Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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previous writers, no very elaborate account of them need be given.
The gross eating and drinking in former days at Christmas, of which our present mild gluttony is but a pale reflection, would seem to be connected with the old November feast, though transferred to the season hallowed by Christ's birth. The show of slaughtered beasts, adorned with green garlands, in an English town just before Christmas, reminds one strongly of the old November killing. In displays of this kind the pig's head is specially conspicuous, and points to the time when the swine was a favourite sacrificial animal.1 We may recall here the traditional carol sung at Queen's College, Oxford, as the boar's head is solemnly brought in at Christmas, and found elsewhere in other forms:
" The boar's head in hand bear I, Bedeck'd with bays and rosemary ; And I pray you, my masters, be merry,
Quot estis in convivio.
Caput apri deferoy
Reddens laudes Domino"2
The Christmas bird provided by the familiar " goose club" may be compared with the German Martinmas goose. The more luxurious turkey must be relatively an innovation, for that bird seems not to have been introduced into England until the sixteenth century.3
Cakes and pies, partly or wholly of vegetable origin, are, of course, as conspicuous at the English Christmas as animal food. The peculiar "luckiness" attached to some of them (as when mince-pies, eaten in different houses during the Twelve Days, bring a happy month each) makes one suspect some more serious original purpose than mere gratification of the appetite. A sacrificial or sacramental origin is probable, at least in certain cases; a cake made of flour, for instance, may well have been regarded as embodying the spirit immanent in the corn.4 Whether any mystic significance ever belonged to the plum-pudding it is hard to say, though the sprig of holly stuck into its
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