YULE-TIDE IN MANY LANDS
MARY P. PRINGLE
Reference Librarian, Minnesota Public Library Commission
CLARA A. URANN
and from photographs
LOTHROP. LEE & SHEPARD CO.
BY LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO.
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"The old order changeth, yielding place to new, And God fulfills Himself in many ways, Lest one good custom should corrupt the world."
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Thanks are due to the following publishers for permission to reprint poems: Houghton Mifflin Company for "King Olaf's Christmas" by H. W. Longfellow, "Night of Marvels" by Violante Do Ceo; Paul Elder & Company for "The Christmas Tree" by H. S. Russell, "At Christmas Time"; Edgar S. Werner & Company for "The Christmas Sheaf" by Mrs. A. M. Tomlinson; John Lane Company for "A Palm Branch from Palestine" by M. Y. Lermontov; American Ecclesiastical Review for "The Eve of Christmas" by Pope Leo XIII; E. P. Dutton & Company for "The Voice of the Christ-child" by Phillips Brooks.
MARY P. PRINGLE
CLARA A. URANN
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I. YULE-TIDE OF THE ANCIENTS
II. YULE-TIDE IN ENGLAND
III. YULE-TIDE IN GERMANY
IV. YULE-TIDE IN SCANDINAVIA
V. YULE-TIDE IN RUSSIA
VI. YULE-TIDE IN FRANCE
VII. YULE-TIDE IN ITALY
VIII. YULE-TIDE IN SPAIN
IX. YULE-TIDE IN AMERICA
Christmas in Naples. An Italian Presepio Frontispiece
King Olaf's Christmas
Serenaded by the Waits
Toy-Making in Germany
Decorating the Christmas Tree
On the Way to Christmas Eve Service in Norway
A Christmas Bonfire in Russia
A Christmas Tree in Paris
A Game of Loto on Christmas Evening in Naples
Christmas Festivity in Seville
Lighting the Yule-Log in Colonial Days
Children of Many Nationalities at Christmas Celebration in a New York School
YULE-TIDE OF THE ANCIENTS
"There in the Temple, carved in wood, The image of great Odin stood, And other gods, with Thor supreme among them."
As early as two thousand years before Christ Yule-tide was celebrated by the Aryans. They were sun-worshipers and believed the sun was born each morning, rode across the upper world, and sank into his grave at night.
Day after day, as the sun's power diminished, these primitive people feared that he would eventually be overcome by darkness and forced to remain in the under world.
When, therefore, after many months, he apparently wheeled about and grew stronger and stronger, they felt that he had been born again. So it came about that at Hweolor-tid, "the turning-time," there was great rejoicing at the annual re-birth of the sun.
In the myths and legends of these, our Indo-European ancestors, we find the origin of many of the Yule-tide customs now in vogue.
[Footnote 1: Yule-tide]
According to the Younger Edda, Wodin or Odin, the pioneer of the North, a descendant of Saturn, fled out of Asia. Going through Russia to Saxland (Germany), he conquered that country and left one of his sons as ruler. Then he visited Frankland, Jutland, Sweden, and Norway and established each one of his many sons on a throne.
This pioneer traveler figures under nearly two hundred different names, and so it is difficult to follow him in his wanderings. As Wodin, he established throughout the northern nations many of the observances and customs common to the people of the Northland to-day.
The Edda gives an ancient account of Balder, the sun-god, who was slain because of the jealousy of Loki (fire). Loki knew that everything in nature except the mistletoe had promised not to injure the great god Balder. So he searched for the mistletoe until he found it growing on an oak-tree "on the eastern slope of Valhalla." He cut it off and returned to the place where the gods were amusing themselves by using Balder as a target, hurling stones and darts, and trying to strike him with their battle-axes. But all these weapons were harmless. Then Loki, giving the twig of mistletoe to the blind god, Hoeder, directed his hand and induced him to throw it. When the mistletoe struck Balder it pierced him through and through and he fell lifeless.
"So on the floor lay Balder dead; and round Lay thickly strewn swords, axes, darts, and spears, Which all the Gods in sport had idly thrown At Balder, whom no weapon pierced or clove; But in his breast stood fixt the fatal bough Of mistletoe, which Lok the Accuser gave To Hoeder, and unwitting Hoeder threw— 'Gainst that alone had Balder's life no charm."
[Footnote 2: From Matthew Arnold's "Balder Dead."]
Great excitement prevailed among the assembled gods and goddesses when Balder was struck dead and sank into Hel, and they would have slain the god of darkness had it not occurred during their peace-stead, which was never to be desecrated by deeds of violence. The season was supposed to be one of peace on earth and good-will to man. This is generally attributed to the injunction of the angels who sang at the birth of Christ, but according to a much older story the idea of peace and good-will at Yule-tide was taught centuries before Christ.
[Footnote 3: Hel or "his grave"; the terms were once synonymous.]
According to the Edda, gifts from the gods and goddesses were laid on Balder's bier and he, in turn, sent gifts back from the realm of darkness into which he had fallen. However, it probably is from the Roman Saturnalia that the free exchange of presents and the spirit of revelry have been derived.
The Druids held the mistletoe in great reverence because of its mysterious birth. When the first new growth was discovered it was gathered by the white-robed priests, who cut it from the main bough with a golden sickle never used for any other purpose.
The food peculiar to this season of rejoicing has retained many features of the feasting recorded among the earlier people. The boar made his appearance in mythological circles when one was offered as a gift to Frey, god of rain, sunshine, and the fruits of the earth. This boar was a remarkable animal; he could run faster than a horse, through the air and over water. Darkness could not overtake him, for he was symbolical of the sun, his golden bristles typifying the sun's rays.
At one time the boar was believed to be emblematical of golden grain, as he was the first to teach mankind the art of plowing. Because of this service he was most revered by our mythological ancestors.
In an account of a feast given in Valhalla to the dead heroes of many battles, Saehrimnir, a sacred boar, was served. Huge pieces were apportioned to the deceased heroes and the meat had such a revivifying effect that, restored to life, they called for arms and began to fight their battles over again.
An abundance of heavenly mead made from goats' milk and honey was provided for the feasts and on occasions ale, too, was served.
Toasts were usually drunk in honor of Bragi, god of poetry, eloquence, and song. The gods pledged themselves to perform remarkable deeds of courage and valor as they tossed off horn after horn of mead and ale. Each time their mighty valor grew until there was no limit set to their attainments. It is possible that their boastful pledges may have given rise to the term, to brag.
Apples were the favorite fruit, as they prevented the approach of age and kept the gods and goddesses perpetually young and vigorous.
Certainly Yule-tide was a very merry season among the ancient people who feasted, drank, and danced in honor of the return of the sun, the god of light and new life.
When messengers went through the various countries bearing tidings of a new religion and of the birth of a Son who brought light and new life into the whole world, they endeavored to retain as many of the established customs as possible, but gave to the old-time festivals a finer character and significance.
As the fact of Christ's birth was not recorded and there was no certainty as to its date, the early Christian Fathers very wisely ascribed it to Yule-tide, changing the occasion from the birthday of the sun to that of the Son. For a while the birth of Christ was celebrated on dates varying from the first to the sixth of January; on the dates of certain religious festivals such as the Jewish Passover or the Feast of Tabernacles; but the twenty-fifth of December, the birthday of the sun, was ever the favorite date.
Pope Julius, who reigned from 337 to 352 A. D., after a careful investigation, considered it settled beyond doubt that Christ was born on or about the twenty-fifth of December, and by the end of the fifth century that date was very generally accepted by Christians. The transition from the old to the new significance of Yule-tide was brought about so quietly and naturally that it made no great impression on the mind of the masses, so nothing authentic can be learned of the early observance of Christmas.
The holly, laurel, mistletoe, and other greens used by the Druids still served as decorations of the season, not as a shelter for fairies, as in former days, but as emblems of resurrection and of immortal hope.
The glorious luminary of day, whether known as Balder, Baal, Sol, or any other of the innumerable names by which it was called by the primitive peoples, still gladdens the hearts of mortals at Yule-tide by "turning-back" as of old; only to-day it yields its place to a Superior Power, in whose honor Yule-tide is observed.
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All Christendom owes a debt of gratitude to its pagan forbears for the pleasant features of many of its holidays and especially for those of Yule-tide. The Fathers of the early church showed rare wisdom in retaining the customs of these ante-Christian festivals, imbuing them with the spirit of the new faith and making them emblematic of a purer love and hope.
New Year's Day as a feast day is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, on record. It is mentioned by Tacitus in the First Century, but first referred to as a Christian festival about the year 567.
In Rome the day was dedicated by Numa to the honor of god Janus, for whom Julius Caesar named the month of January. Numa ordained that it should be observed as a day of good-humor and good-fellowship. All grudges and hard feelings were to be forgotten. Sacrifices of cake, wine, and incense were to be made to the two-faced god who looked forward and backward. Men of letters, mechanics, and others were expected to give to the god the best they had to offer of their respective arts. It was the great occasion of the entire year, as it is now in many countries.
The date of New Year's Day has varied among different nations. Among the Egyptians, Chinese, Jews, and Romans it has been observed on dates varying from March first to December twenty-fifth. It was as late as the Sixteenth Century before the date of January first was universally accepted as the New Year by the Romans. Nations retaining the Gregorian calendar, such as Russia and Greece, observe it thirteen days later than those who reckon time by the Julian calendar.
Among northern nations the love of fire and light originated the custom of kindling bonfires to burn out the old year and destroy all evil connected with its past. Light has long been an expression of joy and gladness among all branches of the Aryan race.
