Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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CHAPTER VI PRE-CHRISTIAN WINTER FESTIVALS
The Church and Superstition—Nature of Pagan Survivals—Racial Origins—Roman Festivals of the Saturnalia and Kalends—Was there a Teutonic Midwinter Festival ?—The Teutonic, Celtic, and Slav New Year—Customs attracted to Christmas or January i—The Winter Cycle of Festivals—Rationale of Festival Ritual : (a) Sacrifice and Sacrament, (b) the Cult of the Dead, (c) Omens and Charms for the New Year—Compromise in the Later Middle Ages—The Puritans and Christmas—Decay of Old Traditions.
We have now to leave the commemoration of the Nativity of Christ, and to turn to the other side of Christmas—its many traditional observances which, though sometimes coloured by Christianity, have nothing to do with the Birth of the Redeemer. This class of customs has often, especially in the first millennium of our era, been the object of condemnations by ecclesiastics, and represents the old paganism which Christianity failed to extin­guish. The Church has played a double part, a part of sheer antagonism, forcing heathen customs into the shade, into a more or less surreptitious and unprogressive life, and a part of adaptation, baptizing them into Christ, giving them a Christian name and interpretation, and often modifying their form. The general effect of Christianity upon pagan usages is well suggested by Dr. Karl Pearson :—
"What the missionary could he repressed, the more as his church grew in strength ; what he could not repress he adopted or simply left unregarded. . . . What the missionary tried to repress became mediaeval witchcraft; what he judiciously disregarded survives to this
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