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Myths and Legends of Christmastide   By:

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The following article originally appeared in one of the Christmas editions of the San Francisco Chronicle and is now reprinted by permission from that journal.


"Lo! now is come our joyful'st feast, Let every man be jolly. Each room with ivy leaves is drest, And every post with holly. Now all our neighbors' chimneys smoke, And Christmas blocks are burning; Their ovens they with bak't meats choke, And all their spits are turning."

The celebration of Christmas, which was considered by the Puritans to be idolatrous, has for many centuries been so universal that it may prove of interest to contrast the rites, ceremonies and quaint beliefs of foreign lands with those of matter of fact America.

Many curious customs live only in tradition; but it is surprising to find what singular superstitions still exist among credulous classes, even in the light of the twentieth century.

In certain parts of England the peasantry formerly asserted that, on the anniversary of the Nativity, oxen knelt in their stalls at midnight, the supposed hour of Christ's birth; while in other localities bees were said to sing in their hives and subterranean bells to ring a merry peal.

According to legends of ancient Britain cocks crew lustily all night on December 24th to scare away witches and evil spirits, and in Bavaria some of the countrymen made frequent and apparently aimless trips in their sledges to cause the hemp to grow thick and tall.

In many lands there is still expressed the beautiful sentiment that the gates of heaven stand wide open on Christmas Eve, and that he whose soul takes flight during its hallowed hours arrives straightway at the throne of grace.

A time honored custom in Norway and Sweden is that of fastening a sheaf of wheat to a long pole on the barn or house top, for the wild birds' holiday cheer; and in Holland the young men of the towns sometimes bear a large silver star through the snowy streets, collecting alms from pedestrians for the helpless or the aged sick.

Russia has no Santa Claus or Christmas tree, although the festival is celebrated by church services and by ceremonies similar to those of our Hallowe'en.

In some of the villages in Wales a Christmas pudding is boiled for each of the disciples, with the exception of Judas, and in the rural districts of Scotland bread baked on Christmas Eve is said to indefinitely retain its freshness.

"The Fatherland" is the home of the Christmas tree, which is thought to be symbolical of the "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil," in the Garden of Eden; and candles were first used to typify the power of Christianity over the darkness of paganism, being sometimes arranged in triangular form to represent the Trinity.

Pines and firs being unattainable in the tropical islands of the Pacific, the white residents sometimes cut down a fruit tree, such as an orange or a guava, or actually manufacture a tree from wood, covering the bare, stiff boughs with clinging vines of evergreen.

In the Holy Land at this season the place of greatest interest is naturally the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem, erected on the supposed location where Christ was born. It is said to be the oldest Christian church in existence, having been built more than fifteen centuries ago by the Empress Helena, mother of Constantine. Repairs were made later by Edward IV of England; but it is now again fast falling into decay. The roof was originally composed of cedar of Lebanon and the walls were studded with precious jewels, while numerous lamps of silver and gold were suspended from the rafters... Continue reading book >>

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