Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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beast-masks common at winter festivals, survivals of sacrifice may linger in Christmas feasting, and in the family gatherings round the hearth may be preserved a dim memory of ancient domestic rites.
Christmas, indeed, regarded in all its aspects, is a microcosm of European religion. It reflects almost every phase of thought and feeling from crude magic and superstition to the speculative mysticism of Eckhart, from mere delight in physical indulgence to the exquisite spirituality and tenderness of St. Francis. Ascetic and bon-vivanty mystic and materialist, learned and simple, noble and peasant, all have found something in it of which to lay hold. It is a river into which have flowed tribu­taries from every side, from Oriental religion, from Greek and Roman civilization, from Celtic, Teutonic, Slav, and probably pre-Aryan, society, mingling their waters so that it is often hard to discover the far-away springs.
We have seen how the Reformation broke up the great mediaeval synthesis of paganism and Christianity, how the extremer forms of Protestantism aimed at completely destroying Christmas, and how the general tendency of modern civilization, with its scientific spirit, its popular education, its railways, its concentration of the people in great cities, has been to root out traditional beliefs and customs both Christian and pagan, so that if we would seek for relics of the old things we must go to the regions of Europe that are least industrially and intellectually "advanced." Yet amongst the most sceptical and " enlightened " of moderns there is generally a large residuum of tradition. "Emotionally," it has been said, "we are hundreds of thousands of years old ; rationally we are embryos " *; and many people who deem themselves " emancipated " are willing for once in the year to plunge into the stream of tradition, merge themselves in inherited social custom, and give way to sentiments and im­pressions which in their more reflective moments they spurn. Most men are ready at Christmas to put themselves into an instinctive rather than a rational attitude, to drink of the springs of wonder, and return in some degree to earlier, less intellectual stages of human development—to become in fact children again.
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