Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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eis," that most beautiful of prayers. The priest and altar are vested in black, and a catafalque with burning tapers round it stands in the body of the church. For the popular customs on the Eve we may quote Dr. Tylor's general description :—
"In Italy the day is given to feasting and drinking in honour of the dead, while skulls and skeletons in sugar and paste form appropriate children's toys. In Tyrol, the poor souls released from purgatory fire for the night may come and smear their burns with the melted fat of the ' soul light' on the hearth, or cakes are left for them on the table, and the room is kept warm for their comfort. Even in Paris the souls of the departed come to partake of the food of the living. In Brittany the crowd pours into the churchyard at evening, to kneel barefoot at the grave of dead kinsfolk, to fill the hollow of the tombstone with holy water, or to pour libations of milk upon it. All night the church bells clang, and sometimes a solemn procession of the clergy goes round to bless the graves. In no household that night is the cloth removed, for the supper must be left for the souls to come and take their part, nor must the fire be put out, where they will come to warm them­selves. And at last, as the inmates retire to rest, there is heard at the door a doleful chant—it is the souls, who, borrowing the voices of the parish poor, have come to ask the prayers of the living." 7
To this may be added some further accounts of All Souls' Eve as the one night in the year when the spirits of the departed are thought to revisit their old homes.
In the Vosges mountains while the bells are ringing in All Souls' Eve it is a custom to uncover the beds and open the windows in order that the poor souls may enter and rest. Prayer is made for the dead until late in the night, and when the last " De profundis " has been said " the head of the family gently covers up the beds, sprinkles them with holy water, and shuts the windows."8
The Esthonians on All Souls' Day provide a meal for the dead and invite them by name. The souls arrive at the first cock-crow and depart at the second, being lighted out of the house by the head of the family, who waves a white cloth after them and bids them come again next year.9
In Brittany, as we have seen, the dead are thought to return at
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