with All Souls’ Day (jornu di li morti): the family dead are supposed, like Santa Klaus in the North, to bring presents to children; the dead relations have become the good fairies of the little ones. On the night between November 1 and 2 little Sicilians believe that the departed leave their dread abode and come to town to steal from rich shopkeepers sweets and toys and new clothes. These they give to their child relations who have been “good” and have prayed on their behalf. Often they are clothed in white and wear silken shoes, to elude the vigilance of the shopkeepers. They do not always enter the houses; sometimes the presents are left in the children's shoes put outside doors and windows. In the morning the pretty gifts are attributed by the children to the morti in whose coming their parents have taught them to believe. 8-13

A very widespread custom at this season is to burn candles, perhaps in order to lighten the darkness for the poor souls. In Catholic Ireland candles shine in the windows on the Vigil of All Souls’, 8-14 in Belgium a holy candle is burnt all night, or people walk in procession with lighted tapers, while in many Roman Catholic countries, and even in the Protestant villages of Baden, the graves are decked with lights as well as flowers. 8-15

Another practice on All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days, curiously p. 193 common formerly in Protestant England, is that of making and giving “soul-cakes.” These and the quest of them by children were customary in various English counties and in Scotland. 8-16 The youngsters would beg not only for the cakes but also sometimes for such things as “apples and strong beer,” presumably to make a “wassail-bowl” of “lambswool,” hot spiced ale with roast apples in it. 8-17 Here is a curious rhyme which they sang in Shropshire as they went round to their neighbours, collecting contributions:—

“Soul! soul! for a soul-cake!

I pray, good missis, a soul-cake!

An apple or pear, a plum or a cherry,

Any good thing to make us merry.

One for Peter, two for Paul,

Three for Him who made us all.

Up with the kettle, and down with the pan,

Give us good alms, and we'll be gone.” 8-18

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Erika Zimney
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« Reply #76 on: December 26, 2008, 12:15:45 am »

Shropshire is a county peculiarly rich in “souling” traditions, and one old lady had cakes made to give away to the souling-children up to the time of her death in 1884. At that period the custom of “souling” had greatly declined in the county, and where it still existed the rewards were usually apples or money. Grown men, as well as children, sometimes went round, and the ditties sung often contained verses of good-wishes for the household practically identical with those sung by wassailers at Christmas. 8-19

The name “soul-cake” of course suggests that the cakes were in some way associated with the departed, whether given as a reward for prayers for souls in Purgatory, or as a charity for the benefit of the “poor souls,” or baked that the dead might feast upon them. 87 It seems most probable that they were relics of a feast once laid out for the souls. On the other hand it is just possible that they were originally a sacrament of the corn-spirit. p. 194 A North Welsh tradition recorded by Pennant may conceivably have preserved a vague memory of some agricultural connection: he tells us that on receiving soul-cakes the poor people used to pray to God to bless the next crop of wheat. 8-20

Not in Great Britain alone are soul-cakes found; they are met with in Belgium, southern Germany, and Austria. In western Flanders children set up on All Souls’ Eve little street altars, putting a crucifix or Madonna with candles on a chair or stool, and begging passers-by for money “for cakes for the souls in Purgatory.” On All Souls’ morning it is customary, all over the Flemish part of Belgium, to bake little cakes of finest white flour, called “soul-bread.” They are eaten hot, and a prayer is said at the same time for the souls in Purgatory. It is believed that a soul is delivered for every cake eaten. At Antwerp the cakes are coloured yellow with saffron to suggest the Purgatorial flames. In southern Germany and Austria little white loaves of a special kind are baked; they are generally oval in form, and are usually called by some name into which the word “soul” enters. In Tyrol they are given to children by their godparents; those for the boys have the shape of horses or hares, those for the girls, of hens. In Tyrol the cakes left over at supper remain on the table and are said to “belong to the poor souls.” 8-21

In Friuli in the north-east of Italy there is a custom closely corresponding to our “soul-cakes.” On All Souls’ Day every family gives away a quantity of bread. This is not regarded as a charity; all the people of the village come to receive it and before eating it pray for the departed of the donor's family. The most prosperous people are not ashamed to knock at the door and ask for this pane dei morti. 8-22

In Tyrol All Souls’ is a day of licensed begging, which has become a serious abuse. A noisy rabble of ragged and disorderly folk, with bags and baskets to receive gifts, wanders from village to village, claiming as a right the presents of provisions that were originally a freewill offering for the benefit of the departed, and angrily abusing those who refuse to give. 8-23

The New Year is the time for a festival of the dead in many parts of the world. 8-24 I may quote Dr. Frazer's account of what p. 195 goes on in Tonquin; it shows a remarkable likeness to some European customs 88:—

“In Tonquin, as in Sumba, the dead revisit their kinsfolk and their old homes at the New Year. From the hour of midnight, when the New Year begins, no one dares to shut the door of his house for fear of excluding the ghosts, who begin to arrive at that time. Preparations have been made to welcome and refresh them after their long journey. Beds and mats are ready for their weary bodies to repose upon, water to wash their dusty feet, slippers to comfort them, and canes to support their feeble steps.” 8-25

In Lithuania, the last country in Europe to be converted to Christianity, heathen traditions lingered long, and sixteenth- and seventeenth-century travellers give accounts of a pagan New Year's feast which has great interest. In October, according to one account, on November 2, according to another, the whole family met together, strewed the tables with straw and put sacks on the straw. Bread and two jugs of beer were then placed on the table, and one of every kind of domestic animal was roasted before the fire after a prayer to the god Zimiennik (possibly an ancestral spirit), asking for protection through the year and offering the animals. Portions were thrown to the corners of the room with the words “Accept our burnt sacrifice, O Zimiennik, and kindly partake thereof.” Then followed a great feast. Further, the spirits of the dead were invited to leave their graves and visit the bath-house, where platters of food were spread out and left for three days. At the end of this time the remains of the repast were set out over the graves and libations poured. 8-26

The beginning of November is not solely a time of memory of the dead; customs of other sorts linger, or until lately used to linger, about it, especially in Scotland, northern England, Ireland, Cornwall, Wales, and the West Midlands. One may conjecture that these are survivals from the Celtic New Year's Day, for most of them are of the nature of omens or charms. Apples and nuts are prominent on Hallowe'en, the Eve of All p. 196 Saints; 89 they may be regarded either as a kind of sacrament of the vegetation-spirit, or as simply intended by homoeopathic magic to bring fulness and fruitfulness to their recipients. A custom once common in the north of England 8-27 and in Wales 8-28 was to catch at apples with the mouth, the fruit being suspended on a string, or on one end of a large transverse beam with a lighted candle at the other end. In the north apples and nuts were the feature of the evening feast, hence the name “Nutcrack night.” 8-29

Again, at St. Ives in Cornwall every child is given a big apple on Allhallows’ Eve—“Allan Day” as it is called. 8-30 Nuts and apples were also used as means of forecasting the future. In Scotland for instance nuts were put into the fire and named after particular lads and lasses. “As they burn quietly together or start from beside one another, the course and issue of the courtship will be.” 8-31 On Hallowe'en in Nottinghamshire if a girl had two lovers and wanted to know which would be the more constant, she took two apple-pips, stuck one on each cheek (naming them after her lovers) and waited for one to fall off. The poet Gay alludes to this custom:—

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Erika Zimney
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« Reply #77 on: December 26, 2008, 12:16:23 am »

“See from the core two kernels now I take,

This on my cheek for Lubberkin is worn,

And Booby Clod on t'other side is borne;

But Booby Clod soon falls upon the ground,

A certain token that his love's unsound;

While Lubberkin sticks firmly to the last;

Oh! were his lips to mine but joined so fast.” 8-32

In Nottinghamshire apples are roasted and the parings thrown over the left shoulder. “Notice is taken of the shapes which the parings assume when they fall to the ground. Whatever letter a paring resembles will be the initial letter of the Christian name of the man or woman whom you will marry.” 8-33

p. 197 Hallowe'en is indeed in the British Isles the favourite time for forecasting the future, and various methods are employed for this purpose.

A girl may cross her shoes upon her bedroom floor in the shape of a T and say these lines:—

“I cross my shoes in the shape of a T,

Hoping this night my true love to see,

Not in his best or worst array,

But in the clothes of every day.”