The Greek and Latin Churches still term Christmas the "Feast of Lights," and make it a period of brilliancy in Church and home. The Protestant covers the Christmas tree with lighted candles and builds a glowing fire on the hearth. The innate love of light and warmth—the inheritance from the sun-worshipers of ages past—is always dominant in humanity at Yule-tide festivals.
"The King of Light, father of aged Time, Hath brought about that day which is the prime, To the slow-gliding months, when every eye Wears symptoms of a sober jollity, And every hand is ready to present Some service in a real compliment."
KING OLAF'S CHRISTMAS
At Drontheim, Olaf the King Heard the bells of Yule-tide ring, As he sat in his banquet-hall, Drinking the nut-brown ale, With his bearded Berserks hale And tall.
Three days his Yule-tide feasts He held with Bishops and Priests, And his horn filled up to the brim; But the ale was never too strong, Nor the Saga-man's tale too long, For him.
O'er his drinking-horn, the sign He made of the cross divine, As he drank, and muttered his prayers; But the Berserks evermore Made the sign of the Hammer of Thor Over theirs.
The gleams of the firelight dance Upon helmet and haubert and lance, And laugh in the eyes of the King; And he cries to Halfred the Scald, Gray-bearded, wrinkled, and bald, "Sing!"
"Sing me a song divine, With a sword in every line, And this shall be thy reward." And he loosened the belt at his waist, And in front of the singer placed His sword.
"Quern-bitter of Hakon the Good, Wherewith at a stroke he hewed The millstone through and through, And Foot-breadth of Thoralf the Strong, Were neither so broad nor so long, Nor so true."
Then the Scald took his harp and sang, And loud through the music rang The sound of that shining word; And the harp-strings a clangor made, As if they were struck with the blade Of a sword.
And the Berserks round about Broke forth in a shout That made the rafters ring; They smote with their fists on the board, And shouted, "Long live the sword, And the King."
But the King said, "O my son, I miss the bright word in one Of thy measures and thy rhymes." And Halfred the Scald replied, "In another 't was multiplied Three times."
Then King Olaf raised the hilt Of iron, cross-shaped and gilt, And said, "Do not refuse; Count well the gain and the loss, Thor's hammer or Christ's cross: Choose!"
And Halfred the Scald said, "This In the name of the Lord I kiss, Who on it was crucified!" And a shout went round the board, "In the name of Christ the Lord, Who died!"
Then over the waste of snows The noonday sun uprose, Through the driving mists revealed, Like the lifting of the Host, By incense-clouds almost Concealed.
On the shining wall a vast And shadowy cross was cast From the hilt of the lifted sword, And in the foaming cups of ale The Berserks drank "Was-hael! To the Lord!"
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
YULE-TIDE IN ENGLAND
"Christians in old time did rejoice And feast at this blest tide."
No country has entered more heartily into Yule-tide observance than England. From the earliest known date her people have celebrated this festival with great ceremony. In the time of the Celts it was principally a religious observance, but this big, broad-shouldered race added mirth to it, too. They came to the festivities in robes made from the skins of brindled cows, and wearing their long hair flowing and entwined with holly.
The Druids in the temples kept the consecrated fires burning briskly. All household fires were extinguished, and any one wishing to rekindle the flame at any time during the twelve days preceding Yule-tide must buy the consecrated fire. The Druids also had a rather unique custom of sending their young men around with Yule-tide greetings and branches of mistletoe (quiviscum). Each family receiving this gift was expected in return to contribute generously to the temples.
With the coming of the Saxons, higher revelry reigned, and a Saxon observance of Yule-tide must have been a jolly sight to see. In the center of the hall, upon the open hearth, blazed a huge fire with its column of smoke pouring out through an opening in the thatched roof, or, if beaten by the wind, wandering among the beams above. The usually large family belonging to the house gathered in this big living-room. The table stretched along one side of the room, and up and down its great length the guests were seated in couples. Between them was a half-biscuit of bread to serve as a plate. Later on this would be thrown into the alms-basket for distribution among the poor.
Soon the servers entered carrying long iron spits on which they brought pieces of the meats, fish, and fowls that had been roasted in isen pannas (iron pans) suspended from tripods out in the yard. Fingers were used instead of forks to handle the food, and the half-biscuit plates received the grease and juices and protected the handsome bord-cloth.
There was an abundance of food, for the Saxons were great eaters. Besides flesh, fish, and fowls their gardens furnished plenty of beans and other vegetables, and their ort-geards produced raspberries, strawberries, plums, sweet and sour apples, and cod-apples, or quinces. The cider and stronger drinks were quaffed from quaint round-bottomed tumblers which, as they could not stand up, had to be emptied at a draught.
The Saxons dined at about eleven o'clock and, as business was not pressing in those days, could well afford to spend hours at the feast, eating, drinking, and making merry.
After every one had eaten, games were played, and these games are the same as our children play to-day—handed down to us from the old Saxon times.
When night came and the ear-thyrls (eyeholes, or windows) no longer admitted the light of the sun, long candlesticks dipped in wax were lighted and fastened into sockets along the sides of the hall. Then the makers, or bards as they came to be called in later days, sang of the gods and goddesses or of marvelous deeds done by the men of old. Out-of-doors huge bonfires burned in honor of Mother-Night, and to her, also, peace offerings of Yule cakes were made.
It was the Saxon who gave to the heal-all of the Celts the pretty name of mistletoe, or mistletan,—meaning a shoot or tine of a tree. There was jollity beneath the mistletoe then as now, only then everybody believed in its magic powers. It was the sovereign remedy for all diseases, but it seems to have lost its curative power, for the scientific men of the present time fail to find that it possesses any medical qualities.
Later on, when the good King Alfred was on the English throne, there were greater comforts and luxuries among the Saxons. Descendants of the settlers had built halls for their families near the original homesteads, and the wall that formerly surrounded the home of the settler was extended to accommodate the new homes until there was a town within the enclosure. Yule within these homes was celebrated with great pomp. The walls of the hall were hung with rich tapestries, the food was served on gold and silver plates, and the tumblers, though sometimes of wood or horn, were often of gold and silver, too.
In these days the family dressed more lavishly. Men wore long, flowing ringlets and forked beards. Their tunics of woolen, leather, linen, or silk, reached to the knees and were fastened at the waist by a girdle. Usually a short cloak was worn over the tunic. They bedecked themselves with all the jewelry they could wear; bracelets, chains, rings, brooches, head-bands, and other ornaments of gold and precious stones.
Women wore their best tunics made either of woolen woven in many colors or of silk embroidered in golden flowers. Their "abundant tresses," curled by means of hot irons, were confined by the richest head-rails. The more fashionable wore cuffs and bracelets, earrings and necklaces, and painted their cheeks a more than hectic flush.
In the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries the magnificence of the Yule-tide observance may be said to have reached its height. In the old baronial halls where:
"The fire, with well-dried logs supplied, Went roaring up the chimney wide,"
Christmas was kept with great jollity.
It was considered unlucky to have the holly brought into the house before Christmas Eve, so throughout the week merry parties of young people were out in the woods gathering green boughs, and on Christmas Eve, with jest and song, they came in laden with branches to decorate the hall.
"Lo, now is come our joyfull'st feast! Let every man be jolly, Eache room with yvie leaves be drest. And every post with holly."
Later on, men rolled in the huge Yule-log, emblematic of warmth and light. It was of oak if possible, the oak being sacred to Thor, and was rolled into place amidst song and merriment. In one of these songs the first stanza is:
"Welcome be thou, heavenly King, Welcome born on this morning, Welcome for whom we shall sing, Welcome Yule."
The third stanza is addressed to the crowd:
"Welcome be ye that are here, Welcome all, and make good cheer, Welcome all, another year; Welcome Yule."
Each member of the family, seated in turn upon the log, saluted it, hoping to receive good luck. It was considered unlucky to consume the entire log during Yule; if good luck was to attend that household during the coming twelve months, a piece ought to be left over with which to start the next year's fire.
"Part must be kept wherewith to tende The Christmas log next yeare, And where 'tis safely kept, the fiend Can do no mischiefe theere."
The boar's head held the principal place of honor at the dinner. So during September and October, when the boar's flesh was at its best, hunters with well-trained packs of boar-hounds set out to track this savage animal. They attacked the boar with spears, or surrounded him and drove him into nets. He was a ferocious antagonist to both dogs and men, and when sore pressed would wheel about, prepared to fight to the death. Before the dogs could grip him by the ear, his one weak point, and pin him down, his sharp teeth would often wound or even kill both the hunter and his dogs. The pluckier the animal the louder the praise sung in his honor when his head was brought into the hall. The great head, properly soused, was borne in on an immense salver by the "old blue-coated serving-man" on Christmas day. He was preceded by the trumpeters and followed by the mummers, and thus in state the boar's head was ushered in and assigned to its place on the table. The father of the family or head of the household laid his hand on the dish containing the "boar of atonement," as it was at one time called, swearing to be faithful to his family and to fulfil all his obligations as a man of honor. This solemn act was performed before the carving by every man present. The carver had to be a man of undaunted courage and untarnished reputation.
Next in honor at the feast was the peacock. It was sometimes served as a pie with its head protruding from one side of the crust and its wide-spread tail from the other; more often the bird was skinned, stuffed with herbs and sweet spices, roasted, and then put into its skin again, when with head erect and tail outspread it was borne into the hall by a lady—as was singularly appropriate—and given the second place on the table.
The feudal system gave scope for much magnificence at Yule-tide. At a time when several thousand retainers were fed daily at a single castle or on a baron's estate, preparations for the Yule feast—the great feast of the year—were necessarily on a large scale, and the quantity of food reported to have been prepared on such occasions is perfectly appalling to Twentieth-Century feasters.
