Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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to show them their true love in a dream.67 The most notable English custom on this day, however, was the peregrinations of poor people begging for money or provisions for Christmas. Going " a-gooding," or " a-Thomassin,' " or " a-mumping," this was called. Sometimes in return for the charity bestowed a sprig of holly or mistletoe was given.68 Possibly the sprig was originally a sacrament of the healthful spirit of growth : it may be compared with the olive- or cornel-branches carried about on New Year's Eve by Macedonian boys,69 and also with the St. Martin's rod (see last chapter).
One more English custom on December 21 must be mentioned —it points to a sometime sacrifice—the bull-baiting practised until 1821 at Wokingham in Berkshire. Its abolition in 1822 caused great resentment among the populace, although the flesh continued to be duly distributed.70
We are now four days from the feast of the Nativity, and many things commonly regarded as distinctive of Christmas have already come under notice. We have met, for instance, with several kinds of present-giving, with auguries for the New Year, with processions of carol-singers and well-wishers, with ceremonial feasting that anticipates the Christmas eating and drinking, and with various figures, saintly or monstrous, mimed or merely imagined, which we shall find reappearing at the greatest of winter festivals. These things would seem to have been attracted from earlier dates to the feast of the Nativity, and the probability that Christmas has bor­rowed much from an old November festival gradually shifted into December, is our justification for having dwelt so long upon the feasts that precede the Twelve Days.
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