Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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an animal victim. Benediction by external contact, again, is suggested by the widespread use in various ways of branches or sprigs or whole trees. The Christmas-tree and evergreen decora≠tions are the most obvious examples ; we shall see others in the course of our survey, and in connection with plants as well as with animals we shall meet with processions intended to convey a blessing to every house by carrying about the sacred elementsó to borrow a term from Christian theology. Even the familiar practice of going carol-singing may be a Christianized form of some such perambulation.
It is possible that men and women had originally separate cults. The cult of animals, according to a theory set forth by Mr. Chambers, would at first belong to the men, who as hunters wor≠shipped the beasts they slew, apologizing to them, as some primitive people do to-day, for the slaughter they were obliged to commit. Other animals, apparently, were held too sacred to be slain, except upon rare and solemn occasions, and hence, as we have seen, may have arisen domestication and the pastoral life which, with its religious rites, was the affair of the men. To women, on the other hand, belonged agriculture ; the cult of Mother Earth and the vegetation-spirits seems to have been originally theirs. Later the two cults would coalesce, but a hint of the time when certain rites were practised only by women may be found in that dressing up of men in female garments which appears not merely in the old Kalends customs but in some modern survivals.* 43
Apart from any special theory of the origin of sacrifice, we may note the association at Christmas of physical feasting with religious rejoicing. In this the modern European is the heir of an agelong tradition. " Everywhere," says Robertson Smith,
* Another suggested explanation connects the change of clothes with rites of initia≠tion at the passage from boyhood to manhood. " Manhood, among primitive peoples, seems to be envisaged as ceasing to be a woman. . . . Man is born of woman, reared of woman. When he passes to manhood, he ceases to be a woman-thing, and begins to exercise functions other and alien. That moment is one naturally of extreme peril ; he at once emphasizes it and disguises it. He wears woman's clothes." From initia≠tion rites, according to this theory, the custom spread to other occasions when it was desirable to " change the luck." u
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