Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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CHRISTMAS EVE
came a tall, stooping man with a scythe, who begged him to put in a nail. He did so ; and the visitor in return bade him send for a priest, for this work would be his last. The fi jure dis­appeared, the blacksmith felt his limbs fail him, and at cock-crow he died. He had mended the scythe of the Ankou—Death the reaper.21
In the Scandinavian countries simple folk have a vivid sense of the nearness of the supernatural on Christmas Eve. On Yule night no one should go out, for he may meet uncanny beings of all kinds. In Sweden the Trolls are believed to celebrate Christmas Eve with dancing and revelry. " On the heaths witches and little Trolls ride, one on a wolf, another on a broom or a shovel, to their assemblies, where they dance under their stones. . . . In the mount are then to be heard mirth and music, dancing and drinking. On Christmas morn, during the time between cock-crowing and daybreak, it is highly dangerous to be abroad." 22
Christmas Eve is also in Scandinavian folk-belief the time when the dead revisit their old homes, as on All Souls' Eve in Roman Catholic lands. The living prepare for their coming with mingled dread and desire to make them welcome. When the Christmas Eve festivities are over, and everyone has gone to rest, the parlour is left tidy and adorned, with a great fire burning, candles lighted, the table covered with a festive cloth and plenti­fully spread with food, and a jug of Yule ale ready. Sometimes before going to bed people wipe the chairs with a clean white towel ; in the morning they are wiped again, and, if earth is found, some kinsman, fresh from the grave, has sat there. Con­sideration for the dead even leads people to prepare a warm bath in the belief that, like living folks, the kinsmen will want a wash before their festal meal.* Or again beds were made ready for them while the living slept on straw. Not always is it con­sciously the dead for whom these preparations are made, some­times they are said to be for the Trolls and sometimes even for
* The bath-house in the old-fashioned Swedish farm is a separate building to which everyone repairs on Christmas Eve, but which is, or was, seldom used except on thi» one night of the year.23
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