CHRISTMAS IN POPULAR DEVOTION
at once the Palace of the Great King and the refuge of the humblest—no other church in London is quite so intimately the home of the poor. Towards twelve o'clock on Christmas Eve the deep-toned bell of San Pietro booms out over the colony, and the people crowd to the Midnight Mass, and pay their devotions at a great presepio set up for the veneration of the faithful. When on the Octave of the Epiphany * the time comes to close the crib, an impressive and touching ceremony takes place. The afternoon Benediction over, the priest, with the acolytes, goes to the. presepio and returns to the chancel with the Bambino. Holding it on his arm, he preaches in Italian on the story of the Christ Child. The sermon ended, the notes of " Adeste, fideles" are heard, and while the Latin words are sung the faithful kneel at the altar rails and reverently kiss the Holy Babe. It is their farewell to the Bambino till next Christmas.
A few details may here be given about the religious customs at Christmas in Spain. The Midnight Mass is there the great event of the festival. Something has already been said as to its celebration in Madrid. The scene at the midnight service in a small Andalusian country town is thus described by an English traveller :—" The church was full; the service orderly ; the people of all classes. There were muleteers, wrapped in their blue and white checked rugs ; here, Spanish gentlemen, enveloped in their graceful capas, or capes . . . here, again, were crowds of the commonest people,—miners, fruitsellers, servants, and the like,— the women kneeling on the rush matting of the dimly-lit church, the men standing in dark masses behind, or clustering in groups round every pillar. ... At last, from under the altar, the senior priest . . . took out the image of the Babe New-born, reverently and slowly, and held it up in his hands for adoration. Instantly every one crossed himself, and fell on his knees in silent worship." 72 The crib is very popular in Spanish homes and is the delight of children, as may be learnt from Fernan Caballero's interesting sketch of Christmas Eve in Spain, " La Noche de Navidad." 73
* Or on the Sunday following the Octave, if the Octave itself is a week-day.