Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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probably was often small. While the families of the con­querors succeeded in imposing their languages, it by no means necessarily follows that the folk-practices of countries now Aryan in speech came entirely or even chiefly from Aryan sources. Religious tradition has a marvellous power of per­sistence, and it must be remembered that the lands conquered by men of Aryan speech had been previously occupied for immense periods.5 Similarly, in countries like our own, which have been successively invaded by Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Danes, and Normans, it is often extraordinarily hard to say even to what national source a given custom should be assigned.
It is but tentatively and with uncertain hands that scholars are trying to separate the racial strains in the folk-traditions of Europe, and here I can hardly do more than point out three formative elements in Christian customs : the ecclesiastical, the classical (Greek and Roman), and the barbarian, taking the last broadly and without a minute racial analysis. So far, indeed, as ritual, apart from mythology, is concerned, there seems to be a broad common ground of tradition among the Aryan-speaking peoples. How far this is due to a common derivation we need not here attempt to decide. The folk-lore of the whole world, it is to be noted, " reveals for the same stages of civilization a wonderful uniformity and homogeneity. . . . This uniformity is not, however, due to necessary uniformity of origin, but to a great extent to the fact that it represents the state of equilibrium arrived at between minds at a certain level and their environment."6
The scientific study of primitive religion is still almost in its infancy, and a large amount of conjecture must necessarily enter into any explanations of popular ritual that can be offered. In attempting to account for Christmas customs we must be mindful, therefore, of the tentative nature of the theories put forward. Again, it is important to remember that ritual practices are far more enduring than the explanations given to them. "The antique religions," to quote the words of Robertson Smith, " had for the most part no creed ; they consisted entirely of institutions and practices ... as a rule we find that while the practice was
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