Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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PAGAN SURVIVALS
every human being is purified with the sacred smoke and the holy sprinkling, and even the Christmas pie must be hallowed in this way. In Orthodox Greek countries something of the same . kind takes place, as we shall see, at the Epiphany. To drive away evil spirits is no doubt the object of all these rites.3°
The most interesting of Scottish New Year customs, considered as religious survivals, is a practice found in the Highlands on New Year's Eve, and evidently of sacrificial origin. It has been described by several writers, and has various forms. According to one account the hide of the mart or winter cow was wrapped round the head of one of a company of men, who all made off belabouring the hide with switches. The disorderly procession went three times deiseal (according to the course of the sun) round each house in the village, striking the walls and shouting on coming to a door a rhyme demanding admission. On entering, each member of the party was offered refreshments, and their leader gave to the goodman of the house the "breast-stripe" of a sheep, deer, or goat, wrapped round the point of a shinty stick.3*
We have here another survival of that oft-noted custom of skin-wearing, which, as has been seen, originated apparently in a desire for contact with the sanctity of the sacrificed victim. Further, the " breast-stripe" given to the goodman of each house is evidently meant to convey the hallowed influences to each family. It is an oval strip, and no knife may be used in removing it from the flesh. The head of the house sets fire to it, and it is given to each person in turn to smell. The inhaling of its fumes is a talisman against fairies, witches, and demons. In the island of South Uist, according to a quite recent account, each person seizes hold of it as it burns, making the sign of the cross, if he be a Catholic, in the name of the Trinity, and it is put thrice sun-wise about the heads of those present. If it should be extinguished it is a bad omen for the New Year.32
The writer of the last account speaks of the " breast-strip " as the " Hogmanay," and it is just possible that the well-known Hogmanay processions of children on New Year's Eve (in Scot­land and elsewhere) may have some connection with the ritual above described. It is customary for the poorer children to
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