Then let her get into bed backwards without speaking any more that night, and she will see her future husband in her dreams. 8-34

“On All Hallowe'en or New Year's Eve,” says Mr. W. Henderson, “a Border maiden may wash her sark, and hang it over a chair to dry, taking care to tell no one what she is about. If she lie awake long enough, she will see the form of her future spouse enter the room and turn the sark. We are told of one young girl who, after fulfilling this rite, looked out of bed and saw a coffin behind the sark; it remained visible for some time and then disappeared. The girl rose up in agony and told her family what had occurred, and the next morning she heard of her lover's death.” 8-35

In Scotland 8-36 and Ireland 8-37 other methods of foreseeing the future are practised on Hallowe'en; we need not consider them here, for we shall have quite enough of such auguries later on. (Some Scottish customs are introduced by Burns into his poem “Hallowe'en.”) I may, however, allude to the custom formerly prevalent in Wales for women to congregate in the church on this “Night of the Winter Kalends,” in order to discover who of the parishioners would die during the year. 8-38 East of the Welsh border, at Dorstone in Herefordshire, there was a belief that on All Hallows’ Eve at midnight those who were bold enough to look through the windows would see the church lighted with an unearthly glow, and Satan in monk's habit fulminating anathemas from the pulpit and calling out the names of those who were to render up their souls. 8-39

p. 198 Again, there are numerous Hallowe'en fire customs, probably sun-charms for the New Year, a kind of homoeopathic magic intended to assist the sun in his struggle with the powers of darkness. To this day great bonfires are kindled in the Highlands, and formerly brands were carried about and the new fire was lit in each house. 8-40 It would seem that the Yule log customs (see  X) are connected with this new lighting of the house-fire, transferred to Christmas.

In Ireland fire was lighted at this time at a place called Tlachtga, from which all the hearths in Ireland are said to have been annually supplied. 8-41 In Wales the habit of lighting bonfires on the hills is perhaps not yet extinct. 8-42 Within living memory when the flames were out somebody would raise the cry, “May the tailless black sow seize the hindmost,” and everyone present would run for his life. 8-43 This may point to a former human sacrifice, possibly of a victim laden with the accumulated evils of the past year. 8-44

In North Wales, according to another account, each family used to make a great bonfire in a conspicuous place near the house. Every person threw into the ashes a white stone, marked; the stones were searched for in the morning, and if any one were missing the person who had thrown it in would die, it was believed, during the year. 8-45 The same belief and practice were found at Callander in Perthshire. 8-46

Though, probably, the Hallowe'en fire rites had originally some connection with the sun, the conscious intention of those who practised them in modern times was often to ward off witchcraft. With this object in one place the master of the family used to carry a bunch of burning straw about the corn, in Scotland the red end of a fiery stick was waved in the air, in Lancashire a lighted candle was borne about the fells, and in the Isle of Man fires were kindled. 8-47

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Erika Zimney
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« Reply #78 on: December 26, 2008, 12:17:49 am »

Guy Fawkes Day.

Probably the burning of Guy Fawkes on November 5 is a survival of a New Year bonfire. There is every reason to think that the commemoration of the deliverance from “gunpowder p. 199 treason and plot” is but a modern meaning attached to an ancient traditional practice, for the burning of the effigy has many parallels in folk-custom. Dr. Frazer 8-48 regards such effigies as representatives of the spirit of vegetation—by burning them in a fire that represented the sun men thought they secured sunshine for trees and crops. Later, when the ideas on which the custom was based had faded away, people came to identify these images with persons whom they regarded with aversion, such as Judas Iscariot, Luther (in Catholic Tyrol), and, apparently, Guy Fawkes in England. At Ludlow in Shropshire, it is interesting to note, if any well-known local man had aroused the enmity of the populace his effigy was substituted for, or added to, that of Guy Fawkes. Bonfire Day at Ludlow is marked by a torchlight procession and a huge conflagration. 8-49 At Hampstead the Guy Fawkes fire and procession are still in great force. The thing has become a regular carnival, and on a foggy November night the procession along the steep curving Heath Street, with the glare of the torches lighting up the faces of dense crowds, is a strangely picturesque spectacle. 90

Animal Masks.

On All Souls’ Day in Cheshire there began to be carried about a curious construction called “Old Hob,” a horse's head enveloped in a sheet; it was taken from door to door, and accompanied by the singing of begging rhymes. 8-50 Old Hob, who continued to appear until Christmas, is an English parallel to the German Schimmel or white horse. We have here to do with one of those strange animal forms which are apparently relics of sacrificial customs. They come on various days in the winter festival season, and also at other times, and may as well be considered at this point. In some cases they are definitely imitations of animals, and may have replaced real sacrificial beasts taken about in procession, in others they are simply men wearing the head, horn, hide, or tail of a beast, like the worshippers at many p. 200 a heathen sacrifice to-day. (Of the rationale of masking something has already been said in  VI)

The mingling of Roman and non-Roman customs makes it very hard to separate the different elements in the winter festivals. In regard particularly to animal masks it is difficult to pronounce in favour of one racial origin rather than another; we may, however, infer with some probability that when a custom is attached not to Christmas or the January Kalends but to one of the November or early December feasts, it is not of Roman origin. For, as the centuries have passed, Christmas and the Kalends—the Roman festivals ecclesiastical and secular—have increasingly tended to supplant the old northern festal times, and a transference of, for instance, a Teutonic custom from Martinmas to Christmas or January 1, is far more conceivable than the attraction of a Roman practice to one of the earlier and waning festivals.

Let us take first the horse-forms, seemingly connected with that sacrificial use of the horse among the Teutons to which Tacitus and other writers testify. 8-51 “Old Hob” is doubtless one form of the hobby horse, so familiar in old English festival customs. His German parallel, the Schimmel, is mostly formed thus in the north: a sieve with a long pole to whose end a horse's head is fastened, is tied beneath the chest of a young man, who goes on all fours, and some white cloths are thrown over the whole. In Silesia the Schimmel is formed by three or four youths. The rider is generally veiled, and often wears on his head a pot with glowing coals shining forth through openings that represent eyes and a mouth. 8-52 In Pomerania the thing is called simply Schimmel, 8-53 in other parts emphasis is laid upon the rider, and the name Schimmelreiter is given. Some mythologists have seen in this rider on a white horse an impersonation of Woden on his great charger; but it is more likely that the practice simply originated in the taking round of a real sacrificial horse. 8-54 The Schimmelreiter is often accompanied by a “bear,” a youth dressed in straw who plays the part of a bear tied to a pole. 8-55 He may be connected with some such veneration of the animal as is suggested by the custom still surviving at Berne, of keeping bears at the public expense.

To return to Great Britain, here is an account of a so-called p. 201 “hodening” ceremony once performed at Christmas-time at Ramsgate: “A party of young people procure the head of a dead horse, which is affixed to a pole about four feet in length, a string is tied to the lower jaw, a horse-cloth is then attached to the whole, under which one of the party gets, and by frequently pulling the string keeps up a loud snapping noise and is accompanied by the rest of the party grotesquely habited and ringing hand-bells. They thus proceed from house to house, sounding their bells and singing carols and songs.” 8-56

Again, in Wales a creature called “the Mari Llwyd” was known at Christmas. A horse's skull is “dressed up with ribbons, and supported on a pole by a man who is concealed under a large white cloth. There is a contrivance for opening and shutting the jaws, and the figure pursues and bites everybody it can lay hold of, and does not release them except on payment of a fine.” 8-57 The movable jaws here give the thing a likeness to certain Continental figures representing other kinds of animals and probably witnessing to their former sacrificial use. On the island of Usedom appears the Klapperbock, a youth who carries a pole with the hide of a buck thrown over it and a wooden head at the end. The lower jaw moves up and down and clatters, and he charges at children who do not know their prayers by heart. 8-58 In Upper Styria we meet the Habergaiss. Four men hold on to one another and are covered with white blankets. The foremost one holds up a wooden goat's head with a movable lower jaw that rattles, and he butts children. 8-59 At Ilsenburg in the Harz is found the Habersack, formed by a person taking a pole ending in a fork, and putting a broom between the prongs so that the appearance of a head with horns is obtained. The carrier is concealed by a sheet. 8-60

