Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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course of the sun through the wheeling-points of the solstices and equinoxes. More recent research, however, has thrown the gravest doubts upon the existence of any Teutonic festival at the winter solstice.* It appears from philology and the study of surviving customs that the Teutonic peoples had no knowledge of the solstices and equinoxes, and until the introduction of the Roman Calendar divided their year not into four parts but into two, three, and six, holding their New Year's Day with its attendant festivities not at the end of December or beginning of January, but towards the middle of November. At that time in Central Europe the first snowfall usually occurred and the pastures were closed to the flocks. A great slaughter of cattle would then take place, it being impossible to keep the beasts in stall through­out the winter, and this time of slaughter would naturally be a a season of feasting and sacrifice and religious observances.! 26
The Celtic year, like the Teutonic, appears to have begun in November with the feast of Samhain—a name that may mean either " summer-end " or " assembly." It appears to have been in origin a " pastoral and agricultural festival, which in time came to be looked upon as affording assistance to the powers of growth in their conflict with the powers of blight," and to have had many features in common with the Teutonic feast at the same season, for instance animal sacrifice, commemoration of the dead, and omens and charms for the New Year.27
There is some reason also to believe that the New Year
* Among the Scandinavians, who were late in their conversion, a pre-Christian Yule feast seems to have been held in the ninth century, but it appears to have taken place not in December but about the middle of January, and to have been transferred to December 25 by the Christian king Hakon the Good of Norway (940—63).28
f It is only right to mention here Professor G. Bilfinger's monograph " Das germanische Julfest" (Stuttgart, 1901), where it is maintained that the only festivals from which the Christmas customs of the Teutonic peoples have sprung are the January Kalends of the Roman Empire and the Christian feast of the Nativity. Bilfinger holds that there is no evidence either of a November beginning-of-winter festival or of an ancient Teutonic midwinter feast. Bilfinger's is the most systematic of existing treatises on Christmas origins, but the considerations brought forward in Tille's " Yule and Christmas " in favour of the November festival are not lightly to be set aside, and while recognizing that its celebration must be regarded rather as a probable hypothesis than an established fact, I shall here follow in general the suggestions of Tille and try to show the contri­butions of this northern New Year feast to Christmas customs.
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