Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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PRE-CHRISTIAN WINTER FESTIVALS
Enough has already been said about the attitude of the early Church towards traditional folk-customs. Of the position taken up by the later mediaeval clergy we get an interesting glimpse in the " Largum Sero " of a certain monk Alsso of Brevnov, an account of Christmas practices in Bohemia written about the year 1400. It supplies a link between modern customs and the Kalends prohibitions of the Dark Ages. Alsso tells of a number I of laudable Christmas Eve practices, gives elaborate Christian l interpretations of them, and contrasts them with things done by bad Catholics with ungodly intention. Here are some of his complaints :—
Presents, instead of being given, as they should be, in memory of God's great Gift to man, are sent because he who does not give freely will be unlucky in the coming year. Money, instead of being given to the poor, as is seemly, is laid on the table to augur wealth, and people open their purses that luck may enter. Instead of using fruit as a symbol of Christ the Precious Fruit, men cut it open to predict the future [probably from the pips]. It is a laudable custom to make great white loaves at Christmas as symbols of the True Bread, but evil men set out such loaves that the gods may eat of them.
Alsso's assumption is that the bad Catholics are diabolically perverting venerable Christmas customs, but there can be little doubt that precisely the opposite was really the case—the Christian symbolism was merely a gloss upon pagan practices. In one instance Alsso admits that the Church had adopted and transformed a heathen usage : the old calendisationes or pro­cessions with an idol Bel had been changed into processions of clergy and choir-boys with the crucifix. Round the villages on the Eve and during the Octave of Christmas went these messengers of God, robed in white raiment as befitted the servants of the Lord of purity; they would chant joyful anthems of the Nativity, and receive in return some money from the people—they were, in fact, carol-singers. Moreover with their incense they would drive out the Devil from every corner.55
Alsso's attitude is one of compromise, or at least many of the old heathen customs are allowed by him, when reinterpreted in a
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