Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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PAGAN SURVIVALS
preserved at or near the original date one part of the old beginning-of-winter festival—the part concerned with the cult of the dead. Some of the practices belonging to this side of the feast have been transferred to the season of Christmas and the Twelve Days, but these have often lost their original meaning, and it is to All Souls' Day that we must look for the most conscious survivals of that care for the departed which is so marked a feature of primi­tive religion. Early November, when the leaves are falling, and all around speaks of mortality, is a fitting time for the com­memoration of the dead.
The first clear testimony to All Souls' Day is found at the end of the tenth century, and in France. All Saints' Day, however, was certainly observed in England, France, and Germany in the eighth century,5 and probably represents an attempt on the part of the Church to turn the minds of the faithful away from the pagan belief in and tendance of " ghosts " to the contem­plation of the saints in the glory of Paradise. It would seem that this attempt failed, that the people needed a way of actually doing something for their own dead, and that All Souls' Day with its solemn Mass and prayers for the departed was intended to supply this need and replace the traditional practices.6 Here again the attempt was only partly successful, for side by side with the Church's rites there survived a number of usages related not to any Christian doctrine of the after-life, but to the pagan idea, widespread among many peoples, that on one day or night of the year the souls of the dead return to their old homes and must be entertained.
All Souls' Day then appeals to instincts older than Christianity. How strong is the hold of ancient custom even upon the sceptical and irreligious is shown very strikingly in Roman Catholic countries : even those who never go to church visit the graves of their relations on All Souls' Eve to deck them with flowers.
The special liturgical features of the Church's celebration are the Vespers, Matins, and Lauds of the Dead on the evening of November I, and the solemn Requiem Mass on November 2, with the majestic u Dies irae " and the oft-recurrent versicle, " Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat
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