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“O read it, grand-pa,” they all exclaimed with one voice. The old man read: “Christmas is a happy time here in the old Fatherland. The children make little presents to their parents, and to each other; and the parents to their children. For three or four months before Christmas, the girls are all busy; and the boys save their pocket money to make or purchase these presents. What the present is to be, is cautiously kept secret, and the girls have a world of contrivances to conceal it—such as working when they are out on visits, and the others are not with them; getting up in the morning before daylight, etc. Then, on the evening before Christmas-day, one of the parlors is lighted up by the children into which the parents must not go. A great yew bough is fastened on the table at a little distance from the wall; a multitude of little tapers are fixed in the bough, but not so as to burn it till they are nearly consumed; and colored paper, etc., hangs and flutters from the twigs. Under this bough, the children lay out in great order, the presents they mean for their parents, still concealing in their pockets what they intended for each other. Then the parents are introduced, and each presents his little gift; they then bring out the remainder, one by one, from their pockets, and present them with kisses and embraces. When I witnessed this scene, there were eight or nine children, and the eldest daughter and mother wept aloud for joy and tenderness; and the tears run down the face of the father, as he clasped all his children so tight to his breast, it seemed as if he did it to stifle the sob that was rising within him. I was very much affected. The shadow of the bough and its appendages on the walls and arching over on the ceiling, made a pretty picture; and then the rapture of the very little ones, when at last the twigs and their needles began to take fire and snap-0, it was a delight for them!
“On the next day, in the great parlor, the parents lay on the table the presents for the children. A scene of more sober joy succeeds; as on this day, after an old custom, the mother says privately to each of her daughters, and the father to his sons, that which he has observed most praiseworthy, and that which was most faulty in their conduct. Formerly, and still in all the smaller towns and villages throughout North Germany, these presents are sent by all the parents to some one fellow, who, in high buskins, a white robe, a mask, and an enormous flax wig, personates Knecht Rupert-i. e., the servant Rupert. On Christmas night he goes round to every house, and says that Jesus Christ, his master, sent him thither. The parents and elder children receive him with great pomp and reverence, while the little ones are most terribly frightened. He then inquires for the children, and according to the character which he hears from the parents he gives them the intended presents, as if they came out of heaven from Jesus Christ. Or if they should have been bad children, he gives the parents a rod, and, in the name of his master, recommends them to use it frequently.”
“I think," said Mary, “those children would try to be good to their parents, who were so kind to them always, and especially on Christmas."
“And I think,” said Wilsie, “they would learn to love the good Jesus who gave them such good parents, and made such a happy Christmas for them."
“Des, dran-pa, I dink so du," said our little Maggie, who was as anxious as any one to be glad at what the old man said.
“Yes, children,” continued the venerable man, “it is the design of these acts of kindness to open the hearts both of those who bestow them, and those who receive them; and I know from blessed experience that they have this effect. When, now that my hairs are gray, as my father's were long, long ago, I think back over those Christmas scenes, and remember all the kind words, looks, and gifts of my parents, my aged heart softens, and I love my Saviour the more because I know that He made them so good and kind !”
Here the aged man's eye moistened, his lips trembled, and under his white locks his cheeks glowed from the emotions which swelled his heart. While he paused, Mary said,
“Grand-pa, tell us how it comes that people give presents to each other, on our Saviour's birth-day, and this will make another Christmas story for us."
“That I will do, my children. Jesus Christ was God's great gift to the world. He was the first, and the greatest, Christmas gift. This has led good people to think that because God was so good as to give such a gift to them, they ought also to be kind and give gifts to each other. John, the loving disciple says : ‘Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.'”
“O, now I see,” said Wilsie, “it comes from that.”
“Then, too,” continued the old man, “all those who open their hearts to receive God's great gift, will always feel themselves moved to be kind. Wherever Christ is in the heart there he makes kind feelings. Now christian parents show, by their kindness to their children and others, that the spirit of Jesus dwells in their hearts. Thus they give more gifts on Christ's birth-day than any other time, to show how glad they are that He came into the world to be our Saviour.”
“I wonder how any one can wish to have Christmas put away,” said Mary. “I think it must be because they have no grand-pas to explain to them these pretty things about it, and to tell them such beautiful Christmas stories."
“I am glad you came, grand-pa," said Wilsie. And Maggie, who would never be behind when any loving was to be done, stammered: “ Maggie is dlad—all over dlad."
It would take us too long to tell all that passed between the first arrival, and Christmas eve. This we must pass over, with the simple remark, that all was joyful preparation for the happy flowering time of gladness to take place on Christmas eve, and on Christmas day. The parlor was kept dark, and the children were not permitted to enter it. Why? The Christmas-tree was growing in there unseen and in silence. Grandfather was superintending the matter; for he was devoutly bent on observing his own ancestors' almost dying request, that they should keep up the good old Christmas customs, as he had done, and as they used to do in the Fatherland.
Although the children may not enter, we must take our readers into the dark parlor, and show them the mysterious growth of the Christmas tree. First, we take a rough box, paper it all over nicely, and fill it with earth. Then we take a nice round top of pine, or cedar, and plant it in the box. Then we cover the surface of the box with moss; which again we cover with little heaps of almonds, figs, raisins, and all kinds of nuts. Here and there we lay an orange, a cocoa-nut, and nice apple, to make it look rich. Then we take and hang all kinds of pleasant fruits upon the branches of the pine; bunches of raisins, strings of almonds, little toy-baskets full of nuts. Then, all the little presents, for all the members of the family, are also hung in the branches. There hang handkerchiefs, collars, little red shoes, speckled stockings, little books, candy baskets, dolls, little men, and little horses, and little whips and wagons. See, there hangs a staff for grand-pa, and a pair of spectacles for grandmother. See, I do say, if there isn't a Christmas sermon for the Pastor! Look, if it is not in his own hand. writing. It is a chance if grand-pa himself has not slipped it from the Pastor's study table, and hung it on the Christmas-tree. Now all is finished, but a number of wax candles must yet be tied in the tree, ready for being lit.
