Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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In Germany the Christmas-tree is not a luxury for well-to-do people as in England, but a necessity, the very centre of the festival ; no one is too poor or too lonely to have one. There is something about a German Weihnachhbaum—a romance and a wonder—that English Christmas-trees do not possess. For one thing, perhaps, in a land of forests the tree seems more in place ; it is a kind of sacrament linking mankind to the mysteries of the woodland. Again the German tree is simply a thing of beauty and radiance ; no utilitarian presents hang from its boughs—they are laid apart on a table—and the tree is purely splendour for splendour's sake. However tawdry it may look by day, at night it is a true thing of wonder, shining with countless lights and glittering ornaments, with fruit of gold and shimmering festoons of silver. Then there is the solemnity with which it is surrounded ; the long secret preparations behind the closed doors, and, when Christmas Eve arrives, the sudden revelation of hidden glory. The Germans have quite a religious feeling for their Weihnachtsbaumy coming down, one may fancy, from some dim ancestral worship of the trees of the wood.
As Christmas draws near the market-place in a German town is filled with a miniature forest of firs; the trees are sold by old women in quaint costumes, and the shop-windows are full of candles and ornaments to deck them. Mrs. Alfred Sidgwick in her " Home Life in Germany " gives a delightful picture of such a Christmas market in " one of the old German cities in the hill country, when the streets and the open places are covered with crisp clean snow, and the mountains are white with it. . . . The air is cold and still, and heavy with the scent of the Christ­mas-trees brought from the forest for the pleasure of the children. Day by day you see the rows of them growing thinner, and if you go to the market on Christmas Eve itself you will find only a few trees left out in the cold. The market is empty, the peasants are harnessing their horses or their oxen, the women are packing up their unsold goods. In every home in the city one of the trees that scented the open air a week ago is shining now with lights and little gilded nuts and apples, and is helping to make that Christmas smell, all compact of the pine forest, wax
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