Page:Our American Holidays - Christmas.djvu/19

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INTRODUCTION v

tians, in the tolerant spirit of their Master, adopted these beautiful old usages, merely changing their spirit. So that the Lord of Misrule who long presided over the Christmas games of Christian England was the direct descendant of the ruler who was appointed, with considerable prerogatives, to preside over the sports of the Saturnalia. In this connection the narrow Puritan author of the “Histrio-Mastix” laments: “If we compare our Bacchanalian Christmasses with these Saturnalia, we shall find such a near affinitye between them, both in regard to time and in manner of solemnizing, that we must needs conclude the one to be but the very issue of the other.”

“ Merrie old England,” writes Walsh,[1] “ was the soil in which Merrie Christmas took its firmest root.” Even in Anglo-Saxon days we hear of Alfred holding high revelry in December, 878, so that he allowed the Danes to surprise him, cut his army to pieces and send him a fugitive. The court revelries increased in splendor after the conquest. Christmas, it must be remembered was not then a single day of sport. It had the preliminary novena which began December 16, and it ended on January 6, or Twelfth Night. All this period was devoted to holiday making.

It was a democratic festival. All classes

  1. Curiosities of Popular Customs.