Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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INTRODUCTION
the pictures that rise pell-mell in the minds of English folk at the mention of Christmas; how many other scenes would come before us if we could realize what the festival means to men of other nations. Yet even these will suggest what hardly needs saying, that Christmas is something far more complex than a Church holy-day alone, that the celebration of the Birth of Jesus, deep and touching as is its appeal to those who hold the faith of the Incarnation, is but one of many elements that have entered into the great winter festival.
In the following pages I shall try to present a picture, sketchy and inadequate though it must be, of what Christmas is and has been to the peoples of Europe, and to show as far as possible the various elements that have gone into its make-up. Most people have a vague impression that these are largely pagan, but com­paratively few have any idea of the process by which the heathen elements have become mingled with that which is obviously Christian, and equal obscurity prevails as to the nature and meaning of the non-Christian customs. The subject is vast, and has not been thoroughly explored as yet, but the labours of historians and folk-lorists have made certain con­clusions probable, and have produced hypotheses of great interest and fascination.
I have spoken of " Christian "* and " pagan " elements. The distinction is blurred to some extent by the clothing of heathen customs in a superficial Christianity, but on the whole it is clear enough to justify the division of this book into two parts, one dealing with the Church's feast of the Holy Birth, the other with those remains of pagan winter festivals which extend from November to January, but cluster especially round Christmas and the Twelve Days.
Before we pass to the various aspects of the Church's Christmas, we must briefly consider its origins and its relation to certain
" Christianity," as here used, will stand for the system of orthodoxy which had been fixed in its main outlines when the festival of Christmas took its rise. The relation of the orthodox creed to historical fact need not concern us here, nor need we for the purposes of this study attempt to distinguish between the Christianity of Jesus and ecclesiastical accretions around his teaching.
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