Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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PAGAN SURVIVALS
documents and collecting money. Games and larks of all sorts I went on in the schools without a word of reproof, and the children I were wont to burn their master's rod.58
In the neighbourhood of Antwerp children go early to school on St. Thomas's Day, and lock the master out, until he promises to treat them with ale or other drink. After this they buy a cock and hen, which are allowed to escape and have to be caught by the boys or the girls respectively. The girl who catches the hen is called "queen," the boy who gets the cock, " king." Else­where in Belgium children lock out their parents, and servants their masters, while schoolboys bind their teacher to his chair and carry him over to the inn. There he has to buy back his liberty ' by treating his scholars with punch and cakes. Instead of the chase for the fowls, it was up to 1850 the custom in the Ardennes for the teacher to give the children hens and let them chop the heads off.59 Some pagan sacrifice no doubt lies at the root of this barbarous practice, which has many parallels in the folk-lore of western and southern Europe.60
As for schoolboys' larks with their teachers, the custom of "barring out the master" existed in England, and was practised before Christmas61 as well as at other times of the year, notably Shrove Tuesday. At Bromfield in Cumberland on Shrove Tuesday there was a regular siege, the school doors were strongly barricaded within, and the boy-defenders were armed with pop­guns. If the master won, heavy tasks were imposed, but if, as more often happened, he was defeated in his efforts to regain his authority, he had to make terms with the boys as to the hours of work and play.62
St. Thomas's Eve is in certain regions one of the uncanniest nights in the year. In some Bohemian villages the saint is believed to drive about at midnight in a chariot of fire. In the churchyard there await him all the dead men whose name is Thomas; they help him to alight and accompany him to the church­yard cross, which glows red with supernatural radiance. There St. Thomas kneels and prays, and then rises to bless his name­sakes. This done, he vanishes beneath the cross, and each Thomas returns to his grave. The saint here seems to have taken over
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