THE KEEPING OF CHRISTMAS

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He that regardeth the day,
regardeth it unto the Lord,

–Romans, 14:6

It is a good thing to observe Christmas day…

The mere marking of times and seasons, when men agree to stop work and make merry get together, is a wise and wholesome custom. It helps one to feel the supremacy of the common life over the individual life. It reminds a man to set his own little watch, now and then, by the great clock of humanity which runs on sun time.

But there is a better thing than the observance of Christmas day and that is, keeping Christmas.

Are you willing to forget what you have done for other people, and to remember what other people have done for you; to ignore what the world owes you, and to think what you owe the world; to put your rights in the background, and your duties in the middle distance, and your chances to do a little more than your duty in the foreground; to see that your fellowmen are just as real as you, are, and try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy; to own that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life but what you are going to give to life; to close your book of complaints against the  management of the universe, and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness –are you willing to do these things even for a day?

Then you can keep Christmas.

Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and the desires of little children; to remember the weakness and loneliness of people who are growing old; to stop asking how much your friends love you, and ask yourself ‘whether you love them enough; to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear in their hearts; to try to understand what those who live in the same house with you really want, without waiting for them to tell you; to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you; to make a grave for your ugly thoughts and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open –are you willing to do these things even for a day?

Then you can keep Christmas.

Are you willing to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world –stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death –and that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem nineteen hundred years ago is the image and brightness of the Eternal Love?

HollyBellsThen you can keep Christmas,

And if you keep it for a day, why not always?
But you can never keep it alone.

Taken from,
Written by, Henry Van Dyke

TILL HE COME

“Till he come” –oh! let the words
Linger on the trembling chords;
Let the little while between
In their golden light be seen;
Let us think how heaven and home
Lie beyond that “till He come.”
When the weary ones we love
Enter on their rest above,
Seems the earth so poor and vast,
All our life-joy overcast?
Hush! be every murmur dumb,
It is only “till He come.”

–Rev. E. H. Bickersteth

Christmas Shepherds, and the Talmudic Prophecy of Christ

Annunciation to the Shepherds

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night…

shepherds-1aAnd, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.  –Luke 2:8-20

Shepherds-in-the-fieldsAs we pass out into the night, its sky all aglow with starry brightness, its loneliness is suddenly peopled, and its silence made vocal from heaven. There is nothing now to conceal, but much to reveal, though the manner of it would seem strangely incongruous to Jewish thinking. And yet Jewish tradition may here prove both illustrative and helpful. That the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, was a settled conviction.

tower-of-the-flockEqually so was the belief, that He was to be revealed from Migdal Eder, ‘the tower of the flock.’ “This Migdal Eder was not the watch-tower for the Ordinary flocks which pastured on the barren sheep ground beyond Bethlehem, but lay close to the town, on the road to Jerusalem. A passage in the Mishnah leads to the conclusion, that the flocks, which pastured there, were destined for Temple-sacrifices, and, accordingly, that the shepherds, who watched over them, were not ordinary shepherds. The latter were under the ban of Rabbanism, on account of their necessary isolation from religious ordinances, and their manner of life, which rendered strict legal observance unlikely, if not absolutely impossible. The same Mishnic passage also leads us to infer, that these flocks lay out all the year round, since they are spoken of as in the fields thirty days before the Passover –that is, in the month of February, when in Palestine the average rainfall is nearly greatest.

Thus, Jewish tradition in some dim manner apprehended the first revelation of the Messiah from that Migdal Eder where shepherds watched the Temple-flocks all the year round. Of the deep symbolic Significance of such a coincidence, it is needless to speak.

It was, then, on that night, that shepherds watched the flocks destined for sacrificial services, in the very place consecrated by tradition as that where the Messiah was to be first revealed.

031-031-TheAngelAppearsToTheShepherds-fullAll of a sudden came the long-delayed, unthought of announcement. Heaven and earth seemed to mingle, as suddenly an Angel stood before their dazzled eyes, while the out streaming glory, the Lord seemed to enwrap them, as in a mantle of light. Surprise, awe, fear would be hushed into calm expectancy, as from the Angel they heard, that what they saw boded not judgment, but ushered in to waiting Israel the great joy of those good tidings which he brought: that the long-promised Savior, Messiah, Lord, was born in the City of David, and that they themselves might go and see, and recognize Him by the humbleness of the circumstances surrounding His Nativity.

