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lowing in Aubrey, when describing some Roman coin, found buried in a pot in North Wiltshire ;—" it resembles in appearance an apprentice's earthen Christmas box."*
The origin of the custom is at first sight far from being so apparent, and it is not impossible that Christmas Boxes and New Year's Gifts may have come to us from two very different sources. The Christmas Box bestowed on labourers, mechanics, &c. may be no more than a substitute for the attendance given by the Romans to their own servants during the Saturnalia, for this festival happened much about the time of Christmas, and the commutation of service into something between a fine and a gift seems to be in the natural course of things. This however, was but one feature of the Saturnalia, and if from this the Christmas-box arose, there can, I think, be little doubt that the New Year's Gifts originated in the custom peculiar to this season among the Romans of sending mutual presents to each other. The ceremony according to the usual routine in these matters was continued among the Christians but with a changed object, for that, which had been done in honour of the God
* MISCELLANIES ON SEVERAL CURIOUS SUBJECTS.-Natural History of the North Division of the County of North Wiltshire. p. 26, 8vo. London. 1714.
+ The Romans would appear to have been particularly fond of these New Year's Gifts-STRENÆ, as they called them-though it is to be feared they were too often employed for the worst of purposes. Tiberius, a man not likely to take alarm at vice in any shape, yet thought it requisite to forbid the exchange of them, except on the Calends of January (i. e. the 1st of January.)-" Strenarum commercium ne ultra Kalendas Januarias exerceretur." (SUETONII TIBERIUS, cap. 34). The senators presented their New-year's gifts in the Capitol to the emperor, even though he were absent." Omnes ordines in lacum Curtii quotannis ex voto pro salute ejus stipem jaciebant; item Kalendis Januariis strenam in Capitolio etiam absenti." (Suetonii Oct. Augustus, cap. 57.) And examples of this kind might be multiplied,but it would be useless when the truth is so obvious.
Saturn, was now done in honour of the Virgin Mary,* till the Church, growing more jealous and less discreet as it encreased in power, began to thunder forth its anathemas against what it truly enough considered to be a relick of paganism.†
* Hutchinson in his History of Northumberland, (vol. ii.—Appendix: p. 30,) would fain derive the custom of boxing from the Paganalia; but what have they to do with it? the Paganalia were strictly rural festivals in which the people of the towns had no share. "Feriæ, non populi, sed montanorum modo, ut paganalia quæ sunt alicujus pagi," says Varro, (DE LATINA LINGUA, p. 72, 12mo. Basil, 1536.) In the ATHENIAN ORACLE is a yet more silly attempt to account for its origin; in answer to a supposed query of "whence comes the invented custom of gathering Christmas Box money? and how long since?" we are told, "it is as ancient as the word, mass, which the Romish priests invented from the Latin word, mitto, to send, by putting the people in mind to send gifts, offerings, oblations to have masses said for every thing almost; that a ship goes not out to the Indies, but the priests have a box in that ship under the protection of some saint. And for masses, as they cant, to be said for them to that saint, &c. The poor people must put in something into the priest's box, which is not to be opened till the ship's return. Thus the mass at the time was called Christ's mass; and the box, Christ-mass box, or money gathered against that time, that masses might be made by the priests to the saints to forgive the people the debaucheries of that time, and from this servants had the license to get box-money, because they might be enabled to pay the priest for his masses, because no penny no pater-noster; for though the rich pay ten times more than they can expect, yet a priest will not say a mass or any thing to the poor for nothing, so charitable they generally are." ATHENIAN ORACLE: vol. i. p. 360. 8vo. London. 1738.
+ In the Canons of the Sixth Trullan Council, this custom is mentioned for the express purpose of being prohibited. The holy synod had discovered a wicked habit among the faithful of baking wheaten cakes and presenting them to each other on pretence of paying respect to the Virgin upon the Nativity; but, as the fathers well observed, rǹ γῆν μὴ γνώσῃ λοχείαν, πῶς ἡμεῖς τά τῶν λοχευομένων διαπραξόμεθα "how are we to pay the rites of child-birth to her who never knew of such a thing;"-ergo, quoth they, it is no honour to the Virgin; ergo we forbid it; and let any one transgress this order if he dares.
It must however be fairly confessed that there is one incontestable fact, which seems to point at a Druidical origin for this custom. In Normandy and some other parts of France, New Year's Gifts are still called, “ Guyl'an-neuf," a word of which I shall presently speak more at large,* and we know that at this season of the year the Druids were in the habit of distributing the sacred misletoe and sending it around amongst the people.
ST. JOHN THE EVANGELIST.-December 27th. only thing that makes this day at all worthy of particular notice is the St. John's Draught or St John's Blessing, it having been the custom of the Apostles to send each other a present of this kind. Some improve upon the story and tell us that a cup of poisoned wine being presented to St. John, he signed the cup with the cross, and then drank of it uninjured, whence he is painted with a cup, from which a serpent is starting. Others again have imagined that this custom was derived to the Christians from the Heathens, who at this season were wont to send round a votive cup to each other in honour of the twofaced Janus, whom they believed to be the first cultivator of the vine.t
If he be of the church, depose the rascal; if he be a layman, segregate him. See BEVERIDGR'S SYNODIKON, tom. i. p. 249. To be sure such a declaration does not exactly agree with there being a feast of the purification; the latter could hardly be needed without the former. But such things are mere trifles with the holy Fathers, who in these records of their doings have left us ample food for sorrow or laughter, according as the mind is framed to pity or to ridicule the follies of mankind.
