Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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PAGAN SURVIVALS
George play—the slaying—will be noticed. In one of the dances, too, there is even a doctor who revives the victim.
In England the sword-dance is found chiefly in the north, but with it appear to be identical the morris-dances—characterized by the wearing of jingling bells—which are commoner in the southern counties. Blackened faces are common in both, and both have the same grotesque figures, a man and a woman, often called Tommy and Bessy in the sword-dance and " the fool " and Maid Marian in the morris. Moreover the morris-dancers in England sometimes use swords, and in one case the performers of an undoubted sword-dance were called " morrice " dancers in the eighteenth century. Bells too, so characteristic of the morris, are mentioned in some Continental accounts of the sword-dance.*
Intermediate between these dances and the fully developed St. George dramas are the plays performed on Plough Monday in Lincolnshire and the East Midlands. They all contain a good deal of dancing, a violent death and a revival, and grotesques found both in the dances and in the Christmas plays.
The sword-dance thus passes by a gradual transition, the dancing diminishing, the dramatic elements increasing, into the mummers' plays of St. George. The central motive, death and revival, Mr. Chambers regards as a symbol of the resurrection ot the year or the spirit of vegetation,! like the Thuringian custom of executing a " wild man " covered with leaves, whom a doctor brings to life again by bleeding. This piece of ritual has appar­ently been attracted to Christmas from an early feast of spring, and Plough Monday, when the East Midland plays take place, is just such an early spring feast. Again, in some places the St.
* Dancing is, as everyone knows, a common and indeed a central feature of primitive festivals ; and such dancing is wont to take a dramatic form, to be mimetic, whether re-enacting some past event or pre-do'mg something with magical intent to produce it.10 The Greek tragedy itself probably sprang from a primitive dance of a dramatic and magical character, centred in a death and re-birth.11
f In Thessaly and Macedonia at Carnival time folk-plays of a somewhat similar character are performed, including a quarrel, a death, and a miraculous restoration to life—evidently originating in magical ritual intended to promote the fertility of vegetation.12 Parallels can be found in the Carnival customs of other countries.
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