Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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Economic causes, as we saw in Chapter VI., must have made the middle of November a great killing season among the old Germans for the snow which then began rendered it impossible longer to pasture the beasts, and there was not fodder enough to keep the whole herd through the winter. Thus it was a time of feasting on flesh, and of animal sacrifices, as is suggested by the Ana;lo-Saxon name given to November by Bede, Blot-monath, sacrifice-month.66
Christmas does not seem to have quickly superseded the middle of November as a popular feast in Teutonic countries ; rather one finds an outcome of the conciliatory policy pursued by Gregory the Great (see Chapter VI.) in the development of Martinmas. Founded in the fifth century, it was made a great Church festival by Pope Martin I. (649-654),67 and it may well have been intended to absorb and Christianize the New Year festivities of the Teutonic peoples. The veneration of St. Martin spread rapidly in the churches of northern Europe, and he came to be regarded as one of the very chief of the saints.68 His day is no longer a Church feast of high rank, but its importance as a folk festival is great.
The tradition of slaughter is preserved in the British custom of killing cattle on St. Martin's Day—" Martlemas beef"69—and in the German eating of St. Martin's geese and swine.7° The St. Martin's goose, indeed, is in Germany as much a feature of the festival as the English Michaelmas goose is of the September feast of the angels.
In Denmark too a goose is eaten at Martinmas, and from its breast-bone the character of the coming winter can be foreseen. The white in it is a sign of snow, the brown of very great cold. Similar ideas can be traced in Germany, though there is not always agreement as to what the white and the brown betoken.7*
At St. Peter's, Athlone, Ireland, a very obviously sacrificial custom lasted on into the nineteenth century. Every household would kill an animal of some kind, and sprinkle the threshold with its blood. A cow or sheep, a goose or turkey, or merely a cock or hen, was used according to the means of the family.72 It seems that the animal was actually offered to St. Martin, apparently as
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