It was, as if attendant angels had only waited the signal. As, when the sacrifice was laid on the altar, the Temple-music burst forth in three sections, each marked by the blast of the priests’ silver trumpets, as if each Psalm were to be a Tris-Hagion; so, when the Herald-Angel had spoken, a multitude of heaven’s host- stood forth to hymn the good tidings he had brought. What they sang was but the reflex of what had been announced. It told in the language of praise the character, the meaning, the result, of what had taken place.

Heaven took up the strain of ‘glory’; earth echoed it as ‘peace’; it fell on the ears and hearts of men as ‘good pleasure’:

Glory to God in the highest– And upon earth peace– Among men good pleasure!

Only once before had the words of the Angels’ hymn fallen upon mortal’s ears, when, to Isaiah’s rapt vision. Heaven’s high Temple had opened, and. the glory of Jehovah swept its courts, almost breaking down the trembling posts that bore its boundary gates. Now the same glory enwrapped the shepherds on Bethlehem’s plains. Then the Angels’ hymn had heralded the announcement of the Kingdom coming, now that the King come.  Then it had been the Tris-Hagion of prophetic anticipation; now, that of Evangelistic fulfillment.

009-shepherds-angelsThe hymn had ceased; the light faded out of the sky; and the shepherds were alone. But the Angelic message remained with them; and the sign, which was to guide them to the Infant Christ, lighted their rapid way up the terraced height to where, at the; entering of Bethlehem, the lamp swinging over the hostelry directed them to the strangers of the house of David, who had come from Nazareth.

Though it seems as if, in the hour of her utmost need, the Virgin-Mother had not been ministered to by loving hands, yet what had happened in the stable must soon have become known in the roadside inn.

Perhaps friendly women were still passing to and fro on errands of mercy, when the shepherds reached the ‘stable.’ – There they found perhaps not what they had expected, but as they had been told. The Holy group only consisted of the humble Virgin-Mother, the lowly carpenter of Nazareth, and the Babe laid in the manger. What further passed we know not, save that, having seen it for themselves, the shepherds told what had been spoken to them about this Child, to all around –in the ‘stable,’ in the fields, probably also in the Temple, to which they would bring their flocks, thereby preparing the minds of a Simeon, of an Anna, and of all them that looked for salvation in Israel.

adoration-of-the-shepherds-poussinAnd now the hush of wondering expectancy fell once more on all, who heard what was told by the shepherds –this time not only in the hill-country of Judea, but within the wider circle that embraced Bethlehem and the Holy City. And yet it seemed all so sudden, so strange. That on such slender thread, as the feeble throb of an Infant-life, the salvation of the world should hang –and no special care watched over His safety, no better shelter be provided it than a ‘ stable,’ no other cradle than a manger! And still it is ever so. On what slender thread has the continued life of the Church often seemed to hang; on what feeble throbbing that of every child of God –with no visible outward means to ward off danger, no home of comfort, no rest of ease.  But lo, children are Jehovah’s heritage!  –And so, He giveth to his beloved in his sleep!

–Alfred Edersheim, “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah”

About the Magi: Thoughts on Christmas, and the Traditions on its Band of Scholars and Kings

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Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king…

Three-wise-men_2769…behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

tissot-the-magi-in-the-house-of-herod-719x596x72“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. –Matthew 2:1-12

3.kings1_Traditional nativity scenes depict three “kings” visiting the infant Jesus on the night of his birth, in a manger accompanied by the shepherds and angels, but this should be understood as an artistic convention allowing the two separate scenes of the Adoration of the Shepherds on the birth night and the later Adoration of the Magi to be combined for convenience. The single biblical account in Matthew simply presents an event at an unspecified point after Christ’s birth in which an unnumbered party of unnamed “wise men” visits him in a house, not a stable, with only “his mother” mentioned as present.

massacre_of_the_innocentsThe Bible specifies no interval between the birth and the visit. Traditional dates of December 25 and January 6 encourage the popular assumption that the visit took place the same winter as the birth, but later traditions varied, with the visit taken as occurring up to two winters later. This maximum interval is explained by Herod’s command regarding the Massacre of the Innocents which included boys up to two years old.

