Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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ANIMAL MASKS
"hodening" ceremony once performed at Christmas-time at Ramsgate : " A party of young people procure the head of a dead horse, which is affixed to a pole about four feet in length, a string is tied to the lower jaw, a horse-cloth is then attached to the whole, under which one of the party gets, and by frequently pulling the string keeps up a loud snapping noise and is accom­panied by the rest of the party grotesquely habited and ringing hand-bells. They thus proceed from house to house, sounding their bells and singing carols and songs." S6
Again, in Wales a creature called " the Mari Llwyd " was known at Christmas. A horse's skull is " dressed up with ribbons, and supported on a pole by a man who is concealed under a large white cloth. There is a contrivance for opening and shutting the jaws, and the figure pursues and bites everybody it can lay hold of, and does not release them except on payment of a fine." 57 The movable jaws here give the thing a likeness to certain Continental figures representing other kinds of animals and probably witnessing to their former sacrificial use. On the island of Usedom appears the Klapperbock, a youth who carries a pole with the hide of a buck thrown over it and a wooden head at the end. The lower jaw moves up and down and clatters, and he charges at children who do not know their prayers by heart.58 In Upper Styria we meet the Habergaiss. Four men hold on to one another and are covered with white blankets. The foremost one holds up a wooden goat's head with a movable lower jaw that rattles, and he butts children.59 At Ilsenburg in the Harz is found the Habersack, formed by a person taking a pole ending in a fork, and putting a broom between the prongs so that the appearance of a head with horns is obtained. The carrier is concealed by a sheet.60
In connection with horns we must not forget the " horn-dance " at Abbots Bromley in Staffordshire, held now in Sep­tember, but formerly at Christmas. Six of the performers wear sets of horns kept from year to year in the church.61 Plot, in his "Natural History of Staffordshire" (1686, p. 434) calls it a " Hobby-horse Dance from a person who carried the image of a horse between his legs, made of thin boards."62
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