[Footnote 4: The Earl of Warwick had some thirty thousand.]
"Men may talk of Country Christmasses, Their thirty-pound butter'd eggs, their pies of carp's tongue, Their pheasants drench'd with ambergris, the carcasses Of three fat wethers bruis'd for gravy, to Make sauces for a single peacock; yet their feasts Were fasts, compared with the City's."
In 1248 King Henry III held a feast in Westminster Hall for the poor which lasted a week. Four years later he entertained one thousand knights, peers, and other nobles, who came to attend the marriage of Princess Margaret with Alexander, King of the Scots. He was generously assisted by the Archbishop of York who gave L2700, besides six hundred fat oxen. A truly royal Christmas present whether extorted or given of free will!
More than a century later Richard II held Christmas at Litchfield and two thousand oxen and two hundred tuns of wine were consumed. This monarch was accustomed to providing for a large family, as he kept two thousand cooks to prepare the food for the ten thousand persons who dined every day at his expense.
Henry VIII, not to be outdone by his predecessors, kept one Yule-tide at which the cost of the cloth of gold that was used alone amounted to L600. Tents were erected within the spacious hall from which came the knights to joust in tournament; beautiful artificial gardens were arranged out of which came the fantastically dressed dancers. The Morris (Moresque) Dance came into vogue in England during the reign of Henry VII, and long continued to be a favorite. The dancers were decorated from crown to toe in gay ribbon streamers, and cut all manner of antics for the amusement of the guests. This dance held the place at Yule that the Fool's Dance formerly held during the Roman Saturnalia.
Henry VIII's daughter, Elizabeth, kept the season in great magnificence at Hampton Court where plays written for the occasion were presented. The poet Herrick favored:
"Of Christmas sports, the wassell boule, That's tost up after Fox-i-th'-hole."
This feature of Yule observance, which is usually attributed to Rowena, daughter of Vortigern, dates back to the grace-cup of the Greeks and Romans which is also the supposed source of the bumper. According to good authority the word bumper came from the grace-cup which Roman Catholics drank to the Pope, au bon Pere. The wassail bowl of spiced ale has continued in favor ever since the Princess Rowena bade her father's guests Wassheil.
The offering of gifts at Yule has been observed since offerings were first made to the god Frey for a fruitful year. In olden times one of the favorite gifts received from tenants was an orange stuck with cloves which the master was to hang in his wine vessels to improve the flavor of the wine and prevent its moulding.
As lords received gifts from their tenants, so it was the custom for kings to receive gifts from their nobles. Elizabeth received a goodly share of her wardrobe as gifts from her courtiers, and if the quality or quantity was not satisfactory, the givers were unceremoniously informed of the fact. In 1561 she received at Yule a present of a pair of black silk stockings knit by one of her maids, and never after would she wear those made of cloth. Underclothing of all kinds, sleeves richly embroidered and bejeweled, in fact everything she needed to wear, were given to her and she was completely fitted out at this season.
In 1846 Sir Henry Cole is said to have originated the idea of sending Christmas cards to friends. They were the size of small visiting-cards, often bearing a small colored design—a spray of holly, a flower, or a bit of mistletoe—and the compliments of the day. Joseph Crandall was the first publisher. Only about one thousand were sold the first year, but by 1862 the custom of sending one of these pretty cards in an envelope or with gifts to friends became general and has now spread to other countries.
During the Reformation the custom of observing Christmas was looked upon as sacrilegious. It savored of popery, and in the narrowness of the light then dawning the festival was abolished except in the Anglican and Lutheran Churches. Tenants and neighbors no longer gathered in the hall on Christmas morning to partake freely of the ale, blackjacks, cheese, toast, sugar, and nutmeg. If they sang at all, it was one of the pious hymns considered suitable-and sufficiently doleful—for the occasion. One wonders if the young men ever longed for the sport they used to have on Christmas morning when they seized any cook who had neglected to boil the hackin and running her round the market-place at full speed attempted to shame her of her laziness.
[Footnote 5: Authorities differ as to whether this was a big sausage or a plum pudding.]
Protestants were protesting against the observance of the day; Puritans were working toward its abolishment; and finally, on December 24, 1652, Parliament ordered "That no observance shall be had of the five and twentieth day of December, commonly called Christmas day; nor any solemnity used or exercised in churches upon that day in respect thereof."
Then Christmas became a day of work and no cheer. The love of fun which must find vent was expended at New Year, when the celebration was similar to that formerly observed at Christmas. But people were obliged to bid farewell to the Christmas Prince who used to rule over Christmas festivities at Whitehall, and whose short reign was always one of rare pleasure and splendor. He and other rulers of pastimes were dethroned and banished from the kingdom. Yule cakes, which the feasters used to cut in slices, toast, and soak in spicy ale, were not to be eaten—or certainly not on Christmas. It was not even allowable for the pretty Yule candles to be lighted.
Christmas has never regained its former prestige in England. Year after year it has been more observed in churches and families, but not in the wild, boisterous, hearty style of olden times. Throughout Great Britain Yule-tide is now a time of family reunions and social gatherings. Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and the Islands each retain a few of their own peculiar customs, but they are not observed to any extent. In Ireland—or at least in some parts—they still indulge in drinking what is known as Lamb's-wool, which is made by bruising roasted apples and mixing the juice with ale or milk. This drink, together with apples and nuts, is considered indispensable on Christmas Eve.
England of all countries has probably known the merriest of Yule-tides, certainly the merriest during those centuries when the mummers of yore bade to each and all
"A merry Christmas and a happy New Year, Your pockets full of money and your cellar full of beer."
There seems always to have been more or less anxiety felt regarding New Year's Day in England, for "If the morning be red and dusky it denotes a year of robberies and strife."
"If the grass grows in Janivear It grows the worse for 't all the year."
And then very much depended upon the import of the chapter to which one opened the Bible on this morning. If the first visitor chanced to be a female, ill luck was sure to follow, although why it should is not explained.
It was very desirable to obtain the "cream of the year" from the nearest spring, and maidens sat up till after midnight to obtain the first pitcherful of water, supposed to possess remarkable virtues. Modern plumbing and city water-pipes have done away with the observance of the "cream of the year," although the custom still prevails of sitting up to see the Old Year out and the New Year in.
There was also keen anxiety felt as to how the wind blew on New Year's Eve, for
"If New Year's Eve night wind blow South, It betokeneth warmth and growth; If West, much milk, and fish in the sea; If North, much cold and storm there will be; If East, the trees will bear much fruit; If Northeast, flee it man and brute."
AT CHRISTMAS TIME
At Christmas time the fields are white, And hill and valley all bedight With snowy splendor, while on high The black crows sail athwart the sky, Mourning for summer days gone by At Christmas time.
At Christmas time the air is chill, And frozen lies the babbling rill: While sobbingly the trees make moan For leafy greenness once their own, For blossoms dead and birdlings flown At Christmas time.
At Christmas time we deck the hall With holly branches brave and tall, With sturdy pine and hemlock bright, And in the Yule-log's dancing light We tell old tales of field and fight At Christmas time.
At Christmas time we pile the board With flesh and fruit and vintage stored, And mid the laughter and the glow We tred a measure soft and slow, And kiss beneath the mistletoe At Christmas time.
O God and Father of us all, List to Thy lowliest creature's call: Give of Thy joy to high and low, Comforting the sorrowing in their woe; Make wars to cease and love to grow At Christmas time.
Let not one heart be sad to-day; May every child be glad and gay: Bless Thou Thy children great and small, In lowly hut or castle hall, And may each soul keep festival At Christmas time.
THE NEW YEAR
"A good New Year, with many blessings in it!" Once more go forth the kindly wish and word. A good New Year! and may we all begin it With hearts by noble thought and purpose stirred.
The Old Year's over, with its joy and sadness; The path before us is untried and dim; But let us take it with the step of gladness, For God is there, and we can trust in Him.
What of the buried hopes that lie behind us! Their graves may yet grow flowers, so let them rest. To-day is ours, and it must find us Prepared to hope afresh and do our best.
God knows what finite wisdom only guesses; Not here from our dim eyes the mist will roll. What we call failures, He may deem successes Who sees in broken parts the perfect whole.
And if we miss some dear familiar faces, Passed on before us to the Home above, Even while we count, through tears, their vacant places, He heals our sorrows with His balm of Love.
No human lot is free from cares and crosses, Each passing year will bring both shine and shower; Yet, though on troubled seas life's vessel tosses, The storms of earth endure but for an hour.
And should the river of our happy laughter Flow 'neath a sky no cloud yet overcasts, We will not fear the shadows coming after, But make the most of sunshine while it lasts.
A good New Year! Oh, let us all begin it With cheerful faces turning to the light! A good New Year, which will have blessings in it If we but persevere and do aright.
YULE-TIDE IN GERMANY
"Feed the wood and have a joyful minute, For the seeds of earthly suns are in it."
It was away back in the time of Alexander the Great that Germany was made known to the civilized world by an adventurous sailor named Pytheas, a man of more than ordinary talent, who was sailing northward and discovered a land inhabited by a then unknown people. He reported his discovery to the Romans, but the difficulty was that Pytheas had seen so much more than any of the Greeks or Romans of those days that they utterly refused to believe his statements. Time has proved that the sailor was nearer right in many of his apparently visionary statements than his countrymen dreamed, although it has taken centuries to prove the fact in some cases.
