Christmas Folk Lore

SCOTTISH folk-lore has it that Christ was born "at the hour of midnight on Christmas Eve," and that the miracle of turning water into wine was performed by Him at the same hour. There is a belief current in some parts of Germany that "between eleven and twelve the night before Christmas water turns to wine"; in other districts, as at Bielefeld, it is on Christmas night that this change is thought to take place.

This hour is also auspicious for many actions, and in some sections of Germany it was thought that if one would go to the cross-roads between eleven and twelve on Christmas Day, and listen, he "would hear what most concerns him in the coming year." Another belief is that "if one walks into the winter-corn on Holy Christmas Eve, he will hear all that will happen in the village that year."

Christmas Eve or Christmas is the time when the oracles of the folk are in the best working-order, especially the many processes by which maidens are wont to discover the colour of their lover's hair, the beauty of his face and form, his trade and occupation, whether they shall marry or not, and the like.

The same season is most auspicious for certain ceremonies and practices (transferred to it from the heathen antiquity) of the peasantry of Europe in relation to agriculture and allied industries. Among those noted by Grimm are the following:-

On Christmas Eve thrash the garden with a flail, with only your shirt on, and the grass will grow well next year.

Tie wet strawbands around the orchard trees on Christmas Eve and it will make them fruitful.

On Christmas Eve put a stone on every tree, and they will bear the more.

Beat the trees on Christmas night, and they will bear more fruit.

In Herefordshire, Devonshire, and Cornwall, in England, the farmers and peasantry "salute the apple-trees on Christmas Eve," and in Sussex they used to "worsle," i.e. "wassail," the apple-trees and chant verses to them in somewhat of the primitive fashion.

Some other curious items of Christmas folk-lore are the following, current chiefly in Germany.

If after a Christmas dinner you shake out the tablecloth over the bare ground under the open sky, crumbwort will grow on the spot.

If on Christmas Day, or Christmas Eve, you hang a wash-clout on a hedge, and then groom the horses with it, they will grow fat.

As often as the cock crows on Christmas Eve, the quarter of corn will be as dear.

If a dog howls the night before Christmas, it will go mad within the year.

If the light is let go out on Christmas Eve, some one in the house will die.

When lights are brought in on Christmas Eve, if any one's shadow has no head, he will die within a year; if half a head, in the second half-year.

If a hoop comes off a cask on Christmas Eve, some one in the house will die that year.

If on Christmas Eve you make a little heap of salt on the table, and it melts over night, you will die the next year; if, in the morning, it remain undiminished, you will live.

If you wear something sewed with thread spun on Christmas Eve, no vermin will stick to you.

If a shirt be spun, woven, and sewed by a pure, chaste maiden on Christmas Day, it will be proof against lead or steel.

If you are born at sermon-time on Christmas morning, you can see spirits.

If you burn elder on Christmas Eve, you will have revealed to you all the witches and sorcerers of the neighbourhood.

If you steal hay the night before Christmas, and give the cattle some, they thrive, and you are not caught in any future thefts.

If you steal anything at Christmas without being caught, you can steal safely for a year.

If you eat no beans on Christmas Eve, you will become an ass.

If you eat a raw egg, fasting, on Christmas morning, you can carry heavy weights.

The crumbs saved up on three Christmas Eves are good to give as physic to one who is disappointed.

It is unlucky to carry anything forth from the house on Christmas morning until something has been brought in.

It is unlucky to give a neighbour a live coal to kindle a fire with on Christmas morning.

If the fire burns brightly on Christmas morning, it betokens prosperity during the year; if it smoulders, adversity.

These, and many other practices, ceremonies, beliefs, and superstitions, which may be read in Grimm, Gregor, Henderson, De Gubernatis, Ortwein, Tilte, and others who have written of Christmas, show the importance attached in the folk-mind to the time of the birth of Christ, and how around it as a centre have fixed themselves hundreds of the rites and solemnities of passing heathendom, with its recognition of the kinship of all nature, out of which grew astrology, magic, and other pseudo-sciences.

End of Christmas Folk Lore: Traditional