In connection with horns we must not forget the “horn-dance” at Abbots Bromley in Staffordshire, held now in September, but formerly at Christmas. Six of the performers wear sets of horns kept from year to year in the church. 8-61 Plot, in his “Natural History of Staffordshire” (1686, p. 434) calls it a “Hobby-horse Dance from a person who carried the image of a horse between his legs, made of thin boards.” 8-62

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Erika Zimney
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« Reply #79 on: December 26, 2008, 12:19:37 am »

p. 202 In Denmark, Sweden, and Norway creatures resembling both the Schimmelreiter and the Klapperbock are or were to be met with at Christmas. The name Julebuk (yule buck) is used for various objects: sometimes for a person dressed up in hide and horns, or with a buck's head, who “goes for” little boys and girls; sometimes for a straw puppet set up or tossed about from hand to hand; sometimes for a cake in the form of a buck. People seem to have had a bad conscience about these things, for there are stories connecting them with the Devil. A girl, for instance, who danced at midnight with a straw Julebuk, found that her partner was no puppet but the Evil One himself. Again, a fellow who had dressed himself in black and put horns on his head, claws on his hands, and fiery tow in his mouth, was carried off by the Prince of Darkness whose form he had mimicked. 8-63 The association of animal maskings with the infernal powers is doubtless the work of the Church. To the zealous missionary the old heathen ritual was no mere foolish superstition but a service of intensely real and awful beings, the very devils of hell, and one may even conjecture that the traditional Christian devil-type, half animal half human, was indirectly derived from skin-clad worshippers at pagan festivals.

Between All Souls’ Day and Martinmas (November 11) there are no folk-festivals of great importance, though on St. Hubert's Day, November 3, in Flemish Belgium special little cakes are made, adorned with the horn of the saint, the patron of hunting, and are eaten not only by human beings but by dogs, cats, and other domestic animals. 8-64 The English Guy Fawkes Day has already been considered, while November 9, Lord Mayor's Day, the beginning of the municipal year, may remind us of the old Teutonic New Year.

Round Martinmas popular customs cluster thickly, as might be expected, since it marks as nearly as possible the date of the old beginning-of-winter festival, the feast perhaps at which Germanicus surprised the Marsi in A.D. 14. 8-65

The most obvious feature of Martinmas is its physical feasting. p. 203 Economic causes, as we saw in  VI, must have made the middle of November a great killing season among the old Germans, for the snow which then began rendered it impossible longer to pasture the beasts, and there was not fodder enough to keep the whole herd through the winter. Thus it was a time of feasting on flesh, and of animal sacrifices, as is suggested by the Anglo-Saxon name given to November by Bede, Blot-monath, sacrifice-month. 8-66

Christmas does not seem to have quickly superseded the middle of November as a popular feast in Teutonic countries; rather one finds an outcome of the conciliatory policy pursued by Gregory the Great (see  VI) in the development of Martinmas. Founded in the fifth century, it was made a great Church festival by Pope Martin I. (649-654), 8-67 and it may well have been intended to absorb and Christianize the New Year festivities of the Teutonic peoples. The veneration of St. Martin spread rapidly in the churches of northern Europe, and he came to be regarded as one of the very chief of the saints. 8-68 His day is no longer a Church feast of high rank, but its importance as a folk festival is great.

The tradition of slaughter is preserved in the British custom of killing cattle on St. Martin's Day—“Martlemas beef” 8-69 —and in the German eating of St. Martin's geese and swine. 8-70 The St. Martin's goose, indeed, is in Germany as much a feature of the festival as the English Michaelmas goose is of the September feast of the angels.

In Denmark too a goose is eaten at Martinmas, and from its breast-bone the character of the coming winter can be foreseen. The white in it is a sign of snow, the brown of very great cold. Similar ideas can be traced in Germany, though there is not always agreement as to what the white and the brown betoken. 8-71

At St. Peter's, Athlone, Ireland, a very obviously sacrificial custom lasted on into the nineteenth century. Every household would kill an animal of some kind, and sprinkle the threshold with its blood. A cow or sheep, a goose or turkey, or merely a **** or hen, was used according to the means of the family. 8-72 It seems that the animal was actually offered to St. Martin, apparently as p. 204 the successor of some god, and bad luck came if the custom were not observed. Probably these rites were transferred to Martinmas from the old Celtic festival of Samhain. Again, in a strange Irish legend the saint himself is said to have been cut up and eaten in the form of an ox. 8-73

In the wine-producing regions of Germany Martinmas was the day for the first drinking of the new wine, and the feasting in general on his day gave the saint the reputation of a guzzler and a glutton; it even became customary to speak of a person who had squandered his substance in riotous living as a Martinsmann. 8-74 As we have seen survivals of sacrifice in the Martinmas slaughter, so we may regard the Martinsminne or toast as originating in a sacrifice of liquor. 8-75 In the Böhmerwald it is believed that wine taken at Martinmas brings strength and beauty, and the lads and girls gather in the inns to drink, while a common German proverb runs:—

“Heb an Martini,

Trink Wein per circulum anni.” 91 8-76

Here, by the way, is a faint suggestion that Martinmas is regarded as the beginning of the year; as such it certainly appears in a number of legal customs, English, French, and German, which existed in the Middle Ages and in some cases in quite recent times. It was often at Martinmas that leases ended, rents had to be paid, and farm-servants changed their places. 8-77

There is a survival, perhaps, of a cereal sacrifice or sacrament in the so-called “Martin's horns,” horseshoe pastries given at Martinmas in many parts of Germany. 8-78 Another kind of sacrifice is suggested by a Dutch custom of throwing baskets of fruit into Martinmas bonfires, and by a German custom of casting in empty fruit-baskets. 8-79 In Venetia the peasants keep over from the vintage a few grapes to form part of their Martinmas supper, and as far south as Sicily it is considered essential to taste the new wine at this festival. 8-80

Bonfires appear at Martinmas in Germany, as at All Hallows tide in the British Isles. On St. Martin's Eve in the Rhine p. 205 Valley between Cologne and Coblentz, numbers of little fires burn on the heights and by the river-bank, 8-81 the young people leap through the flames and dance about them, and the ashes are strewn on the fields to make them fertile. 8-82 Survivals of fire-customs are found also in other regions. In Belgium, Holland, and north-west Germany processions of children with paper or turnip lanterns take place on St. Martin's Eve. In the Eichsfeld district the little river Geislede glows with the light of candles placed in floating nutshells. Even the practice of leaping through the fire survives in a modified form, for in northern Germany it is not uncommon for people on St. Martin's Day or Eve to jump over lighted candles set on the parlour floor. 8-83 In the fifteenth century the Martinmas fires were so many that the festival actually got the name of Funkentag (Spark Day). 8-84

On St. Martin's Eve in Germany and the Low Countries we begin to meet those winter visitors, bright saints and angels on the one hand, mock-terrible bogeys and monsters on the other, who add so much to the romance and mystery of the children's Christmas. Such visitors are to be found in many countries, but it is in the lands of German speech that they take on the most vivid and picturesque forms. St. Martin, St. Nicholas, Christkind, Knecht Ruprecht, and the rest are very real and personal beings to the children, and are awaited with pleasant expectation or mild dread. Often they are beheld not merely with the imagination but with the bodily eye, when father or friend is wondrously transformed into a supernatural figure.

What are the origins of these holy or monstrous beings? It is hard to say with certainty, for many elements, pagan and Christian, seem here to be closely blended. It is pretty clear, however, that the grotesque half-animal shapes are direct relics of heathendom, and it is highly probable that the forms of saints or angels—even, perhaps, of the Christ Child Himself—represent attempts of the Church to transform and sanctify alien things which she could not suppress. What some of these may have been we shall tentatively guess as we go along. Though no grown-up person would take the mimic Martin or Nicholas p. 206 seriously nowadays, there seem to be at the root of them things once regarded as of vital moment. Just as fairy-tales, originally serious attempts to explain natural facts, have now become reading for children, so ritual practices which our ancestors deemed of vast importance for human welfare have become mere games to amuse the young.

