Just before we settle into three weeks of non-stop ‘knees-up‘and conspicuous consumption let us consider, if only in the name of balance, some of the less cheery fire-side folklore lurking in the darker corners of Christmas Eve.
In parts of Ireland, for example, it was thought that on Christmas Eve the gates of Heaven were specially opened so that anyone dying at that moment could pass into Paradise without going through Purgatory… rather like ‘Priority Boarding’ at airports. Accompanying this are associated stories of unpopular family members being ‘helped out of the world’ at the critical moment. Another similar superstition is that of the “Christmas Angels” who were sent on Christmas Eve to awaken infants and carry them to heaven to sing a carol to the Christ-Child.
Another Christmas crowd-pleaser was the alarming superstition that any child born on Christmas Eve, apart from Jesus of course, would grow up to be a werewolf a.k.a a lycanthrope. Fortunately this sad condition could be cured by a number of means:-
A BRIEF GUIDE TO CURING CHRISTMAS EVE LYCANTHROPHY
The Ancient Greeks and Romans believed in purging people of their lycanthropy by subjecting them to long periods of physical activity.
Medieval Europe had three methods to cure werewolfism:-.
- Medical:- usually via the use of the poisonous plant wolfbane (Aconitum).
- Physical:- striking the victim on the forehead or scalp with a knife or piercing the werewolf’s hands with nails.
- Gentle:- In Schleswig-Holstein, a werewolf could be cured by addressing it three times by its Christian name. In Denmark the victim could be cured by scolding. A devotion to St Hubert was also cited as both cure for and protection from lycanthropes.
A little comfort to those born on Christmas Eve might be the Scottish belief that “those born on Christmas Eve have the power of seeing spirits, and even commanding them!”
In parts of England, France and Germany it was thought that on Christmas Eve cattle could be heard talking to each other. Tales suggest that listeners never hear any good of themselves as these bovine utterances were often about sudden death! In Scotland, before the Reformation, it was customary to visit the byre or stable and say an ‘Ave Maria’ and a ‘Paternoster’ to the horses and cattle to protect them from the evil eye. It was also thought in Scotland that bees might be heard singing in their hives on Christmas Eve.
Christmas Eve and the turning of the year was a popular time for divination. In Yorkshire young unmarried women were encouraged to visit the nearest pig sty and bang loudly on the door. If the first pig to grunt was an old boar her predestined husband would be an old man. If the first pig to grunt was a piglet the promise was of a young husband. Oink! Oink!
Great importance was also paid to the actual day on which Christmas Day fell for it was believed that it could offer a prognosis of the future. An elaborate rhyming guide to the subject can be found in Harlein Manuscript 2252 in the British Museum. Thjs is what Christmas Day 2018, falling on a Tuesday, holds in store for us. Fasten your safety belts!
If Christmas Day on Tuesday be, That year shall many women die, And that winter grow great marvels; Ships shall be in great perils; That year shall kings and lords be slain, And many other people near them. A dry summer that year shall be, As all that are born therein may see; They shall be strong and covetous. If thou steal aught, thou losest thy life, For thou shalt die through sword or knife; But if thou fall sick, 't is certain, Thou shall turn to life again.
A bit lacking in the “Ho, Ho, Ho!” department perhaps?
– from Martyn Day