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

Thursday, 1 January 2009

46. The octave of Christmas Day

"NEW YEAR'S DAY. The first day (calends) of January, as marking the beginning of the year, was observed as a public holiday in Rome from at least the time of the Julian reformation of the calendar. Ovid (Fas., i. 63 sq.) alludes to the abstinence from litigation and strife, the smoking altars, the white-robed processions to the Capitol ; and later writers describe the exchanges of visits, the giving and receiving of presents (strenae), the masquerading, and the feasting with which the day was in their time celebrated throughout the empire. [...]

"When about the 5th century the 25th of December had gradually become a fixed festival commemorative of the Nativity, the 1st January ultimately also assumed a specially sacred character as the octave of Christmas Day and as the anniversary of the circumcision of our Lord, and as such it still figures in the calendars of the various branches of the Eastern and of the Western Church, though only as a feast of subordinate importance. The practice of giving and receiving "strenae" for luck about the beginning of the year survives in such institutions as the French "jour d'├ętrennes" and the Scottish "Handsel Monday." The Persians also, it may be mentioned, celebrated the beginning of the year (nev-ruz) by exchanging presents of eggs."

From vol. 17 (Motanabbi - Ormuzd) of the ninth edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica (1884).

Henceforth I will be celebrating the octave of my birthday on the 1st of November, and will be expecting strenae, thank you.

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