On St. Martin's Eve, to come back from speculation to the facts of popular custom, the saint appears in the nurseries of Antwerp and other Flemish towns. He is a man dressed up as a bishop, with a pastoral staff in his hand. His business is to ask if the children have been “good,” and if the result of his inquiries is satisfactory he throws down apples, nuts, and cakes. If not, it is rods that he leaves behind. At Ypres he does not visibly appear, but children hang up stockings filled with hay, and next morning find presents in them, left by the saint in gratitude for the fodder provided for his horse. He is there imagined as a rider on a white horse, and the same conception prevails in Austrian Silesia, where he brings the “Martin's horns” already mentioned. 8-85 In Silesia when it snows at Martinmas people say that the saint is coming on his white horse, and there, it may be noted, the Schimmelreiter appears at the same season. 8-86 In certain respects, it has been suggested, St. Martin may have taken the place of Woden. 8-87 It is perhaps not without significance that, like the god, he is a military hero, and conceived as a rider on horseback. At Düsseldorf he used to be represented in his festival procession by a man riding on another fellow's back. 8-88

At Mechlin and other places children go round from house to house, singing and collecting gifts. Often four boys with paper caps on their heads, dressed as Turks, carry a sort of litter whereon St. Martin sits. He has a long white beard of flax and a paper mitre and stole, and holds a large wooden spoon to receive apples and other eatables that are given to the children, as well as a leather purse for offerings of money. 8-89

In the Ansbach region a different type of being used to appear—Pelzmärten (Skin Martin) by name; he ran about and frightened the children, before he threw them their apples and nuts. In several places in Swabia, too, Pelzmärte was known; p. 207 he had a black face, a cow-bell hung on his person, and he distributed blows as well as nuts and apples. 8-90 In him there is obviously more of the pagan mummer than the Christian bishop.

In Belgium St. Martin is chiefly known as the bringer of apples and nuts for children; in Bavaria and Austria he has a different aspect: a gerte or rod, supposed to promote fruitfulness among cattle and prosperity in general, is connected with his day. The rods are taken round by the neatherds to the farmers, and one is given to each—two to rich proprietors; they are to be used, when spring comes, to drive out the cattle for the first time. In Bavaria they are formed by a birch-bough with all the leaves and twigs stripped off—except at the top, to which oak-leaves and juniper-twigs are fastened. At Etzendorf a curious old rhyme shows that the herdsman with the rod is regarded as the representative of St. Martin. 8-91

Can we connect this custom with the saint who brings presents to youngsters? 92 There seems to be a point of contact when we note that at Antwerp St. Martin throws down rods for naughty children as well as nuts and apples for good ones, and that Pelzmärte in Swabia has blows to bestow as well as gifts. St. Martin's main functions—and, as we shall see, St. Nicholas has the same—are to beat the bad children and reward the good with apples, nuts, and cakes. Can it be that the ethical distinction is of comparatively recent origin, an invention perhaps for children when the customs came to be performed solely for their benefit, and that the beating and the gifts were originally shared by all alike and were of a sacramental character? We shall meet with more whipping customs later on, they are common enough in folk-ritual, and are not punishments, but kindly services; their purpose is to drive away evil influences, and to bring to the flogged one the life-giving virtues of the tree from which the twigs or boughs are taken. 8-92 Both the flogging and the eating of fruit may, indeed, be means of contact with the vegetation-spirit, the one in p. 208 an external, the other in a more internal way. Or possibly the rod and the fruit may once have been conjoined, the beating being performed with fruit-laden boughs in order to produce prosperity. It is noteworthy that at Etzendorf so many head of cattle and loads of hay are augured for the farmer as there are juniper-berries and twigs on St. Martin's gerte. 8-94

Attempts to account for the figures of SS. Martin and Nicholas in northern folk-customs have been made along various lines. Some scholars regard them as Christianizations of the pagan god Woden; but they might also be taken as akin to the “first-foots” whom we shall meet on January 1—visitors who bring good luck—or as maskers connected with animal sacrifices (Pelzmärte suggests this), or again as related to the Boy Bishop, the Lord of Misrule and the Twelfth Night King. May I suggest that some at least of their aspects could be explained on the supposition that they represent administrants of primitive vegetation sacraments, and that these administrants, once ordinary human beings, have taken on the name and attributes of the saint who under the Christian dispensation presides over the festival? In any case it is a strange irony of history that around the festival of Martin of Tours, the zealous soldier of Christ and deadly foe of heathenism, should have gathered so much that is unmistakably pagan.

p. 209 p. 210 p. 211


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« Reply #80 on: December 26, 2008, 12:20:46 am »


St. Clement's Day Quests and Processions—St. Catherine's Day as Spinsters’ Festival—St. Andrew's Eve Auguries—The Klöpfelnächte—St. Nicholas's Day, the Saint as Gift-bringer, and his Attendants—Election of the Boy Bishop—St. Nicholas's Day at Bari—St. Lucia's Day in Sweden, Sicily, and Central Europe—St. Thomas's Day as School Festival—Its Uncanny Eve—“Going a-Thomassin’.”

St. Clement's Day.
The next folk-feast after Martinmas is St. Clement's Day, November 23, once reckoned the first day of winter in England. 9-1 It marks apparently one of the stages in the progress of the winter feast towards its present solstitial date. In England some interesting popular customs existed on this day. In Staffordshire children used to go round to the village houses begging for gifts, with rhymes resembling in many ways the “souling” verses I have already quoted. Here is one of the Staffordshire “clemencing” songs:—

“Clemany! Clemany! Clemany mine!

A good red apple and a pint of wine,

Some of your mutton and some of your veal,

If it is good, pray give me a deal;

If it is not, pray give me some salt.

Butler, butler, fill your bowl;

If thou fill'st it of the best,

The Lord'll send your soul to rest;

If thou fill'st it of the small,

Down goes butler, bowl and all.p. 212

Pray, good mistress, send to me

One for Peter, one for Paul,

One for Him who made us all;

Apple, pear, plum, or cherry,

Any good thing to make us merry;

A bouncing buck and a velvet chair,

Clement comes but once a year;

Off with the pot and on with the pan,

A good red apple and I'll be gone.” 9-2

In Worcestershire on St. Clement's Day the boys chanted similar rhymes, and at the close of their collection they would roast the apples received and throw them into ale or cider. 9-3 In the north of England men used to go about begging drink, and at Ripon Minster the choristers went round the church offering everyone a rosy apple with a sprig of box on it. 9-4 The Cambridge bakers held their annual supper on this day, 9-5 at Tenby the fishermen were given a supper, 9-6 while the blacksmiths’ apprentices at Woolwich had a remarkable ceremony, akin perhaps to the Boy Bishop customs. One of their number was chosen to play the part of “Old Clem,” was attired in a great coat, and wore a mask, a long white beard, and an oakum wig. Seated in a large wooden chair, and surrounded by attendants bearing banners, torches, and weapons, he was borne about the town on the shoulders of six men, visiting numerous public-houses and the blacksmiths and officers of the dockyard. Before him he had a wooden anvil, and in his hands a pair of tongs and a wooden hammer, the insignia of the blacksmith's trade. 9-7

St. Catherine's Day.
November 25 is St. Catherine's Day, and at Woolwich Arsenal a similar ceremony was then performed: a man was dressed in female attire, with a large wheel by his side to represent the saint, and was taken round the town 9-8 in a wooden chair. At Chatham there was a torchlight procession on St. Catherine's Day, and a woman in white muslin with a gilt crown was carried about in a chair. She was said to represent not the saint, but Queen Catherine. 9-9

p. 213 St. Catherine's Day was formerly a festival for the lacemakers of Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire, and Bedfordshire. She was the patroness of spinsters in the literal as well as the modern sense of the word, and at Peterborough the workhouse girls used to go in procession round the city on her day, dressed in white with coloured ribbons; the tallest was chosen as Queen and bore a crown and sceptre. As they went to beg money of the chief inhabitants they sang a quaint ballad which begins thus:—

“Here comes Queen Catherine, as fine as any queen,

With a coach and six horses a-coming to be seen,

And a-spinning we will go, will go, will go,

And a-spinning we will go.” 9-10

We may perhaps see in this Saint or Queen Catherine a female counterpart of the Boy Bishop, who began his career on St. Nicholas's Day. Catherine, it must be remembered, is the patron saint of girls as Nicholas is of boys. In Belgium her day is still a festival for the “young person” both in schools and in families. 9-11 Even in modern Paris the dressmaker-girls celebrate it, and in a very charming way, too.