The Magi are popularly referred to as wise men and kings. The word magi is the plural of Latin magus, borrowed from Greek μάγος magos, as used in the original Greek text of the Gospel of Matthew (“μάγοι”). Greek magos itself is derived from Old Persian maguŝ and was the religious caste into which Zoroaster was born. As part of their religion, these priests paid particular attention to the stars and gained an international reputation for astrology, which was at that time highly regarded as a science. Their religious practices and use of astrology caused derivatives of the term Magi to be applied to the occult in general and led to the English term magic, although Zoroastrianism was in fact strongly opposed to sorcery.

Traditions identify a variety of different names for the Magi. In the Western Christian church they have been all regarded as saints and are commonly known as:

Melchior, a Persian scholar;
Caspar, an Indian scholar;
Balthazar, an Arabian scholar.

TheThreeKingsEncyclopædia Britannica states: “according to Western church tradition, Balthasar is often represented as a king of Arabia, Melchior as a king of Persia, and Gaspar as a king of India.” These names apparently derive from a Greek manuscript probably composed in Alexandria around 500, and which has been translated into Latin with the title Excerpta Latina Barbari. Another Greek document from the 8th century, of presumed Irish origin and translated into Latin with the title Collectanea et Flores, continues the tradition of three kings and their names and gives additional details.

One candidate for the origin of the name Caspar appears in the Acts of Thomas as Gondophares (21 – c. AD 47), i.e., Gudapharasa (from which “Caspar” might derive as corruption of “Gaspar”). This Gondophares declared independence from the Arsacids to become the first Indo-Parthian king, and he was allegedly visited by Thomas the Apostle. According to at least one scholar, his name is perpetuated in the name of the Afghan city Kandahar.

hymn_we_three_kingsThe phrase “from the east,” more literally from the rising [of the sun], is the only information Matthew provides about the region from which they came. Traditionally the view developed that they were Babylonians, Persians, or Jews from Yemen as the kings of Yemen then were Jews, a view held for example by John Chrysostom. There is an Armenian tradition identifying the “Magi of Bethlehem” as Balthasar of Arabia, Melchior of Persia, and Gaspar of India. Historian, John of Hildesheim relates a tradition in the ancient silk road city of Taxila (near Islamabad in Pakistan) that one of the Magi passed through the city on the way to Bethlehem.

ImmagineThe Magi are described as “falling down”, “kneeling” or “bowing” in the worship of Jesus. This gesture, together with Luke’s birth narrative, had an important effect on Christian religious practices. They were indicative of great respect, and typically used when venerating a king. Inspired by these verses, kneeling was adopted in the early Church. Kneeling has remained an important element of Christian worship to this day.

Three gifts are explicitly identified in Matthew: gold, frankincense, and myrrh . Many different thoughts are given on these gifts but generally break down into two groups:

we-three-kings1. All three gifts are ordinary offerings and gifts given to a king. Myrrh being commonly used as an anointing oil, frankincense as a perfume, and gold as a valuable.
2. The three gifts had a spiritual meaning: gold as a symbol of kingship on earth, frankincense (an incense) as a symbol of deity, and myrrh (an embalming oil) as a symbol of death.

John Chrysostom suggested that the gifts were fit to be given not just to a king but to God, and contrasted them with the Jews’ traditional offerings of sheep and calves, and accordingly Chrysostom asserts that the Magi worshiped Jesus as God.

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 Source material taken from Wikipedia

Tiny Thoughts on the Large Matter of Christmas…

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Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise:

When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.

NativityBut while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.

Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
–Matthew 1:18-23

The evangelist Matthew tells us that “Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king;”

nativity1Justin Martyr, who was born at Shechem and lived less than a century after the time of Christ, places the scene of the Nativity in a cave. Over this cave has risen the Church and Convent of the Nativity, and there is a stone slab with a star cut in it to mark the spot where the Savior was born.

One famous minister and theologian, who has been at the place, says: “It is impossible to stand in the little Chapel of the Nativity, and to look without emotion on the silver star let into the white marble, encircled by its sixteen burning lamps. To visit such a scene is to have the thoughts carried back to the greatest event in the world’s history, for it has been truly said that the birth of Christ was the world’s second birthday.

