It won't be long and Christmas Eve will be here filled with peace, gifts, and the joy of children. We all have experienced Christmas many times, but we still look forward to it and its special magic. Over and over again, it reminds us of the birth of Jesus whose coming to our world awakens in our hearts the most noble feelings. For a few moments we are able to forget our everyday problems as we stand in awe and humility in front of the Manger. Nobody knows what causes it, but at that moment it is love, goodness and hope that fill our soul. We know that we are being forgiven all our sins, misunderstandings, fights, and arguments. We wish that kind of Christmas peace and happiness of heart to all people of good will.
The feelings that our ancestors had at Christmastime were not that much different from ours today. This story of Christmas celebrations of my ancestors as written in 1924, will tell you all about it.
As evening draws near, the family gathers at home with grandchildren close to grandmother, some in her lap, just to be closer and grandmother starts reminiscing .How wonderful Christmas used to be, how festive and beautiful! The adults listen, the children quiet, not daring to disturb.
She tells us how in Bojkovice in Moravia there was a "Sweet Market", just before Christmas. There the women bought special Christmas wafers, honey, sweets for the children, poppy seeds for cakes, raisins, and all else that they needed for holiday baking.
All day Christmas Eve, the women and girls had their hands full. They made special buns with pear or plum jam, some with cabbage or poppy seeds. These were brushed with egg yolks to make them nice and shiny. The men and the boys prepared the feed for cattle, chopped wood, and brought water to last throughout the holidays. When that was done, Father went into the woods to get a tree. The boys were looked for bullets so they could fire a few shots to celebrate the coming of Christ. The children brought the Manger down from the attic. After dusting it off, they set it down on grandmother's painted chest. After filling the manger with straw, they put in the Christ Child. All around the Manger they placed shepherds, sheep, carolers and musicians. They were looking forward to evening when the candles would be lit and the Christ Child would bring the tree.
All the baking was done, the buns carefully stored in the pantry; there was just last minute cleaning to be done.
In the meantime, evening quietly approached. Before the first star appeared in the clear sky, the women had everything prepared, the house was clean, all were festively dressed, the table was set and Father asked the family to join him in prayer. First he took the rosary that hung at the holy water font, they all knelt down and said the joyful mysteries of the rosary. Then they went up to the table, where they said the Our Father. Father took wafers, spread them with honey, handed a piece to everyone while saying, "We thank you Jesus Christ for letting us live to enjoy this celebration". After the wafers, Mother brought the food. It used to be mushroom soup with noodles, plum sauce with bread, porridge with cinnamon and honey, buns and fruit. After supper, Mother lit the candles at the Manger and on the Christmas tree and the whole family sang carols.
Suddenly there was a bang! That was a shepherd outside the window cracking a whip. In a loud voice, he sang a shepherd's song:
Up in Bethlehem
There's good pasture
Let's go there, brothers
To graze the sheep
Oh my soul, is it cold!
A featherbed and fur coat
Along with warm boots
Would suit me just fine.
I wish you happiness and health
Let your farm prosper.
I came to sing to you
Hope I'll get a treat.
Mother ran into the pantry and gave him some goodies. Another shepherd came and then more and more carolers singing, "Our Savior was born, was born and had come caroling with us."
Christmas Day has always been considered the most important feast of the year, celebrated within a close family circle. Nobody worked, except for taking care of the animals.
The following day, St. Stephan's Day, was the day for making visits. All who came over, came to wish Happy Holidays.
On that day again the carolers came. One came with a willow switch for naughty children. Others came to sing, among them the night watchman, the sacristan, sextons and coalmen, carrying charcoal in baskets on their backs so as not to make the trip empty-handed. Before offering their goods, they sang one of the original Kopanice carols.
And so during that joyful Christmas week, all the carolers had their turn and with them disappeared all the buns and cakes the women had baked.
Now they could all look forward to the New Year and the Feast of Epiphany with more joy and caroling and treats for the little ones.
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