4.50 The Book of Indoor and Outdoor Games
ing, not a precursor of Christmas, yet from it were derived, through their Saxon successors, many of the customs that later became associated exclusively with the Christian festival.
Rude, but picturesque, was the scene of their revels. The banquet-hall was usually a rough arbour, improvised for the occasion in the forest, its sides covered with fir boughs and other foliage, decorated with shields and battle-axes. The feast consisted of oxen, sheep, and goats, roasted whole in pits dug in the hillsides and lined with stones; or joints of these animals, seethed in cauldrons made of their own skins sewed together and filled with water.
Wooden cups and platters were all the table service, except the dirk-shaped knives—each man furnishing his own—and bits of soft moss that did duty for table napkins.
Above the seat of honour was hung a canopy of holly boughs and ivy. The "wassail bowl" was the skull of an enemy, and passed from hand to hand— the most ancient form of "loving-cup." The word is derived from their phrase for pledging one another— "haile" meaning health.
Having eaten and drunk to repletion, they gathered about their blazing Yule-log—the smoke escaping through a hole in the roof—to listen to the Scalds, who recited or sang in praise of the joys of fighting and of the deeds of doughty heroes, which was nearly all that represented literature to these ancient peoples.
The entertainment ended in a wild dance. "Yule" means festival or holy day.
The Saxon Christmas
About the year 70, Clemens Romanus directed the commemoration of the Nativity to take place on the