“At midday the girls of every workroom present little mob-caps trimmed with yellow ribbons to those of their number who are over twenty-five and still unmarried. Then they themselves put on becoming little caps with yellow flowers and yellow ribbons and a sprig of orange blossom on them, and out they go arm-in-arm to parade the streets and collect a tribute of flowers from every man they meet.... Instead of working all the afternoon, the midinettes entertain all their friends (no men admitted, though, for it is the day of St. Catherine) to concerts and even to dramatic performances in the workrooms, where the work-tables are turned into stages, and the employers provide supper.” 9-12

St. Andrew's Day.
The last day of November is the feast of St. Andrew. Of English customs on this day the most interesting perhaps are those connected with the “Tander” or “Tandrew” merrymakings p. 214 of the Northamptonshire lacemakers. A day of general licence used to end in masquerading. Women went about in male attire and men and boys in female dress. 9-13 In Kent and Sussex squirrel-hunting was practised on this day 9-14 —a survival apparently of some old sacrificial custom comparable with the hunting of the wren at Christmas (see  XII).

In Germany St. Andrew's Eve is a great occasion for prognostications of the future. Indeed, like Hallowe'en in Great Britain, Andreasabend in Germany seems to have preserved the customs of augury connected with the old November New Year festival. 9-15 To a large extent the practices are performed by girls anxious to know what sort of husband they will get. Many and various are the methods.

Sometimes it suffices to repeat some such rhyme as the following before going to sleep, and the future husband will appear in a dream:—

“St. Andrew's Eve is to-day,

Sleep all people,

Sleep all children of men,

Who are between heaven and earth,

Except this only man,

Who may be mine in marriage.” 9-16

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« Reply #81 on: December 26, 2008, 12:21:20 am »

Again, at nightfall let a girl shut herself up naked in her bedroom, take two beakers, and into one pour clear water, into the other wine. These let her place on the table, which is to be covered with white, and let the following words be said:—

“My dear St. Andrew!

Let now appear before me

My heart's most dearly beloved.

If he shall be rich,

He will pour a cup of wine;

If he is to be poor,

Let him pour a cup of water.”

This done, the form of the future husband will enter and drink p. 215 of one of the cups. If he is poor, he will take the water; if rich, the wine. 9-17

One of the most common practices is to pour molten lead or tin through a key into cold water, and to discover the calling of the future husband by the form it takes, which will represent the tools of his trade. The white of an egg is sometimes used for the same purpose. 9-18 Another very widespread custom is to put nutshells to float on water with little candles burning in them. There are twice as many shells as there are girls present; each girl has her shell, and to the others the names of possible suitors are given. The man and the girl whose shells come together will marry one another. Sometimes the same method is practised with little cups of silver foil. 9-19

On the border of Saxony and Bohemia, a maiden who wishes to know the bodily build of her future husband goes in the darkness to a stack of wood and draws out a piece. If the wood is smooth and straight the man will be slim and well built; if it is crooked, or knotted, he will be ill-developed or even a hunchback. 9-20

These are but a few of the many ways in which girls seek to peer into the future and learn something about the most important event in their lives. Far less numerous, but not altogether absent on this night, are other kinds of prognostication. A person, for instance, who wishes to know whether he will die in the coming year, must on St. Andrew's Eve before going to bed make on the table a little pointed heap of flour. If by the morning it has fallen asunder, the maker will die. 9-21

The association of St. Andrew's Eve with the foreseeing of the future is not confined to the German race; it is found also on Slavonic and Roumanian ground. In Croatia he who fasts then will behold his future wife in a dream, 9-22 and among the Roumanians mothers anxious about their children's luck break small sprays from fruit-trees, bind them together in bunches, one for each child, and put them in a glass of water. The branch of the lucky one will blossom. 9-23

In Roumania St. Andrew's Eve is a creepy time, for on it vampires are supposed to rise from their graves, and with coffins p. 216 on their heads walk about the houses in which they once lived. Before nightfall every woman takes some garlic and anoints with it the door locks and window casements; this will keep away the vampires. At the cross-roads there is a great fight of these loathsome beings until the first **** crows; and not only the dead take part in this, but also some living men who are vampires from their birth. Sometimes it is only the souls of these living vampires that join in the fight; the soul comes out through the mouth in the form of a bluish flame, takes the shape of an animal, and runs to the crossway. If the body meanwhile is moved from its place the person dies, for the soul cannot find its way back. 9-24

St. Andrew's Day is sometimes the last, sometimes the first important festival of the western Church's year. It is regarded in parts of Germany as the beginning of winter, as witness the saying:—


es de Winter gewisse.” 93 9-25

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« Reply #82 on: December 26, 2008, 12:21:56 am »

The nights are now almost at their longest, and as November passes away, giving place to the last month of the year, Christmas is felt to be near at hand.

In northern Bohemia it is customary for peasant girls to keep for themselves all the yarn they spin on St. Andrew's Eve, and the Hausfrau gives them also some flax and a little money. With this they buy coffee and other refreshments for the lads who come to visit the parlours where in the long winter evenings the women sit spinning. These evenings, when many gather together in a brightly lighted room and sing songs and tell stories while they spin, are cheerful enough, and spice is added by the visits of the village lads, who in some places come to see the girls home. 9-26

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« Reply #83 on: December 26, 2008, 12:22:28 am »

The Klöpfelnächte.

On the Thursday nights in Advent it is customary in southern Germany for children or grown-up people to go from house p. 217 to house, singing hymns and knocking on the doors with rods or little hammers, or throwing peas, lentils, and the like against the windows. Hence these evenings have gained the name of Klöpfel or Knöpflinsnächte (Knocking Nights). 9-27 The practice is described by Naogeorgus in the sixteenth century:—

“Three weekes before the day whereon was borne the Lord of Grace,

And on the Thursdaye Boyes and Girles do runne in every place,

And bounce and beate at every doore, with blowes and lustie snaps,

And crie, the Advent of the Lorde not borne as yet perhaps.

And wishing to the neighbours all, that in the houses dwell,

A happie yeare, and every thing to spring and prosper well:

Here have they peares, and plumbs, and pence, ech man gives willinglee,

For these three nightes are alwayes thought, unfortunate to bee;

Wherein they are afrayde of sprites and cankred witches’ spight,

And dreadfull devils blacke and grim, that then have chiefest might.” 9-28

With it may be compared the Macedonian custom for village boys to go in parties at nightfall on Christmas Eve, knocking at the cottage doors with sticks, shouting Kolianda! Kolianda! and receiving presents, 9-29 and also one in vogue in Holland between Christmas and the Epiphany. There “the children go out in couples, each boy carrying an earthenware pot, over which a bladder is stretched, with a piece of stick tied in the middle. When this stick is twirled about, a not very melodious grumbling sound proceeds from the contrivance, which is known by the name of ‘Rommelpot.’ By going about in this manner the children are able to collect some few pence.” 9-30

Can such practices have originated in attempts to drive out evil spirits from the houses by noise? Similar methods are used for that purpose by various European and other peoples. 9-31 Anyhow something mysterious hangs about the Klöpfelnächte. They are occasions for girls to learn about their future husbands, and upon them in Swabia goes about Pelzmärte, whom we already know. 9-32

p. 218 In Tyrol curious mummeries are then performed. At Pillersee in the Lower Innthal two youths combine to form a mimic ass, upon which a third rides, and they are followed by a motley train. The ass falls sick and has to be cured by a “vet,” and all kinds of satirical jokes are made about things that have happened in the parish during the year. Elsewhere two men dress up in straw as husband and wife, and go out with a masked company. The pair wrangle with one another and carry on a play of wits with the peasants whose house they are visiting. Sometimes the satire is so cutting that permanent enmities ensue, and for this reason the practice is gradually being dropped. 9-33

St. Nicholas's Day.
On December 6 we reach the most distinctive children's festival of the whole year, St. Nicholas's Day. In England it has gone out of mind, and in the flat north of Germany Protestantism has largely rooted it out, as savouring too much of saint-worship, and transferred its festivities to the more Evangelical season of Christmas. 9-34 In western and southern Germany, however, and in Austria, Switzerland, and the Low Countries, it is still a day of joy for children, though in some regions even there its radiance tends to pale before the greater glory of the Christmas-tree.

It is not easy either to get at the historic facts about St. Nicholas, the fourth-century bishop of Myra in Asia Minor, or to ascertain why he became the patron saint of boys. The legends of his infant piety and his later wondrous works for the benefit of young people may either have given rise, or be themselves due to, his connection with children. 9-35 In eastern Europe and southern Italy he is above all things the saint of seafaring men, and among the Greeks his cult has perhaps replaced that of Artemis as a sea divinity. 9-36 This aspect of him does not, however, appear in the German festival customs with which we are here chiefly concerned.

