Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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PAGAN SURVIVALS
Relics of Sacrifice.
We have noted a connection, partial at least, between Christ­mas good cheer and sacrifice ; let us now glance at a few customs of a different character but seemingly of sacrificial origin.
Traces of sacrifices of cats and dogs are to be found in Germany and Bohemia. In Lauenburg and Mecklenburg on Christmas morning, before the cattle are watered, a dog is thrown into their drinking water, in order that they may not suffer from the mange. In the Uckermark a cat may be substituted for the dog. In Bohemia a black cat is caught, boiled, and buried by night under a tree, to keep evil spirits from injuring the fields.45
A strange Christmas custom is the " hunting of the wren," once wide-spread in England and France and still practised in Ireland. In the Isle of Man very early on Christmas morning, when the church bells had rung out midnight, servants went out to hunt the wren. They killed the bird, fastened it to the top of a long pole, and carried it in procession to every house, chanting these words :—
" We hunted the wren for Robin the Bobbin, We hunted the wren for Jack of" the Can, We hunted the wren for Robin the Bobbin, We hunted the wren for every one."
At each house they sought to collect money. At last, when all had been visited, they laid the wren on a bier, carried it to the churchyard, and buried it with the utmost solemnity, singing Manx dirges. Another account, from the mid-nineteenth century, describes how on St. Stephen's Day Manx boys went from door to door with a wren suspended by the legs in the centre of two hoops crossing one another at right angles and decorated with evergreens and ribbons. In exchange for a small coin they would give a feather of the wren, which was carefully kept as a preservative against shipwreck during the year.* 46
* In County Louth, Ireland, boys used to carry about a thorn-bush decked with streamers of coloured paper and with a wren tied to one of the branches.4?
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