Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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PAGAN SURVIVALS
bleed horses on St. Stephen's Day, but also to give them con­secrated salt and bread or oats and barley.4
In some of the Carinthian valleys where horse-breeding is specially carried on, the young men ride into the village on their unsaddled steeds, and a race is run four or five times round the church, while the priest blesses the animals, sprinkling them with holy water and exorcizing them.5
Similar customs are or were found in various parts of Germany. In Munich, formerly, during the services on St. Stephen's Day more than two hundred men on horseback used to ride three times round the interior of a church. The horses were decorated with many-coloured ribbons, and the practice was not abolished till 1876.6 At Backnang in Swabia horses were ridden out, as fast as possible, to protect them from the influence of witches, and in the Hohenlohe region men-servants were permitted by their masters to ride in companies to neighbouring places, where much drinking went on.7 In Holstein the lads on Stephen's Eve used to visit their neighbours in a company, groom the horses, and ride about in the farmyards, making a great noise until the people woke up and treated them to beer and spirits.8 At the village of Walls-bull near Flensburg the peasant youths in the early morning held a race, and the winner was called Steften and entertained at the inn. At Viol near Bredstadt the child who got up last on December 26 received the name of StefFen and had to ride to a neighbour's house on a hay-fork. In other German districts the festival was called " the great horse-day," consecrated food was given to the animals, they were driven round and round the fields until they sweated violently, and at last were ridden to the black­smith's and bled, to keep them healthy through the year. The blood was preserved as a remedy for various illnesses.9
It is, however, in Sweden that the " horsy " aspect of the festival is most obvious.10 Formerly there was a custom, at one o'clock on St. Stephen's morning, for horses to be ridden to water that flowed northward ; they would then drink " the cream of the water" and flourish during the year. There was a violent race to the water, and the servant who got there first was rewarded by a drink of something stronger. Again, early that morning one
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