Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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CHRISTMAS IN LITURGY
" I can see myself as a little girl, bundled up to the tip of my nose in furs and knitted shawls, tiny wooden shoes on my feet, a lantern in my hand, setting out with my parents for the Midnight Mass of Christ­mas Eve. . . . We started off, a number of us, together in a stream of light. . . . Our lanterns cast great shadows on the white road, crisp with frost. As our little group advanced it saw others on their way, people from the farm and from the mill, who joined us, and once on the Place de l'Eglise we found ourselves with all the parishioners in a body. No one spoke—the icy north wind cut short our breath ; but the voice of the chimes filled the silence. . . . We entered, accom­panied by a gust of wind that swept into the porch at the same time we did ; and the splendours of the altar, studded with lights, green with pine and laurel branches, dazzled us from the threshold." l6
In devout Tyrol, the scenes on Christmas Eve before the Mid­night Mass are often extremely impressive, particularly in narrow valleys where the houses lie scattered on the mountain slopes. Long before midnight the torches lighting the faithful on their way to Mass begin to twinkle; downward they move, now hidden in pine-woods and ravines, now reappearing on the open hill-side. More and more lights show themselves and throw ruddy flashes on the snow, until at last, the floor of the valley reached, they vanish, and only the church windows glow through the darkness, while the solemn strains of the organ and chanting break the silence of the night.r7
Not everywhere has the great Mass been celebrated amid scenes so still and devotional. In Madrid, says a writer of the early nineteenth century, " the evening of the vigil is scarcely dark when numbers of men, women, and boys are seen tra­versing the streets with torches, and many of them supplied with tambourines, which they strike loudly as they move along in a kind of Bacchanal procession. There is a tradition here that the shepherds who visited Bethlehem on the day of the Nativity had instruments of this sort upon which they expressed the sentiment of joy that animated them when they received the intelligence that a Saviour was born." At the Midnight Mass crowds of people who, perhaps, had been traversing the streets the whole night, came into the church
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