Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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A North Welsh tradition recorded by Pennant may conceivably have preserved a vague memory of some agricultural connection : he tells us that on receiving soul-calces the poor people used to pray to God to bless the next crop of wheat.20
Not in Great Britain alone are soul-cakes found ; they are met with in Belgium, southern Germany, and Austria. In western Flanders children set up on All Souls' Eve little street altars, putting a crucifix or Madonna with candles on a chair or stool, and begging passers-by for money "for cakes for the souls in Purgatory." On All Souls' morning it is customary, all over the
Flemish part of Belgium, to bake little cakes of finest white flour, called " soul-bread." They are eaten hot, and a prayer is said at
the same time for the souls in Purgatory. It is believed that a soul is delivered for every cake eaten. At Antwerp the cakes are coloured yellow with saffron to suggest the Purgatorial flames. In southern Germany and Austria little white loaves of a special kind are baked ; they are generally oval in form, and are usually called by some name into which the word " soul " enters. In Tyrol they are given to children by their godparents; those for the boys have the shape of horses or hares, those for the girls, of hens. In Tyrol the cakes left over at supper remain on the | table and are said to " belong to the poor souls."21
In Friuli in the north-east of Italy there is a custom closely corresponding to our "soul-cakes." On All Souls' Day every family gives away a quantity of bread. This is not regarded as a charity ; all the people of the village come to receive it and before eating it pray for the departed of the donor's family. The most prosperous people are not ashamed to knock at the door and ask for this pane dei morti.'2'2
In Tyrol All Souls' is a day of licensed begging, which has become a serious abuse. A noisy rabble of ragged and disorderly folk, with bags and baskets to receive gifts, wanders from village to village, claiming as a right the presents of provisions that were originally a freewill offering for the benefit of the departed, and angrily abusing those who refuse to give.23
The New Year is the time for a festival of the dead in many
parts of the world.24 I may quote Dr. Frazer's account of what
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