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Festivals of April and May.
Greece and Rome were celebrated festivals to the god of wine, the dionysia, liberalia or bacchanalia.
Palm Sunday, which usually occurs in this month though of different import, corresponds with the festivals celebrated by the Indians and Athenians by bearing of branches of palms in procession. The former have also a festival in which they cover the forehead with ashes as with us on Ash Wednesday.
The festivals of this month are in honor of the reviving influence of spring, the resurrection of nature, the Easter of natural religion. The Persians celebrate at the time of the vernal equi. nox a great festival to Neuruz, and at the autumnal equinox another to Ormuzd; the one, in honor of the earliest springing of the year; the other, of the full maturity of harvest. The northern nations also celebrated the opening of the year by a similar festival in March and April. The name itself of Easter was doubtless derived from a feast kept by the Germans in honor of the goddess of nature and of light, Ostur, Eastra, Eastre, allied perhaps to Astarte, whom the Anglo-Saxons, from whom the Germans descended, before their conversion however to Christianity.1
April is sacred to Venus the favorite of Mars, when the festiv. ities of spring, begun in March, were continued. Such were the Thargelia at Athens, and subsequently the Demetrian and Eleusinian mysteries. In Rome were celebrated mysteries of Ceres, the feast of Magna Mater and the Palilia. On this festival which commemorated also the founding of Rome, among other rites sig. nificant of pastoral life, the people were accustomed to make fires of stubble and straw and in succession to leap through it as is customary on St. John's day. This custom also prevails among many people.
But the most imposing of these festivals in Rome were the Floralia, from the twenty-eighth of April to the third of May, celebrated in honor of spring and the blossoms of spring. These days were the Saturnalia of spring, and passed in wilder extrav
Apud nos (Anglos) Aprilis Eosturmonath, qui nunc pascalis mensis interpretatur, quondam a dea illorum quae Eostre vocabatur et cui in illo festa, celebrabrant, nomen habuit, Beda, De Ratione Temporum, c. 13. tom. II. p. 81.
With him also agrees Grimm, Deutsche Mythologie, p. 180—182, who refers to this as an illustration of the transfer of heathen representations over to Christianity. Compare Münschausen in Grater's Bragun, VI. 21, and 38. Ideler's Chronol. I. 516. Augusti Denkwürdigkeiten, vol. 2. p. 221–224. Vol. IV. No. 16.
agance than the Lupercalia. The people universally gave themselves up to frantic joy. Every house was crowned with blossoms, the streets were strewed with roses, and every person indulg. ed in frolic and merriment with all whom he met. Connected with these festivities were also mimic dances of a wanton, licentious character. In all which we have a type of the Roman carnival and of other festivals of the church.
In May occurred several feasts relating to demonology and the shades of the dead, such as the feast of the lares and lemures, with which also that of Summanus was connected and also those semi-annual festivals, the compitalia and Jarentalia. On these days the regions of the dead were supposed to stand open and all places to be haunted by the shades of the dead. The remains of this popular superstition may be seen in Germany where a vast assembly of evil spirits is supposed to hold on the night of the first of August their assembly.
In June the Romans were accustomed to hold festivals in honor of Vesta, as a personification of the principle of fire in the natural and in the moral world. It was the festival of the holy fire. The Persians had at this time their festival of baptism by water and by the Spirit. On the twenty-fourth of this month the Chris. tian church celebrates the birth of John the Baptist which per. petuates in St. John's fire, this ancient rite. The solemnity was assigned to this day with reference to the nativity of Christ; the one, being in the summer solstice; the other, in the winter. In him arose the sun of the New Testament, as in John set that of the Old Testament. In nativitate Christi dies, crescit, in Johannis nativitate decrescit. Profectum plane facit dies quum mundi Salvator oritur; defectum patitur, quum ultimus prophetarum generatur.2
Autumn has of course its harvest festivals. But it had also its sad as well as joyful solemnities. The Magi observed in the latter part of October a funeral feast by setting forth food for the souls of departed heroes. In the beginning of November the Egyptians commemorated the death of Osiris. In Rome the compitalia occurred. In the church the corresponding festival of Allsouls is observed on the second of November.
About the middle of December occurred again a Roman carni. val, the Saturnalia, when all was hilarity and joy. All distinctions of rank were forgotten, and slaves became, for the time,
Nec tu aliud Vestam quam vivam intellige flammam. Ovid Fastor. VI. 291. ? Augustin, Sermo 12 in Natal. Dom.
freemen. Expensive entertainments were prepared for them at which they were served by their masters, and every
expect. ed a present, as now at Christmas. The joy of the occasion was brightened by loosening the bonds of the criminal and allowing the prisoner to go free.
The twenty-fifth of December was memorable as the birth-day of Mithras; dies natalis solis invicti. The sun, that invincible conqueror, was then born anew. To this day the fathers of the church designedly assigned the observance of the nativity of Christ, the sun of righteousness, so that we can see the analogy between Christmas and the birth-day of Mithras and between the epiphany, Jan. 6, and the epiphany of Osiris, and also between this and the feast of the sun among the Greeks. At the time of the winter solstice the feast of the Egyptian Minerva, Neith, was probably held at Saïs. This divinity was honored as the dark invisible cause of all things, especially of light. The festival was celebrated by splendid illuminations, and was denominated, auxroraia. So that in almost all nations festivals were celebrated at each solstice by bonfires and illuminations which are perpetuated in the display of lights on Christmas eve, on St. John's day and in the illuminations of the Juel festivals of the Goths.
