Графични страници
PDF файл

informs me that there is a custom in that county for the poor on St. Thomas' Day to go with a bag to beg corn of the farmers, which they call going a corning J. B." *

CHRISTMAS EVE; December 24th. In the primitive church Christmas Day was always observed as a Sabbath, and hence like other Lord's-Days it was preceded by an Eve or Vigil as an occasion of preparing for the day following. No festival of the church was attended by more popular superstitions and observances, the ceremonies of the Saturnalia from which it was derived being improved upon by Christian and Druidical additions. The day of this Vigil was passed in the ordinary manner, but with the evening the sports began; about seven or eight o'clock hot cakes were drawn from the oven; ale, cyder, and spirits went freely round; and the carol-singing commenced, which was continued through the greater part of the night.

The connexion of this festival with the Roman Saturnalia has never been disputed by those competent to form a judgment, and in some existing observances in Franconia the traces of it are undeniable. In the nights of the three Thursdays preceding the nativity the young of either sex go about beating at the doors of the houses singing the near birth of our Saviour, and wishing the inhabitants a happy new year, for which in return they are presented with pears, apples, nuts, and money. With what joy in the churches not only the priests, but the people also, receive the birth-day of Christ may be inferred from this, that the image of a new-born child being placed upon the altar, they dance and chaunt as they circle round it, while the elders sing much as the Corybantes


are fabled to have exulted about the crying Jove in the cavern of Mount Ida.*

In addition to what has been here advanced, we have the unquestionable authority of Bede for asserting that it had been observed in this country long before by the heathen Saxons. They called it, he says, the Mother-Night, or Night of Mothers, and probably on account of the ceremonies used by them during their vigil. But in fact though parti

"In trium quintarum feriarum noctibus, quæ proximæ Domini nostri natalem præcedunt, utriusque sexus pueri domesticatim eunt januas pulsitantes, cantantesque futurum salvatoris exortum; annunciant et salubrem annum ; unde ab his, qui in ædibus sunt, pyra, poma, nuces, et nummos etiam percipiunt. Quo Christi Jesu natalem gaudio in templis non clerus solum sed omnis populus excipiat, ex hoc attendi potest; quòd puerili statuncula in altare collocata, quæ nuper æditum representet, juvenes cum puellis per circuitum tripudiantes choreas agant, seniores cantent more haud multum ab eo quidem diverso, quo Corybantes olim in Idæ montis antro circa Jovem vagientem exultasse fabulantur." BOEMUS AUBANUS.-Orbis Terrarum Epitome, lib. iii. cap. xv. p. 234.

[ocr errors]

"Ipsam noctem nuc nobis sacrosanctum, tunc gentili vocabulo Mædrenech, id est matrum noctem, appellabāt; ob causam, ut suspicamur, ceremoniarum quas in ea pervigiles agebant." DE TEMPORUM RATIONE-Beda Opera-tom. ii. p. 68. Folio-Col. Agrip. 1612. I have already upon more than one occasion noticed the close connexion between the Pagan and Christian ceremonies, and explained the causes of it. To those, who may yet have any doubts upon the subject, the authority of Sir Isaac Newton will perhaps bring conviction more readily than anything I could say. Gregory Nyssen tells us, that after the persecution of the Emperor Decius, Gregory, Bishop of Neocæsarea in Pontus, instituted among all people, as an addition or corollary of devotion towards God, that festival days and assemblies should be celebrated to them who had contended for the faith, that is, to the Martyrs. And he adds this reason for the institution: When he observed, saith Nyssen, that the simple and unskilful multitude by reason of corporeal delights remained in the error of idols; that the principal thing might be corrected among them, namely that instead of their vain worship they might turn their eyes upon God; he permitted that at

cular portions of this festival may be traced to the Romans or to the ancient Saxons, the root of the whole affair lies

