Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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fall to the ground. The Shropshire custom was to leave the holly and ivy up until Candlemas, while the mistletoe-bough was carefully preserved until the time came for a new one next year. West Shropshire tradition, by the way, connects the mistletoe with the New Year rather than with Christmas ; the bough ought not to be put up until New Year's Eve.56
In Sweden green boughs, apparently, are not used for decora­tion, but the floor of the parlour is strewn with sprigs of fragrant juniper or spruce-pine, or with rye-straw.57 The straw was probably intended originally to bring to the house, by means of sacramental contact, the wholesome influences of the corn-spirit, though the common people connect it with the stable at Beth­lehem. The practice of laying straw and the same Christian explanation are found also in Poland 58 and in Crivoscia.59 In Poland before the cloth is laid on Christmas Eve the table is covered with a layer of hay or straw, and a sheaf stands in the corner. Years ago straw was also spread on the floor. Some­times it is given to the cattle as a charm and sometimes it is used to tie up fruit-trees.6°
Dr. Frazer conjectures that the Swedish Yule straw comes in part at least from the last sheaf at harvest, to which, as em­bodying the corn-spirit, a peculiar significance is attached. The Swedish, like the Polish, Yule straw has sundry virtues ; scat­tered on the ground it will make a barren field productive ; and it is used to bind trees and make them fruitful.61 Again the peasant at Christmas will sit on a log and throw up Yule straws one by one to the roof; as many as lodge in the rafters, so many will be the sheaves of rye at harvest.62
Christmas and New Year Gifts. We have come across presents of various kinds at the pre-Christmas festivals ; now that we have reached Christmastide itself we may dwell a little upon the festival as the great present-giving season of the year, and try to get at the origins of the custom.
The Roman strenae offered to the Emperor or exchanged between private citizens at the January Kalends have already
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