Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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PRE-CHRISTIAN WINTER FESTIVALS
festival of the Slavs took place in the autumn and that its usages have been transferred to the feast of the Nativity.29 A description based on contemporary documents cannot be given of these barbarian festivals ; we have, rather, to reconstruct them from survivals in popular custom. At the close of this book, when such relics have been studied, we may have gained some idea of what went on upon these pre-Christian holy-days. It is the Teutonic customs that have been most fully recorded and dis­cussed by scholars, and these will loom largest in our review ; at the same time Celtic and Slav practices will be considered, and we shall find that they often closely resemble those current in Teutonic lands.
The customs of the old New Year feasts have frequently wandered from their original November date, and to this fact we owe whatever elements of northern paganism are to be found in Christmas. Some practices seem to have been put forward to Michaelmas ; one side of the festivals, the cult of the dead, is represented especially by All Saints' and All Souls' days (Novem­ber i and 2). St. Martin's Day (November 11) probably marks as nearly as possible the old Teutonic date, and is still in Germany an important folk-feast attended by many customs derived from the beginning-of-winter festival. Other practices are found strewn over various holy-days between Martinmas and Epiphany, and concentrated above all on the Church's feast of the Nativity and the Roman New Year's Day, January 1, both of which had naturally great power of attraction.3°
The progress of agriculture, as Dr. Tille points out,3* tended to destroy the mid-November celebration. In the Carolingian period an improvement took place in the cultivation of meadows, and the increased quantity of hay made it possible to keep the animals fattening in stall, instead of slaughtering them as soon as the pastures were closed. Thus the killing-time, with its festivi­ties, became later and later. St. Andrew's Day (November 30) and St. Nicholas's (December 6) may mark stages in its progress into the winter. In St. Nicholas's Day, indeed, we find a feast that closely resembles Martinmas, and seems to be the same folk-festival transferred to a later date. Again, as regards England we
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