By O. M. Spencer
|The Christmas Tree|
The angels in the Gloria in Excelsis have probably given us the best definition of Christmas, "On earth peace, good-will toward men." This Christian idea of Christmas, with its love, charity, and forgiveness, has probably found its most striking realization in the Julafred, or Yule-peace of the Scandinavians — a custom, though ancient as the Runic stones, still existing in Sweden, by virtue of a Christian baptism, as a Christian institution. Extending from Christmas-eve to Epiphany, and solemnly proclaimed by a public crier, any violation of the Yule-peace is visited with double or treble punishment. The courts are closed; old quarrels are adjusted; old feuds are forgotten; while on the Yule-evening the shoes, great and small, of the entire household, are set close together in a row, that during the coming year the family may live together in peace and harmony.
To this pacific, Christian conception of the Christmas-time not a few pagan elements have been added, which are clearly traceable, as we shall see, to the old German "Twelve Nights" and the Roman Saturnalia. Hence its mirth and festivity, its jesting and feasting, its frolic and license. The decoration and illumination of our Christian churches recall the temples of Saturn radiant with burning tapers and resplendent with garlands. The "Merry Christmas" responds to the "bona Saturnalia," and our modern Christmas presents to the dona amicis.
During the Saturnalia, which were intended to symbolize the freedom, equality, and peaceful prosperity of the golden or Saturnian age, all labor was suspended. The schools were closed; the Senate adjourned; no criminal was executed; no war proclaimed. Slaves exchanged places with their masters, or, seated at the banqueting tables wearing badges of freedom, jested with them familiarly as their equals.