The people whom Pytheas then introduced to the polite world were Teutons, a branch of the great Aryan race and closely related to the early English. The men were simple, truthful, and brave, but were sadly addicted to drink, it was said, and consequently were often quarrelsome. The women were much like those of to-day in their characteristics: virtuous, proud, and dignified; very beautiful, with golden-hued hair, blue eyes, and fresh, fair complexions. Like most of the early peoples, the Teutons worshiped gods and goddesses, and so have many customs and traditions in common with other branches of the Aryans.
If England has enjoyed the merriest Yule-tides of the past, certainly Germany enjoys the merriest of the present, for in no other country is the day so fully and heartily observed. It is the great occasion of the year and means much to the people.
For a week or more before the day, loads of evergreen trees of all sizes may be seen coming into the cities and towns to be piled up in squares and open places until the entire place looks like a forest of small firs. One wonders where they all come from and for how many years the supply will last, but it is not likely to fail at present.
The Lutherans gave Martin Luther the credit of introducing the Christmas tree into Germany. He may have helped to make it popular, but certainly there is abundant evidence to prove that it was known long before the Reformer's time. It is generally supposed to have its origin in mythological times and to be a vestige of the marvelous tree, Yggdrasil.
Possibly Martin Luther thought of the old story of the tree and imagined, as he traveled alone one cold night, how pretty the snow-laden fir-trees along his path would look could they be lighted by the twinkling stars overhead. But whether he had anything to do with it or not, the tree is now one of the most important features of Yule-tide among the Germans of all denominations.
Nearly ten million households require one or two trees each Christmas, varying in height from two to twenty feet. Societies provide them for people who are too poor to buy them, and very few are overlooked at this happy holiday season.
The grand Yule-tide festival is opened on the eve of St. Nicholas Day, December sixth; in fact bazaars are held from the first of the month, which is really one prolonged season of merrymaking.
In Germany, St. Nicholas has a day set apart in his honor. He was born in. Palara, a city of Lycia, and but very little is known of his life except that he was made Bishop of Myra and died in the year 343. It was once the custom to send a man around to personate St. Nicholas on St. Nicholas Eve, and to inquire how the children had behaved through the year, who were deserving of gifts, and who needed a touch of the birch rods that he carried with him into every home. St. Nicholas still goes about in some parts of the country, and in the bazaars and shops are sold little bunches of rods, real or made of candy, such as St. Nicholas is supposed to deal in. In some places Knight Rupert takes the place of St. Nicholas in visiting the houses. But Kriss Kringle has nearly usurped the place St. Nicholas once held in awe and respect by German children.
Because St. Nicholas Day came so near to Christmas, in some countries the Saint became associated with that celebration, although in Germany the eve of his birthday continues to be observed. Germans purchase liberally of the toys and confectionery offered at the bazaars, and nowhere are prettier toys and confectionery found than in Germany—the country which furnishes the most beautiful toys in the world.
From the palace to the hut, Yule-tide is a season of peace, rest, joy, and devotion. For three days, that is the day before Christmas, Christmas, and the day after—known as Boxing-day—all business not absolutely necessary to the welfare of the community is suspended. Stores, markets, and bazaars present a festive appearance; the young girl attendants are smiling and happy, and every one seems in the best of humor.
Many of the poorer class, of Germans do not eat much meat, but at Christmas all indulge in that extravagance, so the markets are unusually crowded. They all like to purchase a plant or a flower for Christmas and the flower stores are marvels of beauty and sweetness.
Every one is busy preparing for the great occasion. Grown folks become children again in the simplicity of their enjoyment and enter into the excitement with as much enthusiasm as do the children.
Newspapers are not generally published during the three days of business suspension, for no one would have time or interest to read them at such a season.
In many places churches are open during the week before Christmas, for with all the bustle and excitement incident to the preparations, the people, young and old, are filled with a deep spirit of devotion, and never for an instant forget the significance of the occasion they commemorate.
Churches are not trimmed nor are they made attractive with flowers, songs, or in any special way, but the people go to listen with devotion to the telling of the old, old story of Christ's birthday and of the first Holy Night at Bethlehem.
The day before Christmas all are busy trimming up their homes and preparing for the great day. Usually the mother of the household trims the tree, not admitting any other member of the curious and expectant family into the room. Tables are provided for holding the gifts, as every one in the family is expected to make a gift to every other member, and it is surprising to note the interest taken in these simple gifts—often a soap-rose, an artificial flower, knitted lace, even sausages, cheese, or butter—and with each and all the ever-present Christmas cake. It is spiced and hard, cut into every manner of device—men, women, animals, stars, hearts, etc. The Pfeffer Kuchen (pepper cakes) or some similar cakes are to be seen everywhere at Christmas time.
The gifts are often accompanied with short verses, good, bad, or indifferent, according to the talent of the giver, but all serve to make the occasion merry. In some families these simple inexpensive gifts are so carefully kept that collections may be seen of gifts received by different members of the family since their infancy.
On Christmas Eve the guests assemble early, and by six o'clock a signal is given for the door of the mysterious room to be opened to admit the family to the tree:
"O Hemlock tree! O Hemlock-tree! how faithful are thy branches! Green not alone in summer time, But in the winter's frost and rime! O Hemlock-tree! O Hemlock-tree! how faithful are thy branches!"
It is ablaze with tiny lighted tapers and radiant with shiny tinsel cut in pretty devices or in thread-like strips. Bright balls, gay toys, and paper flowers help to enhance its beauty, and sometimes scenes from sacred history are arranged with toys at the base of the tree.
With the distribution of the gifts the fun begins; each person is expected to kiss every other person present and help make the occasion a merry one.
Holy Night, or, as the Germans term it, Weihnacht—the Night of Dedication—is the time of family reunions, fun, and frolic. Not alone in homes, hospitals, prisons, barracks, and elsewhere is the pretty betinseled tree to be seen on Christmas, but in burying-grounds, on the resting-places of the dead, stand these fresh green trees in evidence of keeping the loved one's memory green.
While the custom of having a tree is universal throughout Germany, and from thence has been introduced into other countries, there are many customs peculiar to certain sections. In some of the little out-of-the-way places in the Tyrolese Alps the old-time Miracle Plays are enacted in a most primitive manner. As the peasants rarely, if ever, attend the theatre or have any opportunity to see a modern play, this occasion attracts them from far and near. Where is the theatre, who are the actors, do you ask? The theatre is the largest place available, sometimes a large room, sometimes a barn, anything that will accommodate the crowd that is sure to come. In one description of a play given on Christmas Day it is stated that the people assembled in a barn belonging to the vicarage to witness the Paradise Play. The top of a huge pottery stove at least five feet high served for the throne of God the Father, the stove being hidden by screens painted to represent clouds. The play "began at the beginning,"—at Chaos. A large paper screen bedecked with a profusion of suns, moons, stars, and comets formed a background, while in front sprawled a number of boys in tights with board wings fastened to their shoulders to represent angels. The language was as simple and primitive as the scenery, yet for the credulous, devout peasants "no distance is too great, no passes too steep or rough, no march on dusty highroads too fatiguing, if a Miracle or Passion Play is their goal."
Does it seem sacrilegious? Not to those who attend it in the spirit of humility and devotion, as do these Tyrolese peasants. In some places plays are given in churches on Christmas as they were formerly in England, but these are not common, and are only found in remote places. Throughout this country there is always a church service in the morning which is very generally attended, Protestants and Catholics alike making Christmas the day of all the year in which they attend church.
The name Christmas probably originated from the order that was given for saying mass (called Christ-mass) for the sins of the people on the day that commemorates the Saviour's Birth.
One beautiful feature of a German Christmas is the wide-spread thought for the poor and the interest taken in them. Many wealthy families have charge of a certain number of poor families, and on Christmas Day invite them to their own luxurious homes to receive gifts and enjoy the tree prepared for them. An address, prayer, and song as they stand around the tree precedes the distribution of gifts, usually of clothing and food, with which the guests fill the bags and baskets they bring with them. And for all there is an abundance of Pfeffer Kuchen, or some other Christmas cake.
In the midst of all the excitement of lighted tree and pretty gifts, German children seldom forget to return thanks for what they receive. They are taught that all these gifts come through the Christ-child, and that the occasion is not for selfish enjoyment but to give pleasure to others, and that no one is too poor to give kindly thought and pleasant words to those around them.
In some parts of Germany—Lorraine is one—the people burn the Yule-log; sometimes a huge log that will last through the three days' festivity, sometimes one so small that the family sit before it until it is all consumed. Sometimes a part of the log is suspended from the ceiling of the room and each person present blows at it hoping to make a spark fall on some watching face; then again some carry a piece of the log to bed with them to protect them from lightning. But the Yule-log is not very generally known in this land of great pottery stoves and closed fireplaces, and that may be one reason why post-wagons go rumbling about at Christmas time, carrying parcels from place to place and from door to door, blowing their post-horns continuously, instead of the parcels being dropped down chimneys by Santa Claus.
It is customary, also, in some parts of the country, for the people and their animals to fast the day before Christmas. At midnight the people attend church and it is said that the cattle kneel; then both man and beast partake of a hearty meal. There are places in the German Alps where it is believed that the cattle are blessed with the gift of language for a while on Christmas Eve, but as it is a very great sin to listen, no one has yet reported any conversation among them. In another part of the country it is thought that the Virgin Mary with a company of angels passes over the land on Holy Night, and so tables are spread with the best the larders afford and candles are lighted and left burning that the angelic visitors may find abundant food should they chance to stop on their way.
Boxing-day, when boxes prepared for the poor are distributed, follows the Holy Day and after that business is resumed, although festivities do not cease.
