Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 3, 1892.djvu/187

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German Christmas and the Christmas-Tree.

ornament, which certainly adds much to the beauty of the Christmas-festival. One family vies with the other, and the one who has the finest blossoms on their tree is very proud of it."

The custom of having these kinds of trees does not seem isolated. In Austrian Silesia, the peasant women to this day sally forth at twelve o'clock at night on St. Andrew's Day to pluck a branch of the apricot-tree, which is put in water so that it may flower at Christmas-time With this flowering branch they go to the Christmas Mass and it gives them the faculty of discerning all the witches whilst the clergyman is saying the blessing; each witch is seen carrying a wooden pail on her head. In some parts of Austria, every member of the family cuts a branch of cherry, apricot, or pear-tree on the day of St. Barbara. Poor people offer them for sale under the name of "Barbara branches". In order that each may recognise their own branch, they are all marked, and then put into a dish with water, and placed on the stove. The water is renewed every second day. About Christmas-time, white blossoms burst forth, and the one whose branch blooms first or best may expect some good luck in the following year. In the Tyrol they even try to force a cherry-tree into blossom in the open air. The first Thursday in Advent they put lime into the ground underneath a cherry-tree, and then it flowers at Yuletide. Near Meran it is customary to put dry branches into water, so that they may flower at Christmas-time.

All these usages, just as the Christmas-tree with its artificial flowers and fruits, its candles and paper blossoms, its golden apples and nuts, have their origin in an ancient legend about the winter solstice, which is found among the East Teutonic tribes of Iceland, and also among the West Teutonic peoples—the Germans and the English—so it must be assumed to be an old tradition of both.

There is no night in the year about which so much is told that is strange and wonderful as about the night from