Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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INTRODUCTION
conversion of the barbarians. Whether it came to England through the Celtic Church is uncertain, but St. Augustine certainly brought it with him, and Christmas Day, 598, witnessed a great event, the baptism of more than ten thousand English converts.9 In 567 the Council of Tours had declared the Twelve Days, from Christmas to Epiphany, a festal tide ;I0 the laws of Ethelred (991-1016) ordained it to be a time of peace and concord among Christian men, when all strife must cease.11 In Germany Christmas was established by the Synod of Mainz in 813 ;I2 in Norway by King Hakon the Good about the middle of the tenth century.1,
In the East, as has been seen, the Birth of the Redeemer was at first celebrated not on December 25, but on January 6, the feast of the Epiphany or manifestation of Christ's glory. The Epiphany can be traced as far back as the second century, among the Basilidian heretics, from whom it may have spread to the Catholic Church. It was with them certainly a feast of the Baptism, and possibly also of the Nativity, of Christ. The origins of the Epiphany festival 14 are very obscure, nor can we say with certainty what was its meaning at first. It may be that it took the place of a heathen rite celebrating the birth of the World or AEon from the Virgin on January 6.* At all events one of its objects was to commemorate the Baptism, the appearance of the Holy Dove, and the Voice from heaven, " Thou art my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased " (or, as other MSS. read, " This day have I begotten thee ").
* The eastern father, Epiphanius (fourth century), gives a strange account of a heathen, or perhaps in reality a Gnostic, rite held at Alexandria on the night of January 5-6. In the temple of Kore—the Maiden—he tells us, worshippers spent the night in singing and flute-playing, and at cockcrow brought up from a subterranean sanctuary a wooden image seated naked on a litter. It had the sign of the cross upon it in gold in five places—the forehead, the hands, and the knees. This image was carried seven times round the central hall of the temple with flute-playing, drumming, and hymns, and then taken back to the underground chamber. In explanation of these strange actions it was said : " To-day, at this hour, hath Kore (the Maiden) borne the JEon." '5 Can there be a connection between this festival and the Eleusinian mysteries ? In the latter there was a nocturnal celebration with many lights burning and the cry went forth, " Holy Brimo (the Maiden) hath borne a sacred child, Brimos."16 The details given by Miss Harrison in her " Prolegomena " of the worship of the child Dionysus 1 are of extraordinary interest, and a minute comparison of this cult with that of the Christ Child might lead to remarkable results.
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