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It is on the day before Christmas, and the dear little mountain village is almost buried in sparkling, pure-driven snow-a marvelous vision in white, with its fleckless beauty still accentuated by the sapphire blue of the sky, the healthy sepia-tan of the chalets, and the somber green of the stately pines.
That indescribably sweet perfume of the Christmas season floats through the air, and every bush and tree wears proudly the dazzling decorations which nature has so lavishly provided in her own artistic designs. We behold a new world, gloriously beautiful and humble in spirit at the same time; a world full of mystic charm, as it appears now in the delicate illumination of a crescent moon and its endless company of stars.
Here and there a merry tinkling of bells! Sleigh-riders homeward bound, eager to reach a friendly hearth in time for the celebration of the gladdest and greatest festival of the year—Christmas, when the Christkindli—the Christ-child-walks on earth.
And lo, as we look pensively down the narrow village street, there approaches a sleigh, drawn by six magnificent reindeer. Its occupant, a radiant angel—the Christ
kindli—is the poetic successor of jolly old Santa Claus, who in many parts of Switzerland, and not so long ago, used to be hailed as the generous donor of all Yule-tide gifts. On Christkindli's sleigh, there are Christmas trees of every size, decorated with the many glittering things which are so fascinating to young hearts, and heavily laden with rosy apples, oranges, nuts, and fragrant cookies. A truly appetizing and sensible array! There are packages, too, of tantalizing shape; and with the aid of her helpers, Christkindli distributes trees and gifts.
Christmas trees everywhere-not a house is forgotten! And before the youngsters are allowed to play with their toys, the whole family gathers around the tree and sings some carols-heartfelt, joyous offerings to God for his sublime gift to humans. many a home the story of the Nativity is read from the voluminous old family Bible, and the actual origin of the Christmas tree may even be brought up for discussion by some college-bred member, for no matter how isolated a Swiss village is, there is not one inhabitant who does not regard education as the greatest asset in modern life.
History indicates that it was only in the year 354 A.D. that the Roman Bishop Liberius designated December twenty-fifth as the birthday of Christ. On this day was observed the Roman feast of Saturn, when
were gathered round a huge oak to offer a human sacrifice, according to the Druid rites; but St. Winfried hewed down the great tree, and, as it fell, there appeared in its place a tall young fir. When St. Winfried saw it, he said to the people:
“Here is a new tree, unstained by blood. See how it points to the sky! Call it the tree of the Christ-child. Take it up now, and carry it to the castle of your chief. Henceforth you shall not go into the shadows of the forest to hold your feasts with secret and wicked rites. You shall hold them within the walls of your own home, with ceremonies that speak the message of peace and good will to all. A day is coming when there shall not be a home in the north wherein, on the birthday of Christ, the whole family will not gather around the fir-tree in memory of this day and to the glory of God."
Since the passing of those days, the custom of the Christmas tree has found its way into the remotest corners of the earth. Its significance and purpose have been crystallized in Christian minds and hearts, and yet there remains here and there the observance of certain quaint customs at Christmas-tide.
A LEAP OF THREE AT THE DAVOS SKI-JUMPS eandles were not only used for illumination purposes, but they were also exchanged as gifts in token of cheerfulness and good will. The Jews, too, were accustomed to burn candles at that time, which happened to be their Feast of Dedication, and it is thus not improbable that thousands of candles were burning throughout Palestine when Christ was born. Our present-day custom of burning candles on the Christmas trees is therefore of very ancient origin, and members of the Greek church actually call Christmas “The Feast of Lights.”
There is a pretty legend which relates that the history of the Christmas tree dates back to the ninth century, when a certain Saint Winfried went to preach Christianity to the people in Scandinavia and Northern Germany. One Christmas eve these people
ON THE VILLAGE RUN AT ST. MORITZ
It is Christmas eve, and after the last candle has flickered out on the tree, some of the simple peasant folk in the sequestered
A BOYS' SKIING CONTEST AT CHATEAU D'OEX Swiss mountain vales begin their observance onion. This she cuts into half, peels off of some of the odd customs which have been twelve layers, one for each month of the handed down to them by many generations year to come, and in due rotation she fills of ancestors. Grandmother hastens to the each one with salt. On the following morncellar for the most perfect specimen of an ing the family is able to prepare an advance
weather-chart of the year, for the peelings which contain damp salt indicate the rainy months, and the peelings with dry salt stand, of course, for the fair months.
