Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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member of the family, but one large log is the centre of the ritual.) The felling takes place in some districts before sunrise, corn being thrown upon the trees with the words, " Good morning, Christmas ! " At Risano and other places in Lower Dalmatia the women and girls wind red silk and gold wire round the oak trunks, and adorn them with leaves and flowers. While they are being carried into the house lighted tapers are held on either side of the door. As the house-father crosses the threshold in the twilight with the first log, corn—or in some places wine— is thrown over him by one of the family. The log or badnjak is then placed on the fire. At Ragusa the house-father sprinkles corn and wine upon the badnjak, saying, as the flame shoots up, " Goodly be thy birth ! " In the mountains above Risano he not only pours corn and wine but afterwards takes a bowl of corn, an orange, and a ploughshare, and places them on the upper end of the log in order that the corn may grow well and the beasts be healthy during the year. In Montenegro, instead of throwing corn, he more usually breaks a piece of unleavened bread, places it upon the log, and pours over it a libation of wine.1
The first visit on Christmas Day is considered important—we may compare this with "first-footing" in the British Isles on January i—and in order that the right sort of person may come, some one is specially chosen to be the so-called polaznik. No outsider but this polaznik may enter a house on Christmas Day, where the rites are strictly observed. He appears in the early morning, carries corn in his glove and shakes it out before the threshold with the words, " Christ is born," whereupon some member of the household sprinkles him with corn in return, answering, " He is born indeed." Afterwards the polaznik goes to the fire and makes sparks fly from the remains of the badnjak, at the same time uttering a wish for the good luck of the house­father and his household and farm. Money and sometimes an orange are then placed on the badnjak. It is not allowed to burn quite away ; the last remains of the fire are extinguished and the embers are laid between the branches of young fruit-trees to promote their growth.2
How shall we interpret these practices? Mannhardt regards the log as an embodiment of the vegetation-spirit, and its burning
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