It has already been hinted that in some respects St. Nicholas is a duplicate of St. Martin. His feast, indeed, is probably a later beginning-of-winter festival, dating from the period when p. 219 improved methods of agriculture and other causes made early December, rather than mid-November, the time for the great annual slaughter and its attendant rejoicings. Like St. Martin he brings sweet things for the good children and rods for the bad.

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« Reply #84 on: December 26, 2008, 12:22:55 am »

St. Nicholas's Eve is a time of festive stir in Holland and Belgium; the shops are full of pleasant little gifts: many-shaped biscuits, gilt gingerbreads, sometimes representing the saint, sugar images, toys, and other trifles. In many places, when evening comes on, people dress up as St. Nicholas, with mitre and pastoral staff, enquire about the behaviour of the children, and if it has been good pronounce a benediction and promise them a reward next morning. Before they go to bed the children put out their shoes, with hay, straw, or a carrot in them for the saint's white horse or ass. When they wake in the morning, if they have been “good” the fodder is gone and sweet things or toys are in its place; if they have misbehaved themselves the provender is untouched and no gift but a rod is there. 9-37

In various parts of Germany, Switzerland, and Austria St. Nicholas is mimed by a man dressed up as a bishop. 9-38 In Tyrol children pray to the saint on his Eve and leave out hay for his white horse and a glass of schnaps for his servant. And he comes in all the splendour of a church-image, a reverend grey-haired figure with flowing beard, gold-broidered cope, glittering mitre, and pastoral staff. Children who know their catechism are rewarded with sweet things out of the basket carried by his servant; those who cannot answer are reproved, and St. Nicholas points to a terrible form that stands behind him with a rod—the hideous Klaubauf, a shaggy monster with horns, black face, fiery eyes, long red tongue, and chains that clank as he moves. 9-39

In Lower Austria the saint is followed by a similar figure called Krampus or Grampus; 9-40 in Styria this horrible attendant is named Bartel; 9-41 all are no doubt related to such monsters as the Klapperbock (see  VII). Their heathen origin is evident though it is difficult to trace their exact pedigree. Sometimes St. Nicholas himself appears in a non-churchly form like Pelzmärte, with a bell, 9-42 or with a sack of ashes which gains him the name of Aschenklas. 9-43

p. 220 Not only by hideous figures is St. Nicholas attended. Sometimes, as at Warnsdorf near Rumburg, there come with him the forms of Christ Himself, St. Peter, an angel, and the famous Knecht Ruprecht, whom we shall meet again on Christmas Eve. They are represented by children, and a little drama is performed, one personage coming in after the other and calling for the next in the manner of the English mummers’ play. St. Nicholas, St. Peter, and Ruprecht accuse the children of all kinds of naughtiness, the “Heiliger Christ” intercedes and at last throws nuts down and receives money from the parents. 9-44 In Tyrol there are St. Nicholas plays of a more comic nature, performed publicly by large companies of players and introducing a number of humorous characters and much rude popular wit. 9-45

Sometimes a female bogey used to appear: Budelfrau in Lower Austria, Berchtel in Swabia, Buzebergt in the neighbourhood of Augsburg. 9-46 The last two are plainly variants of Berchte, who is specially connected with the Epiphany. Berchtel used to punish the naughty children with a rod, and reward the good with nuts and apples; Buzebergt wore black rags, had her face blackened and her hair hanging unkempt, and carried a pot of starch which she smeared upon people's faces. 9-47

As Santa Klaus St. Nicholas is of course known to every English child, but rather as a sort of incarnation of Christmas than as a saint with a day of his own. Santa Klaus, probably, has come to us viâ the United States, whither the Dutch took him, and where he has still immense popularity.

In the Middle Ages in England as elsewhere the Eve of St. Nicholas was a day of great excitement for boys. It was then that the small choristers and servers in cathedral and other churches generally elected their “Boy Bishop” or “Nicholas.” 9-48 He had in some places to officiate at First Vespers and at the services on the festival itself. As a rule, however, the feast of the Holy Innocents, December 28, was probably the most important day in the Boy Bishop's career, and we may therefore postpone our consideration of him. We will here only note his connection with the festival of the patron saint of boys, a connection perhaps implying a common origin for him and p. 221 for the St. Nicholases who in bishops’ vestments make their present-giving rounds.

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« Reply #85 on: December 26, 2008, 12:23:35 am »

The festival of St. Nicholas is naturally celebrated with most splendour at the place where his body lies, the seaport of Bari in south-eastern Italy. The holy bones are preserved in a sepulchre beneath a crypt of rich Saracenic architecture, above which rises a magnificent church. Legend relates that in the eleventh century they were stolen by certain merchants of Bari from the saint's own cathedral at Myra in Asia Minor. The tomb of St. Nicholas is a famous centre for pilgrimages, and on the 6th of December many thousands of the faithful, bearing staves bound with olive and pine, visit it. An interesting ceremony on the festival is the taking of the saint's image out to sea by the sailors of the port. They return with it at nightfall, and a great procession escorts it back to the cathedral with torches and fireworks and chanting. 9-49 Here may be seen the other, the seafaring, aspect of St. Nicholas; by this mariners’ cult we are taken far away from the present-giving saint who delights the small children of the North.

St. Lucia's Day.
The only folk-festivals of note between St. Nicholas's Day and Christmas are those of St. Lucia (December 13) and St. Thomas the Apostle (December 21).

In Sweden St. Lucia's Day was formerly marked by some interesting practices. It was, so to speak, the entrance to the Christmas festival, and was called “little Yule.” 9-50 At the first ****-crow, between 1 and 4 a.m., the prettiest girl in the house used to go among the sleeping folk, dressed in a white robe, a red sash, and a wire crown covered with whortleberry-twigs and having nine lighted candles fastened in it. She awakened the sleepers and regaled them with a sweet drink or with coffee, 94 sang a special song, and was named “Lussi” or “Lussibruden” (Lucy bride). When everyone was dressed, breakfast was taken, the room being lighted by many candles. The domestic animals p. 222 were not forgotten on this day, but were given special portions. A peculiar feature of the Swedish custom is the presence of lights on Lussi's crown. Lights indeed are the special mark of the festival; it was customary to shoot and fish on St. Lucy's Day by torchlight, the parlours, as has been said, were brilliantly illuminated in the early morning, in West Gothland Lussi went round the village preceded by torchbearers, and in one parish she was represented by a cow with a crown of lights on her head. In schools the day was celebrated with illuminations. 9-51

What is the explanation of this feast of lights? There is nothing in the legend of the saint to account for it; her name, however, at once suggests lux—light. It is possible, as Dr. Feilberg supposes, that the name gave rise to the special use of lights among the Latin-learned monks who brought Christianity to Sweden, and that the custom spread from them to the common people. A peculiar fitness would be found in it because St. Lucia's Day according to the Old Style was the shortest day of the year, the turning-point of the sun's light. 9-52

In Sicily also St. Lucia's festival is a feast of lights. After sunset on the Eve a long procession of men, lads, and children, each flourishing a thick bunch of long straws all afire, rushes wildly down the streets of the mountain village of Montedoro, as if fleeing from some danger, and shouting hoarsely. “The darkness of the night,” says an eye-witness, “was lighted up by this savage procession of dancing, flaming torches, whilst bonfires in all the side streets gave the illusion that the whole village was burning.” At the end of the procession came the image of Santa Lucia, holding a dish which contained her eyes. 95 In the midst of the piazza a great mountain of straw had been prepared; on this everyone threw his own burning torch, and the saint was placed in a spot from which she could survey the vast bonfire. 9-53

In central Europe we see St. Lucia in other aspects. In the Böhmerwald she goes round the village in the form of a nanny-goat with horns, gives fruit to the good children, and threatens to rip open the belly of the naughty. Here she is evidently related p. 223 to the pagan monsters already described. In Tyrol she plays a more graceful part: she brings presents for girls, an office which St. Nicholas is there supposed to perform for boys only. 9-55

