THE CHRISTIAN FEAST
In England the Christmas crib is to be found nowadays in most Roman, and a few Anglican, churches. In the latter it is of course an imitation, not a survival. It is, however, possible that the custom of carrying dolls about in a box at Advent or Christmas time, common in some parts of England in the nineteenth century, is a survival, from the Middle Ages, of something like the crib. The so-called "vessel-cup" was "a box containing two dolls, dressed up to represent the Virgin and the infant Christ, decorated with ribbons and surrounded by flowers and apples." The box had usually a glass lid, was covered by a white napkin, and was carried from door to door by a woman.74 It was esteemed very unlucky for any household not to be visited by the "Advent images" before Christmas Eve, and the bearers sang the well-known carol of the "Joys of Mary."75 In Yorkshire only one image was carried about. 76 At Gilmorton, Leicestershire, a friend of the present writer remembers that the children used to carry round what they called a " Christmas Vase," an open box without lid in which lay three dolls side by side, with oranges and sprigs of evergreen. Some people regarded these as images of the Virgin, the Christ Child, and Joseph.*
In this study of the feast of the Nativity as represented in liturgy and ceremonial we have already come close to what may strictly be called drama ; in the next chapter we shall cross the border line and consider the religious plays of the Middle Ages and the relics of or parallels to them found in later times.
* Tempting as it is to connect these dolls with the crib, it is possible that their origin should be sought rather in anthropomorphic representations of the spirits of vegetation, and that they are of the same nature as the images carried about with garlands in May and at other seasons. ?7