Now, death is life! and grief is turned to joy!
Since glory shone on that auspicious morn,
When God incarnate came, not to destroy,
But man to save and manhood’s state adorn !
–W. F. Dawson

candle.
In some churches of old, on Christmas Eve…

…two small lights, typifying the Divine and the human nature, were seen to approach one another gradually, until they met and blended, and a bright flame was kindled.
–Julius G. Hare.

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At a gathering of children on Christmas Day

731d45e13d7b872e7a3ffa15b22f2069A gentleman present related a very interesting incident: “A little girl, but three years of age, was very curious to know why Christmas evergreens were so much used, and what they were intended to signify. So we told her the story of the babe of Bethlehem –of the child whose name was Jesus. The little questioner was just beginning to give voice to the music that was in her heart; and after we concluded the narrative, she looked up in his face and asked, “Did Jesus sing?” Who had ever thought of that? Yet, if you look at Matthew 26:30, you will find almost conclusive proof that Jesus sang with His disciples. Is not that encouragement for us to sing –not with the understanding only, but with the heart also.
–Walter Baxendale

night_of_jesus_christ_birth-t2.
But when the Holy Babe was born

In the deep hush of night,
It seemed as if a Sabbath morn
Had come with sacred light.
Child Jesus made the place forlorn
With his own beauty bright.
–James Park

A Scene of Mediaeval Christmas

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LET us imagine Christmas Day in a mediaeval town of Northern England.

The cathedral is only partly finished. Its nave and transepts are the work of Norman architects, but the choir has been destroyed in order to be rebuilt by more graceful designers and more skillful hands.

Rhodes_1480_carpentersThe old city is full of craftsmen assembled to complete the church. Some have come, as a religious duty, to work off their tale of sins by bodily labor. Some are animated by a love of art –simple men who might have rivalled with the Greeks in ages of more cultivation. Others, again, are well-known carvers brought for hire from distant towns and countries beyond the sea. But to-day, and for some days past, the sound of hammer and chisel has been silent in the choir. Monks have bustled about the nave, dressing it up with holly boughs and bushes of yew, and preparing a stage for the sacred play they are going to exhibit on the feast-day.

The celebration of Christmas is not like the Feast of Corpus Christi, for now the market-place stands inches deep in snow, so that the Miracles must be enacted beneath a roof instead of in the open air. And what place so appropriate as the cathedral, where poor people may have warmth and shelter while they see the show? Besides, the gloomy old church, with its windows darkened by the falling snow, lends itself to candle-light effects that will enhance the splendor of the scene.

Everything is ready.

entertainment_troubadoursThe incense of morning mass yet lingers round the altar. The voice of the friar, who told the people from the pulpit the story of Christ’s birth, has hardly ceased to echo. Time has just been given for a mid-day dinner, and for the shepherds and farm lads to troop in from the countryside. The monks are ready at the wooden stage to draw its curtain, and all the nave is full of eager faces. There you may see the smith and carpenter, the butcher’s wife, the country priest, and the gray-cowled friar. Scores of workmen, whose home the cathedral for the time is made, are also here, and you may know the artists by their thoughtful foreheads and keen eyes.

admin-ajaxThat young monk carved Madonna and her Son above the southern porch. Beside him stands the master-mason, whose strong arms have hewn gigantic images of prophets and apostles for the pinnacles outside the choir; and the little man with cunning eyes between the two is he who cuts such quaint hobgoblins and the gargoyles. He has a vein of satire in him, and his humor overflows into the stone. Many and many a grim beast and hideous head has he hidden among vine-leaves and trellis-work upon the porches. Those who know him well are loath to anger him, for fear their sons and sons’ sons should laugh at them forever caricatured in solid stone.

Hark! There sounds the bell. The curtain is drawn, and the candles blaze brightly round the wooden stage.

ANTDvlWhat is this first scene? We have God in Heaven, dressed like a pope with Triple Crown, and attended by his court of angels. They sing and toss up censers till he lifts his hand and speaks. In a long Latin speech he unfolds the order of creation and his will concerning man. At the end of it up leaps an ugly buffoon, in goatskin, with rams’ horns upon his head. Some children begin to cry; but the older people laugh, for this is the Devil, the clown and comic character, who talks their common tongue, and has no reverence before the very throne of Heaven. He asks leave to plague men, and receives it; then, with many a curious caper, he goes down to Hell, beneath the stage.

