Category Archive 'Traditions'
26 Dec 2017

Feast of St. Stephen and Boxing Day

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Rembrandt. The Martyrdom of St. Stephen. 1625. Oil on panel. Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyons

From Robert Chambers, The Book of Days, 1869:

Feast Day: St. Stephen, the first martyr.

St. Stephen’s Day

To St. Stephen, the Proto-martyr, as he is generally styled, the honour has been accorded by the church of being placed in her calendar immediately after Christmas-day, in recognition of his having been the first to seal with his blood the testimony of fidelity to his Lord and Master. The year in which he was stoned to death, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, is supposed to have been 33 A.D. The festival commemorative of him has been retained in the Anglican calendar.

A curious superstition was formerly prevalent regarding St. Stephen’s Day—that horses should then, after being first well galloped, be copiously let blood, to insure them against disease in the course of the following year. In Barnaby Googe’s translation of Naogeorgus, the following lines occur relative to this popular notion:

    Then followeth Saint Stephen’s Day, whereon doth every man
    His horses jaunt and course abrode, as swiftly as he can,
    Until they doe extremely sweate, and then they let them blood,
    For this being done upon this day, they say doth do them good,
    And keepes them from all maladies and sicknesse through the yeare,
    As if that Steven any time tooke charge of horses heare.’

The origin of this practice is difficult to be accounted for, but it appears to be very ancient, and Douce supposes that it was introduced into this country by the Danes. In one of the manuscripts of that interesting chronicler, John Aubrey, who lived in the latter half of the seventeenth century, occurs the following record: On St. Stephen’s Day, the farrier came constantly and blouded all our cart-horses.’ Very possibly convenience and expediency combined on the occasion with superstition, for in Tusser Redivivus, a work published in the middle of the last century, we find this statement: ‘About Christmas is a very proper time to bleed horses in, for then they are commonly at house, then spring comes on, the sun being now coming back from the winter-solstice, and there are three or four days of rest, and if it be upon St. Stephen’s Day it is not the worse, seeing there are with it three days of rest, or at least two.’

In the parish of Drayton Beauchamp, Bucks, there existed long an ancient custom, called Stephening, from the day on which it took place. On St. Stephen’s Day, all the inhabitants used to pay a visit to the rectory, and practically assert their right to partake of as much bread and cheese and ale as they chose at the rector’s expense. On one of these occasions, according to local tradition, the then rector, being a penurious old bachelor, determined to put a stop, if possible, to this rather expensive and unceremonious visit from his parishioners. Accordingly, when St. Stephen’s Day arrived, he ordered his housekeeper not to open the window-shutters, or unlock the doors of the house, and to remain perfectly silent and motionless whenever any person was heard approaching. At the usual time the parishioners began to cluster about the house. They knocked first at one door, then at the other, then tried to open them, and on finding them fastened, they called aloud for admittance. No voice replied. No movement was heard within. ‘Surely the rector and his house-keeper must both be dead!’ exclaimed several voices at once, and a general awe pervaded the whole group. Eyes were then applied to the key-holes, and to every crevice in the window-shutters, when the rector was seen beckoning his old terrified housekeeper to sit still and silent. A simultaneous shout convinced him that his design was understood. Still he consoled himself with the hope that his larder and his cellar were secure, as the house could not be entered. But his hope was speedily dissipated. Ladders were reared against the roof, tiles were hastily thrown off, half-a-dozen sturdy young men entered, rushed down the stairs, and threw open both the outer-doors. In a trice, a hundred or more unwelcome visitors rushed into the house, and began unceremoniously to help themselves to such fare as the larder and cellar afforded; for no special stores having been provided for the occasion, there was not half enough bread and cheese for such a multitude. To the rector and his housekeeper, that festival was converted into the most rigid fast-day they had ever observed.

After this signal triumph, the parishioners of Drayton regularly exercised their ‘privilege of Stephening’ till the incumbency of the Rev. Basil Wood, who was presented to the living in 1808. Finding that the custom gave rise to much rioting and drunkenness, he discontinued it, and distributed instead an annual sum of money in proportion to the number of claimants. But as the population of the parish greatly increased, and as he did not consider himself bound to continue the practice, he was induced, about the year 1827, to withhold his annual payments; and so the custom became finally abolished. For some years, however, after its discontinuance, the people used to go to the rectory for the accustomed bounty, but were always refused.

In the year 1834, the commissioners appointed to inquire concerning charities, made an investigation into this custom, and several of the inhabitants of Drayton gave evidence on the occasion, but nothing was elicited to shew its origin or duration, nor was any legal proof advanced skewing that the rector was bound to comply with such a demand. Many of the present inhabitants of the parish remember the custom, and some of them have heard their parents say, that it had been observed:


    ‘As long as the sun had shone,
    And the waters had run.’

In London and other places, St. Stephen’s Day, or the 26th of December, is familiarly known as Boxing-day, from its being the occasion on which those annual guerdons known as Christmas-boxes are solicited and collected. For a notice of them, the reader is referred to the ensuing article.

CHRISTMAS-BOXES

The institution of Christmas-boxes is evidently akin to that of New-year’s gifts, and, like it, has descended to us from the times of the ancient Romans, who, at the season of the Saturnalia, practiced universally the custom of giving and receiving presents. The fathers of the church denounced, on the ground of its pagan origin, the observance of such a usage by the Christians; but their anathemas had little practical effect, and in process of time, the custom of Christmas-boxes and New-year’s gifts, like others adopted from the heathen, attained the position of a universally recognised institution. The church herself has even got the credit of originating the practice of Christmas-boxes, as will appear from the following curious extract from The Athenian Oracle of John Dunton; a sort of primitive Notes and Queries, as it is styled by a contributor to the periodical of that name.

Q. From whence comes the custom of gathering of Christmas-box money? And how long since?

A. 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 everything almost, that no ship goes 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 return. Thus the mass at that time was Christ’s-mass, and the box Christ’s-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 liberty to get box-money, because they might be enabled to pay the priest for masses—because, No penny, no paternoster—for though the rich pay ten times more than they can expect, yet a priest will not say a mass or anything to the poor for nothing; so charitable they generally are.’

The charity thus ironically ascribed by Dunton to the Roman Catholic clergy, can scarcely, so far as the above extract is concerned, be warrantably claimed by the whimsical author himself. His statement regarding the origin of the custom under notice may be regarded as an ingenious conjecture, but cannot be deemed a satisfactory explanation of the question. As we have already seen, a much greater antiquity and diversity of origin must be asserted.

This custom of Christmas-boxes, or the bestowing of certain expected gratuities at the Christmas season, was formerly, and even yet to a certain extent continues to be, a great nuisance. The journeymen and apprentices of trades-people were wont to levy regular contributions from their masters’ customers, who, in addition, were mulcted by the trades-people in the form of augmented charges in the bills, to recompense the latter for gratuities expected from them by the customers’ servants. This most objectionable usage is now greatly diminished, but certainly cannot yet be said to be extinct. Christmas-boxes are still regularly expected by the postman, the lamplighter, the dustman, and generally by all those functionaries who render services to the public at large, without receiving payment therefore from any particular individual. There is also a very general custom at the Christmas season, of masters presenting their clerks, apprentices, and other employees, with little gifts, either in money or kind.

