Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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It is interesting to find that while, if we may trust tradition, the Roman strenae were originally twigs, Christmas gifts in sixteenth-century Germany showed a connection with the twigs or rods of St. Martin and St. Nicholas. The presents were tied together in a bundle, and a twig was added to them.6S This was regarded by the pedagogic mind of the period not as a lucky twig but as a rod in the sinister sense. In some Protestant sermons of the latter half of the century there are curious detailed references to Christmas presents. These are supposed to be brought to children by the Saviour Himself, strangely called the Ham-Christ. Among the gifts mentioned as contained in the " Christ-bundles" are pleasant things like money, sugar-plums, cakes, apples, nuts, dolls; useful things like clothes ; and also things " that belong to teaching, obedience, chastisement, and discipline, as A.B.C. tablets, Bibles and handsome books, writing materials, paper, &c, and the * Christ-rod.' " 66
A common gift to German children at Christmas or the New Year was an apple with a coin in it; the coin may conceivably be a Roman survival,67 while the apple may be connected with those brought by St. Nicholas.
The Christ Child is still supposed to bring presents in Germany; in France, too, it is sometimes le petit Jesus who bears the welcome gifts.68 In Italy we shall find that the great time for children's presents is Epiphany Eve, when the Befana comes, though in the northern provinces Santa Lucia is sometimes a gift-bringer.69 In Sicily the days for gifts and the supposed bringers vary ; sometimes, as we have already seen, it is the dead who bring them, on All Souls' Eve ; sometimes it is la Vecchia di Natali—the Christmas old woman—who comes with them on Christmas Eve; sometimes they are brought by the old woman Strina—note the derivation from strenae—at the New Year; sometimes by the Befana at the Epiphany.7o
A curious mode of giving presents on Christmas Eve belongs particularly to Sweden, though it is also found—perhaps borrowed—in Mecklenburg, Pomerania, and other parts of Germany. The so-called Julklapp is a gift wrapped up in innumerable coverings. The person who brings it raps noisily at
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