Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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As a specimen I may translate a passage describing at some length the practices condemned. It is from a sermon often ascribed to St. Augustine of Hippo, but probably composed in the sixth century, very likely by Caesarius of Aries in southern Gaul :—
"On those days," says the preacher, speaking of the Kalends of January, " the heathen, reversing the order of all things, dress them­selves up in indecent deformities. . . . These miserable men, and what is worse, some who have been baptized, put on counterfeit forms and monstrous faces, at which one should rather be ashamed and sad. For what reasonable man would believe that any men in their senses would by making a stag (cervulum) turn themselves into the appearance of animals ? Some are clothed in the hides of cattle ; others put on the heads of beasts, rejoicing and exulting that they have so trans­formed themselves into the shapes of animals that they no longer appear to be men. . . . How vile, further, it is that those who have been born men are clothed in women's dresses, and by the vilest change effeminate their manly strength by taking on the forms of girls, blushing not to clothe their warlike arms in women's garments ; they have bearded faces, and yet they wish to appear women. . . . There are some who on the Kalends of January practise auguries, and do not allow fire out of their houses or any other favour to anyone who asks. Also they both receive and give diabolical presents (strenas). Some country people, moreover, lay tables with plenty of things necessary for eating . . . thinking that thus the Kalends of January will be a warranty that all through the year their feasting will be in like measure abundant. Now as for them who on those days observe any heathen customs, it is to be feared that the name of Christian will avail them nought. And therefore our holy fathers of old, considering that the majority of men on those days became slaves to gluttony and riotous living and raved in drunkenness and impious dancing, determined for the whole world that throughout the Churches a public fast should be proclaimed. . . . Let us therefore fast, beloved brethren, on those days. . . . For he who on the Kalends shows any civility to foolish men who are wantonly sporting, is undoubtedly a partaker of their sin." 23
There are several points to be noted here. First, the zeal of the Church against the Kalends celebrations as impious relics of
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