St. Stephen’s Day, or the 26th of December, being the customary day for the claimants of Christmas-boxes going their rounds, it has received popularly the designation of Boxing-day. In the evening, the new Christmas pantomime for the season is generally produced for the first time; and as the pockets of the working-classes, from the causes which we have above stated, have commonly received an extra supply of funds, the theatres are almost universally crowded to the ceiling on Boxing-night; whilst the ‘gods,’ or upper gallery, exercise even more than their usual authority. Those interested in theatrical matters await with consider-able eagerness the arrival, on the following morning, of the daily papers, which have on this occasion a large space devoted to a chronicle of the pantomimes and spectacles produced at the various London theatres on the previous evening.

In conclusion, we must not be too hard on the system of Christmas-boxes or handsets, as they are termed in Scotland, where, however, they are scarcely ever claimed till after the commencement of the New Year. That many abuses did and still do cling to them, we readily admit; but there is also intermingled with them a spirit of kindliness and benevolence, which it would be very undesirable to extirpate. It seems almost instinctive for the generous side of human nature to bestow some reward for civility and attention, and an additional incentive to such liberality is not infrequently furnished by the belief that its recipient is but inadequately remunerated otherwise for the duties which he performs. Thousands, too, of the commonalty look eagerly forward to the forth-coming guerdon on Boxing-day, as a means of procuring some little unwonted treat or relaxation, either in the way of sight-seeing, or some other mode of enjoyment. Who would desire to abridge the happiness of so many?

25 Dec 2017

Christmas Day

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From Robert Chambers, The Book of Days, 1869:

Born: Jesus Christ, Saviour of the world; Sir Isaac Newton, natural philosopher, 1642, Woolsthorpe, near Grantham; Johann Jacob Reiske, oriental scholar, 1716, Zorbig, Saxony; William Collins, poet, 1720, Chichester; Richard Person, Greek scholar, 1759, East Ruston, Norfolk.

and my wife, Karen.

Feast Day: St. Eugenia, virgin and martyr, about 257. St. Anastasia, martyr, 304. Another St. Anastasia.

Christmas Day

The festival of Christmas is regarded as the greatest celebration throughout the ecclesiastical year, and so important and joyous a solemnity is it deemed, that a special exception is made in its favour, whereby, in the event of the anniversary falling on a Friday, that day of the week, under all other circumstances a fast, is transformed to a festival.

That the birth of Jesus Christ, the deliverer of the human race, and the mysterious link connecting the transcendent and incomprehensible attributes of Deity with human sympathies and affections, should be considered as the most glorious event that ever happened, and the most worthy of being reverently and joyously commemorated, is a pro-position which must commend itself to the heart and reason of every one of His followers, who aspires to walk in His footsteps, and share in the ineffable benefits which His death has secured to mankind. And so though at one period denounced by the Puritans as superstitious, and to the present day disregarded by Calvinistic Protestants, as unwarranted by Scripture, there are few who will seriously dispute the propriety of observing the anniversary of Christ’s birth by a religious service. …

Towards the close of the second century, we find a notice of the observance of Christmas in the reign of the Emperor Commodus; and about a hundred years afterwards, in the time of Dioclesiaun an atrocious act of cruelty is recorded of the last named emperor, who caused a church in Nicomedia, where the Christians were celebrating the Nativity, to be set on fire, and by barring every means of egress from the building, made all the worshippers perish in the flames. Since the, end of the fourth century at least, the 25th of December has been uniformly observed as the anniversary of the Nativity by all the nations of Christendom.

Thus far for ancient usage, but it will be readily comprehended that insurmountable difficulties yet exist with respect to the real date of the momentous event under notice. Sir Isaac Newton, indeed, remarks in his Commentary on the Prophecies of Daniel, that the feast of the Nativity, and most of the other ecclesiastical anniversaries, were originally fixed at cardinal points of the year, without any reference to the dates of the incidents which they commemorated, dates which, by the lapse of time, had become impossible to be ascertained. Thus the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary was placed on the 25th of March, or about the time of the vernal equinox; the feast of St. Michael on the 29th of September, or near the autumnal equinox; and the birth of Christ and other festivals at the time of the winter-solstice. Many of the apostles’ days –such as St. Paul, St. Matthias, and others– were determined by the days when the sun entered the respective signs of the ecliptic, and the pagan festivals had also a considerable share in the adjustment of the Christian year.

To this last we shall shortly have occasion to advert more particularly, but at present we shall content ourselves by remarking that the views of the great astronomer just indicated, present at least a specious explanation of the original construction of the ecclesiastical calendar. As regards the observance of Easter indeed, and its accessory celebrations, there is good ground for maintaining that they mark tolerably accurately the anniversaries of the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord, seeing that we know that the events themselves took place at the period of the Jewish Passover. But no such precision of date can be adduced as regards Christmas, respecting which the generally received view now is, that it does not correspond with the actual date of the nativity of our Saviour. One objection, in particular, has been made, that the incident recorded in Scripture, of shepherds keeping watch by night on the plains of Bethlehem, could not have taken place in the month of December, a period generally of great inclemency in the region of Judea.

Though Christian nations have thus, from an early period in the history of the church, celebrated Christmas about the period of the winter-solstice or the shortest day, it is well known that many, and, indeed, the greater number of the popular festive observances by which it is characterized, are referable to a much more ancient origin. Amid all the pagan nations of antiquity, there seems to have been a universal tendency to worship the sun as the giver of life and light, and the visible manifestation of the Deity. Various as were the names bestowed by different peoples on this object of their worship, he was still the same divinity. Thus, at Rome, he appears to have been worshipped under one of the characters attributed to Saturn, the father of the gods; among the Scandinavian nations he was known under the epithet of Odin or Woden, the father of Thor, who seems after-wards to have shared with his parent the adoration bestowed on the latter, as the divinity of which the ‘sun was the visible manifestation; whilst with the ancient Persians, the appellation for the god of lights was Mithras, apparently the same as the Irish Mithr, and with the Phoenicians or Carthaginians it was Baal or Bel, an epithet familiar to all students of the Bible.

Concurring thus as regards the object of worship, there was a no less remarkable uniformity in the period of the year at which these different nations celebrated a grand festival in his honour. The time chosen appears to have been universally the season of the New Year, or, rather, the winter-solstice, from which the new year was frequently reckoned. This unanimity in the celebration of the festival in question, is to be ascribed to the general feeling of joy which all of us experience when the gradual shortening of the day reaches its utmost limit on the 21st of December, and the sun, recommencing his upward course, announces that mid-winter is past, and spring and summer are approaching. On similar grounds, and with similar demonstrations, the ancient pagan nations observed a festival at mid-summer, or the summer-solstice, when the sun arrives at the culminating point of his ascent on the 21st of June, or longest day.

