Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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straw within the cave for the repose of the infant Jesus ; singing angels are suspended by thin wires, and the star of the Wise Men hangs by an invisible thread. There is little attempt to realize the scenery of the East; the Child is born and the Magi adore Him in a Campanian or Calabrian setting.66
Italian churches, as well as Italian homes, have their presepi. "Thither come the people, bearing humble gifts of chestnuts, apples, tomatoes, and the like, which they place as offerings in the hands of the figures. These are very often life-size. Mary is usually robed in blue satin, with crimson scarf and white head­dress. Joseph stands near her dressed in the ordinary working-garb. The onlookers are got up like Italian contadini. The Magi are always very prominent in their grand clothes, with satin trains borne by black slaves, jewelled turbans, and satin tunics all over jewels." 67
In Rome the two great centres of Christmas devotion are the churches of Santa Maria Maggiore, where are preserved the relics of the cradle of Christ, and Ara Coeli, the home of the most famous Bambino in the world. A vivid picture of the scene at Santa Maria Maggiore in the early nineteenth century is given by Lady Morgan. She entered the church at midnight on Christmas Eve to wait for the procession of the culla, or cradle. " Its three ample naves, separated by rows of Ionic columns of white marble, produced a splendid vista. Thousands of wax tapers marked their form, and contrasted their shadows ; some blazed from golden candlesticks on the superb altars of the lateral chapels. . . . Draperies of gold and crimson decked the columns, and spread their shadows from the inter-columniations over the marble pavement. In the midst of this imposing display of church magnificence, sauntered or reposed a population which displayed the most squalid misery. The haggard natives of the mountains . . . were mixed with the whole mendicity of Rome. . . . Some of these terrific groups lay stretched in heaps on the ground, congregating for warmth ; and as their dark eyes scowled from beneath the mantle which half hid a sheepskin dress, they had the air of banditti awaiting their prey ; others with their wives and children knelt, half asleep,
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