Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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PAGAN SURVIVALS
Alsatian villages : the adorning of the fountain with a " May." The girls who visit the fountain procure a small fir-tree or holly-bush, and deck it with ribbons, egg-shells, and little figures repre­senting a shepherd or a man beating his wife. This is set up above the fountain on New Year's Eve. On the evening of the next day the snow is carefully cleared away and the girls dance and sing around the fountain. The lads may only take part in the dance by permission of the girls. The tree is kept all through the year as a protection to those who have set it up.31
In Sweden, before the advent of the German type of tree, it was customary to place young pines, divested of bark and branches, outside the houses at Christmastide.32 An English parallel which does not suggest any borrowing from Germany, was formerly to be found at Brough in Westmoreland on Twelfth Night. A holly-tree with torches attached to its branches was carried through the town in procession. It was finally thrown among the popu­lace, who divided into two parties, one of which endeavoured to take the tree to one inn, and the other, to a rival hostelry.33 We have here pretty plainly a struggle of two factions—perhaps of two quarters of a town that were once separate villages—for the possession of a sacred object.*
We may find parallels, lastly, in two remote corners of Europe. In the island of Chios—here we are on Greek ground—tenants are wont to offer to their landlords on Christmas morning a rhamna, a pole with wreaths of myrtle, olive, and orange leaves bound around it; " to these are fixed any flowers that may be found—geraniums, anemones, and the like, and, by way of further decoration, oranges, lemons, and strips of gold and coloured paper." f 34 Secondly, among the Circassians in the early half of the nineteenth century, a young pear-tree used to be carried into each house at an autumn festival, to the sound of music and joyous cries. It was covered with candles, and a cheese was fastened to its top. Round about it they ate, drank, and sang. Afterwards it was
* Compare the struggle for the " Haxey hood," describe*! in Chapter XVI., p. 347.
f This may be compared with the ancient Greek Eiresione, "a portable May-pole, a branch hung about with wool, acorns, figs, cakes, fruits of all sorts and sometimes wine-jars." 35
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