Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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PRE-CHRISTIAN WINTER FESTIVALS
All shall be served with the same wine. .   . . Every mart's portion of meat shall be alike.
When the rich man shall feast his   slaves, let his friends serve with him." «
Over the whole festival brooded the thought of a golden age in the distant past, when Saturn ruled, a just and kindly monarch, when all men were good and all men were happy.
A striking feature of the Saturnalia was the choosing by lot of a mock king, to preside over the revels. His word was law, and he was able to lay ridiculous commands upon the guests ; " one," says Lucian, " must shout out a libel on himself, another dance naked, or pick up the flute-girl and carry her thrice round the house."12 This king may have been originally the representative of the god Saturn himself. In the days of the classical writers he is a mere " Lord of Misrule," but Dr. Frazer has propounded the very interesting theory that this time of privilege and gaiety was once but the prelude to a grim sacrifice in which he had to die in the character of the god, giving his life for the world.x3 Dr. Frazer's theory, dependent for its evidence upon the narra­tive of the martyrdom of a fourth-century saint, Dasius by name, has been keenly criticized by Dr. Warde Fowler. He holds that there is nothing whatever to show that the " Saturn " who in the fourth century, according to the story, was sacrificed by soldiers on the Danube, had anything to do with the customs of ancient Rome.I4 Still, in whatever way the king of the Saturnalia may be explained, it is interesting to note his existence and com­pare him with the merry monarchs whom we shall meet at Christmas and Twelfth Night.
How far the Saturnalian customs in general were of old Latin origin it is difficult to say ; the name Saturnus (connected with the root of serere, to sow) and the date point to a real Roman festival of the sowing of the crops, but this was heavily overlaid with Greek ideas and practice., It is especially important to bear this in mind in considering Lucian's statements.
The same is true of the festival of the January Kalends, a few days after the Saturnalia. On January I, the Roman New
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