Sylvester, or New Year's Eve, is the next occasion to be observed during Yule-tide. The former name was given in honor of the first pope of that name, and still retained by many. After the usual church service in the early evening, the intervening hours before midnight are spent in the most boisterous merriment. Fun of all sorts within the limit of law and decency prevails. Any one venturing forth wearing a silk hat is in danger of having his hat, if not his head, smashed. "Hat off," cries the one who spies one of these head-coverings, and if the order is not instantly obeyed, woe betide the luckless wearer. At midnight all Germany, or at least all in the cities and the larger towns, may be seen out-of-doors or leaning from windows, waiting for the bells to ring out the Old Year and welcome in the New. At first stroke of the bells there arises one universal salute of Prosit Neujahr (Happy New Year). It is all good-natured fun, a wild, exuberant farewell to the Old Year—the closing scene of the joyous Yule-tide.
THE CHRISTMAS TREE
The oak is a strong and stalwart tree, And it lifts its branches up, And catches the dew right gallantly In many a dainty cup: And the world is brighter and better made Because of the woodman's stroke, Descending in sun, or falling in shade, On the sturdy form of the oak. But stronger, I ween, in apparel green, And trappings so fair to see, With its precious freight for small and great, Is the beautiful Christmas tree.
The elm is a kind and goodly tree, With its branches bending low: The heart is glad when its form we see, And we list to the river's flow. Ay, the heart is glad and the pulses bound, And joy illumes the face, Whenever a goodly elm is found Because of its beauty and grace. But kinder, I ween, more goodly in mien, With branches more drooping and free, The tint of whose leaves fidelity weaves, Is the beautiful Christmas tree.
—Hattie S. Russell.
YULE-TIDE IN SCANDINAVIA
The horn was blown for silence, come was the votive hour; To Frey's high feast devoted they carry in the boar.
—Frithof's "Saga," Trans. Bayard Taylor.
"To Norroway, to Norroway," the most northern limit of Scandinavia, one turns for the first observance of Christmas in Scandinavia, for the keeping of Yule-tide in the land of Odin, of the Vikings, Sagas, midnight sun, and the gorgeous Aurora Borealis. This one of the twin countries stretching far to the north with habitations within nineteen degrees of the North Pole, and the several countries which formed ancient Scandinavia, are one in spirit regarding Christmas although not in many other respects.
In the far north among the vast tribe of Lapps, in their cold, benighted country, as Christmas approaches each wandering tribe heads its reindeer toward the nearest settlement containing a church, that it may listen to the story of the first Christmas morn which is told year after year by the pastor, and yet is ever new and interesting to the people who come from great distances, drawn over the fields of crisp snow by their fleet-footed reindeer.
The Lapp is apparently a joyless individual. Men, women, and children seem bereft of all power of amusement beyond what tends to keep them alive, such as fishing, hunting, and traveling about to feed their herds of reindeer. They have no games, no gift for music, they never dance nor play cards, but year after year drag out an existence, living within low earth-covered huts or in tents. Even the best homes are low and poorly ventilated. For windows are not needed where darkness reigns for months together, where the sun is not seen at all during six or seven weeks of the year, and where people live out-of-doors during the long summer day of sunlight that follows.
In their low, stuffy homes which at Christmas are filled with guests from the wandering Lapps, there is no room for the pretty tree and decorative evergreens. The joy afforded these people at Yule-tide is in the reunion of friends, in attending church services, in the uniting of couples in marriage, and, alas, in the abundance of liquor freely distributed during this season. The children are made happy by being able to attend school, for at Christmas they are brought into the settlements with friends for this purpose. They have only a few weeks' schooling during the year, from Christmas to Easter, and while the schoolmasters are stationed at the little towns, the children work hard to gain the knowledge of books and religion which they crave.
In this terrible winter night of existence, amidst an appalling darkness of Nature and Mind, the one great occasion of the year is Christmas. Not the merry, bright, festive occasion of their more favored brothers and sisters, but what to them is the happiest in the year.
Christmas Eve passes unnoticed. The aurora may be even more beautiful than usual, its waving draperies more fantastic, more gorgeous-hued, but it is unnoticed by the Lapps who have seen it from childhood. Men, women, children, servants, guests, and animals, crowd into the small, low homes, without a thought of Santa Claus coming to visit them. Children have no stockings to hang up, and there are no chimneys for Santa to descend. In fact, he and his reindeer, with their loads of treasured gifts, probably left this region with the sun, bound for more congenial places.
The church bells break the terrible silence of the sunless towns on Christmas morning, and as the fur-encased natives wend their way to church, greeting one another as they meet, there is a faint approach to joyousness. Of course there must be real sorrow and joy wherever there is life and love, although among the Lapps it is hard to discern.
During Yule-tide the Lapps visit one another, attend to what governmental business there may be, give in marriage, christen the children, and bury the dead, whose bodies have lain beneath their covering of snow awaiting this annual visit of the Norwegian clergyman for their final interment.
Think of Christmas without a tree, without wreaths and flowers, without stockings full of gifts, with a dinner of reindeer meat and no plum pudding! And imagine what would be his sensation could a Lapp child be put into a home in England, America, Germany, or even in other parts of Scandinavia! What would he say could he receive such gifts as were given you last Christmas!
But Lapps are only a small part of the population of Norway. Norwegian children have many jolly times around the Christmas trees and enjoy hunting for their little gifts which are often tucked away in various places for them to find. Then there are all sorts of pretty games for them to play and quantities of appetizing food prepared for their pleasure. The young folks earn their feast, for all day long before Christmas they are busy tying bunches of oats and corn on the trees, the fences, the tops of houses and of barns, and on high poles which they erect in the yards, until
"From gable, barn and stable Protrudes the birdies' table Spread with a sheaf of corn."
The Norwegians begin their Christmas with divine services, after which they meet together for a repast which is an appetizer for the feast to follow. A pipe of tobacco is given to each man and boy present, then they smoke while the feast, the great feature of the day, is being made ready. Fish, poultry, meats, and every variety of food known to the Norwegian housewife is served in courses, between which toasts are given, healths drunk, and the songs of Norway rendered. Among the latter "Old Norway" is always included, for the people never forget the past history of their beloved country.
One of the pretty customs of these occasions is that each guest on arising turns to the host and hostess, who remain seated at either end of the table, and, bowing to each, expresses his thanks for the meal.
Sometimes after the serving of tea at seven o'clock, little boys in white mantles, with star-shaped lanterns and dolls to represent the Virgin and the Holy Babe, enter the room and sing sweet carols. Often strolling musicians arrive, such as go from place to place at Christmas. After a large supper the guests depart on sledges for their homes, which are often miles distant.
Do you suppose on Christmas Eve, as they look toward the fading light in the West, the children of Norway ever think of their Scandinavian cousins, the little Icelanders, in their peat houses, on that isolated island in the sea, where the shortest day is four hours long, and where at Christmas time the sun does not rise above the horizon for a week, and wonder how they are celebrating Yule-tide?
Christmas is a great day with them also, for they cling to the old songs and customs, and could the west wind convey the sound of glad voices across the wide expanse of water separating the island from the mainland, Norwegian children might hear the Icelandic children singing one of their sweet old songs.
"When I do good and think aright At peace with man, resigned to God, Thou look'st on me with eyes of light, Tasting new joys in joy's abode."
In Sweden there is a general house-cleaning before Christmas; everything must be polished, scrubbed, beaten, and made clean, and all rubbish burned, for dirt, like sinful thoughts, cannot be tolerated during the holy festival.
As early as the first of December each housewife starts her preparations for the great day. Many have worked all the year making gifts for the occasion, but now the carpets must come up and be beaten, the paint must be cleaned, and the house set in order. The silver which has been handed down from generation to generation, together with that received on holidays and birthdays, has to be cleaned and polished, so must the brasses—the tall fire-dogs, the stately andirons, and the great kettles—all must be made to reflect every changing ray of light.
Then the baking for a well-ordered household is a matter of great moment, and requires ample time. It is usual to begin at least two weeks before Christmas. Bread is made of wheat and rye flour, raised over night, then rolled very thin and cut into discs twelve or fourteen inches in diameter, with a hole in the center. After having been baked, these are strung on a stick and left to dry under the beams of the baking-room. As they will keep a long while, large quantities are made at this season in each household.
Then follows the making of sweetened, soft, rye, wheat, and other breads, as well as the baking of the light yellow (saffron), the chocolate-brown, and thin gray-colored cakes, and those that are filled with custard.
The preparing of Christmas drinks always requires the close attention of good dames, for there must be an inexhaustible supply of Christmas beer, made of malt, water, molasses, and yeast, and wine with almonds and spices, and various other decoctions.
Then the cheese must be made ready, not only the usual sour kind, but the more delicious sweet cheese that is made of sweet milk boiled slowly for hours and prettily moulded.
The Swedish wife is relieved of the burden of making pies, as her people know nothing about that indigestible mixture so acceptable to American palates.
The festivities begin with the dressing of the tree the day before Christmas. In this the older members of the family, with friends and relatives, join with great gusto, preparing paper flowers with which to bedeck the tall evergreen tree which reaches from floor to ceiling.
They cut long ribbons of colored paper for streamers, and make yards of paper fringe to wind with the tinsel among the boughs, from which are hung bright colored boxes of sweetmeats, fruit, and fancy balls.
The children are, of course, excluded from the room and obliged to content themselves with repeating the tales of Santa Claus, as told by their elders. When a gift is offered in person, or, as is more generally the case, is thrown in the door suddenly by an unseen hand, there rings a merry Glad Frill (Good Yule) meaning "Merry Christmas," for that is the wish of the preceding day or days, rather than of Christmas itself.
