The world as seen through the clarifying lens of the 9th Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1875-1889).

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

45. Where the "old honour" has not altogether fled

"CHRISTMAS DAY (French, Noel from Dies natalis ; German Weihnachtsfest ; Old Eng. and Scand. Yule ; Ang.-Sax., Geol), a festival of the Christian church, observed on the 25th of December, in memory of the birth of Jesus Christ. There is, however, a difficulty in accepting this as the date of the Nativity, December being the height of the rainy season in Judea, when neither flocks nor shepherds could have been at night in the fields of Bethlehem."

Indeed, and this fact is well worth pointing out before we all get carried away by the peculiar joys of the season.
"It is generally considered to rank third among the festivals of the church (Easter and Whitsuntide alone being placed above it) and to have a joy peculiarly its own.

In all civilized countries the annual recurrence of Christmas has been celebrated with festivities of various kinds."

What would be helpful, one supposes, is if there were a particular civilized country whose festivities were most worthy of consideration.
"In none, however, was it more joyfully welcomed than in England, where even still the "old honour" has not altogether fled. In that country it was the custom on Christmas eve, after the usual devotions were over, to light large candles and throw on the hearth a huge log, called the Yule Log or Christmas Block. At court, and in the houses of the wealthy, an officer, named the Lord of Misrule, was appointed to superintend the revels ; and in Scotland a similar functionary used to be appointed under the title of the Abbot of Unreason, till the year 1555, when the office was abolished by Act of Parliament."

We are more fortunate in modern times to be blessed by a parliament that has returned the promotion of fun and jollity to the duties of government, in the person of the Rt Hon Andy Burnham MP and his Department for Culture Media and Sport.
"The reign of the Lord of Misrule began on All-Hallow eve, and lasted till Candlemas day. The favourite pastimes over which he presided were gaming, music, conjuring, dipping for nuts and apples, dancing, fool plough, hot cockles, blind-man's buff, &c. ; and various Christian preachers (as, for instance, St Bernard) have taken occasion to remonstrate with their flocks for paying too great attention to the festive character of the season, and too little to its more solemn aspects. The favourite dishes for breakfast and supper at this season were the boar's head with an apple or orange in the mouth, and set off with rosemary, plum pudding, and mince pies. The house and churches were decked with evergreens, especially with mistletoe, to which a traditional sacredness has been attached since the days of the Druids."

Now, if you will forgive me, I have revels to superintend. Best wishes of the season to one and all!

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