BOOK OF CHRISTMAS - online book

The Customs, Ceremonies, Traditions, Superstitions, Fun, Feeling,
And Festivities Of The Christmas Season.

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" Christmas," he says, in his Table Talk, " succeeds the Saturna­lia ; the same time, the same number of holydays. Then, the master waited upon the servant, like the Lord of Misrule." There is here a general likeness to the season of which we treat; but, as Mr. Brand further states, the Greeks and Romans, at this pe­riod, also " drew lots for kingdoms,—and, like kings, exercised their temporary authority;" and Mr. Fosbroke mentions that " the king of Saturnalia was elected by beans,"—which identifies our Twelfth-night characters, as well as our mode of selecting them, with those of the ancients. Through so many centuries has chance decided who should wear a crown! By the French, Twelfth-day was distinguished as " La Fete des Rois,"—a name, of course, obnoxious to the revolutionary fraternity of 1792, who caused such feast to be declared anti-civic, and replaced it by u La Fete des Sans-Culottes."
However, before entering upon the important discussion of the "absolute monarchy" of "the king of cakes and characters," —in which, without any reference to profane ceremonies, there was sufficient found to offend puritanical ideas,—we must be al­lowed to mention some customs observed on the vigil, or eve, of the feast of the Epiphany. Amongst these, was the practice of wassailing the trees, to insure their future fruitfulness,—men­tioned by Herrick:—
" Wassaile the trees, that they maybeare You many a plum, and many a peare ; For more or lesse fruits they will bring, As you do give them wassailing."
The merry bowl which (notwithstanding that it had been so often drained) was still kept brimming throughout all the Christmas holidays,—was now, when they were drawing to a close, actually flowing over; and the warm heart and jovial spirit of the season, not content with pledging all those who could drink in return, proceeded to an excess of boon-companionship,—and, after quaff­ing a wassail draught to the health and abundant bearing of some favorite fruit-tree, poured what remained in the cup upon the root, as a libation to its strength and vitality. Here, also, we cannot fail to recognize the rites of classical times, lurking in the
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