Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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the dome, and is sanctified by the immersion of a small cross ; afterwards it is sprinkled on everyone present, and some is taken home by the faithful in little vessels.35
In Moscow and St. Petersburg the Blessing is a function of great magnificence, but it is perhaps even more interesting as performed in Russian country places. Whatever may be the orthodox significance of the rite, to the country people it is the chasing away of " forest demons, sprites, and fairies, once the gods the peasants worshipped, but now dethroned from their high estate," who in the long dark winter nights bewitch and vex the sons of men. A vivid and imaginative account of the ceremony and its meaning to the peasants is given by Mr. F. H. E. Palmer in his " Russian Life in Town and Country." The district in which he witnessed it was one of forests and of lakes frozen in winter. On one of these lakes had been erected " a huge cross, constructed of blocks of ice, that glittered like diamonds in the brilliant winter sunlight. ... At length, far away could be heard the sound of human voices, singing a strange, wild melody. Presently there was a movement in the snow among the trees, and waving banners appeared as a procession approached, headed by the pope in his vestments, and surrounded by the village dignitaries, venerable, grey-bearded patriarchs." A wide space in the procession was left for "a strange and motley band of gnomes and sprites, fairies and wood-nymphs," who, as the peasants believed, had been caught by the holy singing and the sacred sign on the waving banner. The chanting still went on as the crowd formed a circle around the glittering cross, and all looked on with awe while half a dozen peasants with their axes cut a large hole in the ice. " And now the priest's voice is heard, deep and sonorous, as he pronounces the words of doom. Alas for the poor sprites ! Into that yawning chasm they must leap, and sink deep, deep below the surface of that ice-cold water." 37
Following these eastern Epiphany rites we have wandered far from the cycle of ideas generally associated with Christmas. We
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