Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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roughest outline the main characteristics of English carol litera­ture, and refer the reader for examples to Miss Edith Rickert's comprehensive collection, " Ancient English Carols, MCCCC-MDCC," or to the smaller but fine selection in Messrs. E. K. Chambers and F. Sidgwick's " Early English Lyrics." Many may have been the work of goliards or wandering scholars, and a common feature is the interweaving of Latin with English words. Some, like the exquisite " I sing of a maiden that is makeles," 29 are rather songs to or about the Virgin than strictly Christmas carols; the Annunciation rather than the Nativity is their theme. Others again tell the whole story of Christ's life. The feudal idea is strong in such lines as these :—
" Mary is quene of allc thinge, And her sone a lovely kinge. God graunt us alle good endinge ! Regnat dei gratia."
On the whole, in spite of some mystical exceptions, the mediaeval English carol is somewhat external in its religion ; there is little deep individual feeling ; the caroller sings as a member of the human race, whose curse is done away, whose nature is exalted by the Incarnation, rather than as one whose soul is athirst for God :—
" Now man is brighter than the sonne ; Now man in heven an hie shall vvonne ; Blessed be God this game is begonne And his moder empercsse of hellc."31
Salvation is rather an objective external thing than an inward and spiritual process. A man has but to pray devoutly to the dear Mother and Child, and they will bring him to the heavenly court. It is not so much personal sin as an evil influence in humanity, that is cured by the great event of Christmas :—
" It was dark, it was dim, For men that leved in gret sin ; Lucifer was all within, Till on the Cristmes day.
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