Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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PRE-CHRISTIAN WINTER FESTIVALS
heathenism : to root them out she even made the first three days of the year a solemn fast with litanies.24 Next, the particular offences should be observed. These are : first, the dressing up of men in the hides of animals and the clothes of women ; next, the New Year auguries and the superstition about fire, the giving of presents, and the laying of tables with good things ; and last, drunkenness and riot in general. All these we shall find fully represented in modern Christmas customs.
That Roman customs either spread to Germany, or were paralleled there, is shown by a curious letter written in 742 by St. Boniface to Pope Zacharias. The saint complained that certain Alamanni, Bavarians, and Franks refused to give up various heathen practices because they had seen such things done in the sacred city of Rome, close to St. Peter's, and, as they deemed, with the sanction of the clergy. On New Year's Eve, it was alleged, processions went through the streets of Rome, with impious songs and heathen cries ; tables of fortune were set up, and at that time no one would lend fire or iron or any other article to his neighbour. The Pope replied that these things were odious to him, and should be so to all Christians ; and next year all such practices at the January Kalends were formally forbidden by the Council of Rome.2S
So much for Roman customs ; if indeed such practices as beast-masking are Roman, and not derived from the religion of peoples conquered by the imperial legions. We must now turn to the winter festivals of the barbarians with whom the Church began to come into contact soon after the establishment of Christmas.
Much attention has been bestowed upon a supposed midwinter festival of the ancient Germans. In the mid-nineteenth century it was customary to speak of Christmas and the Twelve Nights as a continuation of the holy season kept by our forefathers at the winter solstice. The festive fires of Christmas were regarded as symbols of the sun, who then began his upward journey in the heavens, while the name Yule was traced back to the Anglo-Saxon word hweol (wheel), and connected with the circular
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