Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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A more notable occasion was Plough Monday, the first after Twelfth Day. Men's labour then began again after the holidays.59 We have already seen that it is sometimes associated with the mummers' plays. Often, however, its ritual is not developed into actual drama, and the following account from Derbyshire gives a fairly typical description of its customs :—
" On Plough Monday the ' Plough bullocks' are occasionally seen ; they consist of a number of young men from various farmhouses, who are dressed up in ribbons. . . . These young men yoke themselves to a plough, which they draw about, preceded by a band of music, from house to house, collecting money. They are accompanied by the Fool and Bessy; the fool being dressed in the skin of a calf, with the tail hanging down behind, and Bessy generally a young man in female attire. The fool carries an inflated bladder tied to the end of a long stick, by way of whip, which he does not fail to apply pretty soundly to the heads and shoulders of his team. When anything is given a cry of ' Largess ! ' is raised, and a dance performed round the plough. If a refusal to their application for money is made they not unfrequently plough up the pathway, door-stone, or any other portion of the premises they happen to be near." 6o
By Plough Monday we have passed, it seems probable, from New Year festivals to one that originally celebrated the beginning of spring. Such a feast, apparently, was kept in mid-February when ploughing began at that season ; later the advance of agri­culture made it possible to shift it forward to early January.61
Nearer to the original date of the spring feast is Candlemas, February 2 ; though connected with Christmas by its ecclesiastical meaning, it is something of a vernal festival.62
The feast of the Purification of the Virgin or Presentation of Christ in the Temple was probably instituted by Pope Liberius at Rome in the fourth century. The ceremonial to which it owes its popular name, Candlemas, is the blessing of candles in church and the procession of the faithful, carrying them lighted in their hands. During the blessing the " Nunc dimittis " is chanted,
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