The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Wake (festival)

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The American Cyclopædia
Wake (festival)
Edition of 1879. See also Wakes week and Wake (ceremony) on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

WAKE (Anglo-Sax, wæc), a holiday festival once universally celebrated in the country parishes of England. Wakes originated at the period of the conversion of the Saxons to Christianity, and were established to commemorate the birthday of the saint to whom a particular church was dedicated, and the anniversary of the dedication. As the ecclesiastical day was then reckoned from sunset to sunset, the festival began on the evening previous to the day itself, and during the night the people customarily performed their devotions in the churches, whence the name wake. Wakes gradually became the occasions of boisterous and even licentious merrymakings; and where the saint was of high repute, the inhabitants of neighboring parishes flocked in large numbers to his annual festival. In 1536 Henry VIII. by an act of convocation ordered the festival of the saint's day to be discontinued, and that of the dedication of the church to be celebrated in all the parishes on the first Sunday of October. This gradually fell into desuetude, the saint's day being the more popular festival, and the latter still subsists in the form of a village wake. — In Ireland, upon the death of one in humble circumstances, the body, laid out and covered with a sheet, except the face, and surrounded by lighted tapers, is “waked” by the friends and neighbors. After vociferous lamentations, food and whiskey are indulged in, commonly leading to noisy and even riotous demonstrations. All the efforts of the Roman Catholic clergy toward the suppression of this pernicious custom have proved unavailing.