Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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PAGAN SURVIVALS
frighten away two wood-spirits. In Labruguiere in southern France on the Eve of Twelfth Day the inhabitants rush through the streets, making discordant noises and a huge uproar, with the object of scaring away ghosts and devils.I7
In parts of the eastern Alps there takes place what is called Berchtenlaufen. Lads, formerly to the number of two or three hundred, rush about in the strangest masks, with cowbells, whips, and all sorts of weapons, and shout wildly.18 In Nuremberg up to the year 1616 on Bergnacht or Epiphany Eve boys and girls used to run about the streets and knock loudly at the doors.10-Such knocking, as we have seen, may well have been intended to drive away spirits from the houses.
At Eschenloh near Partenkirchen in Upper Bavaria three women used to berchten on that evening. They all had linen bags over their heads, with holes for the mouth and eyes. One carried a chain, another a rake, and the third a broom. Going round to the houses, they knocked on the door with the chain, scraped the ground with the rake, and made a noise of sweeping with the broom.20 The suggestion of a clearing away of evils is here very strong.
In connection with the Kallikantzaroi mention has already been made of the purification of houses with holy water, performed by Greek priests on the Epiphany. In Roumania, where a similar sprinkling is performed, a curious piece of imitative magic is added—the priest is invited to sit upon the bed, in order that the brooding hen may sit upon her eggs. Moreover there should be maize grains under the mattress ; then the hen will lay eggs in abundance.21
We noted in an earlier chapter the name Berchtentag applied in southern Germany and in Austria to the Epiphany, and we saw also how the mysterious Frau Berchta was specially connected with the day. On the Epiphany and its Eve in the Mollthal in Carinthia a female figure, " the Berchtel," goes the round of the houses. She is generally dressed in a hide, wears a hideous wooden mask, and hops wildly about, inquiring as to the behaviour of children, and demanding gifts.22
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