Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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THE CHRISTIAN FEAST
their Christmas church-going as rather a duty inspired by fear than an expression of devout rejoicing. It is noteworthy that the earliest of vernacular Christmas carols known to us, the early thirteenth-century Anglo-Norman " Seignors, ore entendez a nus," is a song not of religion but of revelry. Its last verse is typical :
" Seignors, jo vus di par Noel, E par li sires de cest hostel,
Car bevez ben ; E jo primes beverai le men, E pois aprez chescon le soen,
Par mon conseil ; Si jo vus di trestoz, 'Wesseyl!' Dehaiz eit qui ne dirra, ' Drincheyl ! ' " * 8
Not till the close of the thirteenth century do we meet with any vernacular Christmas poetry of importance. The verses of the troubadours and trouveres of twelfth-century France had little to do with Christianity ; their songs were mostly of earthly and illicit love. The German Minnesingers of the thirteenth century were indeed pious, but their devout lays were addressed to the Virgin as Queen of Heaven, the ideal of womanhood, holding in glory the Divine Child in her arms, rather than to the Babe and His Mother in the great humility of Bethlehem.
The first real outburst of Christmas joy in a popular tongue is found in Italy, in the poems of that strange " minstrel of the Lord," the Franciscan Jacopone da Todi (b. 1228, d. 1306). Franciscan, in that name we have an indication of the change in religious feeling that came over the western world, and
* " Lords, by Christmas and the host Of this mansion hear my toast—
Drink it well— Each must drain his cup of wine, And I the first will toss off mine :
Thus I advise. Here then I bid you all Wassail, Cursed be he who will not say, Drinkhail ! "
(Translation by F. Douce.)
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