By the Romans, this anniversary was celebrated under the title of Saturnalia, or the festival of Saturn, and was marked by the prevalence of a universal license and merry-making. The slaves were permitted to enjoy for a time a thorough freedom in speech and behavior, and it is even said that their masters waited on them as servants. Every one feasted and rejoiced, work and business were for a season entirely suspended, the houses were decked with laurels and evergreens, presents were made by parents and friends, and all sorts of games and amusements were indulged. in by the citizens. In the bleak north, the same rejoicings had place, but in a ruder and more barbarous form. Fires were extensively kindled, both in and out of doors, blocks of wood blazed in honour of Odin and Thor, the sacred mistletoe was gathered by the Druids, and sacrifices, both of men and cattle, were made to the savage divinities. Fires are said, also, to have been kindled at this period of the year by the ancient Persians, between whom and the Druids of Western Europe a relationship is supposed to have existed.

In the early ages of Christianity, its ministers frequently experienced the utmost difficulty in inducing the converts to refrain from indulging in the popular amusements which were so largely participated in by their pagan countrymen. Among others, the revelry and license which characterized the Saturnalia called for special animadversion. But at last, convinced partly of the inefficacy of such denunciations, and partly influenced by the idea that the spread of Christianity might thereby be advanced, the church endeavored to amalgamate, as it were, the old and new religious, and sought, by transferring the heathen ceremonies to the solemnities of the Christian festivals, to make them subservient to the cause of religion and piety. A compromise was thus effected between clergy and laity, though it must be admitted that it proved anything but a harmonious one, as we find a constant, though ineffectual, proscription by the ecclesiastical authorities of the favorite amusements of the people, including among others the sports and revelries at Christmas.

Ingrafted thus on the Romani Saturnalia, the Christmas festivities received in Britain further changes and modifications, by having superadded to them, first, the Druidical rites and superstitions, and then, after the arrival of the Saxons, the various ceremonies practiced by the ancient Germans and Scandinavians. The result has been the strange medley of Christian and pagan rites which contribute to make up the festivities of the modern Christmas. Of these, the burning of the Yule log, and the superstitions connected with the mistletoe have already been described under Christmas Eve, and further accounts are given under separate heads, both under the 24th and 25th of December.

The name given by the ancient Goths and. Saxons to the festival of the winter-solstice was Jul or Yule, the latter term forming, to the present day, the designation in the Scottish dialect of Christmas, and preserved also in the phrase of the ‘Yule log.’ Perhaps the etymology of no term has excited greater discussion among antiquaries. Some maintain it to be derived from the Greek, συλσι, or, ισυλσς, the name of a hymn in honor of Ceres; others say it comes from the Latin jubilum, signifying a time of rejoicing, or from its being a festival in honour of Julius Caesar; whilst some also explain its meaning as synonymous with ol or oel, which in the ancient Gothic language denotes a feast, and also the favorite liquor used on such occasion, whence our word ale. But a much more probable derivation of the term in question is from the Gothic giul or hiul, the origin of the modem word wheel, and bearing the same signification. According to this very probable explanation, the Yule festival received its name from its being the turning-point of the year, or the period at which the fiery orb of day made a revolution in his annual circuit, and entered on his northern journey. A confirmation of this view is afforded by the circumstance that in the old clog almanacs, a wheel is the device employed for marking the season of Yule-tide.

Throughout the middle ages, and down to the period of the Reformation, the festival of Christmas, ingrafted on the pagan rites of Yule, continued throughout Christendom to be universally celebrated with every mark of rejoicing. On the adoption of a new system of faith by most of the northern nations of Europe in the sixteenth century, the Lutheran and Anglican churches retained the celebration of Christmas and other festivals, which Calvinists rejected absolutely, denouncing the observance of all such days, except Sunday, as superstitious and unscriptural. In reference to the superstition anciently prevalent in Scotland against spinning on Christmas or Yule day, and the determination of the Calvinistic clergy to put down all such notions, the following amusing passage is quoted by Dr. Jamieson from Jhone Hamilton’s Facile Tractise:

    ‘The ministers of Scotland — in contempt of the vther halie dayes obseruit be England — cause their wyfis and seruants spin in oppin sicht of the people upon Yeul day; and their affectionnate auditeurs constraines their tennants to yok thair pleuchs on Yeul day in contempt of Christ’s Natiuitie, whilk our Lord has not left vnpunisit: for thair oxin ran wod [mad], and brak their nekis, and leamit [lamed] sum pleugh men, as is notoriously knawin in sindrie partes of Scotland.’

In consequence of the Presbyterian form of church-government, as constituted by John Knox and his coadjutors on the model of the ecclesiastical polity of Calvin, having taken such firm root in Scotland, the festival of Christmas, with other commemorative celebrations retained from the Romish calendar by the Anglicans and Lutherans, is comparatively unknown in that country, at least in the Lowlands. The tendency to mirth and jollity at the close of the year, which seems almost inherent in human nature, has, in North Britain, been, for the most part, transferred from Christmas and Christmas Eve to New-year’s Day and the preceding evening, known by the appellation of Hogmenay. …

The geniality and joyousness of the Christmas season in England, has long been a national characteristic. The following poem or carol, by George Wither, who belongs to the first-half of the seventeenth century, describes with hilarious animation the mode of keeping Christmas in the poet’s day:

    ‘So now is come our joyful feast;
    Let every man be jolly;
    Each room with ivy leaves is drest,
    And every post with holly.
    Though some churls at our mirth repine,
    Round your foreheads garlands twine;
    Drown sorrow in a cup of wine,
    And let us all be merry.

    Now all our neighbours’ chimneys smoke,
    And Christmas blocks are burning;
    Their ovens they with baked meat choke,
    And all their spits are turning.
    Without the door let sorrow lye;
    And if for cold it hap to die,
    We’ll bury’t in a Christmas-pie,
    And evermore be merry.

    Now every lad is wond’rous trim,
    And no man minds his labour;
    Our lasses have provided them
    A bagpipe and a tabor;
    Young men and maids, and girls and boys,
    Give life to one another’s joys;
    And you anon shall by their noise
    Perceive that they are merry.

    Rank misers now do sparing shun;
    Their hall of music soundeth;
    And dogs thence with whole shoulders run,
    So all things then aboundeth.
    The country-folks, themselves advance,
    With crowdy-muttons out of France;
    And Jack shall pipe and Jyll shall dance,
    And all the town be merry.

    Ned Squash hath fetcht his bands from pawn,
    And all his best apparel
    Brisk Nell hath bought a ruff of lawn
    With dropping of the barrel.
    And those that hardly all the year
    Had bread to eat, or rags to wear,
    Will have both clothes and dainty fare,
    And all the day be merry.

