Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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he had a black face, a cow-bell hung on his person and he distributed blows as well as nuts and apples.9° In him there is obviously more of the pagan mummer than the Christian bishop.
In Belgium St. Martin is chiefly known as the bringer of apples and nuts for children ; in Bavaria and Austria he has a different aspect : a gerte or rod, supposed to promote fruitfulness among cattle and prosperity in general, is connected with his day. The rods are taken round by the neatherds to the farmers and one is given to each—two to rich proprietors ; they are to be used, when spring comes, to drive out the cattle for the first time. In Bavaria they are formed by a birch-bough with all the leaves and twigs stripped off—except at the top, to which oak-leaves and juniper-twigs are fastened. At Etzendorf a curious old rhyme shows that the herdsman with the rod is regarded as the representative of St. Martin.91
Can we connect this custom with the saint who brings presents to youngsters ? * There seems to be a point of contact when we note that at Antwerp St. Martin throws down rods for naughty children as well as nuts and apples for good ones, and that Pelzmarte in Swabia has blows to bestow as well as gifts. St. Martin's main functions—and, as we shall see, St. Nicholas has the same—are to beat the bad children and reward the good with apples, nuts, and cakes. Can it be that the ethical distinction is of comparatively recent origin, an invention perhaps for children when the customs came to be performed solely for their benefit, and that the beating and the gifts were originally shared by all alike and were of a sacramental character ? We shall meet with more whipping customs later on, they are common enough in folk-ritual, and are not punishments, but kindly services ; their purpose is to drive away evil influences, and to bring to the flogged one the life-giving virtues of the tree from which the twigs or boughs are taken.92 Both the flogging and the eating of fruit may, indeed, be means of contact with the vegetation-spirit, the one in
* It is interesting to note that in the Italian province of Venetia, as well as in more northerly regions, Martinmas is especially a children's feast. In the sweetshops are sold little sugar images of the saint on horseback with a long sword, and in Venice itself children go about singing, playing on tambourines, and begging for money.w
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