In Lower Austria St. Lucia's Eve is a time when special danger from witchcraft is feared and must be averted by prayer and incense. A procession is made through each house to cense every room. On this evening, too, girls are afraid to spin lest in the morning they should find their distaffs twisted, the threads broken, and the yarn in confusion. (We shall meet with like superstitions during the Twelve Nights.) At midnight the girls practise a strange ceremony: they go to a willow-bordered brook, cut the bark of a tree partly away, without detaching it, make with a knife a cross on the inner side of the cut bark, moisten it with water, and carefully close up the opening. On New Year's Day the cutting is opened, and the future is augured from the markings found. The lads, on the other hand, look out at midnight for a mysterious light, the Luzieschein, the forms of which indicate coming events. 9-56

In Denmark, too, St. Lucia's Eve is a time for seeing the future. Here is a prayer of Danish maids: “Sweet St. Lucy let me know: whose cloth I shall lay, whose bed I shall make, whose child I shall bear, whose darling I shall be, whose arms I shall sleep in.” 9-57

St. Thomas's Day.
Many and various are the customs and beliefs associated with the feast of St. Thomas (December 21). In Denmark it was formerly a great children's day, unique in the year, and rather resembling the mediaeval Boy Bishop festival. It was the breaking-up day for schools; the children used to bring their master an offering of candles and money, and in return he gave them a feast. In some places it had an even more delightful side: for this one day in the year the children were allowed the mastery in the school. Testimonials to their scholarship and industry were made out, and elaborate titles were added to their names, as exalted sometimes as “Pope,” “Emperor,” or “Empress.” Poor children used to go about showing these p. 224 documents and collecting money. Games and larks of all sorts went on in the schools without a word of reproof, and the children were wont to burn their master's rod. 9-58

In the neighbourhood of Antwerp children go early to school on St. Thomas's Day, and lock the master out, until he promises to treat them with ale or other drink. After this they buy a **** and hen, which are allowed to escape and have to be caught by the boys or the girls respectively. The girl who catches the hen is called “queen,” the boy who gets the ****, “king.” Elsewhere in Belgium children lock out their parents, and servants their masters, while schoolboys bind their teacher to his chair and carry him over to the inn. There he has to buy back his liberty by treating his scholars with punch and cakes. Instead of the chase for the fowls, it was up to 1850 the custom in the Ardennes for the teacher to give the children hens and let them chop the heads off. 9-59 Some pagan sacrifice no doubt lies at the root of this barbarous practice, which has many parallels in the folk-lore of western and southern Europe. 9-60

As for schoolboys’ larks with their teachers, the custom of “barring out the master” existed in England, and was practised before Christmas 9-61 as well as at other times of the year, notably Shrove Tuesday. At Bromfield in Cumberland on Shrove Tuesday there was a regular siege, the school doors were strongly barricaded within, and the boy-defenders were armed with pop-guns. If the master won, heavy tasks were imposed, but if, as more often happened, he was defeated in his efforts to regain his authority, he had to make terms with the boys as to the hours of work and play. 9-62

St. Thomas's Eve is in certain regions one of the uncanniest nights in the year. In some Bohemian villages the saint is believed to drive about at midnight in a chariot of fire. In the churchyard there await him all the dead men whose name is Thomas; they help him to alight and accompany him to the churchyard cross, which glows red with supernatural radiance. There St. Thomas kneels and prays, and then rises to bless his namesakes. This done, he vanishes beneath the cross, and each Thomas returns to his grave. The saint here seems to have taken over p. 225 the character of some pagan god, who, like the Teutonic Odin or Woden, ruled the souls of the departed. In the houses the people listen with awe for the sound of his chariot, and when it is heard make anxious prayer to him for protection from all ill. Before retiring to rest the house-father goes to the cowhouse with holy water and consecrated salt, asperges it from without, and then entering, sprinkles every cow. Salt is also thrown on the head of each animal with the words, “St. Thomas preserve thee from all sickness.” In the Böhmerwald the cattle are fed on this night with consecrated bayberries, bread, and salt, in order to avert disease. 9-63

In Upper and Lower Austria St. Thomas's Eve is reckoned as one of the so-called Rauchnächte (smoke-nights) when houses and farm-buildings must be sanctified with incense and holy water, the other nights being the Eves of Christmas, the New Year, and the Epiphany. 9-64

In Germany St. Thomas's, like St. Andrew's Eve, is a time for forecasting the future, and the methods already described are sometimes employed by girls who wish to behold their future husbands. A widely diffused custom is that of throwing shoes backwards over the shoulders. If the points are found turned towards the door the thrower is destined to leave the house during the year; if they are turned away from it another year will be spent there. In Westphalia a belief prevails that you must eat and drink heartily on this night in order to avert scarcity. 9-65

In Lower Austria it is supposed that sluggards can cure themselves of oversleeping by saying a special prayer before they go to bed on St. Thomas's Eve, and in Westphalia in the mid-nineteenth century the same association of the day with slumber was shown by the schoolchildren's custom of calling the child who arrived last at school Domesesel (Thomas ass). In Holland, again, the person who lies longest in bed on St. Thomas's Day is greeted with shouts of “lazybones.” Probably the fact that December 21 is the shortest day is enough to account for this. 9-66

In England there was divination by means of “St. Thomas's onion.” Girls used to peel an onion, wrap it in a handkerchief and put it under their heads at night, with a prayer to the satin p. 226 to show them their true love in a dream. 9-67 The most notable English custom on this day, however, was the peregrinations of poor people begging for money or provisions for Christmas. Going “a-gooding,” or “a-Thomassin’,” or “a-mumping,” this was called. Sometimes in return for the charity bestowed a sprig of holly or mistletoe was given. 9-68 Possibly the sprig was originally a sacrament of the healthful spirit of growth: it may be compared with the olive- or cornel-branches carried about on New Year's Eve by Macedonian boys, 9-69 and also with the St. Martin's rod (see  VII).

One more English custom on December 21 must be mentioned—it points to a sometime sacrifice—the bull-baiting practised until 1821 at Wokingham in Berkshire. Its abolition in 1822 caused great resentment among the populace, although the flesh continued to be duly distributed. 9-70

We are now four days from the feast of the Nativity, and many things commonly regarded as distinctive of Christmas have already come under notice. We have met, for instance, with several kinds of present-giving, with auguries for the New Year, with processions of carol-singers and well-wishers, with ceremonial feasting that anticipates the Christmas eating and drinking, and with various figures, saintly or monstrous, mimed or merely imagined, which we shall find reappearing at the greatest of winter festivals. These things would seem to have been attracted from earlier dates to the feast of the Nativity, and the probability that Christmas has borrowed much from an old November festival gradually shifted into December, is our justification for having dwelt so long upon the feasts that precede the Twelve Days.

p. 227 p. 228 p. 229


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Erika Zimney
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« Reply #86 on: December 26, 2008, 12:24:49 am »


Christkind, Santa Klaus, and Knecht Ruprecht—Talking Animals and other Wonders of Christmas Eve—Scandinavian Beliefs about Trolls and the Return of the Dead—Traditional Christmas Songs in Eastern Europe—The Twelve Days, their Christian Origin and Pagan Superstitions—The Raging Host—Hints of Supernatural Visitors in England—The German Frauen—The Greek Kallikantzaroi.

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Erika Zimney
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« Reply #87 on: December 26, 2008, 12:36:01 am »

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Erika Zimney
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« Reply #88 on: December 26, 2008, 12:36:39 am »

Christmas Eve.

Christmas in the narrowest sense must be reckoned as beginning on the evening of December 24. Though Christmas Eve is not much observed in modern England, throughout the rest of Europe its importance so far as popular customs are concerned is far greater than that of the Day itself. Then in Germany the Christmas-tree is manifested in its glory; then, as in the England of the past, the Yule log is solemnly lighted in many lands; then often the most distinctive Christmas meal takes place.

We shall consider these and other institutions later; though they appear first on Christmas Eve, they belong more or less to the Twelve Days as a whole. Let us look first at the supernatural visitors, mimed by human beings, who delight the minds of children, especially in Germany, on the evening of December 24, and at the beliefs that hang around this most solemn night of the year.

First of all, the activities of St. Nicholas are not confined to his own festival; he often appears on Christmas Eve. We have already seen how he is attended by various companions, including p. 230 Christ Himself, and how he comes now vested as a bishop, now as a masked and shaggy figure. The names and attributes of the Christmas and Advent visitors are rather confused, but on the whole it may be said that in Protestant north Germany the episcopal St. Nicholas and his Eve have been replaced by Christmas Eve and the Christ Child, while the name Klas has become attached to various unsaintly forms appearing at or shortly before Christmas.

