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Christmas in Ritual and Tradition, Christian and Pagan

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289 pages
The Project Gutenberg EBook of Christmas in Ritual and Tradition, Christian and Pagan, by Clement A. Miles This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org Title: Christmas in Ritual and Tradition, Christian and Pagan Author: Clement A. Miles Release Date: August 21, 2006 [EBook #19098] Language: English Character set encoding: UTF-8 *** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK CHRISTMAS IN RITUAL AND *** Produced by David Starner, Robert Ledger and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net Christmas In Ritual and Tradition, Christian and Pagan by Clement A. Miles Published by T. Fisher Unwin 1912 THE ADORATION OF THE MAGI (DETAIL). GENTILE DA FABRIANO (Florence: Accademia) 5 PREFACE In this volume I have tried to show how Christmas is or has been kept in various lands and ages, and to trace as far as possible the origin of the pagan elements that have mingled with the Church's feast of the Nativity. In Part I. I have dealt with the festival on its distinctively Christian side. The book has, however, been so planned that readers not interested in this aspect of Christmas may pass over Chapters II.-V., and proceed at once from the Introduction to Part II., which treats of pagan survivals.
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The Project Gutenberg EBook of Christmas in Ritual and Tradition,
Christian and Pagan, by Clement A. Miles
This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org
Title: Christmas in Ritual and Tradition, Christian and Pagan
Author: Clement A. Miles
Release Date: August 21, 2006 [EBook #19098]
Language: English
Character set encoding: UTF-8
*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK CHRISTMAS IN RITUAL AND ***
Produced by David Starner, Robert Ledger and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net
Christmas In Ritual and Tradition,
Christian and Pagan
by Clement A. Miles
Published by
T. Fisher Unwin
1912THE ADORATION OF THE MAGI (DETAIL).
GENTILE DA FABRIANO
(Florence: Accademia)
5
PREFACE
In this volume I have tried to show how Christmas is or has been kept in various
lands and ages, and to trace as far as possible the origin of the pagan elements that
have mingled with the Church's feast of the Nativity.
In Part I. I have dealt with the festival on its distinctively Christian side. The book
has, however, been so planned that readers not interested in this aspect of
Christmas may pass over Chapters II.-V., and proceed at once from the Introduction
to Part II., which treats of pagan survivals.
The book has been written primarily for the general reader, but I venture to hope that,
with all its imperfections, it may be of some use to the more serious student, as a
rough outline map of the field of Christmas customs, and as bringing together
materials hitherto scattered through a multitude of volumes in various languages.
There is certainly room for a comprehensive English book on Christmas, taking
account of the results of modern historical and folk-lore research.
The writer of a work of this kind necessarily owes an immense debt to the labours ofothers. In my bibliographical notes I have done my best to acknowledge the sources
from which I have drawn. It is only right that I should express here my special
obligation, both for information and for suggestions, to Mr. E. K. Chambers's “The
Mediaeval Stage,” an invaluable storehouse of fact, theory, and bibliographical
references. I also owe much to the important monographs of Dr. A. Tille, “Die
Geschichte der deutschen Weihnacht” and “Yule and Christmas”; to Dr. Feilberg's
6Danish work, “Jul,” the fullest account of Christmas customs yet written; and of
course, like every student of folk-lore, to Dr. Frazer's “The Golden Bough.”
References to authorities will be found at the end of the volume, and are indicated
by small numerals in the text; notes requiring to be read in close conjunction with the
text are printed at the foot of the pages to which they relate, and are indicated by
asterisks, &c.
[Transcriber's Note: The 'small numerals' are represented in this ebook by
numbers in {curly braces}. The footnotes appear at the end of the ebook and
are indicated by numbers in [square brackets].]
I have to thank Mr. Frank Sidgwick for most kindly reading my proofs and portions of
my MS., and for some valuable suggestions.