0c9563a6c02787bfafacff730a1ee314The angels sing and toss their censers as before, and the first scene closes to a sound of organs. The next is more conventional, in spite of some grotesque incidents. It represents the Fall; the monks hurry over it quickly, as a tedious but necessary prelude to the birth of Christ.

That is the true Christmas part of the ceremony, and it is understood that the best actors and most beautiful dresses are to be reserved for it. The builders of the choir in particular are interested in the coming scenes, since one of their number has been chosen, for his handsome face and tenor voice, to sing the angel’s part. He is a young fellow of nineteen, but his beard is not yet grown, and long hair hangs down upon his shoulders. A chorister of the cathedral, his younger brother, will act the Virgin Mary.

At last the curtain is drawn.

MS mariaWe see a cottage room, dimly lighted by a lamp, and Mary spinning near her bedside. She sings a country air, and goes on working, till a rustling noise is heard, more light is thrown upon the stage, and a glorious creature, in white raiment, with broad golden wings, appears. He bears a lily, and cries, “Ave Maria, Gratia Plena!”  She does not answer, but stands confused, with down-dropped eyes and timid mien. Gabriel rises from the ground and comforts her, and sings aloud his message of glad tidings.

Then Mary gathers courage, and, kneeling in her turn, thanks God; and when the angel and his radiance disappears, she sings the song of the Magnificat, clearly and simply, in the darkened room. Very soft and silver sounds this hymn. Through the great church. The women kneel, and children are hushed as by a lullaby. But some of the children at the rear, and apprentice-lads begin into think it rather dull.

They are not sorry when the next scene opens with a sheepfold and a little camp-fire. Unmistakable bleatings issue from the fold, and five or six common fellows are sitting round the blazing wood. One might fancy they had stepped straight from the church floor to the stage, so natural do they look. Besides, they call themselves by common names “Colin and Tom Lie-a-bed and Nimble Dick. Many a round laugh wakes echoes in the church when these shepherds stand up, and hold debate about a stolen sheep. Tom Lie-a-bed has nothing to remark but that he is very sleepy, and does not want to go in search of it to-night; Colin cuts jokes, and throws out shrewd suspicions that Dick knows something of the matter; but Dick is sly, and keeps them off the scent, although a few of his asides reveal to the audience that he is the real thief.

While they are thus talking, silence falls upon the herdsmen. Soft music from the church organ breathes, and they appear to fall asleep.

downloadThe stage is now quite dark, and for a few moments the aisles echo only to the dying melody. When, behold, a ray of light is seen, and splendor grows around the stage from hidden candles, and in the glory Gabriel appears upon a higher platform made to look like clouds. The herdsmen wake in confusion, striving to shelter their eyes from this unwonted brilliancy. But Gabriel waves his lily, spreads his great gold wings, and bids good cheer with clarion voice. The shepherds fall to worship, and suddenly round Gabriel there gathers a choir of angels, and a song of “Gloria in Excelsis” to the sound of a deep organ is heard far off. From distant aisles it swells, and seems to come from heaven. Through a long resonant fugue the Christmas Day glorifies, and as it ceases with complex conclusion, the lights die out, the angels disappear, and Gabriel fades into the darkness.

download (1)Still the shepherds kneel, rustically chanting a carol half in Latin, half in English, which begins “In dulci Jubilo.” The people know it well, and when the chorus rises with “Ubi sunt gaudia?” its wild melody is caught by voices up and down the nave. This scene makes deep impression upon many hearts; for the beauty of Gabriel is rare, and few who see him in his angel’s dress would know him for the lad who daily carves his lilies and broad water-flags about the pillars of the choir. To that simple audience he interprets Heaven, and little children will see him in their dreams. Dark winter nights and awful forests will be trodden by his feet, made musical by his melodious voice, and parted by the rustling of his wings.

The youth himself may return to-morrow to the workman’s blouse and chisel, but his memory lives in many minds and may form a part of Christmas for the fancy of men as yet unborn.

adoration_of_the_magi_tapestryThe next drawing of the curtain shows us the stable of Bethlehem crowned by its star. There kneels Mary, and Joseph leans upon his staff. The ox and the ass are close at hand, and Jesus lies in jeweled robes on straw within the manger. To right and left bow the shepherds, worshiping in dumb show, while voices from behind chant a solemn hymn. In the midst of the melody is heard the flourish of trumpets, and heralds step upon the stage, followed by the three crowned kings. They have come from the Far East, led by the star. The song ceases, while drums and fifes and trumpets play a stately march. The kings pass by, and do obeisance one by one. Each gives some costly gift; each doffs his crown and leaves it at the Savior’s feet. Then they retire to a distance and worship in silence like the shepherds.

