Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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PAGAN SURVIVALS
those described at earlier festivals, are practised at the New Year. Especially popular at German New Year's Eve parties is the custom of bleigiessen. " This ceremony consists of boiling specially prepared pieces of lead in a spoon over a candle ; each guest takes his spoonful and throws it quickly into the basin or water which is held ready. According to the form which the lead takes so will his future be in the coming year . . . ships (which indicate a journey), or hearts (which have, of course, only one meaning), or some other equally significant shape is usually discerned." 45
In Macedonia St. Basil's Eve (December 31) is a common time for divination : a favourite method is to lay on the hot cinders a pair of wild-olive-leaves to represent a youth and a maid. If the leaves crumple up and draw near each other, it is concluded that the young people love one another dearly, but if they recoil apart the opposite is the case. If they flare up and burn, it is a sign of excessive passion.46
In Lithuania on New Year's Eve nine sorts of things—money, cradle, bread, ring, death's head, old man, old woman, ladder, and key—are baked of dough, and laid under nine plates, and every one has three grabs at them. What he gets will fall to his lot during the year.47
Lastly, in Brittany it is supposed that the wind which prevails on the first twelve days of the year will blow during each of the twelve months, the first day corresponding to January, the second to February, and so on.48 Similar ideas of the prophetic char­acter of Christmastide weather are common in our own and other countries.
Practically all the customs discussed in this chapter have been of the nature of charms ; one or two more, practised on New Year's Day or Eve, may be mentioned in conclusion.
There are curious superstitions about New Year water. At Bromyard in Herefordshire it was the custom, at midnight on New Year's Eve, to rush to the nearest spring to snatch the " cream of the well "—the first pitcherful of water—and with it the prospect of the best luck.49 A Highland practice was to send
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