Frisians - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Christianity came early to Friesland with the dominion of the Franks in the eighth and ninth centuries, but it did not succeed in completely eradicating Indigenous tradition. Pre-Christian beliefs, called byleauwe, are derived from the larger Germanic folk tradition, and they retain some currency especially in rural areas and the forested region. These folk beliefs, modifying and being modified by the newer Christian faith, now consist of an interwoven tapestry of folktales and superstitions regarding supernatural beings such as devils, spooks, and ghosts; "white ladies" who lived underground and kidnapped travelers in the night; a more beneficent category of female spirits who provided help to travelers in distress; and elves, witches, wizards, and trolls. Belief in oracles and predictive visions were common in the relatively recent past. Predominantly, Frisians are Protestant: 85 percent are members of the Calvinist Dutch Reformed or Reformed churches, with another 5 percent being Mennonites.

Ceremonies. Many traditional ceremonial occasions—such as the start of Lent (Mardi Gras) and Palm Sunday—have become exclusively religious observances, with little community celebration. Easter, however, remains a major community celebration, marked by special family meals, egg-hunt competitions, and the like. Queen's Day, a national observance, is celebrated on 30 April with parades and festivals. St. Martin's Day, once associated with the church and the spirits of the deceased, is now a children's holiday. As is true throughout the Netherlands, the holiday of Saint Nicholas ( Sinterklaes ) is celebrated on 5 December. It marks the arrival of Saint Nicholas and his assistant, Black Peter, who travel to the Netherlands in a boat from Spain and bring sweets for the children of the village. Presents are exchanged between friends and family members on this day as well. Christmas, however, is strictly a church observance.

Arts. Traditional Frisian folk arts include tile making, elaborate embroidery, and the ulebuorden, the ornately decorated gables that once graced the traditional Frisian barns and have now become purely aesthetic productions. Friesland has a long tradition of excellence in the literary and visual arts as well.

Death and Afterlife. Frisian attitudes toward death are characterized by a markedly practical acceptance of its inevitability. The obligation of performing funerary tasks once fell to the neighbors of the deceased as one of the obligations of buorreplicht, but more recently they have been assumed by burial associations. The deceased traditionally was wrapped in a white shroud but is now more commonly dressed in everyday clothing. The body is carried to the cemetery in a horse-drawn hearse, followed by the family and neighbors of the deceased in a procession on foot. Although beliefs in the afterlife are largely consistent with Christian teachings, some elements of Frisian funerary practice reflect non- or pre-Christian influences. For example, the funeral procession, according to tradition, ought to follow a winding path in order to disorient the spirit of the dead person and thus frustrate its efforts to return to the home it knew in life. Similarly, the coffin is carried around the cemetery three times before being brought in for interment.

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