Again the angels’ song is heard, and while it dies away the curtain closes and the lights are put out. The play is over, and the evening has come.

Medieval_Dance (1)The people must go from the warm church into the frozen snow, and crunch their homeward way beneath the moon. But in their minds they carry a sense of light and music and unearthly loveliness. Not a scene of this day’s pageant will be lost. It grows within them and creates the poetry of Christmas. Nor must we forget the sculptors who listen to the play. We spoke of them minutely, because these mysteries sank deep into their souls and found a way into their carvings on the cathedral walls.

guilds-2_0The monk who made Madonna by the southern porch will remember Gabriel and place him bending low in lordly salutation by her side. The painted glass of the chapter-house will glow with fiery choirs of angels learned by heart that night. And who does not know the mocking devils and quaint satyrs that the humorous sculptor carved among his fruits and flowers? Some of the misereres of the stalls still bear portraits of the shepherd thief, and of the ox and ass who blinked so blindly when the kings, by torch light, brought their dazzling gifts.

Truly these old miracle-plays and the carved work of cunning hands that they inspired are worth to us more than all the delicate creations of Italian pencils. Our homely Northern churches still remain, for the child who reads their bosses and their sculptured fronts and thinks of those who made fine art of high theology.

–John Addington Symonds

The Unbroken Song

I HEARD the bells on Christmas Day,
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good- will to men!

–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Favorite Christmas Traditions: The First Christmas Tree

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 Origin of the Christmas Tree

A SCANDINAVIAN myth of great antiquity speaks of a “service tree”

…sprung from the blood-drenched soil where two lovers had been killed by violence. At certain nights in the Christmas season mysterious lights were seen flaming in its branches, that no wind could extinguish.

One tale describes Martin Luther as attempting to explain to his wife and children the beauty of a snow-covered forest under the glittering star sprinkled sky. Suddenly, an idea suggested itself. He went into the garden, cut off a little fir-tree, dragged it into the nursery, put some candles on its branches and lighted them.

“It has been explained,” says another authority,

“as being derived from the ancient Egyptian practice of decking houses at the time of the winter solstice with branches of the date palm –the symbol of life triumphant over death, and therefore of perennial life in the renewal of each bounteous year.” The Egyptians regarded the date palm as the emblem not only of immortality, but also of the starlit firmament.

Some of its traditions may have been strongly influenced by the fact that about this time the Jews celebrated their Feast of Hanukkah or Lights, known also as the Feast of Dedication, of which lighted candles are a feature. In Germany, the name for Christmas Eve is Weihnacht, the Night of Dedication, while in Greece at about this season the celebration is called the Feast of Lights.

As a regular institution, however, it can be traced back only to the sixteenth century. During the Middle Ages it suddenly appears in Strassburg; it maintained itself along the Rhine for two hundred years, when suddenly at the beginning of the nineteenth century the fashion spread all over Germany, and by fifty years later had conquered Christendom.

By W. S. Walsh, “Curiosities of Popular Customs” (condensed)

 

siw_grisa_angel_8158A Christmas Carol for Children

–by Martin Luther

GOOD news from heaven the angels bring,
Glad tidings to the earth they sing:
To us this day a child is given,
To crown us with the joy of heaven.

This is the Christ, our God and Lord,
Who in all need shall aid afford:
He will Himself our Savior be.
From sin and sorrow set us free.

The Book of Christmas
To us that blessedness He brings,
Which from the Father’s bounty springs:
That in the heavenly realm we may
With Him enjoy eternal day.

siw_grisa_angel_8159All hail, Thou noble Guest, this morn,
Whose love did not the sinner scorn!
In my distress Thou cam’st to me:
What thanks shall I return to Thee?

Were earth a thousand times as fair,
Beset with gold and jewels rare,
She yet were far too poor to be
A narrow cradle. Lord, for Thee.

Ah, dearest Jesus, Holy Child!
Make Thee a bed, soft, undefiled,
Within my heart, that it may be
A quiet chamber kept for Thee.

