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Ancient Ceremonials That Still Survive page 2

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At Colchester a more primitive custom prevails. At dawn on December I the bellman goes round with his bell, and greets the inhabitants with a "ballad," viz:

Cold December hath set in;
Poor men's coats are very thin.
The trees are bare, the birds are mute;
A pot and toast will very well suit.
God save the King!

It will have been observed that a wild boar assisted John of Gaunt in establishing an ancient custom. That boar was not the only member of his formidable species to render such service-according to tradition. For one of the most notable of Christmas observances is the Boar's Head ceremony at Queen's College, Oxford.

Legend asserts that this ceremony was designed to commemorate the escape of a scholar of this society from the attacks of a wild boar, which had come out of Shotover Forest. This he accomplished by thrusting a volume of Aristotle down its throat. The same tradition declares that the incident occurred near the top of Headington Hill, and that "Aristotle's Walk" took its name from the circumstance.

The ceremony connected with Maundy Thursday is a very old one. The day before Good Friday the king, as father of his people, stepped down from his high estate to follow the example and obey the precept of the King of kings. For there seems to be no sort of doubt that the word "Maundy" is derived from the mandates, or commands, of our Lord relating to the observance of the Holy Eucharist and the washing of feet, both of which are given as on this day. The latter usage was the characteristic feature of this day-that and the distribution of alms.

It is interesting to observe that the custom or rite of washing of feet did not die out at the Reformation, since Queen Elizabeth, when she had reached the mature age of thirty-nine, washed the feet of thirty-nine poor men in her palace at Greenwich-but only after they had been first washed by the yeoman of the laundry, the sub-almoner and the almoner. The last English monarch to perform the ceremony is said to have been James II. William of Orange assigned the task to his almoner, and succeeding sovereigns have followed his example. It is the Lord Almoner who in these days distributes to chosen recipients of the royal bounty coins specially minted for the occasion, and of a different design from the ordinary currency-on Maundy Thursday. The ceremony is still carried out each year at Westminster Abbey.

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