Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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PAGAN SURVIVALS
a heathen sacrifice to-day. (Of the rationale of masking some­thing has already been said in Chapter VI.)
The mingling of Roman and non-Roman customs makes it very hard to separate the different elements in the winter festivals. In regard particularly to animal masks it is difficult to pronounce in favour of one racial origin rather than another ; we may, how­ever, infer with some probability that when a custom is attached not to Christmas or the January Kalends but to one of the November or early December feasts, it is not of Roman origin. For, as the centuries have passed, Christmas and the Kalends— the Roman festivals ecclesiastical and secular—have increasingly tended to supplant the old northern festal times, and a trans­ference of, for instance, a Teutonic custom from Martinmas to Christmas or January i, is far more conceivable than the attraction of a Roman practice to one of the earlier and waning festivals.
Let us take first the horse-forms, seemingly connected with that sacrificial use of the horse among the Teutons to which Tacitus and other writers testify.5* " Old Hob " is doubtless one form of the hobby horse, so familiar in old English festival customs. His German parallel, the Schimmely is mostly formed thus in the north : a sieve with a long pole to whose end a horse's head is fastened, is tied beneath the chest of a young man, who goes on all fours, and some white cloths are thrown over the whole. In Silesia the Schimmel is formed by three or four youths. The rider is generally veiled, and often wears on his head a pot with glowing coals shining forth through openings that represent eyes and a mouth.52 In Pomerania the thing is called simply Schimmel,53 in other parts emphasis is laid upon the rider, and the name Schimmelreiter is given. Some mythologists have seen in this rider on a white horse an impersonation of Woden on his great charger; but it is more likely that the practice simply originated in the taking round of a real sacrificial horse.54 The Schimmel­reiter is often accompanied by a " bear," a youth dressed in straw who plays the part of a bear tied to a pole.55 He may be connected with some such veneration of the animal as is suggested by the custom still surviving at Berne, of keeping bears at the public expense.
To return to Great Britain, here is an account of a so-called
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