Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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THE YULE LOG
as an efficacious symbol of sunshine, meant to secure the Ratal vitalizing influence of the sun during the coming year.J It ■ however, possible to connect it with a different circle of ideas and to see in its burning the solemn annual rekindling of the sacred hearth-fire, the centre of the family life and the dwelling-place oi the ancestors. Primitive peoples in many parts of the world are accustomed to associate fire with human generation, and it is a general belief among Aryan and other peoples that ancestral spirits have their seat in the hearth. In Russia, for instance, " in the Nijegorod Government it is still forbidden to break up the smouldering faggots in a stove, because to do so might cause the ancestors to fall through into hell. And when a Russian family moves from one house to another, the fire is conveyed to the new one, where it is received with the words, c Welcome, grandfather, to the new home !' "5
Sir Arthur Evans in three articles in Macmillaris Magazine for 18816 gave a minute account of the Christmas customs of the Serbian highlanders above Risano, who practise the log-rites with elaborate ceremonial, and explained them as connected in one way or other with ancestor-worship, though the people themselves attach a Christian meaning to many of them. He pointed to the following facts as showing that the Serbian Christmas is at bottom a feast of the dead :—(i) It is said on Christmas Eve, aTo-night Earth is blended with Paradise" [Raj, the abode of the dead among the heathen Slavs], (2) There is talk of unchristened folk beneath the threshold wailing " for a wax-light and offerings to be brought them ; when that is done they lie still enough "—here there may be a modified survival of the idea that ancestral spirits dwell beneath the doorway. (3) The food must on no account be cleared away after the Christmas meal, but is left for three-days, apparently for the house-spirits. (4) Blessings are invoked upon the " Absent Ones," which seems to mean the departed, and (5) a toast is drunk and a bread-cake broken in memory of "the Patron Namegiver of all house-fathers," ostensibly Christ but perhaps originally the founder of the family. Some of these customs resemble those we have noted on All Souls' Eve and— in Scandinavia—on Christmas Eve ; other parallels we shall meet
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