Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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PAGAN SURVIVALS
Year's Day, the new consuls were inducted into office, and for at least three days high festival was kept. The houses were decorated with lights and greenery—these, we shall find, may be partly responsible for the modern Christmas-tree. As at the Saturnalia masters drank and gambled with slaves. Fota, or solemn wishes of prosperity for the Emperor during the New Year, were customary, and the people and the Senate were even expected to present gifts of money to him. The Emperor Caligula excited much disgust by publishing an edict requiring these gifts and by standing in the porch of his palace to receive them in person. Such gifts, not only presented to the Emperor, but frequently exchanged between private persons, were called strenaey a name still surviving in the French etrennes (New Year's presents).16
An interesting and very full account of the Kalends cele­brations is given in two discourses of Libanius, the famous Greek sophist of the fourth century :—
"The festival of the Kalends," he says, "is celebrated everywhere as far as the limits of the Roman Empire extend. . . . Everywhere may be seen carousals and well-laden tables ; luxurious abundance is found in the houses of the rich, but also in the houses of the poor better food than usual is put upon the table. The impulse to spend seizes everyone. He who the whole year through has taken pleasure in saving and piling up his pence, becomes suddenly extravagant. He who erstwhile was accustomed and preferred to live poorly, now at this feast enjoys himself as much as his means will allow. . . . People are not only generous towards themselves, but also towards their fellow-men. A stream of presents pours itself out on all sides. . . • The highroads and footpaths are covered with whole processions or laden men and beasts. ... As the thousand flowers which burst forth everywhere are the adornment of Spring, so are the thousand presents poured out on all sides, the decoration of the Kalends feast. It may justly be said that it is the fairest time of the year. . . . The Kalends festival banishes all that is connected with toil, and allows men to give themselves up to undisturbed enjoyment. From the minds of young people it removes two kinds of dread : the dread of the schoolmaster and the dread of the stern pedagogue. The slave also it allows, so far as possible, to breathe the air of freedom. . . .
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