For a just view of the results of the foregoing inquiry, it will be necessary to take into consideration the design to be answered by religious festivals generally, and the character of these in different religions.
Religious festivals are peculiar to all forms of religion. They are the natural expression of a religious principle within, not the device of a priesthood nor of the founders of different forms of religion. They have their origin both in the nature of man and of religion itself. Religion is a revelation of God; made, not equal. ly at all times and in any place, but on special occasions; which favored seasons of the manifestation of the divine Being religiously held in remembrance, become festive seasons for the cul. tivation of the religious spirit of man. Even pantheism, which worships the god of nature as uniformly manifested in every thing, has its special seasons for the honor of its universal divinity. Man is, naturally, variable in his religious feelings as in every emotion. He needs opportunities and occasions in which to collect his wandering thoughts, to stir up his spirit and kindle anew the dying flame of devotion within. This necessity iu man is the natural occasion of religious festivals.
But as men are known by their gods, so their religion is mani. fested by their festivals; between which there is a remarkable analogy and connection, as well as a manifest difference and progression. The difference results chiefly from the diversity of objects which are the subjects of these festive honors. In pagan. ism it is nature deified. In Judaism, it is the god of nature; a national God, bestowing blessings on his peculiar people by the bounties of his providence, and by the special guidance of his people. In Christianity it is the Father of the whole human family, embracing all in his boundless benevolence, and revealed as the Holy One, the moral governor of the universe, revealed in the gospel of his Son, and proclaimed in the church established by him. The festivals of the heathen are essentially feasts of nature. Whatever historical interest they may have is subordinate or mystical. The remarkable diversity in them is ascribable to diversity of climate and an endless variety in the relations of life. They are not strictly national feasts, resulting not from the peculiar so. cial relations of any people, but yearly festivals which have their origin in the peculiarities of the seasons and climate of certain countries. They are local and natural rather than national.
The feasts of the Jews, on the other hand, comprehend both natural and moral relations. From their peculiar theocracy their history is inseparably connected with their festivals, and what. ever reference these may have to the seasons, it is designed to direct the mind to the God of nature who directs its endless round and is seen in their continual change. But the moral design of these festivals is especially to perpetuate a sense of the divine interposition in selecting them from the nations of the earth as a peculiar people. The feasts of the Jews accordingly are exclusively national festivals, the object of which was to excite and sustain a national and peculiar spirit among the people.
The festivals of the Christian church are purely historical. But the great events to which they relate are the most momentous that in the history of the world have ever occurred. They strike deeper into the heart and spread wider in their relations than any other scenes which have been exhibited on the theatre of this earth. They tell of the love of God. They tell of his amazing scheme of grace, to bless and save all mankind, so that all of ev. ery people and kindred and tongue have a common interest in the great events which are commemorated in the festivals of the
Reason of the Jewish and Christian Festivals.
Christian church. They are accordingly neither local nor national, but aniversal. In a word, it results immediately from the nature of the different forms of religion that pagan festivals are local and national; the Jewish, strictly national; while those of the Christian church are purely moral and religious, and universal in their adaptation to man. From this characteristic difference in the nature of these festivals results a corresponding variety in the mode of celebrating them. The festivals of pagan nations are celebrated by symbols, representing the powers of nature, or in rites which represent the changes to which the world is subject in heaven and earth. They call into action natural desires and fears, which, without due restraint, lead to wild excesses. As the exhibitions of the sensual nature of man, these passions, knowing not the restraints of any divine law, may lead to any excess of riot and bacchanalian revelry.
The Jewish festivals, on the contrary, were all prescribed by law, and are themselves only a part of the national institutions of the great Lawgiver of the Jews. They are essential for the
. appropriate manifestation of the piety of an Israelite. They are part of a very earnest and simple faith which excludes the deities of natural religion. They have a partial relation to the laws of nature sufficient to give scope to the passions of the human heart, but these are held in check by the higher principles of a spiritual law. The moral influence of these feasts was good in bringing the people to repentance and reconciliation with God.
Christian festivals are not the result of any law, natural or divine; but of the free spirit of Christianity. They are the natural expression of a pious heart, which, though ever in grateful communion with our Lord, seizes upon those great events in his life which most forcibly illustrate the grace of God in Jesus Christ, as occasions for more refreshing communications of his Spirit. Their appropriate rites are accordingly extremely simple, consisting in singing, in prayer and the reading and exposition of the Scriptures. The joy and sorrow connected with them are purely spiritual; the one, sweetly elevating the soul to God, the other, gently subduing it into godly contrition before Him.
Now by taking into view these characteristic distinctions, in connection with the undeniable fact that much pertaining both to pagan and Jewish festivals has been transferred to those of the Christian church, we may perceive the analogy and connection between them. The latter are assigned to different seasons of the year in close conformity with the first. These analogies