Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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PAGAN SURVIVALS
It may well have been the traditional association of the ox and ass with the Nativity that fixed this superstition to Christmas Eve, but the conception of the talking animals is probably pagan.
Related to this idea, but more Christian in form, is the belief that at midnight all cattle rise in their stalls or kneel and adore the new-born King. Readers of Mr. Hardy's " Tess" will remember how this is brought into a delightful story told by a Wessex peasant. The idea is widespread in England and on the Continent,T5 and has reached even the North American Indians. Howison, in his " Sketches of Upper Canada," relates that an Indian told him that " on Christmas night all deer kneel and look up to Great Spirit."l6 A somewhat similar belief about bees was held in the north of England : they were said to assemble on Christmas Eve and hum a Christmas hymn.I7 Bees seem in folk-lore in general to be specially near to humanity in their feelings.
It is a widespread idea that at midnight on Christmas Eve all water turns to wine. A Guernsey woman once determined to test this ; at midnight she drew a bucket from the well. Then came a voice :
"Toute l'eau se tourne en vin, Et tu es proche de ta fin."
She fell down with a mortal disease, and died before the end of the year. In Sark the superstition is that the water in streams and wells turns into blood, and if you go to look you will die within the year.18
There is also a French belief that on Christmas Eve, while the genealogy of Christ is being chanted at the Midnight Mass, hidden treasures are revealed.10 In Russia all sorts of buried treasures are supposed to be revealed on the evenings between Christmas and the Epiphany, and on the eves of these festivals the heavens are opened, and the waters of springs and rivers turn into wine.20
Another instance of the supernatural character of the night is found in a Breton story of a blacksmith who went on working after the sacring bell had rung at the Midnight Mass. To him
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