Christmas Carols, Ancient And Modern

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The Saturnalia of the Romans had apparently the same object as the Yule-tide, or feast of the Northern nations, and were probably adopted from some more ancient nations, as the Greeks, Mexicans, Persians, Chinese, &c. had all something similar. In the course of them, as is well known, masters and slaves were supposed to be on an equality; indeed, the former waited on the latter. Presents were mutually given and received, as Christmas presents in these days. Towards the end of the feast, when the sun was on its return, and the world was considered to be renovated, a king or ruler was chosen, with considerable powers granted to him during his ephemeral reign, whence may have sprung some of the Twelfth Night revels, mingled with those in honour of the Manifestation and Adoration of the Magi. Our sacred feast of Christmas happens at the same time of the year as the Yule of the Northern nations, and the other feasts before alluded to, and has preserved vestiges of some of their observances: as decking with greens, the use of misletoe, and, perhaps, even the wassail bowl.
According to Brady,* the Christian epocha was first introduced into chronology in the year 523, and was established in this country by Bede; but the observance of the feast in honour of the Nativity was of much earlier date. It is not certain whether it was kept by the Apostles, although by no means improbable. Clement, who flourished in the first century, says, "Brethren, keep diligently feast-daies, and truly in the first place the day of Christ's birth." In the second century it was ordained, according to
* Clavis Calendaria, vol. ii. p. 315.
2 The Feast of Feasts, Oxford, 1644, whence also many of the particulars respecting the celebration during the first five centuries are taken.

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E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III