Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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day in peasant weddings and in the folk-festivals at the great changes of season." "
We find then many pagan practices concealed beneath a superficial Christianity—often under the mantle of some saint— but side by side with these are many usages never Christianized even in appearance, and obviously identical with heathen customs against which the Church thundered in the days of her youth. Grown old and tolerant—except of novelties—she has long since ceased to attack them, and they have themselves mostly lost all definite religious meaning. As the old pagan faith decayed, they tended to become in a literal sense " superstition," something standing over, like shells from which the living occupant has gone. They are now often mere "survivals" in the technical folk-lore sense, pieces of custom separated from the beliefs that once gave them meaning, performed only because in a vague sort of way they are supposed to bring good luck. In many cases those who practise them would be quite unable to explain how or why they work for good.
Mental inertia, the instinct to do and believe what has always been done and believed, has sometimes preserved the animating faith as well as the external form of these practices, but often all serious significance has departed. What was once religious or magical ritual, upon the due observance of which the welfare of the community was believed to depend, has become mere pageantry and amusement, often a mere children's game.2
Sometimes the spirit of a later age has worked upon these pagan customs, revivifying and transforming them, giving them charm. Often, however, one does not find in them the poetry, the warm humanity, the humour, which mark the creations of popular Catholicism. They are fossils and their interest is that of the fossil: they are records of a vanished world and help us to an imaginative reconstruction of it. But further, just as on a stratum of rock rich in fossils there may be fair meadows and gardens and groves, depending for their life on the denudation of the rock beneath, so have these ancient religious products largely supplied the soil in which more spiritual and more
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