Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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THE CHRISTIAN FEAST
a basket to the congregation ; each person reverently kissed it and passed it on to his neighbour. This was done as late as 1883.58 At Crimmitschau in Saxony a boy, dressed as an angel, used to be let down from the roof singing Luther's " Vom Himmel hoch," and the custom was only given up when the breaking of the rope which supported the singer had caused a serious accident.59
It is in Italy, probably, that the cult of the Christ Child is most ardently practised to-day. No people have a greater love of children than the Italians, none more of that dramatic instinct which such a form of worship demands. " Easter," says Countess Martinengo-Cesaresco, " is the great popular feast in the eastern Church, Christmas in the Latin—especially in Italy. One is the feast of the next world, and the other of this. Italians are fond of this world." 6o Christmas is for the poorer Italians a summing up of human birthdays, an occasion for pouring out on the Bambino parental and fraternal affection as well as religious worship.
In Rome, Christmas used to be heralded by the arrival, ten days before the end of Advent, of the Calabrian minstrels or pifferari with their sylvan pipes (zampogne), resembling the Scottish bagpipe, but less harsh in sound. These minstrels were to be seen in every street in Rome, playing their wild plaintive music before the shrines of the Madonna, under the traditional notion of charming away her labour-pains. Often they would stop at a carpenter's shop " per politezza al messer San Giuseppe."61 Since 1870 thepifferari have become rare in Rome, but some were seen there by an English lady quite recently. At Naples, too, there are zampognari before Christmas, though far fewer than there used to be ; for one lira they will pipe their rustic melodies before any householder's street Madonna through a whole novena.62
In Sicily, too, men come down from the mountains nine days 1 before Christmas to sing a novena to a plaintive melody accom- | panied by 'cello and violin. " All day long," writes Signora Caico about Montedoro in Caltanissetta, " the melancholy dirge j
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