Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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THE CHRISTIAN FEAST
land is doubtful ; many of the old airs and words have, however, a glee and playfulness as of human nature following its natural instincts of joy even in the celebration of the most sacred mysteries. It is probable that some of the carols are religious parodies of love-songs, written for the melodies of the originals, and many seem by their structure to be indirectly derived from the choral dances of farm folk, a notable feature being their burden or refrain, a survival of the common outcry of the dancers as they leaped around.
Awdlay's carols are perhaps meant to be sung by " wassailing neighbours, who make their rounds at Christmastide to drink a cup and take a gift, and bring good fortune upon the house " 27 —predecessors of those carol-singers of rural England in the nineteenth century, whom Mr. Hardy depicts so delightfully in " Under the Greenwood Tree." Carol-singing by a band of men who go from house to house is probably a Christianization of such heathen processions as we shall meet in less altered forms in Part II.
It must not be supposed that the carols Awdlay gives are his own work ; and their exact date it is impossible to determine. Part of his book was composed in 1426, but one at least of the carols was probably written in the last half of the fourteenth century. They seem indeed to be the later blossomings of the great spring­time of English literature, the period which produced Chaucer and Langland, an innumerable company of minstrels and ballad-makers, and the mystical poet, Richard Rolle of Hampole.*
Through the fifteenth century and the first half of the six­teenth, the flowering continued ; and something like two hundred carols of this period are known. It is impossible to attempt here anything like representative quotation ; I can only sketch in
* Richard Rolle, poet, mystic, and wandering preacher, in many ways reminds us of Jacopone da Todi. Though he has left no Christmas verses, some lovely words of his show how deeply he felt the wonder and pathos of Bethlehem : "Jhesu es thy name. A ! A ! that wondryrfull name ! A ! that delittabyll name ! This es the name that es above all names. ... I yede [went] abowte be Covaytyse of riches and I fand noghte Jhesu. I satt in companyes of Worldly myrthe and I fand noghte Jhesu. . . . Therefore I turnede by anothire waye, and I rane a-bowte be Poverte, and I fande Jhesu pure, borne in the worlde, laid in a crybe and lappid in clathis." 28
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