Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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Before we pass on to the pagan aspects of Christmas, let us gather up our thoughts in an attempt to realize the peculiar appeal of the Feast of the Nativity, as it has been felt in the past, as it is felt to-day even by moderns who have no belief in the historical truth of the story it commemorates.
This appeal of Christmas seems to lie in the union of two modes of feeling which may be called the carol spirit and the mystical spirit. The carol spirit—by this we may understand the simple, human joyousness, the tender and graceful imagination, the kindly, intimate affection, which have gathered round the cradle of the Christ Child. The folk-tune, the secular song adapted to a sacred theme—such is the carol. What a sense of kindliness, not of sentimentality, but of genuine human feeling, these old songs give us, as though the folk who first sang them were more truly comrades, more closely knit together than we under modern industrialism.
One element in the carol spirit is the rustic note that finds its sanction as regards Christmas in St. Luke's story of the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. One thinks of the stillness over the fields, of the hinds with their rough talk, " simply chatting in a rustic row," of the keen air, and the great burst of light and song that dazes their simple wits, of their journey to Bethlehem where " the heaven-born Child all meanly wrapt in the rude manger lies," of the ox and ass linking the beasts of the field to the Christmas adoration of mankind.*
For many people, indeed, the charm of Christmas is inseparably associated with the country ; it is lost in London—the city is too vast, too modern, too sophisticated. It is bound up with the thought of frosty fields, of bells heard far away, of bare trees
* Though the ox and ass are not mentioned by St. Luke, it is an easy transition to them from the idea of the manger. Early Christian writers found a Scriptural sanction for them in two passages in the prophets: Isaiah i. 3, "The ox knoweth his owner and the ass his master's crib," and Habakkuk iii. 2 (a mistranslation), "In the midst of two beasts shalt Thou be known."
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