And if any member of the family is courageous enough to consult the oracle as to the length of time which is yet allotted to him on
Christmas eve is, moreover, that time of the year when romance reigns on earth, and while the older members of the family are busily occupied in their own way, an unmarried son or daughter of the house will probably slip out into the clear winter's night, and, while the church-bells are calling to midnight mass, she or he will drink three sips from each of nine different fountains an easy task in this land of numerous public springs. After completing this curious rite, the supreme moment in the life of the young person concerned is at hand, for, if the spell works, the future mate will surely be standing at the church door, and a regular courtship is usually begun. With the majority of the younger contingent of the congregation attending this nocturnal mass, it is, of course, quite likely that the truly chosen one just "happens" to stand at the door. everybody of the village is acquainted with the custom, it is readily surmised by those waiting for the service to begin that their
THE EARL OF LYTTON'S NIECE ON A SNOW-BICYCLE
earth, he will presently take the Bible, and the first Psalm which strikes his eye contains in stanzas the number of years which he is yet given to live.
If Mother wishes to safeguard her chickens from all beasts of prey, she will now proceed to the chicken-coop and clip the wings of the fowls before midnight, but she must be careful not to go within hearing distance of the stable where the cattle are housed, for the hour from eleven to midnight on Christmas eve is the sacred time when the dumb beasts are able to converse together—and disaster is predicted for the inquisitive who takes it upon himself to listen.
The head of the house, too, has his duties. All day he has been busy shoveling snow and tying bands of straw around the trunks of the trees in the orchard; with lantern in hand, he now makes a last round of inspection, for the trees thus equipped in Christmas week are supposed to yield an unusually plentiful crop in the coming year.
MAKING SNOW FIGURES AN AGREEABLE PASTIME
still missing unmarried friends must be "visiting the fountains" prior to their arrival at church.
And is not the Swiss winter season an ideal time? Follow that tailing-party! An end
less row of sleds zigzagging their way to some New Year's eve here, as all over the world, point where one of those typically good Swiss is given to general merrymaking and when inns will provide a tempting dinner and dance the multitude of wondrously tuneful churchmusic as well! Either can be enjoyed out bells announce the beginning of a new year doors, for the season of white in the moun in glorious, soul-stirring chorus, resounding tains is one long period of sunny days, where throughout the land, bonfires will flare up on the noon temperature, in spite of ice and the mountain heights and young men will snow, lures to open-air picnics, and the care start threshing on some specially constructed fully maintained Swiss rinks are more and more hailed as nature's own unparalleled ballrooms.
While the foreign winter guests are the chief figures in Switzerland's winter frolics, many experts in the manifold varieties of winter sport are recruited from the natives, for they, of course, learn skating, skiing, and tobogganing when mere babies.
The week between Christmas and New Year is visiting week among the peasants of the mountain regions. Card-parties are arranged almost daily, for the Swiss are en
PLAYTIME FOR EVERYBODY-SON ON SKIS, MOTHER ON A TOBOGGAN thusiastic players of their national card game, “Jass,” and it is wooden platforms above their village-a not an uncommon sight to see three gene strange invocation for a good harvest to rations emerge from the same home, all
Members of the local singing society, equipped with skis, all bound on the same and there is one to be found in the tiniest errand—a Kaffeeklatsch and Jass at some village, will now go from house to house neighboring house. In justice to the 'hard "caroling" and offering New Year's wishes. working Swiss peasant women be it said, On the first day of the year, many a farmer however, that after the holidays the card will first of all consult the sky; should it be parties are replaced by knitting- and spin red, it is considered an omen of storms, fires, ning-bees.
and even war. For mere good luck, too, A special kind of bread is also baked at many a person will avoid encountering a this time of the year, known as “New Year's woman on New Year's morning; to meet men bread,” and its extra ingredients include or children, however, is considered very milk, butter, eggs, and raisins. That every fortunate. housewife is ambitious to excel her neighbor Why do such ancient and curious customs in the quality of her product is only natural still linger in our enlightened age, one wonand human!
ders, and then remembers that they are Almost every community has now its own undoubtedly relics of beliefs dating back to amateur theatrical guild, which presents times when ignorance fostered superstition. plays both tragic and comic with an earnest And, while some people may regard the obness which never fails to impress the audi servance of such customs as "rather foolish,” ence. On New Year's day is given their gala others find them "interesting and picturperformance, and they do not have to invent esque,” and hope that they may never die any advertising schemes to fill the house! out entirely.