British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

A calendar of the traditional customs, practices & rituals of the British Isles.

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DEC, 25.]                         CHRISTMAS DAY.                                   453
make but one feast of the two as late as the thirteenth century. The learned have long been divided upon the precise day of the Nativity. Some have fixed it at the Passover; others, amongst whom was Archbishop Usher, at the feast of Taber­nacles ; and it has been observed that, if others were watching their flocks when it occurred in the field by night, it would hardly have happened in the depth of winter. Be this as it may, the 25th of December has been the day most generally fixed upon from the earliest ages of the Church. Sir Isaac Newton, in his Commentary on the Prophecies of Daniel (Part I. chap. ii. p. 144), has a chapter, " Of the Times of the Birth and Passion of our Saviour," in which he accounts for the choice of the 25th of December, the winter solstice, by showing that not only the feast of the Nativity, but most others, were originally fixed at cardinal points of the year; and that the first Christian calendar having been so arranged by mathematicians at pleasure, without any ground in tradi­tion, the Christians afterwards took up with what they found in the calendars; so long as a fixed time of commemoration was solemnly appointed they were content.—See Baronii Apparatus ad Annales Ecclesiasticos, fol. Lucse, 1740, p. 475 et seq.; Bingham's Antiquities of the Christian Church, lib. xx. cap. 4; a curious tract entitled, The Feast of Feasts, or * The Celebration of the Sacred Nativity of our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, grounded upon the Scriptures and confirmed by the Practice of the Christian Church in all Ages;' see also Knight's English Cyclopaedia, 1859, vol. ii. p. 882.
The name given, says a correspondent of Book of Days, (vol. ii. p. 745) by the ancient Goths and Saxons to the festival of the winter solstice was Jul or Yule, the latter term forming to the present day the designation in the Scottish dialect of Christmas, and preserved also in the phrase of the "yule log." Perhaps the etymology of no term has excited greater discussions among antiquaries. Some maintain it to be derived from the Greek ovkos or tovAo?, the name of a hymn in honour of Ceres, others say it comes from the Latin jubilum, signifying a time of rejoicing, or from its being a festival in honour of Julius Ceesar; whilst some also explain its meaning as synonymous with 61 or oel, which in the ancient Gothic language denotes a feast, and also the favourite
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