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antiquaries, as to its derivation ;-whose arguments, however, we
;need not report for the benefit of our readers, till judgment shall have been finally pronounced. When that time shall arrive, we undertake to publish a new edition of the present work, for the purpose of giving our readers an abstract of the pleadings, and acquainting them with the ultimate decision. In the meantime, we will let Sir Walter Scott inform them how
“ The savage Dane,
Amongst other traces of the northern observances which have descended to our times, and of which we shall have occasion, hereafter, to speak, the name of the festival itself has come down, and is still retained by our Scottish brethren, as well as in some parts of England.
The Christian festival of the Nativity, with which these ancient celebrations have been incorporated, appears to have been appointed at a very early period after the establishment of the new religion. Its first positive footsteps re met with in the second century, during the reign of the Emperor Concordius ; but the decretal epistles furnish us with traces of it more remote. At whatever period, however, its formal institution is to be placed, there can be no doubt that an event so striking in its manner and so important in itself, would be annually commemorated amongst Christians, from the days of the first apostles, who survived our Lord's resurrection. As to the actual year of the birth of Christ, -as well as the period of the year at which it took place,-great uncertainty seems to exist, and many controversies have been maintained. One of the theories on the subject, held to be amongst the most probable, places that event upwards of five years earlier than the vulgar era; which latter, however,—both as regards the year and season of the year,—was a tradition of the primitive church. In the first ages of that church, and up till the Council of Nice, the celebration of the Nativity, and that of the Epiphany, were united on the 25th of December, from a belief that the birth of Christ was simultaneous with the appearance of the star in the east which revealed it to the Gentiles. The time of the year at which the Nativity fell has been placed, by contending opinions, at the period of the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, at that of the Passover, and again, at that of the Feast of the Expiation, whose date corresponds with the close of our September. Clemens Alexandrinus informs us that it was kept by many Christians in April ; and by others in the Egyptian month Pachon—which answers to our May. Amongst the arguments which have been produced against the theory that places its occurrence in the depth of win. ter, one has been gathered from that passage in the sacred history of the event which states that “there were shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night.” argument, however, which does not seem very conclusive in a pastoral country, and eastern climate. Besides the employment which this question has afforded to the learned, it has, in times of religious excitement, been debated with much puritanical virulence and sectarian rancor. For the purposes of commemoration, how. ever, it is unimportant whether the celebration shall fall, or not, at the precise anniversary period of the event commemorated; and the arrangement which assigns to it its place in our calendar, fixes it at a season when men have leisure for a lengthened festivity, and when their minds are otherwise wholesomely acted upon by many touching thoughts and solemn considerations.
From the first introduction of Christianity into these islands, the period of the Nativity seems to have been kept as a season of festival, and its observance recognized as a matter of state.
It is an
The Wittenagemots of our Saxon ancestors were held, under the solemn sanctions and beneficent influences of the time ; and the series of high festivities established by the Anglo-Saxon kings appear to have been continued, with yearly increasing splendor and multiplied ceremonies, under the monarchs of the Norman
From the court, the spirit of revelry descended, by all its thousand arteries, throughout the universal frame of society, visiting its furthest extremities and most obscure recesses, and everywhere exhibiting its action, as by so many pulses, upon the traditions, and superstitions, and customs which were common to all, or peculiar to each. The pomp and ceremonial of the royal observance were imitated in the splendid establishments of the more wealthy nobles; and more faintly reflected from the dimin. ished state of the petty baron. The revelries of the old baronial castle found echoes in the hall of the old manor house,—and these were, again, repeated in the tapestried chamber of the country magistrate, or from the sanded parlor of the village inn. Merri- . ment was, everywhere, a matter of public concernment; and the spirit which assembles men in families now, congregated them by districts then.
