Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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derived from the Anglo-Saxon wes hdl = be whole, and wassailing is in its essence the wishing of a person's very good health. The origin of drinking healths is not obvious ; perhaps it may be sacramental : the draught may have been at first a means of communion with some divinity, and then its consumption may have come to be regarded not only as benefiting the partaker, but as a rite that could be performed for the welfare of another person. Apart from such speculations, we may note the frequent mention of wassailing in old English carols of the less ecclesias­tical type ; the singers carried with them a bowl or cup which they expected their wealthier neighbours to fill with drink.13 Sometimes the bowl was adorned with ribbons and had a golden apple at the top,I4 and it is a noteworthy fact that the box with the Christmas images, mentioned in Chapter IV. (p. 118), is sometimes called "the Vessel [Wassail] Cup."15,
The various Christmas dishes of Europe would form an inter­esting subject for exhaustive study. To suggest a religious origin for each would be going too far, for merely economic considerations must have had much to do with the matter, but it is very probable that in some cases they are relics of sacrifices or sacraments.
The pig is a favourite food animal at Christmas in other countries than our own, a fact probably connected with sacrificial customs. In Denmark and Sweden a pig's head was one of the principal articles of the great Christmas Eve repast.16 In Germany it is a fairly wide-spread custom to kill a pig shortly before Christmas and partake of it on Christmas Day; its entrails and bones and the straw which has been in contact with it are supposed to have fertilizing powers.17 In Roumania a pig is the Christmas animal par excellence, in Russia pigs' trotters are a favourite dish at the New Year,10 and in every Servian house roast pig is the principal Christmas dish.20
In Upper Bavaria there is a custom which almost certainly has at its root a sacrifice : a number of poor people club together at Christmas-time and buy a cow to be killed and eaten at a common feast.21
More doubtful is the sacrificial origin of the dishes of certain
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