Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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PAGAN SURVIVALS
Christmas-time. Many peoples, as Dr. Frazer has shown, have an annual expulsion of goblins, ghosts, devils, witches, and evil influences, commonly at the end of the Old or beginning of the New Year. Sometimes the beings so driven away are definitely the spirits of the departed. An appalling racket and a great flare of torches are common features of these expulsions, and we shall meet with similar customs during the Christmas season. Such purifications, according to Dr. Frazer, are often preceded or followed by periods of licence, for when the burden of evil is about to be, or has just been, removed, it is felt that a little temporary freedom from moral restraints may be allowed with impunity.S2 Hence possibly, in part, the licence which has often attended the Christmas season.
III. Omens and Charms for the New Year.
Customs of augury are to be met with at various dates, which may mark the gradual shifting of the New Year festival from early November to January i, while actual charms to secure prosperity are commonest at Christmas itself or at the modern New Year. Magical rather than religious in character, they are attempts to discover or influence the future by a sort of crude scientific method based on supposed analogies. Beneath the charms lie the primitive ideas that like produces like and that things which have once been in contact continue to act upon one another after they are separated in space.53 The same ideas obviously underlie many of the sacramental practices alluded to a few pages back, and these are often of the nature of charms. Probably, too, among New Year charms should be included such institutions as the bonfires on Hallowe'en in Celtic countries, on Guy Fawkes Day in England, and at Martinmas in Germany, for it would seem that they are intended to secure by imitation a due supply of sunshine.54 The principle that " well begun is well ended"—or, as the Germans have it, " Anfang gut, alles gut"—is fundamental in New Year practices : hence the custom of giving presents as auguries of wealth during the coming year ; hence perhaps partly the heavy eating and drinking—a kind of charm to ensure abundance.
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