Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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PAGAN SURVIVALS
may bear well next year.39 The uses of the ashes of the Christmas log have already been noticed.
Sometimes, as in the Thurgau, Mecklenburg, Oldenburg, and Tyrol, the trees are beaten to make them bear. On New Year's Eve at Hildesheim people dance and sing around them,4o while the Tyrolese peasant on Christmas Eve will go out to his trees, and, knocking with bent fingers upon them, will bid them wake up and bear.41 There is a Slavonic custom, on the same night, of threatening apple-trees with a hatchet if they do not produce fruit during the year.42
Another remarkable agricultural rite was practised on Epiphany Eve in Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. The farmer and his servants would meet in a field sown with wheat, and there light thirteen fires, with one larger than the rest. Round this a circle was formed by the company, and all would drink a glass of cider to the success of the harvest.* This done, they returned to the farm, to feast—in Gloucestershire—on cakes made with cara­ways, and soaked in cider. The Herefordshire accounts give particulars of a further ceremony. A large cake was provided, with a hole in the middle, and after supper everyone went to the wain-house. The master filled a cup with strong ale, and standing opposite the finest ox, pledged him in a curious toast; the company followed his example with the other oxen, address­ing each by name. Afterwards the large cake was put on the horn of the first ox.43
It is extremely remarkable, and can scarcely be a mere coincidence, that far away among the southern Slavs, as we saw in Chapter XII., a Christmas cake with a hole in its centre is likewise put upon the horn of the chief ox. The wassailing of the animals is found there also. On Christmas Day, Sir Arthur
* The custom of "burning the bush," still surviving here and there in Hereford­shire, shows a certain resemblance to this. The " bush," a globe made of hawthorn, hangs throughout the year in the farmhouse kitchen, with the mistletoe. Early on New Year's Day it " is carried to the earliest sown wheat field, where a large fire is lighted, of straw and bushes, in which it is burnt. While it is burning, a new one is made ; in making it, the ends of the branches are scorched in the fire." Burning straw is carried over twelve ridges of the field, and then follow cider-drinking and cheering. (See Leather, "Folk-Lore of Herefordshire," 91 f.)
34°
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