Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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most characteristic feature being a hood with asses' ears, probably a relic of the primitive days when the heads of sacrificed animals were worn by festal worshippers.21
The Boy Bishop.
Of older standing than the Feast of Fools were the Christmas revels of the deacons, the priests, and the choir-boys. They can be traced back to the early tenth century, and may have originated at the great song-school of St. Gall near Constance. The most important of the three feasts was that of the boys on Holy Innocents' Day, a theoretically appropriate date. Corre­sponding to the "lord" of the Feast of Fools was the famous " Boy Bishop," a choir-boy chosen by the lads themselves, who was vested in cope and mitre, held a pastoral staff, and gave the benediction. Other boys too usurped the dignities of their elders, and were attired as dean, archdeacons, and canons. Offices for the festival, in which the Boy Bishop figures largely, are to be found in English, French, and German service-books, the best known in this country being those in the Sarum Pro­cessional and Breviary. In England these ceremonies were far more popular and lasting than the Feast of Fools, and, unlike it, they were recognized and approved by authority, probably because boys were more amenable to discipline than men, and objectionable features could be pruned away with comparative ease. The festivities must have formed a delightful break in the year of the mediaeval schoolboy, for whom holidays, as distin­guished from holy-days for church-going, scarcely existed. The feast, as we shall see, was by no means confined within the church walls; there was plenty of merry-making and money-making outside.
Minute details have been preserved of the Boy Bishop customs at St. Paul's Cathedral in the thirteenth century. It had apparently been usual for the "bishop" to make the cathedral dignitaries act as taper- and incense-bearers, thus reversing matters so that the great performed the functions of the lowly. In 1263 this was forbidden, and only clerks of lower rank might be chosen for these offices. But the " bishop" had the right to demand
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