Praise God upon His heavenly throne,
Who gave to us His only Son:
For this His hosts, on joyful wing,
A blessed New Year of mercy sing.

History: When Augustine Reintroduced Christmas to England

 Taken from, “Christmas, its Origin and Associations”
Written by, W.F. Dawson.

leo crowns charlemagne

The outgoing of the Romans and the incoming of the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes disastrously affected the festival of Christmas…

…for the invaders were heathens, and Christianity was swept westward before them. They had lived in a part of the Continent which had not been reached by Christianity nor classic culture, and they worshipped the false gods of Woden and Thunder, and were addicted to various heathenish practices, some of which now mingled with the festivities of Christmastide.

Still, as these Angles came to stay and have given their name to our country, it may be well to note that they came over to Britain from the one country which is known to have borne the name of Angeln or the Engle-land, and which is now called Sleswick, a district in the middle of that peninsula which parts the Baltic from the North Sea or German Ocean. The Romans having become weakened through their conflicts with Germany and other nations, at the beginning of the fifth century, the Emperor Honorius recalled the Roman legions from Britain, and this made it much easier for the Angles and Saxons (who had previously tried to get in)”to come and remain in this country.

Thus our Teuton forefathers came and conquered much the greater part of Britain, the Picts and Scots remaining in the north and the Welsh in the west of the island. It was their custom to kill or make slaves of all the people they could, and so completely did they conquer that part of Britain in which they settled that they kept their own language and manners and their own heathenish religion,and destroyed or desecrated Christian churches which had been set up. Hence Christian missionaries were required to convert our ancestral worshippers of Woden and Thunder, and a difficult business it was to Christianise such pagans, for they stuck to their false gods with the same tenacity that the northern nations did.

In his poem ofKing Olaf’s Christmas” Longfellow refers to the worship of Thor and Odin alongside with the worship of Christ in the northern nations:”

“At Drontheim, Olaf the King
Heard the bells of Yule-tide ring,
As he sat in his banquet-hall.
Drinking the nut-brown ale,
With his bearded Berserks hale
And tall.
O’er his drinking horn, the sign
He made of the Cross divine
As he drank, and muttered his prayers ;
But the Berserks evermore
Made the sign of the Hammer of Thor
Over theirs.”

In England, too, Christ and Thor were worshipped side by side for at least 150 years after the introduction of Christianity, for while some of the English accepted Christ as their true friend and Saviour, He was not accepted by all the people. Indeed, the struggle against Him is still going on, but we anticipate the time when He shall be victorious all along the line.

The Christmas festival was duly observed by the missionaries who came to the South of England from Rome, headed by Augustine of Canterbury, (not Augustine of Hippo) and in the northern parts of the country the Christian festivities were revived by the Celtic missionaries from lona, under Aidan, the famous Colombian monk. At least half of England was covered by the Columbian monks, whose great foundation upon the rocky island of lona, in the Hebrides, was the source of Christianity to Scotland. The ritual of the Celtic differed from that of the Romish missionaries, and caused confusion, till at the Synod of Whitby (664) the Northumbrian Kingdom adopted the Roman usages, and England obtained ecclesiastical unity as a branch of the Church of Rome. Thus unity in the Church preceded bv several centuries unity in the State.

In connection with Augustine’s mission to England, a memorable story (recorded in Green’s “History of the English People”) tells how, when but a young Roman deacon, Gregory had noted the white bodies, the fair faces, the golden hair of some youths who stood bound in the market-place of Rome. “From what country do these slaves come?” he asked the traders who brought them. “They are English, Angles!” the slave-dealers answered. The deacon’s pity veiled itself in poetic humour. “Not Angles, but Angels,” he said, ”with faces so angel-like! From what countrv come they?” “They come,” said the merchants, “from Deira.” “De ira!” was the untranslatable reply; “aye, plucked from God’s wrath, and called to Christ’s mercy! And what is the name of their king?” “AElla,” they told him, and Gregory seized on the words as of good omen. “Alleluia shall be sung in AElla’s land!” he cried, and passed on, musing how the angel-faces should be brought to sing it.

