Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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THE TWELVE DAYS
More of a bugbear on the whole is Berchte or Pcrchte (the name is variously spelt). She is particularly connected with the Eve of the Epiphany, and it is possible that her name COO from the old German giper(c)hta Na(c)ht, the bright or shining night, referring to the manifestation of Christ's glory.60 I„ Carinthia the Epiphany is still called BerchtentagM
Berchte is sometimes a bogey to frighten children. In the mountains round Traunstein children are told on Epiphany i that if they are naughty she will come and cut their stomachs open.62 In Upper Austria the girls must finish their spinning by Christmas ; if Frau Berch finds flax still on their distaffs she will be angered and send them bad luck.63
In the Orlagau (between the Saale and the Orle) on the night before Twelfth Day, Perchta examines the spinning-rooms and brings the spinners empty reels with directions to spin them full within a very brief time ; if this is not done she punishes them by tangling and befouling the flax. She also cuts open the body of any one who has not eaten zemmede (fasting fare made of flour and milk and water) that day, takes out any other food he has had, fills the empty space with straw and bricks, and sews him up again.64 And yet, as we have seen, she has a kindly side—at any rate she rewards those who serve her—and in Styria at Christmas she even plays the part of Santa Klaus, hearing children repc it their prayers and rewarding them with nuts and apples.65
There is a charming Tyrolese story about her. At midnight on Epiphany Eve a peasant—not too sober—suddenly heard behind him "a sound of many voices, which came on nearer and nearer, and then the Berchtl, in her white clothing, her broken ploughshare in her hand, and all her train of little people, swept clattering and chattering close past him. The least was the last, and it wore a long shirt which got in the way of its little bare feet, and kept tripping it up. The peasant had sense enough left to feel compassion, so he took his garter off and bound it for a girdle round the infant, and then set it again on its way. When the Berchtl saw what he had done, she turned back and thanked him, and told him that in return for his compassion his children should never come to want." 66
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