Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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ST. LUCIA'S DAY
for the St. Nicholases who in bishops' vestments make their present-giving rounds.
The festival of St. Nicholas is naturally celebrated with most splendour at the place where his body lies, the seaport of liari in south-eastern Italy. The holy bones are preserved in a sepulchre beneath a crypt of rich Saracenic architecture, above which rises a magnificent church. Legend relates that in the eleventh century they were stolen by certain merchants of Bari from the saint's own cathedral at Myra in Asia Minor. The tomb of St. Nicholas is a famous centre for pilgrimages, and on the 6th of December many thousands of the faithful, bearing staves bound with olive and pine, visit it. An interesting ceremony on the festival is the taking of the saint's image out to sea by the sailors of the port. They return with it at nightfall, and a great procession escorts it back to the cathedral with torches and fire­works and chanting.49 Here may be seen the other, the seafaring, aspect of St. Nicholas ; by this mariners' cult we are taken far away from the present-giving saint who delights the small children of the North.
St. Lucia's Day.
The only folk-festivals of note between St. Nicholas's Day and Christmas are those of St. Lucia (December 13) and St. Thomas the Apostle (December 21).
In Sweden St. Lucia's Day was formerly marked by some interesting practices. It was, so to speak, the entrance to the Christmas festival, and was called " little Yule." 5° At the first cock-crow, between 1 and 4 a.m., the prettiest girl in the house used to go among the sleeping folk, dressed in a white robe, a red sash, and a wire crown covered with whortleberry-twigs and having nine lighted candles fastened in it. She awakened the sleepers and regaled them with a sweet drink or with coffee,* sang a special song, and was named "Lussi" or "Lussibruden ' (Lucy bride). When everyone was dressed, breakfast was taken, the room being lighted by many candles. The domestic animals
* This custom may be compared with the Scotch eating of sowans in bed on Christmas morning (see Chapter XII.).
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