Only three or four years had gone by when the deacon had become Bishop of Rome, and the marriage of Bertha, daughter of the Prankish king, Charibert of Paris, with AEthelberht, King of Kent, gave him the opening he sought; for Bertha, like her Prankish kinsfolk, was a Christian. And so, after negotiations with the rulers of Gaul, Gregory sent Augustine, at the head of a band of monks, to preach the gospel to the English people. The missionaries landed in 597, on the very spot where Hengest had landed more than a century before,in the Isle of Thanet; and the king received them sitting in the open air on the chalk-down above Minster, where the eye nowadays catches, miles away over the marshes, the dim tower of Canterbury.

Rowbotham, in his “History of Music,” says that wherever Gregory sent missionaries he also sent copies of the Gregorian song as he had arranged it in his “Antiphonary.” And he bade them go singing among the people. And Augustine entered Kent bearing a silver cross and a banner with the image of Christ painted on it, while a long train of choristers walked behind him chanting the Kyrie Elcison. In this way they came to the court of Aethelberht, who assigned them Canterbury as an abode; and they entered Canterbury with similar pomp, and as they passed through the gates they sang this petition: “Lord, we beseech Thee to keep Thy wrath away from this citv and from Thy holy Church, Alleluia!”

As papal Rome preserved many relics of heathen Rome, so, in like manner, Pope Gregory, in sending Augustine over to convert the Anglo-Saxons, directed him to accommodate the ceremonies of the Christian worship as much as possible to those of the heathen, that the people might not be much startled at the change; and, in particular,he advised him to allow converts to kill and eat at the Christmas festival a great number of oxen to the glory of God, as they had formerly done to the honor of the devil.

The clergy, therefore, endeavored to connect the remnants of Pagan idolatry with Christianity, and also allowed some of the practices of our British ancestors to mingle in the festivities of Christmastide. The religion of the Druids, the priests of the ancient Britons, is supposed to have been somewhat similar to that of the Brahmins of India, the Magi of Persia, and the Chaldeans of Syria. They worshipped in groves, regarded the oak and mistletoe as objects of veneration, and offered sacrifices. Before Christianity came to Britain December was called “Aerra Geola,” because the sun then ” turns his glorious course.” And under different names. such as Woden (another form of Odin), Thor, Thunder, Saturn, etc., the pagans held their festivals of rejoicing at the winter solstice; and so many of the ancient customs connected with these festivals were modified and made subservient to Christianity.

Some of the English even tried to serve Christ and the older gods together, like the Roman Emperor, Alexander Severus, “whose chapel contained Orpheus side by side with Abraham and Christ.” Roedwald of East Anglia resolved to serve Christ and the older gods together, and a pagan and a Christian altar fronted one another in the same royal temple.” Kent, however, seems to have been evangelised rapidly, for it is recorded that on Christmas Day, 597, no less than ten thousand persons were baptized.

Before his death Augustine was able to see almost the whole of Kent and Essex nominally Christian. Christmas was now celebrated as the principal festival of the year, for our Anglo-Saxon forefathers delighted in the festivities of the Halig-Monath (holy month), as they called the month of December, in allusion to Christmas Day. At the great festival of Christmas the meetings of the Witenagemot were held, as well as at Easter and Whitsuntide, wherever the Court happened to be. And at these times the Anglo-Saxon, and afterwards the Danish, Kings of England lived in state, wore their crowns, and were surrounded by all the great men of their kingdoms (together with strangers of rank) who were sumptuously entertained, and the most important affairs of state were brought under consideration. There was also an outflow of generous hospitality towards the poor, who had a hard time of it during the rest of the year, and who required the Christmas giftsto provide them with such creature comforts as would help them through the inclement season of the year.

Readers of Saxon history will remember that chieftains in the festive hall are alluded to in the comparison made by one of King Edwin’s chiefs, in discussing the welcome to he given to the Christian missionary Paulinus: “The present life of man, O King, seems to me, in comparison of that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the hall where you sit at your meal in winter, with your chiefs and attendants, warmed by a fire made in the middle of the hall, while storms of rain or snow prevail without.”

The “hall” was the principal part of a gentleman’s house in Saxon times “the place of entertainment and hospitality” and at Christmastide the doors were never shut against any who appeared to be worthy of welcome. And with such modes of travelling as were in vogue in those days one can readily understand that, not only at Christmas, but also at other seasons, the rule of hospitality to strangers was a necessity.