    Now poor men to the justices
    With capons make their errants;
    And if they hap to fail of these,
    They plague them with their warrants:
    But now they feed them with good cheer,
    And what they want, they take in beer,
    For Christmas comes but once a year,
    And then they shall be merry.

    Good farmers in the country nurse
    The poor, that else were undone;
    Some landlords spend their money worse,
    On lust and pride at London.
    There the roysters they do play,
    Drab and dice their lands away,
    Which may be ours another day,
    And therefore let’s be merry.

    The client now his suit forbears;
    The prisoner’s heart is eased;
    The debtor drinks away his cares,
    And for the time is pleased.
    Though others’ purses be more fat,
    Why should we pine or grieve at that?
    Hang sorrow! care will kill a cat,
    And therefore let’s be merry.

    Hark! now the wags abroad do call,
    Each other forth to rambling;
    non you’ll see them in the hall,
    For nuts and apples scrambling.
    Hark! how the roofs with laughter sound,
    Anon they’ll think the house goes round,
    For they the cellar’s depth have found,
    And there they will be merry.

    The wenches with their wassel-bowls
    About the streets are singing;
    The boys are come to catch the owls,
    The wild mare in it bringing,
    our kitchen-boy hath broke his box,
    And to the dealing of the ox,
    Our honest neighbors come by flocks,
    And here they will be merry.

    Now kings and queens poor sheepcotes have,
    And mate with every body;
    The honest now may play the knave,
    And wise men play the noddy.
    Some youths will now a mumming go,
    Some others play at Rowland-ho,
    And twenty other game boys mo,
    Because they will be merry.

    Then, wherefore in these merry daies,
    Should we, I pray, be duller?
    No, let us sing some roundelayes,
    To make our mirth the fuller.
    And, while thus inspired we sing,
    Let all the streets with echoes ring;
    Woods and hills and every thing,
    Bear witness we are merry.’

At present, Christmas-day, if somewhat shorn of its ancient glories, and unmarked by that boisterous jollity and exuberance of animal spirits which distinguished it in the time of our ancestors, is, nevertheless, still the holiday in which of all others throughout the year, all classes of English society most generally participate. Partaking of a religious character, the forenoon of the day is usually passed in church, and in the evening the re-united members of the family assemble round the joyous Christmas-board. Separated as many of these are during the rest of the year, they all make an effort to meet together round the Christmas-hearth. The hallowed feelings of domestic love and attachment, the pleasing remembrance of the past, and the joyous anticipation of the future, all cluster round these family-gatherings, and in the sacred associations with which they are intertwined, and the active deeds of kindness and benevolence which they tend to call forth, a realization may almost be found of the angelic message to the shepherds of Bethlehem—’Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will toward men.’

24 Dec 2017

Christmas Eve

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For a picture of Christmas Eve, in the olden time, we can desire none better than that furnished by Sir Walter Scott in Marmion:

On Christmas Eve the bells were rung;
On Christmas Eve the mass was sung;
That only night, in all the year,
Saw the stoled priest the chalice rear.
The damsel donned her kirtle sheen;
The hall was dressed with holly green;
Forth to the wood did merry-men go,
To gather in the mistletoe.
Then opened wide the baron’s hall
To vassal, tenant, serf, and all;
Power laid his rod of rule aside,
And Ceremony doffed his pride.
The heir, with roses in his shoes,
That night might village partner choose.
The lord, underogating, share
The vulgar game of “post and pair.”
All hailed, with uncontrolled delight,
And general voice, the happy night,
That to the cottage, as the crown,
Brought tidings of salvation down!

The fire, with well-dried logs supplied,
Went roaring up the chimney wide;
The huge hall-table’s oaken face,
Scrubbed till it shone, the day to grace,
Bore then upon its massive board
No mark to part the squire and lord.
Then was brought in the lusty brawn,
By old blue-coated serving-man;
Then the grim boar’s-head frowned on high,
Crested with bays and rosemary.
Well can the green-garbed ranger tell,
How, when, and where the monster fell
What dogs before his death he tore,
And all the baiting of the boar.
The wassail round in good brown bowls,
Garnished with ribbons, blithely trowls.
There the huge sirloin reeked: hard by
Plum-porridge stood, and Christmas-eye;
Nor failed old Scotland to produce,
At such high-tide, her savoury goose.
Then came the merry masquers in,
And carols roared with blithesome din
If unmelodious was the song,
It was a hearty note, and strong.
Who lists may in their mumming see
Traces of ancient mystery;
White shirts supplied the masquerade,
And smutted cheeks the visors made;
But, oh! what masquers, richly dight,
Can boast of bosoms half so light!
England was merry England, when
Old Christmas brought his sports again.
‘Twas Christmas broached the mightiest ale;
‘Twas Christmas told the merriest tale
A Christmas gambol oft could cheer
The poor man’s heart through half the year.

24 Dec 2017

Wall Street Journal Christmas Eve Editorial

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Vermont Connecticut Royster (1914-1996)

The Wall Street Journal has an excellent tradition, going back to 1949, of publishing the following editorial in the issue nearest preceding Christmas:

(excerpt)

In Hoc Anno Domini
December 23, 2017

When Saul of Tarsus set out on his journey to Damascus the whole of the known world lay in bondage. There was one state, and it was Rome. There was one master for it all, and he was Tiberius Caesar

Everywhere there was civil order, for the arm of the Roman law was long. Everywhere there was stability, in government and in society, for the centurions saw that it was so.

But everywhere there was something else, too. There was oppression — for those who were not the friends of Tiberius Caesar. There was the tax gatherer to take the grain from the fields and the flax from the spindle to feed the legions or to fill the hungry treasury from which divine Caesar gave largess to the people. There was the impressor to find recruits for the circuses. There were executioners to quiet those whom the Emperor proscribed. What was a man for but to serve Caesar?

There was the persecution of men who dared think differently, who heard strange voices or read strange manuscripts. There was enslavement of men whose tribes came not from Rome, disdain for those who did not have the familiar visage. And most of all, there was everywhere a contempt for human life. What, to the strong, was one man more or less in a crowded world?

Then, of a sudden, there was a light in the world, and a man from Galilee saying, Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s….

And so Paul, the apostle of the Son of Man, spoke to his brethren, the Galatians, the words he would have us remember afterward in each of the years of his Lord:

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

This editorial was written in 1949 by the late Vermont C. Royster and has been published annually ever since.

06 Dec 2017

Feast of St. Nicholas

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St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra, d. 6 December 345 or 352

St. Nicholas was reportedly born in the city of Patara in Lycia in Asia Minor, heir to a wealthy family. He succeeded an uncle as bishop of Myra.

Nicholas left behind a legend of secret acts of benevolence and miracles (in Greek, he is spoken of as “Nikolaos o Thaumaturgos” — Nicholas the Wonder-Worker).

One of the saint’s prominent legends asserts that, in a time of famine, he foiled the crime of Fourth Century Sweeney Todd, an evil butcher who kidnapped and murdered three children, intending to market their remains as ham. St. Nicholas not only exposed the murder, but healed and resurrected the children intact.