C. A. M.
7
CONTENTS
5PREFACE
CHAPTER I
15INTRODUCTION
The Origin and Purpose of Festivals—Ideas suggested by Christmas—
Pagan and Christian Elements—The Names of the Festival—
Foundation of the Feast of the Nativity—Its Relation to the Epiphany—
December 25 and the Natalis Invicti—The Kalends of January—Yule
and Teutonic Festivals—The Church and Pagan Survivals—Two
Conflicting Types of Festival—Their Interaction—Plan of the Book.
PART I—THE CHRISTIAN FEAST
CHAPTER II
29CHRISTMAS POETRY (I)
Ancient Latin Hymns, their Dogmatic, Theological Character—
Humanizing Influence of Franciscanism—Jacopone da Todi's
Vernacular Verse—German Catholic Poetry—Mediaeval English
Carols.
CHAPTER III
53CHRISTMAS POETRY (II)
The French Noël—Latin Hymnody in Eighteenth-century France—
Spanish Christmas Verse—Traditional Carols of Many Countries—
Christmas Poetry in Protestant Germany—Post-Reformation Verse in
8England—Modern English Carols.
CHAPTER IV
87CHRISTMAS IN LITURGY AND POPULAR DEVOTION
Advent and Christmas Offices of the Roman Church—The Three
Masses of Christmas, their Origin and their Celebration in Rome—The
Midnight Mass in Many Lands—Protestant Survivals of the Night
Services—Christmas in the Greek Church—The Eastern Epiphany and
the Blessing of the Waters—The Presepio or Crib, its Supposed
Institution by St. Francis—Early Traces of the Crib—The Crib in
Germany, Tyrol, &c.—Cradle-rocking in Mediaeval Germany—
Christmas Minstrels in Italy and Sicily—The Presepio in Italy—
Ceremonies with the Culla and the Bambino in Rome—Christmas in
Italian London—The Spanish Christmas—Possible Survivals of the
Crib in England.
CHAPTER V
119CHRISTMAS DRAMA
Origins of the Mediaeval Drama—Dramatic Tendencies in the Liturgy—
Latin Liturgical Plays—The Drama becomes Laicized—Characteristics
of the Popular Drama—The Nativity in the English Miracle Cycles—
Christmas Mysteries in France—Later French Survivals of Christmas
Drama—German Christmas Plays—Mediaeval Italian Plays and
Pageants—Spanish Nativity Plays—Modern Survivals in Various
Countries—The Star Singers, &c.
155POSTSCRIPT
PART II—PAGAN SURVIVALS
CHAPTER VI
159PRE-CHRISTIAN WINTER FESTIVALS
The Church and Superstition—Nature of Pagan Survivals—Racial
Origins—Roman Festivals of the Saturnalia and Kalends—Was there a
Teutonic Midwinter Festival?—The Teutonic, Celtic, and Slav New
Year—Customs attracted to Christmas or January 1—The Winter Cycle
of Festivals—Rationale of Festival Ritual: (a) Sacrifice and Sacrament,
(b) The Cult of the Dead, (c) Omens and Charms for the New Year—
Compromise in the Later Middle Ages—The Puritans and Christmas—
9Decay of Old Traditions.
CHAPTER VII
187ALL HALLOW TIDE TO MARTINMAS
All Saints' and All Souls' Days, their Relation to a New Year Festival—
All Souls' Eve and Tendance of the Departed—Soul Cakes in England
and on the Continent—Pagan Parallels of All Souls'—Hallowe'en
Charms and Omens—Hallowe'en Fires—Guy Fawkes Day—“Old Hob,”
t h e Schimmelreiter, and other Animal Masks—Martinmas and its
Slaughter—Martinmas Drinking—St. Martin's Fires in Germany—Winter
Visitors in the Low Countries and Germany—St. Martin as Gift-
bringer—St. Martin's Rod.
