Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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people, for a time at all events. The policy had its advantages, j it made the Church festivals popular ; but it had also its dangers, it encouraged the intrusion of a pagan fleshly element into their austere and chastened joys. A certain orgiastic licence crept in, an unbridling of the physical appetites, which has ever been a source of sorrow and anger to the most earnest Christians and even led the Puritans of the seventeenth century to condemn all festivals as diabolical.
Before we leave the subject of sacrificial survivals, it must be added that certain Christmas customs may come, little as those who practise them suspect it, from that darkest of religious rites, human sacrifice. Reference has already been made to Dr. Frazer's view of the Saturnalian king and his awful origin. We shall meet with various similar figures during the Christmas season—the " King of the Bean," for instance, and the " Bishop of Fools." If the theories about human sacrifice set forth in " The Golden Bough " be accepted, we may regard these personages as having once been mock kings chosen to suffer instead of the real kings, who had at first to perish by a violent death in order to preserve from the decay of age the divine life incarnate in them. Such mock monarchs, according to Dr. Frazer, were exalted for a brief season to the glory and luxury of kingship ere their doom fell upon them ; 47 in the Christmas " kings" the splendour alone has survived, the dark side is forgotten.
II. The Cult of the Dead and the Family Hearth.
Round the winter festival cluster certain customs apparently connected with distinctively domestic religion, rather than with such public and communal cults as we have considered under the heading of Sacrifice and Sacrament. A festival of the family— that is, perhaps, what Christmas most prominently is to-day: it is the great season for gatherings " round the old fireside " ; it is a joyous time for the children of the house, and the memory or the departed is vivid then, if unexpressed. Further, by the Yule log customs and certain other ceremonies still practised in the remoter corners of Europe, we are carried back to a stage of thought at which the dead were conceived as hovering about or
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