Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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PRE-CHRISTIAN WINTER FESTIVALS
rigorously fixed, the meaning attached to it was extremely vague, and the same rite was explained by different people in different ways." 7
Thus if we can arrive at the significance of a rite at a given period, it by no means follows that those who began it meant the same thing. At the time of the conflict of the heathen religions with Christianity elaborate structures of mythology had grown up around their traditional ceremonial, assigning to it meanings that had often little to do with its original purpose. Often, too, when the purpose was changed, new ceremonies were added, so that a rite may look very unlike what it was at first.
With these cautions and reservations we must now try to trace the connection between present-day or recent goings-on about Christmas-time and the festival practices of pre-Christian Europe.
Christmas, as we saw in Chapter I., has taken the date of the Natalis Invicti. We need not linger over this feast, for it was not attended by folk-customs, and there is nothing to connect it with modern survivals. The Roman festivals that really count for our present purpose are the Kalends of January and, probably, the Saturnalia. The influence of the Kalends is strongest naturally in the Latin countries, but is found also all over Europe. The influence of the Saturnalia is less certain ; the festival is not mentioned in ecclesiastical condemnations after the institution of Christmas, and possibly its popularity was not so widespread as that of the Kalends. There are, however, some curiously interesting Christmas parallels to its usages.
The strictly religious feast of the Saturnalia8 was held on December 17, but the festal customs were kept up for seven days, thus lasting until the day before our Christmas Eve. Among them was a fair called the sigillariorum celebritasy for the sale of little images of clay or paste which were given away as presents.* Candles seem also to have been given away, perhaps
* With this may be compared the fair still held in Rome in the Piazza Navona just before Christmas, at which booths are hung with little clay figures for use in presepi (see p. 113). One cannot help being reminded too, though probably there is no direct connection, of the biscuits in human shapes to be seen in German markets and
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