Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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Thereupon he forsook King Herod for the Child Jesus, and was stoned to death.11
To return, however, to the horse customs of the day after Christmas, it is pretty plain that they are of non-Christian origin. Mannhardt has suggested that the race which is their most pro­minent feature once formed the prelude to a ceremony of lustra­tion of houses and fields with a sacred tree. Somewhat similar "ridings" are found in various parts of Europe in spring, and are connected with a procession that appears to be an ecclesiastical adaptation of a pre-Christian lustration-rite.12 The great name of Mannhardt lends weight to this theory, but it seems a somewhat roundabout way of accounting for the facts. Perhaps an ex­planation of the " horsiness " of the day might be sought in some pre-Christian sacrifice of steeds.
We have already noted that St. Stephen's Day is often the date for the " hunting of the wren " in the British Isles ; it was also in England generally devoted to hunting and shooting, it being held that the game laws were not in force on that day., This may be only an instance of Christmas licence, but it is just possible that there is here a survival of some tradition of sacrificial slaughter.
St. John's Day.
An ecclesiastical adaptation of a pagan practice may be seen in the Johannissegen customary on St. John's Day in many parts of Catholic Germany and Austria. A quantity of wine is brought to church to be blessed by the priest after Mass, and is taken away by the people to be drunk at home. There are many popular beliefs about the magical powers of this wine, beliefs which can be traced back through at least four centuries. In Tyrol and Bavaria it is supposed to protect its drinker from being struck by lightning, in the Rhenish Palatinate it is drunk in order that the other wine a man possesses may be kept from injury, or that next year's harvest may be good. In Nassau, Carinthia, and other regions some is poured into the wine-casks to preserve the precious drink from harm, while in Bavaria some is kept for use as medicine in sick-
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