464 The Book of Indoor and Outdoor Games
spirits have rest. Judas sleeps. Herod ceases to clank his chains. The daughter of Herodias may pause in the dance in which she is condemned to spin forever, and Pilate's ghost ceases its wanderings on Mt. Pilatus. It was believed, too, that the sound of church bells could be heard wherever a church had stood, though no trace of the edifice remain, and that on that pregnant night one sleeping in a manger would see his future in a vision.
Another might entertain the company with an account of the origin of our own Christmas customs. For instance: There is a legend in Germany that, when Eve plucked the fatal apple, immediately the leaves of the tree shrivelled into needle-points and its bright green turned dark. It changed its nature and became the evergreen, in all seasons preaching the story of man's fall. Only on Christmas does it bloom brightly with lights and become beautiful with love-gifts; the curse is turned to a blessing by the coming of the Christ-child—and we have our Christmas tree.
St. Nicholas, or Santa Claus, was a saint of the fourth century, of fabulous beneficence and goodness. He loved children, and was therefore adopted as the patron saint of school-boys. His was a genial, kindly nature, and a beautiful exception to the asceticism of his age.
The example of the entrance of the good saint into modern homes was first set him by Hertha, a Norse goddess. At the festival held in her honour, the houses were decked with evergreens and an altar of stones set up at the end of the hall where the family assembled.
Hence from Hertha's stones the word "hearthstone." Upon these stones were heaped fir-branches,