Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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FEASTING CUSTOMS
desuper " used at the Advent Masses.) In Franconia such bread, thrown into a dangerous fire, stills the flames; in the north of Germany, if put during the Twelve Days into the fodder of the cattle, it makes them prolific and healthy throughout the year.
It is pleasant to note that animals are often specially cared for at Christmas. Up till the early nineteenth century the cattle in Shropshire were always better fed at Christmas than at other times, and Miss Burne tells of an old gentleman in Cheshire who used then to give his poultry a double portion of grain, for, he said, "all creation should rejoice at Christmas, and the dumb creatures had no other manner of doing so." 31 The saying reminds one of that lover of Christmas and the animals, St. Francis of Assisi. It will be remembered how he wished that oxen and asses should have extra corn and hay at Christmas, " for reverence of the Son of God, whom on such a night the most Blessed Virgin Mary did lay down in the stall betwixt the ox and the ass." 32 It was a gracious thought, and no doubt with St. Francis, as with the old Cheshireman, it was a purely Christian one ; very possibly, however, the original object of such attention to the dumb creatures was to bring to the animals, by means of the corn, the influence of the spirit of fertility.
In Silesia on Christmas night all the beasts are given wheat to make them thrive, and it is believed that if wheat be kept in the pocket during the Christmas service and then given to fowls, it will make them grow fat and lay many eggs.33 In Sweden on Christmas Eve the cattle are given the best forage the house can afford, and afterwards a mess of all the viands of which then-masters have partaken ; the horses are given the choicest hay and, later on, ale ; and the other animals are treated to good things.34
At Loblang in Hungary the last sheat at harvest is kept, and given on New Year's morning to the wild birds.35 In southern Germany corn is put on the roof for them on Christmas Eve, or,36 as also in Sweden,37 an unthreshed sheat is set on a pole. In these cases it is possible that the food was originally an offering to ancestral or other spirits.
Revenons a nos gateaux. In Rome and elsewhere in Italy an important article of Christmas food is the patuttotu, a currant loaf.
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