Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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PAGAN SURVIVALS
women, panders or minstrels. They sing wanton songs. They eat black puddings at the horn of the altar while the celebrant is saying Mass. They play at dice there. They cense with stinking smoke from the soles of old shoes. They run and leap through the church, without a blush at their own shame. Finally they drive about the town and its theatres in shabby traps and carts, and rouse the laughter of their fellows and the bystanders in infamous performances, with in­decent gesture and verses scurrilous and unchaste." r9
The letter also speaks of " bishops " or " archbishops " of Fools, who wore mitres and held pastoral staffs. We here see clearly, besides mere irreverence, an outcrop of pagan practices. Topsy­turvydom, the temporary exaltation of inferiors, was itself a characteristic of the Kalends celebrations, and a still more remark­able feature of them was, as we have seen, the wearing of beast-masks and the dressing up of men in women's clothes. And what is the " bishop " or " archbishop " but a parallel to, and, we may well believe, an example of, the mock king whom Dr. Frazer has traced in so many a folk-festival, and who is found at the Saturnalia ?
One more feature of the Feast of Fools must be considered, the Ass who gave to it the not uncommon title of asinaria festa. At Bourges, Sens, and Beauvais, a curious half-comic hymn was sung in church, the so-called " Prose of the Ass." It begins as follows :—
" Orientis partibus
Adventavit Asinus,
Pulcher et fortissimus,
Sarcinis aptissimus.
Hez, Sir Asnes, car chantez,
Belle bouche rechignez,
Vous aurez du foin assez
Et de l'avoine a plantez."
And after eight verses in praise of the beast, with some mention of his connection with Bethlehem and the Wise Men, it closes thus :—
"Amen dicas, Asine, lam satur de gramine,
3°4
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