On Christmas Eve at early nightfall, when the colored candles are ablaze over the entire tree, and the great red ball of light shines from its topmost branches, the children are admitted to the room amidst a babel of shouts and screams of delight, which are increased upon the arrival of a veritable Santa Claus bestrewn with wool-snow and laden with baskets of gifts. On the huge sled are one or more baskets according to the number of bundles to be distributed in the family. Each bundle bears the name of the owner on its wrapper, together with funny rhymes and mottoes, which are read aloud for the amusement of all. Santa Claus always gives an abundance of valuable counsel and advice to the young folks as he bestows upon them his pretty gifts.
After the distribution of gifts and the disappearance of Santa Claus, all join in dancing and singing around the tree simple, childish jingles such as the following:
"Now is Christmas here again, Now is Christmas here again, After Christmas then comes Easter, Cheese and bread and Christmas beer, Fish and rice and Christmas cheer! —etc."
One of the prettiest dances is that of "Cutting the Oats," in which girls and boys—there must be an extra boy—dance in a circle, singing:
"Cut the oats, cut the oats, Who is going to bind them? That my dearest will have to do, But where will I find him?
"I saw him last eve in the moonlight, In the moonlight clear and bright, So you take one and I'll take one, And he will be left without one."
The boys represent the cutters and the girls the oats, and great merriment prevails as the cutters' arms encircle the waists of the pretty oats, leaving the unfortunate cutter, whom they all dance around, bowing scoffingly as they shout:
"No one did want you, Poor sprite, no one wants you, You are left alone, You are left alone."
Many of their games are similar to "Blind Man's Buff," "Hunt the Key," and "Hot and Cold," or "Hunt to the Music," the latter being one which by its modulations from pianissimo to forte indicate the hunters' nearness to the object sought for. The game of "Blind Feeding the Blind" causes much amusement among the juveniles; two players sit opposite each other blindfolded and endeavor to feed one another with spoonfuls of milk, and their mishaps are very entertaining to the on-lookers.
Between the hours of ten and eleven comes the grand Christmas supper, when all adjourn to the dining-room to partake of the annual feast for which the housewives have long been preparing. The table is usually tastefully and often elaborately trimmed with flowers and green leaves. The corners of the long snow-white homespun cloth are caught up into rosettes surrounded with long calla or other leaves; possibly the entire edge of the table is bedecked with leaves and flowers. The butter is moulded into a huge yellow rose resting on bright green leaves, and the napkins assume marvelous forms under the deft fingers of the artistic housewives.
The Christmas mush holds the first place in importance among the choice viands of the occasion; it is rice boiled a long while in milk and seasoned with salt, cinnamon, and sugar, and is eaten with cream. Several blanched almonds are boiled in the mush and it is confidently believed that whoever finds the first almond will be the first to be married. While eating the mush, each one is expected to make rhymes about the rice and the good luck it is to bring them, and the most remarkable poetical effusions are in order on these occasions.
The Christmas fish is to the Swede what the Christmas roast-beef is to the Englishman, an indispensable adjunct of the festival. The fish used resembles a cod; it is buried for days in wood ashes or else it is soaked in soda water, then boiled and served with milk gravy. Bread, cheese, and a few vegetables follow, together with a pudding made of salt herrings, skinned, boned, and cut in thin slices, which are laid in a dish with slices of cold boiled potatoes and hard-boiled eggs, covered with a dressing of cream, butter, and eggs-then baked and served hot.
The fish, rice, and a fat goose are said to be served at every table on Christmas from that of the king to that of the commonest of his subjects.
Christmas morning opens with an early service in church, to which the older members of the family go in sled parties of from forty to fifty sleds, each drawn by one, two, or even three horses, over whose backs jingle rows of silver-toned bells. The sled parties are an especial feature of Christmas time. They start out while the stars are still twinkling in the sky, and the lighted trees are illuminating the homes they pass.
The day itself is observed with less hilarity than other days during the season; the "Second Christmas," or day following, being far gayer. Then begin the family parties, with the looking forward to the great Twelfth-Night ball, after which the children and young folks end their evening parties by untrimming the tree of their entertainer amidst peals of laughter, songs, and shouts.
The tree, of course, has been supplied anew with candles, fruit, and candy. The first are blown out and the last two struggled for while the tree is drawn slowly toward the door out of which it is finally pitched by the merry crowd.
The Swedes have four legal holidays at Yule, beginning the day previous to Christmas, and they make merry while they last. Besides having the Jul-gran or Christmas tree, each family places in the yard a pole with a sheaf of grain on top for the birds' Christmas dinner, a pretty custom common to many countries.
Business is very generally suspended during Christmas, the day following, Twelfth Day, and the twentieth day.
"Do as your forefathers have done, and you can't do wrong," is said to be the motto of the Swedes. So the customs of their forefathers are strictly observed at Yule-tide.
Svea, the feminine name of Sweden, the "Queen of the North," contains what is popularly believed to be the burial-places of Wodin, Thor, and Freya. The mounds are about one mile from Upsala and are visited by travelers from all parts of the world. Antiquarian researchers, however, have recently had a word to say in doubt whether these mounds contain the remains of the renowned beings, those ancient travelers. The Swedes, however, still cling to the belief that the bones of Wodin, the Alexander of the North, rest beneath the sod at Upsala. In these mounds have been found the bones of a woman and of a dog, a bracelet of filigree work, and a curious pin shaped like a bird, but no sign of Wodin's presence. Yet peasants believe that Wodin passes by on dark nights, and his horse's shoe, with eight nail-holes, is exhibited in the museum at Utwagustorp.
New Year's Day is of comparatively little importance; the Christmas trees are usually relighted for the enjoyment of the poorer children and gifts are made to the needy. The Yule festivities are prolonged for two weeks in many places, during which the people visit from home to home and enjoy many social pleasures. The devout attend church services each day, abandon all work so far as possible, and on January thirteenth generally finish up the joyous season with a ball.
The Swedes do not trim their churches with evergreen at Yule-tide as that is an emblem of mourning with them, and is used instead of crape on the door and often strewn before the hearse and also upon the floor in the saddened homes, so of course at Christmas they would not think of using it for decorations. But where they can afford it or can procure them, they use flowers to decorate their homes.
In Denmark, Christmas is a time of unusual merriment and rejoicing. No one who can possibly avoid it works at all from the day before Christmas until after New Year, but spends the time in visiting, eating, and drinking. "May God bless your Christmas; may it last till Easter," is the usual salutation of the season.
With the people of Denmark the favorite dish for Christmas dinner is a goose; every one, even the cattle, the dog, and the birds, receive the best the larder affords on this occasion. There is a peculiar kind of cake that is made for each member of every family, and, for some reason not explained, the saltcellar remains on the table throughout Yule-tide.
Those who own fruit-trees feel it incumbent upon them to go at midnight on Christmas Eve and with a stick in hand strike each tree three times saying as they do so, "Rejoice, O Tree,—rejoice and be fruitful."
In Denmark it is believed by many that the cattle rise on their knees at midnight on Christmas Eve, but no one ever seems to have proved this saying to be true.
In this country also the children delight in listening to stories of trolls who have been driven to the island of Bornhern by the parsons although they once ran riot through Zealand, and the little folks sing pretty songs of Balder, the sun god, which are a special feature of the season.
It is customary to usher in the New Year with a noise of firearms of every description.
THE CHRISTMAS SHEAF
Far over in Norway's distant realm, That land of ice and snow, Where the winter nights are long and drear, And the north winds fiercely blow, From many a low-thatched cottage roof, On Christmas eve, 'tis said, A sheaf of grain is hung on high, To feed the birds o'erhead.
In years gone by, on Christmas eve, When the day was nearly o'er, Two desolate, starving birds flew past A humble peasant's door. "Look! Look!" cried one, with joyful voice And a piping tone of glee: "In that sheaf there is plenteous food and cheer, And the peasant had but three. One he hath given to us for food, And he hath but two for bread, But he gave it with smiles and blessings, 'For the Christ-child's sake,' he said."
"Come, come," cried the shivering little mate, "For the light is growing dim; 'Tis time, ere we rest in that cosy nest, To sing our evening hymn." And this was the anthem they sweetly sang, Over and over again: "The Christ-child came on earth to bless The birds as well as men."
Then safe in the safe, snug, warm sheaf they dwelt, Till the long, cold night was gone, And softly and clear the sweet church bells Rang out on the Christmas dawn, When down from their covert, with fluttering wings, They flew to a resting-place, As the humble peasant passed slowly by, With a sorrowful, downcast face. "Homeless and friendless, alas! am I," They heard him sadly say, "For the sheriff," (he wept and wrung his hands) "Will come on New Year's day."
The birdlings listened with mute surprise. "'Tis hard," they gently said; "He gave us a sheaf of grain for food, When he had but three for bread. We will pray to God, He will surely help This good man in distress;" And they lifted their voices on high, to crave His mercy and tenderness. Then again to the Christmas sheaf they flew, In the sunlight, clear and cold: "Joy! joy! each grain of wheat," they sang, "Is a shining coin of gold."
"A thousand ducats of yellow gold, A thousand, if there be one; O master! the wonderful sight behold In the radiant light of the sun." The peasant lifted his tear-dimmed eyes To the shining sheaf o'erhead; "'Tis a gift from the loving hand of God, And a miracle wrought," he said. "For the Father of all, who reigneth o'er, His children will ne'er forsake, When they feed the birds from their scanty store, For the blessed Christ-child's sake."
"The fields of kindness bear golden grain," Is a proverb true and tried; Then scatter thine alms, with lavish hand, To the waiting poor outside; And remember the birds, and the song they sang, When the year rolls round again: "The Christ-child came on earth to bless The birds as well as men."
