Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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PAGAN SURVIVALS
vegetation-spirit is evident, it is difficult to be certain of their exact ancestry. Dr. Tille regards them as coming from a union of two elements : the old Roman custom of decking houses with laurels and green trees at the Kalends of January, and the popular belief that every Christmas Eve apple and other trees blossomed and bore fruit.22
Before the advent of the Christmas-tree proper—a fir with lights and ornaments often imitating and always suggesting flowers and fruit—it was customary to put trees like cherry or hawthorn into water or into pots indoors, so that they might bud and blossom at New Year or Christmas.23 Even to-day the practice of picking boughs in order that they may blossom at Christmas is to be found in some parts of Austria. In Carinthia girls on St. Lucia's Day (December 13) stick a cherry-branch into wet sand; if it blooms at Christmas their wishes will be fulfilled. In other parts the branches—pear as well as cherry— are picked on St. Barbara's Day (December 4), and in South Tyrol cherry-trees are manured with lime on the first Thursday in Advent so that they may blossom at Christmas.24 The custom may have had to do with legendary lore about the marvellous transformation of Nature on the night of Christ's birth, when the rivers ran wine instead of water and trees stood in full blossom in spite of ice and snow.25
In England there was an old belief in trees blossoming at Christmas, connected with the well-known legend of St. Joseph of Arimathea. When the saint settled at Glastonbury he planted his staff in the earth and it put forth leaves ; moreover it blossomed every Christmas Eve. Not only the original thorn at Glastonbury but trees of the same species in other parts of England had this characteristic. When in 1752 the New Style was substituted for the Old, making Christmas fall twelve days earlier, folks were curious to see what the thorns would do. At Quainton in Buckinghamshire two thousand people, it is said, went out on the new Christmas Eve to view a blackthorn which had the Christmas blossoming habit. As no sign of buds was visible they agreed that the new Christmas could not be right, and refused to keep it. At Glastonbury itself nothing
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