Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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PAGAN SURVIVALS
None in foliage, none in blossom, None in fruit thy peer may be :
Sweetest wood and sweetest iron ! Sweetest weight is hung on thee."
In the religious Christmas plays the tree of Paradise was some­times shown to the people. At Oberufer, for instance, it was a fine juniper-tree, adorned with apples and ribbons. Sometimes Christ Himself was regarded as the tree of Paradise.38 The thought of Him as both the Light of the World and the Tree of Life may at least have given a Christian meaning to the light-bearing tree, and helped to establish its popularity among pious folk.
Christmas Decorations.
We have seen that the Christmas-tree may be a development, partly at least, from the custom of decorating buildings with evergreens at the New Year, and that such decorations were common throughout the Roman Empire.* Some further con­sideration may now be given to the subject of Christmas decora­tions in various lands. In winter, when all is brown and dead, the evergreens are manifestations of the abiding life within the plant-world, and they may well have been used as sacramental means of contact with the spirit of growth and fertility, threatened by the powers of blight. Particularly precious would be plants like the holly, the ivy, and the mistletoe, which actually bore fruit in the winter-time.39
In spite of ecclesiastical condemnations of Kalends decorations —as late as the sixth century the capitula of Bishop Martin of Braga forbid the adorning of houses with laurels and green trees —the custom has found its way even into churches, and nowhere more than in England. At least as far back as the fifteenth century, according to Stow's "Survay of London," it was the custom at Christmas for " every man's house, as also the parish churches," to be " decked with holm, ivy, bays, and whatsoever the season of the year afforded to be green. The conduits and
* It by no means necessarily follows, of course, that they were exclusively Roman in origin.
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