Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

Home Main Menu Order Support About Search



Share page  


Previous Contents Next

PAGAN SURVIVALS
seriously nowadays, there seem to be at the root of them things once regarded as of vital moment. Just as fairy-tales, originally serious attempts to explain natural facts, have now become reading for children, so ritual practices which our ancestors deemed of vast importance for human welfare have become mere games to amuse the young.
On St. Martin's Eve, to come back from speculation to the facts of popular custom, the saint appears in the nurseries of Antwerp and other Flemish towns. He is a man dressed up as a bishop, with a pastoral staff in his hand. His business is to ask if the children have been " good," and if the result of his inquiries is satisfactory he throws down apples, nuts, and cakes. If not, it is rods that he leaves behind. At Ypres he does not visibly appear, but children hang up stockings filled with hay, and next morning find presents in them, left by the saint in gratitude for the fodder provided for his horse. He is there imagined as a rider on a white horse, and the same conception prevails in Austrian Silesia, where he brings the " Martin's horns " already mentioned.8S In Silesia when it snows at Martinmas people say that the saint is coming on his white horse, and there, it may be noted, the Schimmelreiter appears at the same season.86 In certain respects, it has been suggested, St. Martin may have taken the place of Woden.87 It is perhaps not without significance that, like the god, he is a military hero, and conceived as a rider on horseback. At Diissel-dorf he used to be represented in his festival procession by a man riding on another fellow's back.88
At Mechlin and other places children go round from house to house, singing and collecting gifts. Often four boys with paper caps on their heads, dressed as Turks, carry a sort of litter whereon St. Martin sits. He has a long white beard of flax and a paper mitre and stole, and holds a large wooden spoon to receive apples and other eatables that are given to the children, as well as a leather purse for offerings of money.89
In the Ansbach region a different type of being used to appear —Pelzmarten (Skin Martin) by name ; he ran about and frightened the children, before he threw them their apples and nuts. In several places in Swabia, too, Pelzmarte was known ;
206
Previous Contents Next