* Under Hagmana; December 31st.
"Altera superstitio est quòd in festo S. Joannis Apostoli sibi invicem benedictionem S. Joannis, vel haustum Joannis-nostri vocant den Joannis Seegen oder Trunk-mittere soleant. Putant nonnulli morem a veteribus ethnicis descendere, qui sub initio Januarii vinum honorarium amicis suis mittere solebant in honorem bicipitis Jani, quem primum vitium satorem putant. Christiani postea ex Jano Joannem formarunt. Legitur alias in vita Johannis quod poculum
HOLY INNOCENTS; CHILDERMAS-DAY.-December 28th. CHILDERMAS-DAY is from the Anglo-Saxon Cilda mæssedag, CILD in that antient dialect meaning a child." is a feast in commemoration of the supposed slaughter of the Jewish children in the hope of including the new-born Saviour in the number. This child-massacre, however, is absurd in itself, and is rendered historically doubtful from no mention having been made of it by Josephus, the avowed enemy of Herod. Even the authority of Macrobius, with the witty saying that he attributes to Augustus,* is insufficient to establish the point, and my suspicions are redoubled when I find another of those startling coincidences between Pagan fables and Christian observances. In like manner Saturn was to devour all his children, and he too had his festival on this day, a coincidence which acquires irresistible strength from its being only one of so many similar instances.† Then again in the flight of Mary, and the reasons given in the Roman Missal for her having been married, we see the same similarity bursting out in another quarter. Mary according to this authority bore a wife's name that the Devil might not
vini veneno mixtum propinatum ei fuerit, sed Johannes, cum poculum cruce signasset, sine damno ebibit. Hinc adhuc S. Johannes cum calice pingitur, ex quo serpens promicat." J. HILDEBRANDI DE DIEBUS FESTIS LIBELLUS, p. 33.
"Cum audisset [Augustus] inter pueros quos in Syria Herodes, Rex Judæorum, intra bimatum jussit interfici, filium quoque ejus occisum, ait 'melius est Herodis porcum esse quam filium."-"When Augustus heard that the son of Herod was amongst the children within two years old whom that monarch had ordered to be slain, he observed, it is better to be the hog, than the son of Herod."" Macrobii Saturnal. Lib. ii. p. 341, tom. i. Professed jokers and gossips are not the most trust-worthy historians, and it should be recollected that Macrobius was entitled to both these characters. A collector of smart sayings is much more likely to regard the point than the truth of what he is recording.
+ So too the Februata Juno and the Purificata Virgo Maria; and a multitude of others already noticed.
suspect the approaching birth of a child from a virgin, the fiend playing precisely the same part that Saturn did in the old mythology; the discrepancies between the two tales are not more than would be required to prevent their being identical.* If indeed the fact of the child-massacre had been recorded in all four gospels this reasoning would of course fall to the ground, as being contradicted by scripture authority. But such is not the case; it is mentioned only in St. Matthew, and there in a single verse, so that under all the circumstances we shall not perhaps exceed the bounds of a modest doubt, if we suppose the passage to be an interpolation. We know full well that such things have happened with other parts of the Testament, as in the memorable instance in St. John, where Porson in his celebrated letters to Travis proved the verse of the three bearing witness to be spurious. Never indeed was rout more complete than that of the poor archdeacon, and one only wonders how he ever dared to enter the lists with so redoubtable an opponent, unquestionably the first of European scholars since the days of Bentley. Of Cansa, the Hindoo Herod, I have already made mention in the month of January.
By an odd perversion of ideas it was usual at one period to celebrate this day by whipping up the children in the morning. Indeed, if we may believe Naogeorgus, the
* "Quare non de simplici virgine, sed de desponsata concipitur ? Primùm ut per generationem Joseph origo Mariæ monstraretur; secundò ne lapidaretur à Judæis ut adultera; tertiò, ut in Ægyptum fugiens haberet solatium. Martyr Ignatius quartam addidit causam, cur a desponsata conceptus sit, ut partus, inquiens, ejus celaretur Diabolo, dum eum putat non de virgine sed de uxore generatum." BREVIARIUM ROMANUM, p. 346. La Veille de la Nativite de Nostre Seigneur. Folio. Paris. 1588.
† “Hujus lanienæ truculentissimæ ut pueri Christianorum recordentur, et simul discant odium, persecutionem, crucem, exilium, egestatemque statim cum nato Christo incipere, virgis cædi solent in aurora hujus diei adhuc in lectulis jacentes a parentibus suis." Hospinian, De Orig. Fest. Christ. p. 161.