Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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PAGAN SURVIVALS
Not only by hideous figures is St. Nicholas attended. Some­times, as at Warnsdorf near Rumburg, there come with him the forms of Christ Himself, St. Peter, an angel, and the famous Knecht Ruprecht, whom we shall meet again on Christmas Eve. They are represented by children, and a little drama is performed, one personage coming in after the other and calling for the next in the manner of the English mummers' play. St. Nicholas, St. Peter, and Ruprecht accuse the children of all kinds of naughti­ness, the " Heiliger Christ " intercedes and at last throws nuts down and receives money from the parents.44 In Tyrol there are St. Nicholas plays of a more comic nature, performed publicly by large companies of players and introducing a number of humorous characters and much rude popular wit.45
Sometimes a female bogey used to appear: Budelfrau in Lower Austria, Berchtel in Swabia, Buzebergt in the neighbour­hood of Augsburg.46 The last two are plainly variants of Berchte, who is specially connected with the Epiphany. Berchtel used to punish the naughty children with a rod, and reward the good with nuts and apples ; Buzebergt wore black rags, had her face blackened and her hair hanging unkempt, and carried a pot of starch which she smeared upon people's faces.47
As Santa Klaus St. Nicholas is of course known to every English child, but rather as a sort of incarnation of Christmas than as a saint with a day of his own. Santa Klaus, probably, has come to us via the United States, whither the Dutch took him, and where he has still immense popularity.
In the Middle Ages in England as elsewhere the Eve of St. Nicholas was a day of great excitement for boys. It was then that the small choristers and servers in cathedral and other churches generally elected their " Boy Bishop " or " Nicholas."48 He had in some places to officiate at First Vespers and at the services on the festival itself. As a rule, however, the feast of the Holy Innocents, December 28, was probably the most important day in the Boy Bishop's career, and we may therefore postpone our consideration of him. We will here only note his connection with the festival of the patron saint of boys, a connection perhaps implying a common origin for him and
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