Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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PAGAN SURVIVALS
Such loaves are sent as presents to friends. In eastern Europe, too, Christmas loaves or cakes are very conspicuous. The chesnitza and Match cakes among the southern Slavs are flat and wheel-like, with a circular hole in the middle and a number of lines radiating from it. In the central hole is sometimes placed a lighted taper or a small Christmas-tree hung with ribbons, tinsel, and sweetmeats. These cakes, made with elaborate ceremonial early in the morning, are solemnly broken by the house-father on Christmas Day, and a small piece is eaten by each member of the family. In some places one is fixed on the horn of the "eldest ox," and if he throws it off it is a good sign.38 The last practice may be compared with a Herefordshire custom which we shall meet with on Twelfth Night (p. 346).
In southern Greece a special kind of flat loaves with a cross on the top is made on Christmas Eve. The name given is " Christ's Loaves." " The cloth is not removed from the table; but everything is left as it is in the belief that ' Christ will come and eat'during the night." 39 Probably Christ has here taken the place of ancestral spirits.
In Tyrol peasants eat at Christmastide the so-called zelten, a kind of pie filled with dried pear-slices, nuts, figs, raisins, and the like. It is baked on the Eve of St. Thomas, and its filling is as important an event for the whole family as was the plum-pudding and mincemeat making in old-fashioned English households. When the zelten is filled the sign of the cross is made upon it and it is sprinkled with holy water and put in the oven. When baked and cooled, it is laid in the family stock of rye and is not eaten until St. Stephen's Day or Epiphany. Its cutting by the father of the family is a matter of considerable solemnity. Smaller pies are made at the same time for the maid-servants, and a curious custom is connected with them. It is usual for the maids to visit their relations during the Christmas holidays and share with them their zelten. A young man who wishes to be engaged to a maid should offer to carry her pie for her. This is his declaration of love, and if she accepts the offer she signifies her approval of him. To him falls the duty or privilege of cutting the %eltenA°
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