Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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PAGAN SURVIVALS
In Tyrol curious mummeries are then performed. At Piller-see in the Lower Innthal two youths combine to form a mimic ass, upon which a third rides, and they are followed by a motley train. The ass falls sick and has to be cured by a " vet," and all kinds of satirical jokes are made about things that have happened in the parish during the year. Elsewhere two men dress up in straw as husband and wife, and go out with a masked company. The pair wrangle with one another and carry on a play of wits with the peasants whose house they are visiting. Sometimes the satire is so cutting that permanent enmities ensue, and for this reason the practice is gradually being dropped.33
St. Nicholas's Day.
On December 6 we reach the most distinctive children's festival of the whole year, St. Nicholas's Day. In England it has gone out of mind, and in the flat north of Germany Protestantism has largely rooted it out, as savouring too much of saint-worship, and transferred its festivities to the more Evangelical season of Christmas.34 In western and southern Germany, however, and in Austria, Switzerland, and the Low Countries, it is still a day of joy for children, though in some regions even there its radiance tends to pale before the greater glory of the Christmas-tree.
It is not easy either to get at the historic facts about St. Nicholas, the fourth-century bishop of Myra in Asia Minor, or to ascertain why he became the patron saint of boys. The legends of his infant piety and his later wondrous works for the benefit of young people may either have given rise, or be them­selves due to, his connection with children.35 In eastern Europe and southern Italy he is above all things the saint of seafaring men, and among the Greeks his cult has perhaps replaced that of Artemis as a sea divinity.36 This aspect of him does not, how­ever, appear in the German festival customs with which we are here chiefly concerned.
It has already been hinted that in some respects St. Nicholas is a duplicate of St. Martin. His feast, indeed, is probably a later beginning-of-winter festival, dating from the period when
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