CHAPTER VIII
209ST. CLEMENT TO ST. THOMAS
St. Clement's Day Quests and Processions—St. Catherine's Day as
Spinsters' Festival—St. Andrew's Eve Auguries—The Klöpfelnächte—
St. Nicholas's Day, the Saint as Gift-bringer, and his Attendants—
Election of the Boy Bishop—St. Nicholas's Day at Bari—St. Lucia's Day
in Sweden, Sicily, and Central Europe—St. Thomas's Day as School
Festival—Its Uncanny Eve—“Going a-Thomassin'.”
CHAPTER IX
227CHRISTMAS EVE AND THE TWELVE DAYS
Christkind, Santa Klaus, and Knecht Ruprecht—Talking Animals and
other Wonders of Christmas Eve—Scandinavian Beliefs about Trolls
and the Return of the Dead—Traditional Christmas Songs in Eastern
Europe—The Twelve Days, their Christian Origin and Pagan
Superstitions—The Raging Host—Hints of Supernatural Visitors in
England—The German Frauen—The Greek Kallikantzaroi.
CHAPTER X
249THE YULE LOG
The Log as Centre of the Domestic Christmas—Customs of the
Southern Slavs—The Polaznik—Origin of the Yule Log—Probable
Connection with Vegetation-cults or Ancestor-worship—The Souche de
Noël in France—Italian and German Christmas Logs—English
10Customs—The Yule Candle in England and Scandinavia.
CHAPTER XI
261THE CHRISTMAS-TREE, DECORATIONS, AND GIFTS
The Christmas-tree a German Creation—Charm of the German
Christmas—Early Christmas-trees—The Christmas Pyramid—Spread
of the Tree in Modern Germany and other Countries—Origin of the
Christmas-tree—Beliefs about Flowering Trees at Christmas—
Evergreens at the Kalends—Non-German Parallels to the Christmas-
tree—Christmas Decorations connected with Ancient Kalends
Customs—Sacredness of Holly and Mistletoe—Floors strewn with
Straw—Christmas and New Year Gifts, their Connection with the
R o m a n Strenae and St. Nicholas—Present-giving in Various
Countries—Christmas Cards.
CHAPTER XII
281CHRISTMAS FEASTING AND SACRIFICIAL SURVIVALS
Prominence of Eating in the English Christmas—The Boar's Head, the
Goose, and other Christmas Fare—Frumenty, Sowens, Yule Cakes,
and the Wassail Bowl—Continental Christmas Dishes, their Possible
Origins—French and German Cakes—The Animals' Christmas Feast—
Cakes in Eastern Europe—Relics of Animal Sacrifice—Hunting the
Wren—Various Games of Sacrificial Origin.
CHAPTER XIII
MASKING, THE MUMMERS' PLAY, THE FEAST OF FOOLS, AND THE BOY
295BISHOP
English Court Masking—“The Lord of Misrule”—The Mummers' Play,
the Sword-Dance, and the Morris Dance—Origin of St. George and
other Characters—Mumming in Eastern Europe—The Feast of Fools,
its History and Suppression—The Boy Bishop, his Functions and
Sermons—Modern Survivals of the Boy Bishop.
CHAPTER XIV
309ST. STEPHEN'S, ST. JOHN'S, AND HOLY INNOCENTS' DAYS
Horse Customs of St. Stephen's Day—The Swedish St. Stephen—St.
11John's Wine—Childermas and its Beatings.
CHAPTER XV
319NEW YEAR'S DAY
Principle of New Year Customs—The New Year in France, Germany,
the United States, and Eastern Europe—“First-footing” in Great
Britain—Scottish New Year Practices—Highland Fumigation and
“Breast-strip” Customs—Hogmanay and Aguillanneuf—New Year
Processions in Macedonia, Roumania, Greece, and Rome—Methods
of Augury—Sundry New Year Charms.
