Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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PRE-CHRISTIAN WINTER FESTIVALS
beautiful things have flourished. Amid these, as has been well said, " they still emerge, unchanged and unchanging, like the quaint outcrops of some ancient rock formation amid rich vegetation and fragrant flowers." 3
The survivals of pagan religion at Christian festivals relate not so much to the worship of definite divinities—against this the missionaries made their most determined efforts, and the names of the old gods have practically disappeared—as to cults which preceded the development of anthropomorphic gods with names and attributes. These cults, paid to less personally conceived spirits, were of older standing and no doubt had deeper roots in the popular mind. Fundamentally associated with agricultural and pastoral life, they have in many cases been preserved by the most conservative element in the population, the peasantry.
Many of the customs we shall meet with are magical, rather than religious in the proper sense ; they are not directed to the conciliation of spiritual beings, but spring from primitive man's belief "that in order to produce the great phenomena of nature on which his life depended he had only to imitate them." 4 Even when they have a definitely religious character, and are connected with some spirit, magical elements are often found in them.
Before we consider these customs in detail it will be necessary to survey the pagan festivals briefly alluded to in Chapter I., to note the various ideas and practices that characterized them, and to study the attitude of the Church towards survivals of such practices while the conversion of Europe was in progress, and also during the Middle Ages.
The development of religious custom and belief in Europe is a matter of such vast complexity that I cannot in a book of this kind attempt more than the roughest outline of the probable origins of the observances, purely pagan or half-Christianized, clustering round Christmas. It is difficult, in the present state of knowledge, to discern clearly the contributions of different peoples to the traditional customs of Europe, and even, in many cases, to say whether a given custom is " Aryan " or pre-Aryan. The proportion of the Aryan military aristocracy to the peoples whom they conquered was not uniform in all countries, and
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