Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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PRE-CHRISTIAN WINTER FESTIVALS
visiting the abodes of the living. Ancestral spirits, it seems, were once believed to be immanent in the fire that burned on the hearth, and had to be propitiated with libations, while elsewhere the souls of the dead were thought to return to their old homes at the New Year, and meat and drink had to be set out for them. The Church's establishment of All Souls' Day did much to keep practices of tendance of the departed to early November, but sometimes these have wandered to later dates and especially to Christmas. In folk-practices directed towards the dead two tendencies are to be found : on the one hand affection or at all events consideration for the departed persists, and efforts are made to make them comfortable; on the other, they are regarded with dread, and the sight of them is avoided by the living.
In the passage quoted from Caesarius of Aries there was mention of the laying of tables with abundance of food at the Kalends. The same practice is condemned by St. Jerome in the fifth century, and is by him specially connected with Egypt.48 He, like Caesarius and others, regards it as a kind of charm to ensure abundance during the coming year, but it is very possible that its real purpose was different, that the food was an offering to supernatural beings, the guardians and representatives of the dead.49 Burchardus of Worms in the early eleventh century says definitely that in his time tables were laid with food and drink and three knives for " those three Sisters whom the ancients in their folly called Parcae"S° The Parcae were apparently identified with the three "weird" Sisters known in England and in other Teutonic regions, and seem to have some connection with the fairies. As we shall see later on, it is still in some places the custom to lay out tables for supernatural beings, whether, as at All Souls' tide, explicitly for the dead, or for Frau Perchta, or for the Virgin or some other Christian figure. Possibly the name Modranicht (night of mothers), which Bede gives to Christmas Eve,1 may be connected with this practice.
Not remote, probably, in origin from a belief in " ghosts" is the driving away of spirits that sometimes takes place about
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