the memories of holy martyrs they might make merry and delight themselves and be dissolved into joy. The heathens were delighted with the festivals of their Gods, and unwilling to part with those delights; and therefore Gregory, to facilitate their conversion, instituted annual festivals to the saints and martyrs. Hence it came to pass that for exploding the festivals of the heathens the principal festivals of the Christians succeeded in their room, as the keeping of Christmas with ivy and feasting, and playing and sports, in the room of the Bacchanalia and Saturnalia; the celebrating of May-Day with flowers, in the room of the Floralia; and the keeping of festivals to the Virgin Mary, John the Baptist, and divers of the apostles, in the room of the solemnities at the entrance of the sun into the signs of the Zodiac in the old Julian calendar. In the same persecution of Decius, Cyprian ordered the passions of the martyrs in Africa to be registered in order to celebrate their memories annually with oblations and sacrifices; and Felix, bishop of Rome, a little after, as Platina relates, 'consulting the glory of the martyrs ordained that sacrifices should be celebrated annually in their name.' By the pleasures of these festivals the Christians increased much in number, and decreased as much in virtue, until they were purged and made white by the persecution of Dioclesian. This was the first step made in the Christian religion towards the veneration of the martyrs; and though it did not yet amount to an unlawful worship, yet it disposed the Christians towards such a farther veneration of the dead as in a short time ended in the invocation of saints. The next step was the affecting to pray at the sepulchres of martyrs, which practice began in Dioclesian's persecution." Sir Isaac Newton's Observations on the Prophecies of Daniel, part i. chap. 14. p. 203. 4to. London, 1733. It would seem, however, as if this praying at the tombs of the martyrs had grown out of a very simple circumstance. Partly to avoid persecution in the time of Dioclesian, and partly because their churches had been destroyed, the Christians used to pray in cemeteries; this custom, originating in necessity or prudence, was continued in honour of the martyrs when the persecution had ceased, and hence came the practice of translating the bodies of the saints into the new churches, which was begun about the year 359 by the Emperor Constantius. The next step was the worship of bones and other reliques, and the attributing miraculous powers to them, in opposition

[ocr errors]

much deeper, and is to be sought in far remoter periods. It was clearly in its origin an astronomical observance to celebrate the Winter Solstice and the consequently approaching prolongation of the days, as is demonstrated by the emblematic Christmas candles and Yule-logs, the symbols of increasing light and heat.

These Christmas candles, though now out of date, were at one time of an immense size, and not a few in number, the houses being very generally illuminated with them. The church too adopted the same custom, but gave especial reasons of its own for such observance; the apostles, as they explained it, were the light of the world, and as our Saviour also was frequently called the light, so his coming was typified by these emblems. In the buttery of St. John's College, Oxford, there is yet to be seen an ancient candle-socket of stone, ornamented with the figure of the Holy Lamb. It was formerly used to burn the CHRISTMAS CANDLE in, on the high table, during the twelve nights of that festival."

[ocr errors]

For similar reasons they lighted the Yule-clog, or Yulelog, for the words are synonimous, as I have shown when speaking of the Norway clogs or wooden almanacs. This is the counterpart of the fires at Midsummer, the difference of the seasons having transferred the fire from the open air to the hearth within. On these occasions the log was usually as large as the hearth would admit of, or the means of the rejoicers could supply, and in some of the northern counties of England, so long as the log lasted, the servants were entitled to ale at their meals.†

to the idols and oracles of the Emperor Julian, the Christians being determined not to be behind hand with their pagan adversaries even in the absurdest of their pretensions.

* See BLOUNT'S ANTIQ. VULG. p. 131.


At one time custom prescribed that it should be lighted from a brand of the last year's block, which had been carefully put by and preserved for that purpose, as we find it pleasantly recorded by Heyrick.

[blocks in formation]

It is also requisite that the maidens, who blow a Christmas fire, should be like suitors in a law-court and come to the task with clean hands.

"Wash your hands or else the fire

Will not teind to your desire;
Unwash'd hands, ye maidens, know
Dead the fire though ye blow."+

A custom no less general is the dressing up of houses, particularly in the halls and kitchens, with branches of holly, ivy, bays, and rosemary, the two last mentioned being however in much less frequent use than the former. Nor must the mistletoe be forgotten in this record of Christmas festivities; for, whatever it may do in these refined days, it used to play a conspicuous part, less than

* HERRICK'S HESPERIDES. To Teend is to kindle, or to burn, from the Anglo-Saxon TENDAN, to set on fire. Todd derives it from the A. S. tinan, which means to irritate, and therefore can only be metaphorically connected with the idea of burning. They are however from the same root, if indeed they are not the same word.


« ПредишнаНапред »