—Mrs. A.M. Tomlinson.
YULE-TIDE IN RUSSIA
"Light—in the heavens high, And snow flashing bright;— Sledge in the distance In its lonely flight."
In this enormous kingdom which covers one-sixth of the land surface of the globe, and where upwards of fifteen million human beings celebrate in various ways the great winter festival of Yule-tide, it will be found that the people retain many traditions of the sun-worshipers, which shows that the season was once observed in honor of the renewal of the sun's power. With them, however, the sun was supposed to be a female, who, when the days began to lengthen, entered her sledge, adorned in her best robes and gorgeous head-dress, and speeded her horses summerward.
Russian myths indicate a connection with the Aryans in the remote past; their songs of the wheel, the log, the pig or boar, all show a common origin in centuries long gone by.
Russia to most minds is a country of cold, darkness, oppression, and suffering, and this is true to an altogether lamentable extent. But it is also a country of warmth, brightness, freedom, and happiness. In fact, there are so many phases of life among its vast population that descriptions of Russian life result about as satisfactorily as did those of Saxe's "Three blind men of Hindustan," who went to see the elephant. Each traveler describes the part he sees, just as each blind man described the part he felt, and each believes he knows the whole.
There are certain general features of the Yule-tide observance that are typical of the country. One is the singing of their ancient Kolyada songs, composed centuries ago by writers who are unknown. They may have been sacrificial songs in heathen days, but are now sung with fervor and devotion at Christmas time.
In some places a maiden dressed in white and drawn on a sledge from house to house represents the goddess of the Sun, while her retinue of maidens sing the Kolyada, or carols. Here again appears the ancient custom of gift-making, for the maidens who attend the goddess expect to receive gifts in appreciation of their songs.
The word Kolyada is of doubtful origin. It may refer to the sun, a wheel, or a sacrifice; there is no telling how, when, or where it originated, but the singing of these songs has been a custom of the people from time immemorial, and after the introduction of Christianity it became a part of the Christmas festivities.
Ralston in his "Songs of the Russian People" gives the following translation of one of these peculiar songs:
"Kolyada! Kolyada! Kolyada has arrived. On the Eve of the Nativity, Holy Kolyada. Through all the courts, in all the alleys, We found Kolyada In Peter's Court. Round Peter's Court there is an iron fence, In the midst of the Court there are three rooms, In the first room is the bright Moon, In the second room the red Sun, And in the third room, the many Stars."
Strangely enough the Russians make the Moon the master of the mansion above, and the Sun the mistress, a twist about in the conception of these luminaries worthy of the Chinese, and possibly derived from some of Russia's Eastern invaders. In the above song, the Stars, like dutiful children, all wish their luminous parents good health,
"For many years, for many years."
In parts of Russia, the Virgin Mary and birds take the place of the Sun and Stars in these songs, which are sung throughout the Yule season by groups of young folks at social gatherings, or from house to house, and form the leading feature of the Christmas festivities.
It is hard to realize that the stolid, fur-clad Russian is a child of song, for such seem to belong to sunny climes, but throughout his life from the cradle to the grave he is accompanied with song. Not modern compositions, for they are quite inferior as a rule, but those melodies composed ages ago and sung repeatedly through generation after generation, usually accompanied with dancing in circles.
The Kolyadki cover a variety of themes relating to the gods, goddesses, and other celestial beings, to all of whom Christian characteristics have been given until they now form the sacred songs of Yule-tide.
On Christmas Eve it is customary for the people to fast until after the first service in church. They pray before their respective icons, or sacred pictures, recite psalms, and then all start for the church, where the service is, in most respects, the same as in the Roman Catholic Church. There are many denominations besides the established church of the country that hold services on Christmas Eve; but to whichever one goes, it is wise to hasten home and to get to bed in season to have a pleasant Christmas Eve dream, as such is sure to come true, according to Russian authority.
On Welikikdenj—Christmas—the people partake of an early meal. In some parts of the country it is customary to send extremely formal invitations in the name of the host to the guests who are expected to arrive that day. These are delivered by a special messenger and read somewhat as follows:
"My master and mistress beg you to consider, Father Artanon Triphonowitsch, and you, Mother Agaphia Nelidowna, that for thousands of years it has been thus; with us it has not commenced, with us it will not end. Do not, therefore, disturb the festival; do not bring the good people to despair. Without you there will be no pleasure at Philimon Spicidonowitsch's, without you there will be no maiden festival at Anna Karpowna's."
Who could absent himself after such an invitation as this? The place of meeting has been decided upon weeks earlier, for it must be with a well-to-do family possessing a large home to accommodate the guests that usually assemble at Christmas. The "fair maidens," each with her mother and retinue, arrive first on the scene, bringing cake and sweetmeats and gifts for the servants. They would sooner freeze in their sledges before the gate than be guilty of alighting without first receiving the greeting of their host and hostess. Having been welcomed, they next pray before the icon, and then are ready for the pleasures arranged for them.
One peculiar phase of these house-parties is the selecting of partners for the maidens, which is done by the hostess, the "elected" sometimes proving satisfactory and sometimes not. They feast, play games, go snowballing, and guess riddles, always having a jolly good time. Reciters of builinas (poems) are often present to sing and recite the whole night through, for of song and poetry the Russian never tires.
A pretty custom very generally observed is the blessing of the house and household. The priest visits each home in his district, accompanied by boys bearing a vessel of holy water; the priest sprinkles each room with the water, each person present kissing the cross he carries and receiving his benediction as he proceeds from room to room. Thus each home is sanctified for the ensuing year.
The familiar greeting of "Merry Christmas" is not heard in Russia unless among foreigners, the usual salutation on this day being "Greetings for the Lord's birth," to which the one addressed replies, "God be with you."
The observance of New Year on January first, according to the Gregorian Calendar, was instituted by Peter the Great in 1700. The previous evening is known as St. Sylvester's Eve, and is the time of great fun and enjoyment. According to the poet, Vasili Andreivich Zhukivski:
"St. Sylvester's evening hour, Calls the maidens round; Shoes to throw behind the door, Delve the snowy ground. Peep behind the window there, Burning wax to pour; And the corn for chanticleer, Reckon three times o'er. In the water-fountain fling Solemnly the golden ring Earrings, too, of gold; Kerchief white must cover them While we're chanting over them Magic songs of old."
Ovsen, a mythological being peculiar to the season, is supposed to make his entry about this time, riding a boar (another indication of Aryan descent), and no Christmas or New Year's dinner is considered complete without pork served in some form. The name of Ovsen, being so like the French word for oats, suggests the possibility of this ancient god's supposed influence over the harvests, and the honor paid him at the ingathering feasts in Roman times. He is the god of fruitfulness, and on New Year's Eve Russian boys go from house to house scattering oats and other grain while they sing:
"In the forest, in the pine forest, There stood a pine tree, Green and shaggy. O Ovsen! Ovsen! The Boyars came, Cut down the pine, Sawed it into planks, Built a bridge, Covered it with cloth, Fastened it with nails, O Ovsen! O Ovsen! Who, who will go Along that bridge? Ovsen will go there, And the New Year, O Ovsen! O Ovsen!"
With this song the young folks endeavor to encourage the people who are about to cross the gulf between the known and the unknown, the Past and the Future Year; at the same time they scatter good seed for them to reap a bountiful harvest. Often the boys sing the following Kolyadki:
"Afield, afield, out in the open field! There a golden plough goes ploughing, And behind that plough is the Lord Himself. Holy Peter helps Him to drive, And the Mother of God carries the seed corn, Carries the seed corn, prays to the Lord God, Make, O Lord, the strong wheat to grow, The strong wheat and the vigorous corn! The stalks there shall be like reeds! The ears shall be (plentiful) as blades of grass! The sheaves shall be (in number) like the stars! The stacks shall be like hills, The loads shall be gathered together like black clouds."
How singularly appropriate it seems that boys, hungry at all times, should be the ones to implore the god of fruitfulness to bestow upon their people an abundant harvest during the coming year!
In Petrograd the New Year is ushered in with a cannonade of one hundred shots fired at midnight. The Czar formally receives the good wishes of his subjects, and the streets, which are prettily decorated with flags and lanterns, are alive with people.
On New Year's Day the Winter Palace is opened to society, as is nearly every home in the city, for at this season, at least, hospitality and charity are freely dispensed from palace and cottage.
On Sotjelnik, the last of the holidays, the solemn service of Blessing the Water of the Neva is observed. At two o'clock in the afternoon the people who have gathered in crowds at various points along the river witness the ceremony which closes the festivities of Yule-tide. At Petrograd a dome is erected in front of the Winter Palace, where in the presence of a vast concourse of people the Czar and the high church officials in a grand and impressive manner perform the ceremony. In other places it is customary for the district priest to officiate. Clothed in vestments he leads a procession of clergy and villagers, who carry icons and banners and chant as they proceed to the river. They usually leave an open space in their ranks through which all the bad spirits likely to feel antagonistic to the ruler of Winter—the Frost King—may flee. For water sprites, fairies, gnomes, and other invisibilities, who delight in sunshine and warmth, are forced, through the power of the priest's prayers, and the showering of holy water, to take refuge in a hole that is cut in the ice beside a tall cross, and disappear beneath the cold water of the blessed river.
A PALM BRANCH FROM PALESTINE
Branch of palm from Palestine, Tell me of thy native place: What fair vale, what steep incline, First thy stately growth did grace?
Has the sun at dawn caressed thee, That on Jordan's waters shone, Have the rough night-winds distressed thee As they swept o'er Lebanon?
And while Solym's sons, brought low, Plaited thee for humble wages, Was it prayer they chanted slow, Or some song of ancient ages?