The Christmas-tree has now come to its full growth. The candles are all lit. How they sparkle in the dark evergreen branches of the pine. How richly the fruit, and the various presents, shine in the branches, which almost bend under their kind burdens. The CHRISTKINDLEIN, has been very good in making such a fine tree full of presents grow in the parlor.
The children have been waiting and wondering long enough. The time to fulfil their joy has come. The parlor-door is thrown open; and the whole generation follows grand-pa in. But what a sight bursts upon the high hopes of the children! The shining tree, smiling silently from root to top, seems to them like what they have thought the trees might be in Heaven! They look, they laugh, they leap around it. There is one grand, spontaneous shout of_"HAPPY, HAPPY CHRISTMAS!"
"O, grand-pa," exclaimed the children, “we will never put the Christmas away, will we?" And little Maggie, waddling around the tree, and clapping her hands, kept saying: “I is dlad you tum, dran-pa-I is dlad de Krismas tum, too." The venerable old man himself, on witnessing the joy of the children, could hardly keep still, for his heart was young once more, and his youthful years smiled around him again, as in days of yore!
There hang the presents in the shining tree. But no one must know which is his own present till to-morrow; for as yet it is a family tree, and binds the hearts of all to itself, and thus to each other. They may guess; and if we take notice to their guesses, we can see in which way their tastes run. Some may come very near the truth, but there is no certainty. Perhaps the Pastor himself is the only one who can not well make a mistake. The half-suppressed smile, which looks out archly from the corner of his mouth, as he casts his eye at the little paper book, convinces us that he is pretty certain that it is a sermon for him. He is inly glad that he is provided for, and can rest well in view of the mor
row. We hope the sermon is full of Christ—all about Christ! No doubt it is. It ought to be.
There has been joy enough for one Christmas-eve. The hour is growing late. The candles are beginning to burn low. The happy family retires; but it would be difficult to say whether they rest in sleep, or rest in bliss. “What a magic night! What tumult of dreaming hopes! The populous, motley, glittering cave of fancy opens itself in the length of the night, and in the exhaustion of dreaming effort, still darker and darker, fuller and more grotesque; but the waking gives back to the thirsty heart its hopes. All accidental tones, the cries of animals, of watchmen, are for the timidly devout fancy, sounds out of Heaven; singing voices of angels in the air; church-music of the morning worship!” There are faintly heard, in dreams, the hymnings of higher hosts, even as they once undulated over Bethlehem's plains. O, how the mild Jesus, in form as an infant, floats in the half-awake night visions of those in whose hearts echoes the jubilate of Christmas joy.
In the morning come anew the greetings of joy and love: “Happy Christmas!” The gifts are now designated; and each one learns what gift is his. But it is agreed by all, that the Christmas-tree shall not be plucked of its fruits. It must hold the gifts of love together till the festival of Christmas is over. So shall the hearts of the family hang together in one bright, rich, beautiful cluster of love.
And now it remains for grandfather to explain to the children the meaning of this Christmas-tree. Which he gladly does thus: “This tree is in a dark room. So Jesus came into a dark world with his riches and gifts. It was made in the evening. So Jesus was born in the evening. It is an evergreen-tree. So the kingdom of grace which Jesus established in our hearts, and in the world, is always fresh and flourishing. The gifts which hang on it are to remind us of the many blessings which we receive from Christ's grace in the world. That there are presents on it for all, is to show us that He has good things for all; for children as well as for those who are grown. The burning tapers are to teach us that Jesus brought light into the world. If it were not for these lights in the dark room the gifts on the tree could not be seen. So Jesus enlightens our hearts that we may see the gifts which he has brought us. The children do not see the tree till after it has all been prepared for them. So Jesus and their kind parents do much for them while they are yet too small to know it; but if they trust in Him and their Christian parents and friends, they will afterwards learn with great joy how well they were cared for though they knew it not. They are not at once made acquainted with their own presents, to teach them that in Christ's kingdom, and in a christian family, all ought to rejoice in common blessings, and enjoy the sight of all, as much as the sight of their own. When gathering round the Christmastree they must not desire to say selfishly, this is mine; but they must learn to say, in the spirit of mutual love, all this is ours !"
The children all gave signs of joy at what they heard. New ideas, as well as new joys, spring up in their hearts at every word. It is believed that they will never forget grand-pa's visit, nor the Christmastree, nor the good Saviour, of whom he told them so much that was new to them, nor the happy, happy, happy Christmas time!
On Christmas evening, just before they went to bed, the venerable old man, who was so full of his theme that he could hardly stop, yet sung for the children, with trembling voice, the following simple Christmas verses, that are said to come from the middle ages. “Though simple," the old man said, "yet they have much more of the true life of Jesus in them, than thousands that are more modern:
"Honor the leaves and the leaves of life,
Upon this blest holiday,
Whether he might go to play.
To play, then get you gone;
At night when you come home.
As far as the holy well;
As ever eyes beheld.
And sweet may your sleep be ;
And you shall play with me.
Thou art meaner than us all;
Born in an oxen's stall.'
Sweet Jesus he turned himself about,
Neither langhed, nor smiled, nor spoke,
Like waters from the rock.
Sweet Jesus he ran to his mother dear,
As fast as he could run-
eyes set on.
And sweet may your sleep be-
And you shall play with me.'
Thou art meaner than us all;
Born in an oxen's stall.'
As fast as they could fall.
As far as the holy well,
And dip them deep in hell.'