Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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An interesting summary of a very full Nativity play performed in the churches of Upper Gascony on Christmas Eve is given by Countess Martinengo-Cesaresco.25 It ranges from the arrival or Joseph and Mary at Bethlehem to the Flight into Egypt and the Murder of the Innocents, but perhaps the most interesting parts are the shepherd scenes. After the message of the angel—a child in a surplice, with wings fastened to his shoulders, seated on a chair drawn up to the ceiling and supported by ropes—the shepherds leave the church, the whole of which is now regarded as the stable of the Divine Birth. They knock for admittance, and Joseph, regretting that the chamber is "so badly lighted," lets them in. They fall down before the manger, and so do the shepherdesses, who " deposit on the altar steps a banner covered with flowers and greenery, from which hang strings of small birds, apples, nuts, chestnuts, and other fruits. It is their Christ­mas offering to the cure ; the shepherds have already placed a whole sheep before the altar, in a like spirit." The play is not mere dumb-show, but has a full libretto.
A rather similar piece of dramatic ceremonial is described by Barthelemy in his edition of Durandus,26 as customary in the eighteenth century at La Villeneuve-en-Chevrie, near Mantes. At the Midnight Mass a creche with a wax figure of the Holy Child was placed in the choir, with tapers burning about it. After the " Te Deum " had been sung, the celebrant, accom­panied by his attendants, censed the creche, to the sound of violins, double-basses, and other instruments. A shepherd then pros­trated himself before the crib, holding a sheep with a sort of little saddle bearing sixteen lighted candles. He was followed by two shepherdesses in white with distaffs and tapers. A second shepherd, between two shepherdesses, carried a laurel branch, to which were fastened oranges, lemons, biscuits, and sweetmeats. Two others brought great pains-benits and lighted candles ; then came four shepherdesses, who made their adoration, and lastly twenty-six more shepherds, two by two, bearing in one hand a candle and in the other a festooned crook. The same ceremonial was practised at the Offertory and after the close of the Mass. All was done, it is said, with such piety and edification that
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