As in childhood's first awaking Does thy parent-tree still stand, With its full-leaved branches making Shadows on the burning sand?
Or when thou from it wert riven, Did it straightway droop and die, Till the desert dust was driven On its yellowing leaves to die?
Say, what pilgrim's pious hand Cherished thee in hours of pain, When he to this northern land Brought thee, fed with tears like rain?
Or perchance on some good knight, Pure in heart and calm of vision, Men bestowed thy garland bright— Fit as he for realms Elysian!
Now preserved with reverent care, At the Ikon's gilded shrine, Faithful watch thou keepest there, Holy Palm of Palestine.
Where the lamp burns faint and dim, Folded in a mystic calm, Near the Cross—the sign of Him— Rest in safety, sacred Palm.
—Michael Yourievich Lermontov.
(Translated by Mrs. Rosa Newmarch.)
YULE-TIDE IN FRANCE
"I hear along our street Pass the minstrel throngs; Hark! they play so sweet, On their hautboys, Christmas songs!"
One would naturally imagine that such a pleasure-loving people as the French would make much of Christmas, but instead of this we find that with them, excepting in a few provinces and places remote from cities, it is the least observed of all the holidays.
It was once a very gay season, but now Paris scarcely recognizes the day excepting in churches. The shops, as in most large cities, display elegant goods, pretty toys, a great variety of sweetmeats, and tastefully trimmed Christmas trees, for that wonderful tree is fast spreading over Europe, especially wherever the Anglo-Saxon and Teutonic races have settled.
Confectioners offer a tempting supply of naulets—little delicate cakes—with a sugar figure of Christ on top, pretty boxes made of chocolate containing candy in the form of fruits, vegetables, musical instruments, and even boots and shoes, and all manner of quaint, artistic sugared devices, to be used as gifts or table decorations.
Early in December, wooden booths and open-air stands are erected throughout the shopping districts for the sale of Christmas goods. At night they are lighted, and through the day and evening they are gay with shoppers. Many of the booths contain evergreens and fresh green boughs for making the arbre de Nau. This is a hoop tied with bunches of green, interspersed with rosy apples, nuts, and highly colored, gaily ornamented eggshells that have been carefully blown for the purpose. The hoops are hung in sitting-rooms or kitchens, but are used more in the country than in the cities.
Although the cities are filled with Yule-tide shoppers and lovely wares, in order to enjoy a veritable Merry Christmas one must seek some retired town and if possible gain access to a home of ancient date, where the family keep the customs of their ancestors. There he will find the day devoutly and solemnly observed, and legend and superstitions concerning every observance of the day. He will find that great anxiety is evinced regarding the weather during the twelve days preceding Christmas, as that portends the state of the weather for the ensuing twelve months.
He will notice that unlike the Yule-logs of other countries, those of France are not to be sat on, for if by any chance a person sits on a Yule-log he will experience such pain as will prevent his partaking of the Christmas dinner. He will also find that the log has benevolent powers, and if his shoe is left beside it during the night it will be filled with peppermints or candy. The ashes of the log are believed to be a protection against lightning and bad luck, so some will be stored away beneath the bed of the master of the house as a means of procuring good-fortune and other blessings during the coming year, and if he chance to fall sick, some of the ashes will probably be infused into his medicine and given to him.
If the log, the cosse de Nau, is of oak and felled at midnight, it is supposed to be much more efficacious, therefore all who can do so procure an oaken log, at least. In some families where the Yule-log is lighted, it is the custom to have it brought into the room by the oldest and youngest members of the family. The oldest member is expected to pour three libations of wine upon the log while voicing an invocation in behalf of wealth, health, and general good-fortune for the household, after which the youngest member, be he a few days or a few months old, drinks to the newly lighted fire,—the emblem of the new light of another year. Each member present follows the example set by the youngest, and drinks to the new light.
Yule-tide in France begins on St. Barbar's Day, December fourth, when it is customary to plant grain in little dishes of earth for this saint's use as a means of informing her devotees what manner of crops to expect during the forthcoming year. If the grain comes up and is flourishing at Christmas, the crops will be abundant. Each dish of fresh, green grain is used for a centerpiece on the dinner-table.
For several days previous to Christmas, children go into the woods and fields to gather laurel, holly, bright berries, and pretty lichens with which to build the creche, their tribute in commemoration of the birth of Christ. It is a representation of the Holy Manger, which the little folks build on a table in the corner of the living-room. With bits of stones they form a hill, partly covering the rocky surface with green and sometimes sprinkling it with flour to produce the effect of snow. On and about the hill they arrange tiny figures of men and beasts, and above the summit they suspend a bright star, a white dove, or a gilded figure of Jehovah.
After the ceremony of lighting the Yule-log on Christmas Eve, the children light up the creche with small candles, often tri-colored in honor of the Trinity. Throughout the work of gathering the material and making and lighting the creche, they sing carols in praise of the Little Jesus. In fact young and old accompany their Yule-tide labors with carols, such as their parents and grandparents sang before them,—the famous Noels of the country.
The children continue to light their creche each night until Epiphany, the family gathering around and joining in singing one or more of the well-known Noels, for
"Shepherds at the grange, Where the Babe was born, Sang, with many a change, Christmas carols until morn. Let us by the fire Ever higher Sing them till the night expires."
On the eve of Epiphany the children all march forth to meet the Magi, who are yearly expected, but who yearly disappoint the waiting ones.
The custom of hanging sheaves of wheat to the eaves of the houses for the birds' Christmas, so commonly observed throughout the cooler countries, is also observed by the children of France, and the animals are given especial care and attention at this joyous season. Each house-cat is given all it can eat on Christmas Eve for if, by any chance, it mews, bad luck is sure to follow. Of course a great deal is done for the poorer class at Christmas; food, clothing, and useful gifts are liberally bestowed, and so far as it is possible, the season is one of good will and good cheer for all.
If the French still hold to many of the Christmas customs bequeathed them by their Aryan ancestors, New Year's Day shows the influence of their Roman conquerors, for a combination of Northern and Southern customs is noticeable on that occasion. Each public official takes his seat of office on that day, after the manner of the Romans. Family feasting, exchanging of gifts among friends, and merrymaking are features of New Year's Day rather than of Christmas in France, although children delight in placing their sabots, or shoes, on the hearth for the Christ-child to fill with gifts on Christmas Eve.
In early times New Year's Day was the occasion of the Festival of Fools, when the wildest hilarity prevailed, and for upward of two hundred and forty years that custom continued in favor. Now Christmas is essentially the church festival; New Year's Day is the social festival, and Epiphany is the oldest festival observed during Yule-tide in France.
The latter festival is derived from the Roman Saturnalia, the main feature of the celebration being lawlessness and wild fun. Many of the features of former times are no longer in vogue, but the Twelfth-Night supper still continues in favor, when songs, toasts, and a general good time finishes the holiday season.
December is really the month of song in France. From the first to the last every one who can utter a sound is singing, singing, singing. Strolling musicians go from house to house playing and singing Noels, and old and young of all classes in society, at home and abroad, on their way to church or to market, at work or at play, may be heard singing these fascinating carols.
Noel signifies "good news," and it has been the greeting of the season since the earliest observance of Christmas. The word is on every tongue; salutations, invocations, and songs begin and end with it. Carols peculiarly adapted to the day or season in time came to be known as Noels, and these songs are to be heard everywhere in France during the holidays of Yule-tide.
"Our Psalm of joy to God ascending Filleth our souls with Holy fame. This day the Saviour Child was born, Dark was the night that now is ending, But on the dawn were angels tending. Hail! Christmas, Hail! Christmas morn.
"In faith we see thee, Virgin Mother, Still clasp thy Son, and in His eyes Seek Heaven's own light that in them lies. Though narrow shed His might confineth, Though low in manger He reclineth, Bright on His brow a glory shineth.
"Oh, Saviour King! Hear when we call Thee, Oh, Lord of Angels, glorious the song, The song Thy ransom'd people raise, Would that our hearts from sin and sorrow And earthly bondage now might sever. With Thee, Lord, reign forever and ever."
YULE-TIDE IN ITALY
"O'er mournful lands and bare, without a sound, Gently, in broadening flakes, descends the snow In velvet layers. Beneath its pallid glow, Silent, immaculate, all earth is bound."
-Edmondo de Amicis.
Italy! the land of Dante, Petrarch, Bocaccio, Raphael, Michelangelo, and a host of other shining lights in literature and art!
Can we imagine any one of them as a boy watching eagerly for Christmas to arrive; saving up money for weeks to purchase some coveted dainty of the season; rushing through crowded streets on Christmas Eve to view the Bambino, and possibly have an opportunity to kiss its pretty bare toe? How strange it all seems! Yet boys to-day probably do many of the same things they did in the long ago during the observance of this holy season in historic, artistic Italy.
In November, while flowers are yet in bloom, preparations are begun for the coming festivities. City streets and shops are crowded with Christmas shoppers, for beside all the gifts that are purchased by the Italians, there are those bought by travelers and foreign residents to be sent to loved ones at home, or to be used in their own observance of the day, which is usually after the manner of their respective countries. So shopping is lively from about the first of November until after the New Year.
The principal streets are full of carriages, the shops are full of the choicest wares, and it is to be hoped that the pocketbooks are full of money wherewith to purchase the beautiful articles displayed.
During the Novena, or eight days preceding Christmas, in some provinces shepherds go from house to house inquiring if Christmas is to be kept there. If it is, they leave a wooden spoon to mark the place, and later bring their bagpipes or other musical instruments and play before it, singing one of the sweet Nativity songs, of which the following is a favorite.