RELICS OF SACRIFICE
There are also traces of a Manx custom of boiling and eating the bird.48
The wren is popularly called "the king of birds," and it is supposed to be highly unlucky to kill om- at ordinarj times. Probably it was once regarded as sacred, and the Christmas "hunting" is the survival of an annual custom of slaying the divine animal, such as is found among primitive peoples.49 The carrying of its body from door to door is apparently intended to convey to each house a portion of its virtues, while the actual eating of the bird would be a sort of communion feast. Perhaps the custom, in a Cornish village, of eating blackbird pie on Twelfth Day should be explained in the same way.5°
I can here hardly do more than allude to the many gamesS* that were traditional in England at Christmas—hoodman-blind, shoe the wild mare, hot cockles, steal the white loaf, snap-dragon, and the rest. To attempt to describe and explain them would lead me too far, but it is highly probable that some at least mi;j;ht be traced to an origin in sacrificial ritual. The degeneration of religious rites into mere play is, indeed, as we have seen, a process illustrated by the whole history of Christmas.
Only two British Christmas games can be discussed in this book : blindman's buff and football. An account of a remarkable Christmas football match will be found in the chapter on Epiphany customs, where it is brought into connection with that closely related game, the " Haxey hood."
As for blindman's buff, it is distinctly a Christmas sport, and it is known nearly all over Europe by names derived from animals, e.g., " blind cow " and " blind mouse." Mr. N. W. Thomas has suggested that " the explanation of these names is that the players originally wore masks ; the game is known in some cases as the ' blinde Mumm,' or blind mask. . . . The player who is ' it' seems to be the sacrificer ; he bears the same name as the victim, just as in agricultural customs the reaper of the last corn bears the same name as the last sheaf." 52
The Scandinavian countries are very rich in Christmas games and dances,S3 of which it would be interesting to attempt explanations if space allowed. One Swedish song and dance game—