A German Christmas: 1833

Coleridge, the sweetest of living Poets, in his last interesting and philosophical work, “The Friend,” thus beautifully describes the custom of celebrating Christmas Eve in Germany, which, says he, greatly pleased and interested me.

“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 up their pocket-money to buy these presents. What the present is to be 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 it up in the morning before day-light &c. 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 onto 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, &c. 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 intend 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.

Where 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 ran down the face of the father, and he clasped all his children so tight to his breast, it seemed as if he did it to stifle his sob that was rising within. I was very much affected.–  The shadow of the bough and its appendages on the wall, and the arching over on the ceiling, made a pretty picture; and then the raptures of the very little ones, when at last the twigs and their needles began to take fire and snap–O it was a delight to them!  On the next day (Christmas-day) in the great parlor, the parents lay out on the table the presents for the children; a scene of more sober joy succeeds; as on the 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.”

From “New-Hampshire Statesman and State Journal, “(Concord, NH) Saturday, December 28, 1833; Issue 33; col A

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