Christmas Love Magic

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According to folklorist and author, Clement A Miles, Christmas in 16th and 17th century Europe was a magical time, both literally and figuratively.

In addition to the obvious religious significance, Christmas, and Christmas Eve in particular, was believed to be a period of intense supernatural activity.

“No time in all the Twelve Nights and Days is so charged with the supernatural as Christmas Eve.”

Miles, 1902,

Depending on where you lived, the Christmas Eve magic manifested in different ways. In Brittainy, it was believed that animals could talk. In Russia, it was thought the water in rivers and springs would become wine. And in Sweden, trolls would get together and party.

As spells were thought to be at their most potent during this period, Christmas Eve was regarded as the best time for a little love magic. Particularly, if you were young and single.

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On the island of Guernsey, maidens wishing to see what career their intended may have, put egg white in a glass of water, left it in the midday sun and then gathered in the evening to see the whites coagulated into –

” curious and fantastic forms which (would) denote the trade of (their) future husband.”

MacCulloch, 1903

But if they wanted to know what their future husband would look like they could engage in a bit of Christmas craft by creating a chaplet or string of alternating grains of allspice and holly berries. At the twelfth interval, an acorn representing one girl in the group was added.

Allspice grains.
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When every girl in the group had their own acorn on the string, the completed chaplet was wrapped around a log and set in a lit fireplace. Then it was just a matter of sitting in front of the fire and watching as their handiwork was consumed by the flames.

By the time the last acorn was roasted to ash –

” each of the young women (would see) the form of her future husband pass between her and the fire.”

MacCulloch, 1903
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In the Southern Slavic nations, fire was out and knives were in.

On Christmas Eve, a maiden would place a white loaf of bread, a plate, a knife, spoon and fork on a clothed table before heading to bed. At midnight, it was believed the spirit of her future husband would appear and fling the knife at her.

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Now, normally this is a dating red flag, but here the phantom knife denoted the fate of the observer. If it fell to the floor without injuring the young lady, she was guaranteed a good husband and a happily ever after. If she was “hurt” by the ghost knife, she would die young. Presumably, unmarried.

Which, admittedly, is not great news to receive on Christmas Eve.

Thanks, I hate it.
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In Serbia, ladies who had their eye on someone but were unsure of his affections could gaze at him through the muzzle of a roast suckling pig, killed for the Christmas feast.

After a few minutes of meat peekaboo their beaus would be equally smitten and quite peckish.

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If, however, pig was not on the menu that year, young ladies could try the vegan option and bore a hole into a cherry and peer through that instead.

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While not common, occasionally men would also get swept up in the seasonal romance, although in Sweden their methods were less mystical and a lot more down to earth.

Based on the Julklapp tradition of giving gifts anonymously (aka Swedish Secret Santa) a man could –

– contrive to hide in the Julklapp and thus offer himself as a Christmas present to the lady whom he loves

Miles, 1902

This was a tongue-in-cheek gesture meant to elicit laughter.

Unless she opened the gift with scissors.

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RESOURCES AND FURTHER READING:

Christmas in Ritual and Tradition, Christian and Pagan, by Clement A. Miles, 1902,

Christmas: It’s Origins and Associations, by W.F. Dawson, 1902

Domestic Folk-lore, by Rev. T.F. Thistleson Dyer, 1881

Guernsey Folk Lore, by Sir Edgar MacCulloch, 1903

Serbian Folk-lore, by Elodie L. Mijatovich, 1899

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