Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS
There are traces in Britain of the sacredness of holly as well as mistletoe. In Northumberland it is used for divination : nine leaves are taken and tied with nine knots into a handkerchief, and put under the pillow by a person who desires prophetic dreams.S1 For this purpose smooth leaves (without prickles) must be employed, and it is to be noted that at Burford in Shropshire smooth holly only was used for the Christmas decora-tions.52 Holly is hated by witches,53 but perhaps this may be-due not to any pre-Christian sanctity attached to it but to the association of its thorns and blood-red berries with the Passion— an association to which it owes its Danish name, Krlstdorn.
In some old English Christmas carols holly and ivy are put into a curious antagonism, apparently connected with a contest of the sexes. Holly is the men's plant, ivy the women's, and the carols are debates as to the respective merits of each. Possibly some sort of rude drama may once have been performed.54 Here is a fifteenth-century example of these carols :—
"Holly and Ivy made a great party, Who should have the mastery, In landes where they go.
Then spoke Holly, 'I am free and jolly, I will have the mastery,
In landes where we go.'
Then spake Ivy, ' I am lov'd and prov'd, And I will have the mastery, In landes where we go.'
Then spake Holly, and set him down on his knee, ' I pray thee, gentle Ivy, Say me no villainy,
In lande's where we go.'"55
The sanctity of Christmas house-decorations in England is shown by the care taken in disposing of them when removed from the walls. In Shropshire old-fashioned people never threw them away, for fear of misfortune, but either burnt them or gave them to the cows ; it was very unlucky to let a piece
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