Nicholas is also renowned for providing dowries for each of three daughters of an impoverished nobleman,who would otherwise have been unable to marry and who were about to be forced to prostitute themselves to live. In order to spare the sensibilities of the family, Nicholas is said to have secretly thrown a purse of gold coins into their window on each of three consecutive nights.

St. Nicholas’ covert acts of charity led to a custom of the giving of secret gifts concealed in shoes deliberately left out for their receipt on his feast day, and ultimately to the contemporary legend of Santa Claus leaving gifts in stockings on Christmas Eve.

St. Nicholas evolved into one of the most popular saints in the Church’s calendar, serving as patron of sailors, merchants, archers, thieves, prostitutes, pawnbrokers, children, and students, Greeks, Belgians, Frenchmen, Romanians, Bulgarians, Georgians, Albanians, Russians, Macedonians, Slovakians, Serbians, and Montenegrins, and all residents of Aberdeen, Amsterdam, Barranquilla, Campen, Corfu, Freiburg, Liverpool, Lorraine, Moscow, and New Amsterdam (New York).

His relics were stolen and removed to Bari to prevent capture by the Turks, and are alleged to exude a sweet-smelling oil down to the present day.

23 Nov 2017

The Real Meaning of Thanksgiving Via Buffy

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11 Nov 2017

Martinmas aka Armistice Day, later Veterans Day

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–from last year–

WWI came to an end by an armistice arranged to occur at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. The date and time, selected at a point in history when mens’ memories ran much longer, represented a compliment to St. Martin, patron saint of soldiers, and thus a tribute to the fighting men of both sides. The feast day of St. Martin, the Martinmas, had been for centuries a major landmark in the European calendar, a date on which leases expired, rents came due; and represented, in Northern Europe, a seasonal turning point after which cold weather and snow might be normally expected.

It fell about the Martinmas-time, when the snow lay on the borders…
—Old Song.

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From Robert Chambers, The Book of Days, 1869:

St. Martin, the son of a Roman military tribune, was born at Sabaria, in Hungary, about 316. From his earliest infancy, he was remarkable for mildness of disposition; yet he was obliged to become a soldier, a profession most uncongenial to his natural character. After several years’ service, he retired into solitude, from whence he was withdrawn, by being elected bishop of Tours, in the year 374.

The zeal and piety he displayed in this office were most exemplary. He converted the whole of his diocese to Christianity, overthrowing the ancient pagan temples, and erecting churches in their stead. From the great success of his pious endeavours, Martin has been styled the Apostle of the Gauls; and, being the first confessor to whom the Latin Church offered public prayers, he is distinguished as the father of that church. In remembrance of his original profession, he is also frequently denominated the Soldier Saint.

The principal legend, connected with St. Martin, forms the subject of our illustration, which represents the saint, when a soldier, dividing his cloak with a poor naked beggar, whom he found perishing with cold at the gate of Amiens. This cloak, being most miraculously preserved, long formed one of the holiest and most valued relics of France; when war was declared, it was carried before the French monarchs, as a sacred banner, and never failed to assure a certain victory. The oratory in which this cloak or cape—in French, chape—was preserved, acquired, in consequence, the name of chapelle, the person intrusted with its care being termed chapelain: and thus, according to Collin de Plancy, our English words chapel and chaplain are derived. The canons of St. Martin of Tours and St. Gratian had a lawsuit, for sixty years, about a sleeve of this cloak, each claiming it as their property. The Count Larochefoucalt, at last, put an end to the proceedings, by sacrilegiously committing the contested relic to the flames.

Another legend of St. Martin is connected with one of those literary curiosities termed a palindrome. Martin, having occasion to visit Rome, set out to perform the journey thither on foot. Satan, meeting him on the way, taunted the holy man for not using a conveyance more suitable to a bishop. In an instant the saint changed the Old Serpent into a mule, and jumping on its back, trotted comfortably along. Whenever the transformed demon slackened pace, Martin, by making the sign of the cross, urged it to full speed. At last, Satan utterly defeated, exclaimed:

Signa, te Signa: temere me tangis et angis:
Roma tibi subito motibus ibit amor.’

In English—

‘Cross, cross thyself: thou plaguest and vexest me without necessity;
for, owing to my exertions, thou wilt soon reach Rome, the object of thy wishes.’

The singularity of this distich, consists in its being palindromical—that is, the same, whether read backwards or forwards. Angis, the last word of the first line, when read backwards, forming signet, and the other words admitting of being reversed, in a similar manner.

The festival of St. Martin, happening at that season when the new wines of the year are drawn from the lees and tasted, when cattle are killed for winter food, and fat geese are in their prime, is held as a feast-day over most parts of Christendom. On the ancient clog almanacs, the day is marked by the figure of a goose; our bird of Michaelmas being, on the continent, sacrificed at Martinmas. In Scotland and the north of England, a fat ox is called a mart, clearly from Martinmas, the usual time when beeves are killed for winter use. In ‘Tusser’s Husbandry, we read:

When Easter comes, who knows not then,
That veal and bacon is the man?
And Martilmass beef doth bear good tack,
When country folic do dainties lack.’

Barnaby Googe’s translation of Neogeorgus, shews us how Martinmas was kept in Germany, towards the latter part of the fifteenth century

‘To belly chear, yet once again,
Doth Martin more incline,
Whom all the people worshippeth
With roasted geese and wine.
Both all the day long, and the night,
Now each man open makes
His vessels all, and of the must,
Oft times, the last he takes,
Which holy Martin afterwards
Alloweth to be wine,
Therefore they him, unto the skies,
Extol with praise divine.’

A genial saint, like Martin, might naturally be expected to become popular in England; and there are no less than seven churches in London and Westminster, alone, dedicated to him. There is certainly more than a resemblance between the Vinalia of the Romans, and the Martinalia of the medieval period. Indeed, an old ecclesiastical calendar, quoted by Brand, expressly states under 11th November: ‘The Vinalia, a feast of the ancients, removed to this day. Bacchus in the figure of Martin.’ And thus, probably, it happened, that the beggars were taken from St. Martin, and placed under the protection of St. Giles; while the former became the patron saint of publicans, tavern-keepers, and other ‘dispensers of good eating and drinking. In the hall of the Vintners’ Company of London, paintings and statues of St. Martin and Bacchus reign amicably together side by side.

On the inauguration, as lord mayor, of Sir Samuel Dashwood, an honoured vintner, in 1702, the company had a grand processional pageant, the most conspicuous figure in which was their patron saint, Martin, arrayed, cap-Ã -pie, in a magnificent suit of polished armour; wearing a costly scarlet cloak, and mounted on a richly plumed and caparisoned white charger: two esquires, in rich liveries, walking at each side. Twenty satyrs danced before him, beating tambours, and preceded by ten halberdiers, with rural music. Ten Roman lictors, wearing silver helmets, and carrying axes and fasces, gave an air of classical dignity to the procession, and, with the satyrs, sustained the bacchanalian idea of the affair.