We can trace a deliberate substitution of the Christ Child for St. Nicholas as the bringer of gifts. In the early seventeenth century a Protestant pastor is found complaining that parents put presents in their children's beds and tell them that St. Nicholas has brought them. “This,” he says, “is a bad custom, because it points children to the saint, while yet we know that not St. Nicholas but the holy Christ Child gives us all good things for body and soul, and He alone it is whom we ought to call upon.” 10-1

The ways in which the figure, or at all events the name, of Christ Himself, is introduced into German Christmas customs, are often surprising. The Christ Child, “Christkind,” so familiar to German children, has now become a sort of mythical figure, a product of sentiment and imagination working so freely as almost to forget the sacred character of the original. Christkind bears little resemblance to the Infant of Bethlehem; he is quite a tall child, and is often represented by a girl dressed in white, with long fair hair. He hovers, indeed, between the character of the Divine Infant and that of an angel, and is regarded more as a kind of good fairy than as anything else.

In Alsace the girl who represents Christkind has her face “made up” with flour, wears a crown of gold paper with lighted candles in it—a parallel to the headgear of the Swedish Lussi; in one hand she holds a silver bell, in the other, a basket of sweetmeats. She is followed by the terrible Hans Trapp, dressed in a bearskin, with blackened face, long beard, and threatening rod. He “goes for” the naughty children, who are only saved by the intercession of Christkind. 10-2

In the Mittelmark the name of de hêle (holy) Christ is strangely p. 231 given to a skin- or straw-clad man, elsewhere called Knecht Ruprecht, Klas, or Joseph. 10-3 In the Ruppin district a man dresses up in white with ribbons, carries a large pouch, and is called Christmann or Christpuppe. He is accompanied by a Schimmelreiter and by other fellows who are attired as women, have blackened faces, and are named Feien (we may see in them a likeness to the Kalends maskers condemned by the early Church). The procession goes round from house to house. The Schimmelreiter as he enters has to jump over a chair; this done, the Christpuppe is admitted. The girls present begin to sing, and the Schimmelreiter dances with one of them. Meanwhile the Christpuppe makes the children repeat some verse of Scripture or a hymn; if they know it well, he rewards them with gingerbreads from his wallet; if not, he beats them with a bundle filled with ashes. Then both he and the Schimmelreiter dance and pass on. Only when they are gone are the Feien allowed to enter; they jump wildly about and frighten the children. 10-4

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« Reply #89 on: December 26, 2008, 12:37:04 am »

Knecht Ruprecht, to whom allusion has already been made, is a prominent figure in the German Christmas. On Christmas Eve in the north he goes about clad in skins or straw and examines children; if they can say their prayers perfectly he rewards them with apples, nuts and gingerbreads; if not, he punishes them. In the Mittelmark, as we have seen, a personage corresponding to him is sometimes called “the holy Christ”; in Mecklenburg he is “rû Klas” (rough Nicholas—note his identification with the saint); in Brunswick, Hanover, and Holstein “Klas,” “Klawes,” “Klas Bûr” and “Bullerklas”; and in Silesia “Joseph.” Sometimes he wears bells and carries a long staff with a bag of ashes at the end—hence the name “Aschenklas” occasionally given to him. 10-5 An ingenious theory connects this aspect of him with the polaznik of the Slavs, who on Christmas Day in Crivoscian farms goes to the hearth, takes up the ashes of the Yule log and dashes them against the cauldron-hook above so that sparks fly (see  X). 10-6 As for the name “Ruprecht” the older mythologists interpreted it as meaning “shining with glory,” hruodperaht, and identified its owner with the god Woden. 10-7 Dr. Tille, however, regards him p. 232 as dating only from the seventeenth century. 10-8 It can hardly be said that any satisfactory account has as yet been given of the origins of this personage, or of his relation to St. Nicholas, Pelzmärte, and monstrous creatures like the Klapperbock.

In the south-western part of Lower Austria, both St. Nicholas—a proper bishop with mitre, staff, and ring—and Ruprecht appear on Christmas Eve, and there is quite an elaborate ceremonial. The children welcome the saint with a hymn; then he goes to a table and makes each child repeat a prayer and show his lesson-books. Meanwhile Ruprecht in a hide, with glowing eyes and a long red tongue, stands at the door to overawe the young people. Each child next kneels before the saint and kisses his ring, whereupon Nicholas bids him put his shoes out-of-doors and look in them when the clock strikes ten. After this the saint lays on the table a rod dipped in lime, solemnly blesses the children, sprinkling them with holy water, and noiselessly departs. The children steal out into the garden, clear a space in the snow, and set out their shoes; when the last stroke of ten has sounded they find them filled with nuts and apples and all kinds of sweet things. 10-9

In the Troppau district of Austrian Silesia, three figures go round on Christmas Eve—Christkindel, the archangel Gabriel, and St. Peter—and perform a little play before the presents they bring are given. Christkindel announces that he has gifts for the good children, but the bad shall feel the rod. St. Peter complains of the naughtiness of the youngsters: they play about in the streets instead of going straight to school; they tear up their lesson-books and do many other wicked things. However, the children's mother pleads for them, and St. Peter relents and gives out the presents. 10-10

In the Erzgebirge appear St. Peter and Ruprecht, who is clad in skin and straw, has a mask over his face, a rod, a chain round his body, and a sack with apples, nuts, and other gifts; and a somewhat similar performance is gone through. 10-11

If we go as far east as Russia we find a parallel to the girl Christkind in Kolyáda, a white-robed maiden driven about in a sledge from house to house on Christmas Eve. The young people who attended her sang carols, and presents were given p. 233 them in return. Kolyáda is the name for Christmas and appears to be derived from Kalendae, which probably entered the Slavonic languages by way of Byzantium. The maiden is one of those beings who, like the Italian Befana, have taken their names from the festival at which they appear. 10-12

No time in all the Twelve Nights and Days is so charged with the supernatural as Christmas Eve. Doubtless this is due to the fact that the Church has hallowed the night of December 24-5 above all others in the year. It was to the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night that, according to the Third Evangelist, came the angelic message of the Birth, and in harmony with this is the unique Midnight Mass of the Roman Church, lending a peculiar sanctity to the hour of its celebration. And yet many of the beliefs associated with this night show a large admixture of paganism.

First, there is the idea that at midnight on Christmas Eve animals have the power of speech. This superstition exists in various parts of Europe, and no one can hear the beasts talk with impunity. The idea has given rise to some curious and rather grim tales. Here is one from Brittany:—

“Once upon a time there was a woman who starved her cat and dog. At midnight on Christmas Eve she heard the dog say to the cat, ‘It is quite time we lost our mistress; she is a regular miser. To-night burglars are coming to steal her money; and if she cries out they will break her head.’ ‘’Twill be a good deed,’ the cat replied. The woman in terror got up to go to a neighbour's house; as she went out the burglars opened the door, and when she shouted for help they broke her head.” 10-13

Again a story is told of a farm servant in the German Alps who did not believe that the beasts could speak, and hid in a stable on Christmas Eve to learn what went on. At midnight he heard surprising things. “We shall have hard work to do this day week,” said one horse. “Yes, the farmer's servant is heavy,” answered the other. “And the way to the churchyard is long and steep,” said the first. The servant was buried that day week. 10-14

p. 234 It may well have been the traditional association of the ox and ass with the Nativity that fixed this superstition to Christmas Eve, but the conception of the talking animals is probably pagan.

Related to this idea, but more Christian in form, is the belief that at midnight all cattle rise in their stalls or kneel and adore the new-born King. Readers of Mr. Hardy's “Tess” will remember how this is brought into a delightful story told by a Wessex peasant. The idea is widespread in England and on the Continent, 10-15 and has reached even the North American Indians. Howison, in his “Sketches of Upper Canada,” relates that an Indian told him that “on Christmas night all deer kneel and look up to Great Spirit.” 10-16 A somewhat similar belief about bees was held in the north of England: they were said to assemble on Christmas Eve and hum a Christmas hymn. 10-17 Bees seem in folk-lore in general to be specially near to humanity in their feelings.

It is a widespread idea that at midnight on Christmas Eve all water turns to wine. A Guernsey woman once determined to test this; at midnight she drew a bucket from the well. Then came a voice:—

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