Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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All through the Christmas and Epiphany season Ara Coeli is crowded with visitors to the Bambino. Before the presepio, where it lies, is erected a wooden platform on which small boys and girls of all ranks follow one another with little speeches— " preaching " it is called—in praise of the infant Lord. " They say their pieces," writes Countess Martinengo, " with an infinite charm that raises half a smile and half a tear." They have the vivid dramatic gift, the extraordinary absence of self-consciousness, typical of Italian children, and their " preaching " is anything but a wooden repetition of a lesson learned by heart. Nor is there any irksome constraint; indeed to northerners the scene in the church might seem irreverent, for the children blow toy trumpets and their parents talk freely on all manner of subjects. The church is approached by one hundred and twenty-four steps, making an extraordinarily picturesque spectacle at this season, when they are thronged by people ascending and descending, and by vendors of all sorts of Christmas prints and images. On the Octave of the Epiphany there is a great procession, ending with the blessing of Rome by the Holy Child. The Bambino is carried out to the space at the top of the giddy flight of marble steps, and a priest raises it on high and solemnly blesses the Eternal City J1
A glimpse of the southern Christmas may be had in London in the Italian colony in and around Eyre Street Hill, off the Clerkenwell Road, a little town of poor Italians set down in the midst of the metropolis. The steep, narrow Eyre Street Hill, with its shops full of southern wares, is dingy enough by day, but after dark on Christmas Eve it looks like a bit of Naples. The windows are gay with lights and coloured festoons, there are lantern-decked sweetmeat stalls, one old man has a presepio in his room, other people have little altars or shrines with candles burning, and bright pictures of saints adorn the walls. It is a strangely pathetic sight, this festa of the children of the South, this attempt to keep an Italian Christmas amid the cold damp dreariness of a London slum. The colony has its own church, San Pietro, copied from some Renaissance basilica at Rome, a building half tawdry, half magnificent, which transports him who enters it far away to the South. Like every Italian church, it is
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