CHAPTER XVI
335EPIPHANY TO CANDLEMAS
The Twelfth Cake and the “King of the Bean”—French Twelfth Night
Customs—St. Basil's Cake in Macedonia—Epiphany and the
Expulsion of Evils—The Befana in Italy—The Magi as Present-
bringers—Greek Epiphany Customs—Wassailing Fruit-trees—
Herefordshire and Irish Twelfth Night Practices—The “Haxey Hood”
and Christmas Football—St. Knut's Day in Sweden—Rock Day—
Plough Monday—Candlemas, its Ecclesiastical and Folk
Ceremonies—Farewells to Christmas.
357CONCLUSION
361NOTES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY
389INDEX
12
MADONNA AND CHILD.
By Albrecht Dürer.
13
ILLUSTRATIONS
FrontispieceTHE ADORATION OF THE MAGI (Detail)
Gentile da Fabriano. (Florence: Accademia)
13MADONNA AND CHILD
Albert Dürer
31MADONNA ENTHRONED WITH SAINTS AND ANGELS
Pesellino. (Empoli Gallery)
40JACOPONE IN ECSTASY BEFORE THE VIRGIN
From “Laude di Frate Jacopone da Todi” (Florence, 1490)
55THE ADORATION OF THE SHEPHERDS
By Fouquet. (Musée Condé, Chantilly)
70THE FLIGHT INTO EGYPT: THE REST BY THE WAY
Master of the Seven Sorrows of Mary. (Also attributed to Joachim
Patinir.) (Vienna: Imperial Gallery)
71SINGING “VOM HIMMEL HOCH” FROM A CHURCH TOWER AT CHRISTMAS
By Ludwig Richter
89THE NATIVITY
From Add. MS. 32454 in the British Museum.
(French, 15th Century)
108A NEAPOLITAN P R E S E P I O
112CALABRIAN SHEPHERDS PLAYING IN ROME AT CHRISTMAS
After an Etching by D. Allan. From Hone's “Every-day Book”
(London, 1826)
114ST. FRANCIS INSTITUTES THE P R E S E P I O AT GRECCIO
14By Giotto. (Upper Church of St. Francis, Assisi)
115THE B A M B I N O OF ARA COELI
121THE ADORATION OF THE SHEPHERDS
From Broadside No. 305 in the Collection of the Society of
Antiquaries at Burlington House
140THE SHEPHERDS OF BETHLEHEM
From “Le grant Kalendrier & compost des Bergiers” (N. le Rouge,
Troyes, 1529)
154THE ADORATION OF THE MAGI
Masaccio. (Berlin: Kaiser Friedrich Museum)
161NEW YEAR MUMMERS IN MANCHURIA
An Asiatic example of animal masks
229CHRISTMAS EVE IN DEVONSHIRE—THE MUMMERS COMING IN
263THE GERMAN CHRISTMAS-TREE IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
From an engraving by Joseph Kellner
281CHRISTMAS MORNING IN LOWER AUSTRIA
By Ferdinand Waldmüller (b. 1793)
297YORKSHIRE SWORD-ACTORS: ST. GEORGE IN COMBAT WITH ST. PETER
From an article by Mr. T. M. Fallow in The Antiquary, May, 1895
337THE EPIPHANY IN FLORENCE
15 16 17
CHAPTER I
INTRODUCTION
The Origin and Purpose of Festivals—Ideas suggested by Christmas—
Pagan and Christian Elements—The Names of the Festival—Foundation of
the Feast of the Nativity—Its Relation to the Epiphany—December 25 and
the Natalis Invicti—The Kalends of January—Yule and Teutonic Festivals—
The Church and Pagan Survivals—Two Conflicting Types of Festival—
Their Interaction—Plan of the Book.
