Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain

By Ronald Hutton | Go to book overview

3
THE TRIALS OF CHRISTMAS

EUROPE'S Reformations made a particular point of attacking the cult of saints as divine intercessors, and each therefore involved a pruning of holy days associated with them. The feasts of the apostles and evangelists, however, were in an entirely different category, while those of Christ himself remained sacrosanct in the main reformed churches. Thus it is not surprising that during the most radical of the Tudor Reformations, that under Edward VI, the English Parliament retained the holy days of Christmas, Circumcision (New Year), and Epiphany, in Christ's honour, that of St John the Evangelist, and also those of St Stephen and the Holy Innocents, both of which could be held to have scriptural warrant. 1 The traditional structure of the Twelve Days was thus preserved, and this was confirmed by the Reformation of Elizabeth in 1559-60. 2 Until this point the English and Scottish observation of Christmastide had been almost identical. English examples initially had a marked influence upon the Scottish Reformation, neatly symbolized by the expeditionary force which Elizabeth sent in 1560 to put the Protestants of Scotland into power. In view of this, and of the Continental pattern, it is not surprising that during the 1550s the reformed churches gathering in Scotland observed the feasts of Christ. 3 Thereafter the practices of the two nations dramatically diverged, because the Scots chose to make a clean break with tradition and also with foreign example, to produce a national Kirk which was in this respect the most 'perfectly reformed' in Europe. Both the inception and the enforcement of the policy have been virtually ignored by historians of the Scottish Reformation, preoccupied as they have been by Kirk government, finance, and organization, by national politics, by theology, and by the social foundations of the changes. The sole exception seems to be Ian B. Cowan, but only to the extent that he accords the matter rather less than two pages of a large and beautifully researched book upon the social history of the reforms. 4 Nevertheless, these paragraphs do provide a framework to which a visitor to the field can add a large quantity of evidence from published primary sources.

The break came in 1561, when the First Book of Discipline issued by the newly established reformed Kirk claimed that 'the Papists have invented' the feasts of Christmas, the Circumcision, and Epiphany, along with those of the Virgin Mary, the apostles and all other saints. It therefore abolished the lot, as unscriptural. When, in 1566, the General Assembly of the Kirk adopted

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Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Acknowledgements and Note xiii
  • Contents xv
  • List of Plates xvii
  • List of Maps xx
  • 1 - The Origins of Christmas 1
  • 2 - The Twelve Days 9
  • 3 - The Trials of Christmas 25
  • 4 - Rites of Celebration and Reassurance 34
  • 5 - Rites of Purification and Blessing 42
  • 6 - Rites of Hospitality and Charity 54
  • 7 - Mummers' Play and Sword Dance 70
  • 8 - Hobby-Horse and Horn Dance 81
  • 9 - Misrule 95
  • 10 - The Reinvention of Christmas 112
  • 11 - Speeding the Plough 124
  • 12 - Brigid's Night 134
  • 13 - Candlemas 139
  • 14 - Valentines 146
  • 15 - Shrovetide 151
  • 16 - Lent 169
  • 17 - The Origins of Easter 179
  • 18 - Holy Weekz 182
  • 19 - An Egg at Easter 198
  • 20 - The Easter Holidays 204
  • 21 - England and St George 214
  • 22 - Beltane 218
  • 23 - The May 226
  • 24 - May Games and Whitsun Ales 244
  • 25 - Morris and Marian 262
  • 26 - Rogationtide and Pentecost 277
  • 27 - Royal Oak 288
  • 28 - A Merrie May 295
  • 29 - Corpus Christi 304
  • 30 - The Midsummer Fires 311
  • 31 - Sheep, Hay, and Rushes 322
  • 32 - First Fruits 327
  • 33 - Harvest Home 332
  • 34 - Wakes, Revels, and Hoppings 348
  • 35 - Samhain 360
  • 36 - Saints and Souls 371
  • 37 - The Modern Hallowe'En 379
  • 38 - Blood Month and Virgin Queen 386
  • 39 - Gunpowder Treason 393
  • 40 - Conclusions 408
  • Notes 428
  • Index 519
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