Neither, however, were the feelings wanting which connected the superstitions of the season with the tutelage of the roof-tree, and mingled its ceremonies with the sanctities of home. Men might meet in crowds to feast beneath the banner of the baronbut the misletoe hung over each man's own door. The black jacks might go round in the hall of the lord of the manor,—but they who could, had a wassail-bowl of their own. ries and high observances of the time might draw men to common centres, or be performed on a common account,--but the flame of the Yule-log roared up all the individual chimneys of the land. Old father Christmas, at the head of his numerous and uproarious family, might ride his goat through the streets of the city and the lanes of the village,—but he dismounted to sit, for some few moments, by each man's hearth ; while some one or another of his merry sons would break away, to visit the remote farmhouses, or show their laughing faces at many a poor man's door. For be it observed, this worthy old gentleman and his kind. hearted children were no respecters of persons. Though trained
to courts, they had ever a taste for a country life. Though accustomed, in those days, to the tables of princes, they sat freely down at the poor man's board. Though welcomed by the peer, they showed no signs of superciliousness, when they found themselves cheek-by-jowl with the pauper. Nay, they appear even to have preferred the less exalted society: and to have felt themselves more at ease in the country mansion of the private gentle. man than in the halls of kings. Their reception in those high places was accompanied, as royal receptions are apt to be, by a degree of state repugnant to their frank natures; and they seem never to have been so happy as when they found themselves amongst a set of free and easy spirits, whether in town or country,-unrestricted by the punctilios of etiquette,—who had the privilege of laughing just when it struck them to do so, without inquiring wherefore, or caring how loud. Then, what a festival they created! The land rang
with their joyous voices; and the frosty air steamed with the incense of the good things provided for their entertainment. Everybody kept holiday but the cooks; and all sounds known to the human ear seemed mingled in the merry pæan, save the gobble of the turkeys. There were no Turkeys—at least they had lost their “most sweet voices.” The turnspits had a hard time of it, too. That quaint little book which bears the warm and promising title of “ Round About our Coal Fire,” tells us that “ by the time dinner was over, they would look as black and as greasy as a Welch porridge-pot. Indeed the accounts of that time dwell, with great and savory emphasis, upon the prominent share which eating and drinking had in the festivities of the season. There must have been sad havoc made amongst the live-stock. That there are turkeys at all, in our days, is only to be accounted for upon
the supposition of England having been occasionally replenished with that article from the East; and our present possession of geese must be explained by the well-known impossibility of extinguishing the race of the goose. It is difficult to imagine a consumption equal to the recorded provision. Men's gastronomic capacities appear to have been enlarged for the occasion,-as the energies expand to meet great emergencies. “The tables," says the same racy authority above quoted, “ were all spread from the first to the
last ; the sirloyns of beef, the minc'd pies, the plumb-porridge, the capons, turkeys, geese, and plumb-puddings, were all brought upon the board ; and all those who had sharp stomachs and sharp knives, eat heartily and were welcome, which gave rise to the proverb,
• Merry in the hall, when beards wag all." »
Now, all men, in those days, appear to have had good stomachs ; and, we presume, took care to provide themselves with sharp knives. The only recorded instance in which we find a failure of the latter, is that portentous one which occurred, many a long day since, in the court of King Arthur; when the Christmas mirth was so strangely disturbed by the mischievous interference of the Boy with the Mantle. Under the test introduced by that imp of discord—and which appears to have “taken the shine out of” the monarch's own good sword Excalibar itself,—there was found but one knight, of all the hungry knights who sat at that Round Table, whose weapon was sharp enough to carve the boar's head, or hand steady enough to carry the cup to his lip without spilling the lamb’s wool ;-and even he had a very narrow escape from the same incapacities. But then, as we have said, this was at court, and under the influence of a spell (with whose nature we take it for granted that our readers are acquainted,—and if not, we refer them to the Percy Ballads)—and it is probable that in those early, as in later, days, tests of such extreme delicacy were of far more dangerous introduction in the courts of kings than amongst assemblies of more mirth and less pretension. We could by no means feel sure that the intrusion, in our times, of a similar test, into a similar scene, might not spoil the revels.
But to return.—The old ballads which relate to this period of the year, are redolent of good things; and not to be read by a hungry man with any degree of equanimity. Of course, they are ex post facto ballads; and could only have been written, under the inspiration of memory,—at a time when men were at leisure to devote their hands to some other occupation than those of cooking or carving But it is very difficult to understand how they ever found,-as it appears they did,--their mouths in a condition to sing them, at the season itself. There is one amongst those ballads,