THE CHRISTIAN FEAST
against the starlit sky, of carols sung not by trained choirs but by rustic folk with rough accent, irregular time, and tunes learnt by ear and not by book.
Again, without the idea of winter half the charm of Christmas would be gone. Transplanted in the imagination of western Christendom from an undefined season in the hot East to Europe at midwinter, the Nativity scenes have taken on a new pathos with the thought of the bitter cold to which the great Little One lay exposed in the rough stable, with the contrast between the cold and darkness of the night and the fire of love veiled beneath that infant form. Lux in tenebris is one of the strongest notes of Christmas : in the bleak midwinter a light shines through the darkness; when all is cold and gloom, the sky bursts into splendour, and in the dark cave is born the Light of the World.
There is the idea of royalty too, with all it stands for of colour and magnificence, though not so much in literature as in painting is this side of the Christmas story represented. The Epiphany is the great opportunity for imaginative development of the regal idea. Then is seen the union of utter poverty with highest kingship ; the monarchs of the East come to bow before the humble Infant for whom the world has found no room in the inn. How suggestive by their long, slow syllables are the Italian names of the Magi. Gasparre, Baldassarre, Melchiorre—we picture Oriental monarchs in robes mysteriously gorgeous, wrought with strange patterns, heavy with gold and precious stones. With slow processional motion they advance, bearing to the King of Kings their symbolic gifts, gold for His crowning, incense for His worship, myrrh for His mortality, and with them come the mystery, colour, and perfume of the East, the occult wisdom which bows itself before the revelation in the Child.
Above all, as the foregoing pages have shown, it is the childhood of the Redeemer that has won the heart of Europe for Christmas; it is the appeal to the parental instinct, the love for the tender, weak, helpless, yet all-potential babe, that has given the Church's festival its strongest hold. And this side of Christmas is penetrated often by the mystical spirit—that sense of the Infinite in the finite without which the highest human life is impossible.