Illegal Potlatch

Illegal Potlatch November 12, 2012

In his Symbols: Public and Private (Symbol, Myth & Ritual) (387), Raymond Firth mentions an English case that illustrates the constriction of giving in modern societies:

“A record of an English laws case some twenty years ago notes a challenge to a man’s legacy of 1000 pounds to the vicar and churchwardens of a church, the income to be spent on ‘seasonable food and drink’ to be distributed by them in the name of the testator among twenty communicants and women of the parish on Christmas Eve. The judge held that the bequest was invalid. Its motive, he said, was vanity, there was no express note of benefit to the deserving poor, it was therefore not charitable and failed accordingly. With regard to the suggestion that this bequest might have been for a religious purpose his lordship said he was not prepared to hold that the provision of plum pudding was for the advancement of religion.”

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