A multitude of beggars, ‘howling most lamentably,’ followed the warlike saint, till the procession stopped in St. Paul’s Churchyard. Then Martin, or his representative at least, drawing his sword, cut his rich scarlet cloak in many pieces, which he distributed among the beggars. This ceremony being duly and gravely performed, the lamentable howlings ceased, and the procession resumed its course to Guildhall, where Queen Anne graciously condescended to dine with the new lord mayor.

10 Nov 2017

US Marine Corps Birthday

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Khe San

Founded November 10, 1775.

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Maj. Gen. John A. Lejeune’s Birthday Message

RPS ORDERS
No. 47 (Series 1921)
HEADQUARTERS U.S. MARINE CORPS
Washington, November 1, 1921

759. The following will be read to the command on the 10th of November, 1921, and hereafter on the 10th of November of every year. Should the order not be received by the 10th of November, 1921, it will be read upon receipt.

(1) On November 10, 1775, a Corps of Marines was created by a resolution of Continental Congress. Since that date many thousand men have borne the name “Marine”. In memory of them it is fitting that we who are Marines should commemorate the birthday of our corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history.

(2) The record of our corps is one which will bear comparison with that of the most famous military organizations in the world’s history. During 90 of the 146 years of its existence the Marine Corps has been in action against the Nation’s foes. From the Battle of Trenton to the Argonne, Marines have won foremost honors in war, and is the long eras of tranquility at home, generation after generation of Marines have grown gray in war in both hemispheres and in every corner of the seven seas, that our country and its citizens might enjoy peace and security.

(3) In every battle and skirmish since the birth of our corps, Marines have acquitted themselves with the greatest distinction, winning new honors on each occasion until the term “Marine” has come to signify all that is highest in military efficiency and soldierly virtue.

(4) This high name of distinction and soldierly repute we who are Marines today have received from those who preceded us in the corps. With it we have also received from them the eternal spirit which has animated our corps from generation to generation and has been the distinguishing mark of the Marines in every age. So long as that spirit continues to flourish Marines will be found equal to every emergency in the future as they have been in the past, and the men of our Nation will regard us as worthy successors to the long line of illustrious men who have served as “Soldiers of the Sea” since the founding of the Corps.

JOHN A. LEJEUNE,
Major General Commandant

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The Magic of “a Few Good Men”

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The Old Corps

Tun Tavern, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, November 10th 1775

Captains Nicholas and Mullens, having been tasked by the 2nd Continental Congress to form 2 battalions of Marines, set up the Corps’ first recruiting station in the tavern.

The first likely prospect was, in typical recruiters fashion, promised a “life of high adventure in service to Country and Corps”. And, as an extra bonus: If he enlisted now he would receive a free tankard of ale….

The recruit gladly accepted the challenge and, receiving the free tankard of ale, was told to wait at the corner table for orders.

The first Marine sat quietly at the table sipping the ale when he was joined by another young man, who had two tankards of ale.

The first Marine looked at the lad and asked where he had gotten the two tankards of ale?

The lad replied that he had just joined this new outfit called the Continental Marines, and as an enlistment bonus was given two tankards of ale.

The first Marine took a long hard look at the second Marine and said, ” It wasn’t like that in the old Corps.”

An annual post.

05 Nov 2017

Guy Fawkes: Needed Now More Than Ever

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Guy Fawkes arrested in the cellar of Parliament with the explosives.

Remember, remember!
The fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason, and plot;
There is no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!’

Early in the morning of November 5, Guy Fawkes crept, torch in hand, into the cellar beneath the House of Lords in the Palace of Westminster. In that cellar, he and his fellow conspirators had previously placed a cache of 1800 pounds ((36 barrels, or 800 kg) of gunpowder. Just as he was about to ignite the barrels, blowing himself and the House of Lords to Kingdom Come, the torch was snatched from his hand by a man named Peter Heywood.

Fawkes was arrested and taken before the privy council where he remained defiant. When asked by one of the Scottish lords what he had intended to do with so much gunpowder, Fawkes answered him, “To blow you Scotch beggars back to your own native mountains!”

So went the attempted Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

The intention of the plotters was to use the explosion, timed to coincide with the opening of Parliament, to kill King James I and eliminate much of the ruling Protestant aristocracy. They also intended to kidnap the royal children, then raise the standard of revolt in the Midlands with the object of restoring the freedom to practice Catholicism in England.

23 Apr 2017

St. George’s Day

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Hans von Aachen, St. George Slaying the Dragon, c. 1600, Private Collection, London

From Robert Chambers, The Book of Days, 1869:

Butler, the historian of the Romish calendar, repudiates George of Cappadocia, and will have it that the famous saint was born of noble Christian parents, that he entered the army, and rose to a high grade in its ranks, until the persecution of his co-religionists by Diocletian compelled him to throw up his commission, and upbraid the emperor for his cruelty, by which bold conduct he lost his head and won his saintship. Whatever the real character of St. George might have been, he was held in great honour in England from a very early period. While in the calendars of the Greek and Latin churches he shared the twenty-third of April with other saints, a Saxon Martyrology declares the day dedicated to him alone; and after the Conquest his festival was celebrated after the approved fashion of Englishmen.

In 1344, this feast was made memorable by the creation of the noble Order of St. George, or the Blue Garter, the institution being inaugurated by a grand joust, in which forty of England’s best and bravest knights held the lists against the foreign chivalry attracted by the proclamation of the challenge through France, Burgundy, Hainault, Brabant, Flanders, and Germany. In the first year of the reign of Henry V, a council held at London decreed, at the instance of the king himself, that henceforth the feast of St. George should be observed by a double service; and for many years the festival was kept with great splendour at Windsor and other towns. Shakspeare, in Henry VI, makes the Regent Bedford say, on receiving the news of disasters in France:

Bonfires in France I am forthwith to make
To keep our great St. George’s feast withal!’

Edward VI promulgated certain statutes severing the connection between the ‘noble order’ and the saint; but on his death, Mary at once abrogated them as ‘impertinent, and tending to novelty.’ The festival continued to be observed until 1567, when, the ceremonies being thought incompatible with the reformed religion, Elizabeth ordered its discontinuance. James I, however, kept the 23rd of April to some extent, and the revival of the feast in all its glories was only prevented by the Civil War. So late as 1614, it was the custom for fashionable gentlemen to wear blue coats on St. George’s day, probably in imitation of the blue mantle worn by the Knights of the Garter.

In olden times, the standard of St. George was borne before our English kings in battle, and his name was the rallying cry of English warriors. According to Shakspeare, Henry V led the attack on Harfleur to the battle-cry of ‘God for Harry! England! and St. George!’ and ‘God and St. George’ was Talbot’s slogan on the fatal field of Patay. Edward of Wales exhorts his peace-loving parents to

‘Cheer these noble lords,
And hearten those that fight in your defence;
Unsheath your sword, good father, cry St. George!’

