Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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PAGAN SURVIVALS
with later. Among the Slav races the old organization of the family under an elective house-elder and holding things in common has been faithfully preserved, and we might expect to find among the remote Serbian highlanders specially clear traces of the old religion of the hearth. One remarkable point noted by Sir Arthur Evans was that in the Crivoscian cottage where he stayed the fire-irons, the table, and the stools were removed to an obscure corner before the logs were brought in and the Christmas rites began—an indication apparently of the extreme antiquity of the celebration, as dating from a time when such implements were unlcnown.7
If we take the view that ancestral spirits are the centre of the badnjak observances, we may regard the libations upon the fire as intended for their benefit. On the sun and vegetation hypothesis, however, the libations would be meant to secure, by homoeopathic magic, that sunshine should alternate with the rain necessary for the welfare of plants.* 8 The fertilizing powers possessed by the sparks and ashes of the Christmas log appear frequently in folk­lore, and may be explained either by the connection of fire with human generation already noted, or, on the other theory, by the burning log being a sort of sacrament of sunshine. It is not per­haps necessary to exclude the idea of the log's connection with the vegetation-spirit even on the ancestral cult hypothesis, for the tree which furnished the fuel may have been regarded as the source of the life of the race.9 The Serbian rites certainly suggest very strongly some sort of veneration for the log itself as well as for the fire that it feeds.
We may now return to western Europe. In France the Christmas log or souche de Noel is common in the less modernized places, particularly in the south. In Dauphine* it is called chalen-
* It is to be borne in mind that the oak was a sacred tree among the heathen Slavs ; it was connected with the thunder-god Perun, the counterpart of Jupiter, and a fire of oak burned night and day in his honour. The neighbours of the Slavs, the Lithuanians, had the same god, whom they called Perkunas ; they too kept up a perpetual oak-fire in his honour, and in time of drought they used to pour beer on the flames, praying to Perkunas to send showers.10 The libations of wine on the Yule log may conceivably have had a similar purpose.
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