It has been an instinct in nearly all peoples, savage or civilized, to set aside certain
days for special ceremonial observances, attended by outward rejoicing. This
tendency to concentrate on special times answers to man's need to lift himself above
the commonplace and the everyday, to escape from the leaden weight of monotony
that oppresses him. “We tend to tire of the most eternal splendours, and a mark on
our calendar, or a crash of bells at midnight maybe, reminds us that we have only
[1]{1}recently been created.” That they wake people up is the great justification of
festivals, and both man's religious sense and his joy in life have generally tended to
rise “into peaks and towers and turrets, into superhuman exceptions which really
{2}prove the rule.” It is difficult to be religious, impossible to be merry, at every
moment of life, and festivals are as sunlit peaks, testifying, above dark valleys, to the
eternal radiance. This is one view of the purpose and value of festivals, and their
function of cheering people and giving them larger perspectives has no doubt been
an important reason for their maintenance in the past. If we could trace the custom of
18festival-keeping back to its origins in primitive society we should find the same
principle of specialization involved, though it is probable that the practice came into
being not for the sake of its moral or emotional effect, but from man's desire to lay up,
so to speak, a stock of sanctity, magical not ethical, for ordinary days.
The first holy-day-makers were probably more concerned with such material goods
as food than with spiritual ideals, when they marked with sacred days the rhythm of
{3}the seasons. As man's consciousness developed, the subjective aspect of the
matter would come increasingly into prominence, until in the festivals of the
Christian Church the main object is to quicken the devotion of the believer by
contemplation of the mysteries of the faith. Yet attached, as we shall see, to many
Christian festivals, are old notions of magical sanctity, probably quite as potent in the
minds of the common people as the more spiritual ideas suggested by the Church's
feasts.
In modern England we have almost lost the festival habit, but if there is one feast that
survives among us as a universal tradition it is Christmas. We have indeed our Bank
Holidays, but they are mere days of rest and amusement, and for the mass of the
people Easter and Whitsuntide have small religious significance—Christmas alone
has the character of sanctity which marks the true festival. The celebration of
Christmas has often little or nothing to do with orthodox dogma, yet somehow the
sense of obligation to keep the feast is very strong, and there are few English
people, however unconventional, who escape altogether the spell of tradition in this
matter.
Christmas—how many images the word calls up: we think of carol-singers and holly-
decked churches where people hymn in time-honoured strains the Birth of the
Divine Child; of frost and snow, and, in contrast, of warm hearths and homes bright
with light and colour, very fortresses against the cold; of feasting and revelry, of
greetings and gifts exchanged; and lastly of vaguely superstitious customs, relics of
long ago, performed perhaps out of respect for use and wont, or merely in jest, or
with a deliberate attempt to throw ourselves back into the past, to re-enter for a
19moment the mental childhood of the race. These are a few of the pictures that rise
pell-mell in the minds of English folk at the mention of Christmas; how many other
scenes would come before us if we could realize what the festival means to men of
other nations. Yet even these will suggest what hardly needs saying, that Christmas
is something far more complex than a Church holy-day alone, that the celebration of
the Birth of Jesus, deep and touching as is its appeal to those who hold the faith of
the Incarnation, is but one of many elements that have entered into the great winter
festival.
In the following pages I shall try to present a picture, sketchy and inadequate though
it must be, of what Christmas is and has been to the peoples of Europe, and to show
as far as possible the various elements that have gone into its make-up. Most people
have a vague impression that these are largely pagan, but comparatively few have
any idea of the process by which the heathen elements have become mingled with
that which is obviously Christian, and equal obscurity prevails as to the nature and
meaning of the non-Christian customs. The subject is vast, and has not been
thoroughly explored as yet, but the labours of historians and folk-lorists have made
certain conclusions probable, and have produced hypotheses of great interest and
fascination.
[2]I have spoken of “Christian” and “pagan” elements. The distinction is blurred to
some extent by the clothing of heathen customs in a superficial Christianity, but on
the whole it is clear enough to justify the division of this book into two parts, one
dealing with the Church's feast of the Holy Birth, the other with those remains of
pagan winter festivals which extend from November to January, but cluster
especially round Christmas and the Twelve Days.


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