Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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king, and he invites the company to a banquet on the Sunday follow­ing, at which black kings are made by rubbing the face with a burnt cork." 8
The use of the gateau des Rois goes pretty far back. At the monastery of Mont-St.-Michel in the thirteenth century the Epiphany king was chosen from among the monks by means of a number of cakes in one of which a bean was placed. At Matins, High Mass, and Vespers he sat upon a special throne.9
It may be added that there is a quaint old story of a curate " who having taken his preparations over evening, when all men cry (as the manner is) the king drinkethy chanting his Masse the next morning, fell asleep in his Memento : and, when he awoke, added with a loud voice, The king drinketh." IO
One more French " king " custom may be mentioned, though it relates to Christmas Day, not Epiphany. At Salers in the centre of France there were formerly a king and queen whose function was to preside over the festival, sit in a place of honour in church, and go first in the procession. The kingship was not elective, but was sold by auction at the church door, and it is said to have been so much coveted that worthy citizens would sell their heritage in order to purchase it.11
It may be remarked that Epiphany kings and cakes similar to the French can be traced in Holland and Germany,12 and that the " King of the Bean " is known in modern Italy, though there he may be an importation from the north.*3
How is this merry monarch to be accounted for ? His resem­blance to the king ol the Saturnalia, who presided over the fun of the feast in the days of imperial Rome, is certainly striking, but it is impossible to say whether he derives directly from that personage. No doubt his association with the feast of the Three Kings has helped to maintain his rule. As for the bean, it appears to have been a sacred vegetable in ancient times. There is a story about the philosopher Pythagoras, how, when flying before a host of rebels, he came upon a field of beans and refused to pass through it for fear of crushing the plants, thus enabling his pursuers to overtake him. Moreover, the flamen dialis in Rome was forbidden to eat or even name the vegetable, and the
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