The fiery Richard invokes the same saint, and his rival can think of no better name to excite the ardour of his adherents:

‘Advance our standards, set upon our foes,
Our ancient word of courage, fair St. George,
Inspire us with the spleen of fiery dragons.’

England was not the only nation that fought under the banner of St. George, nor was the Order of the Garter the only chivalric institution in his honour. Sicily, Arragon, Valencia, Genoa, Malta, Barcelona, looked up to him as their guardian saint; and as to knightly orders bearing his name, a Venetian Order of St. George was created in 1200, a Spanish in 1317, an Austrian in 1470, a Genoese in 1472, and a Roman in 1492, to say nothing of the more modern ones of Bavaria (1729), Russia (1767), and Hanover (1839).

Legendarily the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George was founded by the Emperor Constantine (312-337 A.D.). On the factual level, the Constantinian Order is known to have functioned militarily in the Balkans in the 15th century against the Turk under the authority of descendants of the twelfth-century Byzantine Emperor Isaac II Angelus Comnenus.

We Lithuanians liked St. George as well. When I was a boy I attended St. George Lithuanian Parish Elementary School, and served mass at St. George Lithuanian Roman Catholic Church in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania.

StGeorgeXmas1979
St. George Church, Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, Christmas, 1979. This church, built by immigrant coal miners in 1891, was torn down by the Diocese of Allentown in 2010.

16 Apr 2017

Easter

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Rubensthe-resurrection
Peter Paul Rubens, The Resurrection of Christ, 1611-1612, Vrouwekathedraal, Antwerp

From Robert Chambers, The Book of Days, 1869:

Easter

Easter, the anniversary of our Lord’s resurrection from the dead, is one of the three great festivals of the Christian year,—the other two being Christmas and Whitsuntide. From the earliest period of Christianity down to the present day, it has always been celebrated by believers with the greatest joy, and accounted the Queen of Festivals. In primitive times it was usual for Christians to salute each other on the morning of this day by exclaiming, ‘Christ is risen;’ to which the person saluted replied, ‘Christ is risen indeed,’ or else, ‘And hath appeared unto Simon;’—a custom still retained in the Greek Church.

The common name of this festival in the East was the Paschal Feast, because kept at the same time as the Pascha, or Jewish passover, and in some measure succeeding to it. In the sixth of the Ancyran Canons it is called the Great Day. Our own name Easter is derived, as some suppose, from Eostre, the name of a Saxon deity, whose feast was celebrated every year in the spring, about the same time as the Christian festival—the name being retained when the character of the feast was changed; or, as others suppose, from Oster, which signifies rising. If the latter supposition be correct, Easter is in name, as well as reality, the feast of the resurrection.

Though there has never been any difference of opinion in the Christian church as to why Easter is kept, there has been a good deal as to when it ought to be kept. It is one of the moveable feasts; that is, it is not fixed to one particular day—like Christmas Day, e. g., which is always kept on the 25th of December—but moves backwards or forwards according as the full moon next after the vernal equinox falls nearer or further from the equinox. The rule given at the beginning of the Prayer-book to find Easter is this: ‘Easter-day is always the first Sunday after the full moon which happens upon or next after the twenty-first day of March; and if the full moon happens upon a Sunday, Easter-day is the Sunday after.’

The paschal controversy, which for a time divided Christendom, grew out of a diversity of custom. The churches of Asia Minor, among whom were many Judaizing Christians, kept their paschal feast on the same day as the Jews kept their passover; i. e., on the 14th of Nisan, the Jewish month corresponding to our March or April. But the churches of the West, remembering that our Lord’s resurrection took place on the Sunday, kept their festival on the Sunday following the 14th of Nisan. By this means they hoped not only to commemorate the resurrection on the day on which it actually occurred, but also to distinguish themselves more effectually from the Jews. For a time this difference was borne with mutual forbearance and charity. And when disputes began to arise, we find that Polycarp, the venerable bishop of Smyrna, when on a visit to Rome, took the opportunity of conferring with Anicetas, bishop of that city, upon the question. Polycarp pleaded the practice of St. Philip and St. John, with the latter of whom he had lived, conversed, and joined in its celebration; while Anicetas adduced the practice of St. Peter and St. Paul. Concession came from neither side, and so the matter dropped; but the two bishops continued in Christian friendship and concord. This was about A.D. 158.

Towards the end of the century, however, Victor, bishop of Rome, resolved on compelling the Eastern churches to conform to the Western practice, and wrote an imperious letter to the prelates of Asia, commanding them to keep the festival of Easter at the time observed by the Western churches. They very naturally resented such an interference, and declared their resolution to keep Easter at the time they had been accustomed to do. The dispute hence-forward gathered strength, and was the source of much bitterness during the next century. The East was divided from the West, and all who, after the example of the Asiatics, kept Easter-day on the 14th, whether that day were Sunday or not, were styled Qiccertodecimans by those who adopted the Roman custom.

One cause of this strife was the imperfection of the Jewish calendar. The ordinary year of the Jews consisted of 12 lunar months of 292 days each, or of 29 and 30 days alternately; that is, of 354 days. To make up the 11 days’ deficiency, they intercalated a thirteenth month of 30 days every third year. But even then they would be in advance of the true time without other intercalations; so that they often kept their passover before the vernal equinox. But the Western Christians considered the vernal equinox the commencement of the natural year, and objected to a mode of reckoning which might sometimes cause them to hold their paschal feast twice in one year and omit it altogether the next. To obviate this, the fifth of the apostolic canons decreed that, ’ If any bishop, priest, or deacon, celebrated the Holy Feast of Easter before the vernal equinox, as the Jews do, let him be deposed.’

At the beginning of the fourth century, matters had gone to such a length, that the Emperor Constantine thought it his duty to take steps to allay the controversy, and to insure uniformity of practice for the future. For this purpose, he got a canon passed in the great Ecumenical Council of Nice (A.D. 325), that everywhere the great feast of Easter should be observed upon one and the same day; and that not the day of the Jewish passover, but, as had been generally observed, upon the Sunday afterwards. And to prevent all future disputes as to the time, the following rules were also laid down:

    ‘That the twenty-first day of March shall be accounted the vernal equinox.’

    ‘That the full moon happening upon or next after the twenty-first of March, shall be taken for the full moon of Nisan.’

    ‘That the Lord’s-day next following that full moon be Easter-day.’

    ‘But if the full moon happen upon a Sunday, Easter-day shall be the Sunday after.’

As the Egyptians at that time excelled in astronomy, the Bishop of Alexandria was appointed to give notice of Easter-day to the Pope and other patriarchs. But it was evident that this arrangement could not last long; it was too inconvenient and liable to interruptions. The fathers of the next age began, therefore, to adopt the golden numbers of the Metonic cycle, and to place them in the calendar against those days in each month on which the new moons should fall during that year of the cycle. The Metonie cycle was a period of nineteen years. It had been observed by Meton, an Athenian philosopher, that the moon returns to have her changes on the same month and day of the month in the solar year after a lapse of nineteen years, and so, as it were, to run in a circle. He published his discovery at the Olympic Games, B.C. 433, and the cycle has ever since borne his name. The fathers hoped by this cycle to be able always to know the moon’s age; and as the vernal equinox was now fixed to the 21st of March, to find Easter for ever. But though the new moon really happened on the same day of the year after a space of nineteen years as it did before, it fell an hour earlier on that day, which, in the course of time, created a serious error in their calculations.

A cycle was then framed at Rome for 84 years, and generally received by the Western church, for it was then thought that in this space of time the moon’s changes would return not only to the same day of the month, but of the week also. Wheatley tells us that, ‘During the time that Easter was kept according to this cycle, Britain was separated from the Roman empire, and the British churches for some time after that separation continued to keep Easter according to this table of 84 years. But soon after that separation, the Church of Rome and several others discovered great deficiencies in this account, and therefore left it for another which was more perfect.’—Book on the Common Prayer, p. 40. This was the Victorian period of 532 years. But he is clearly in error here. The Victorian period was only drawn up about the year 457, and was not adopted by the Church till the Fourth Council of Orleans, A.D. 541.

Now from the time the Romans finally left Britain (A.D. 426), when he supposes both churches to be using the cycle of 84 years, till the arrival of St. Augustine (A.D. 596), the error can hardly have amounted to a difference worth disputing about. And yet the time the Britons kept Easter must have varied considerably from that of the Roman missionaries to have given rise to the statement that they were Quartodecimans, which they certainly were not; for it is a well-known fact that British bishops were at the Council of Nice, and doubtless adopted and brought home with them the rule laid down by that assembly. Dr. Hooke’s account is far more probable, that the British and Irish churches adhered to the Alexandrian rule, according to which the Easter festival could not begin before the 8th of March; while according to the rule adopted at Rome and generally in the West, it began as early as the fifth. ‘They (the Celts) were manifestly in error,’ he says; ‘but owing to the haughtiness with which the Italians had demanded an alteration in their calendar, they doggedly determined not to change.’—Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury, vol. i. p. 14.

After a good deal of disputation had taken place, with more in prospect, Oswy, King of Northumbria, determined to take the matter in hand. He summoned the leaders of the contending parties to a conference at Whitby, A.D. 664, at which he himself presided. Colman, bishop of Lindisfarne, represented the British church. The Romish party were headed by Agilbert, bishop of Dorchester, and Wilfrid, a young Saxon. Wilfrid was spokesman. The arguments were characteristic of the age; but the manner in which the king decided irresistibly provokes a smile, and makes one doubt whether he were in jest or earnest. Colman spoke first, and urged that the custom of the Celtic church ought not to be changed, because it had been inherited from their forefathers, men beloved of God, &c. Wilfrid followed:

    ‘The Easter which we observe I saw celebrated by all at Rome: there, where the blessed apostles, Peter and Paul, lived, taught, suffered, and were buried.’ And concluded a really powerful speech with these words: ‘And if, after all, that Columba of yours were, which I will not deny, a holy man, gifted with the power of working miracles, is he, I ask, to be preferred before the most blessed Prince of the Apostles, to whom our Lord said, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it; and to thee will I give the keys of the kingdom of heaven” ?’

The King, turning to Colman, asked him, ‘Is it true or not, Colman, that these words were spoken to Peter by our Lord?’ Colman, who seems to have been completely cowed, could not deny it. ‘It is true, 0 King.’ ‘Then,’ said the King, ‘can you shew me any such power given to your Columba? ’ Colman answered, ’ No.’ ‘You are both, then, agreed,’ continued the King, are you not, that these words were addressed principally to Peter, and that to him were given the keys of heaven by our Lord?’ Both assented. ‘Then,’ said the King, ‘I tell you plainly, I shall not stand opposed to the door-keeper of the kingdom of heaven; I desire, as far as in me lies, to adhere to his precepts and obey his commands, lest by offending him who keepeth the keys, I should, when I present myself at the gate, find no one to open to me.’

This settled the controversy, though poor honest Colman resigned his see rather than submit to such a decision.

On Easter-day depend all the moveable feasts and fasts throughout the year. The nine Sundays before, and the eight following after, are all dependent upon it, and form, as it were, a body-guard to this Queen of Festivals. The nine preceding are the six Sundays in Lent, Quinquagesima, Sexagesima, and Septuagesima; the eight following are the five Sundays after Easter, the Sunday after Ascension Day, Whit Sunday, and Trinity Sunday.

EASTER CUSTOMS

The old Easter customs which still linger among us vary considerably in form in different parts of the kingdom. The custom of distributing the ‘pace’ or ‘pasche ege,’ which was once almost universal among Christians, is still observed by children, and by the peasantry in Lancashire. Even in Scotland, where the great festivals have for centuries been suppressed, the young people still get their hard-boiled dyed eggs, which they roll about, or throw, and finally eat. In Lancashire, and in Cheshire, Staffordshire, and Warwickshire, and perhaps in other counties, the ridiculous custom of ‘lifting’ or ‘heaving’ is practised.

On Easter Monday the men lift the women, and on Easter Tuesday the women lift or heave the men. The process is performed by two lusty men or women joining their hands across each other’s wrists; then, making the person to be heaved sit down on their arms, they lift him up aloft two or three times, and often carry him several yards along a street. A grave clergyman who happened to be passing through a town in Lancashire on an Easter Tuesday, and having to stay an hour or two at an inn, was astonished by three or four lusty women rushing into his room, exclaiming they had come ‘to lift him.’ ‘To lift me!’ repeated the amazed divine; ‘what can you mean?’ ‘Why, your reverence, we’re come to lift you, ‘cause it’s Easter Tuesday.’ ‘Lift me because it’s Easter Tuesday? I don’t understand. Is there any such custom here?’ ‘Yes, to be sure; why, don’t you know? all us women was lifted yesterday; and us lifts the men today in turn. And in course it’s our rights and duties to lift ‘em.’

After a little further parley, the reverend traveller compromised with his fair visitors for half-a-crown, and thus escaped the dreaded compliment. In Durham, on Easter Monday, the men claim the privilege to take off the women’s shoes, and the next day the women retaliate. Anciently, both ecclesiastics and laics used to play at ball in the churches for tansy-cakes on Eastertide; and, though the profane part of this custom is happily everywhere discontinued, tansy-cakes and tansy-puddings are still favourite dishes at Easter in many parts. In some parishes in the counties of Dorset and Devon, the clerk carries round to every house a few white cakes as an Easter offering; these cakes, which are about the eighth of an inch thick, and of two sizes —the larger being seven or eight inches, the smaller about five in diameter— have a mingled bitter and sweet taste. In return for these cakes, which are always distributed after Divine service on Good Friday, the clerk receives a gratuity- according to the circumstances or generosity of the householder.

17 Mar 2017

St. Patrick’s Day Parade

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