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keeper, who wishes me to say “Madame la Comtesse” when I order my dinner, will not begin her celebration of Jul-Afton till I come.
The scene on our way back was still brighter; the large rooms of large houses were lighted up; supper tables ready, great yule candles placed upon them, people were going in and out, young forms were momentarily seen glancing through the brilliant rooms and among the prettily-arranged house-plants; and without, though all was white and very cold, no sights of actual misery met my view. In one window was a beautiful Jul-träd-perhaps such a one as our own excellent mother-queen delights her children with—but the tiny wax-lights were arranged on the dark firbranches in the shape of an immense starwas it an emblematic one ? —and it stood in the window glittering and twinkling, while we stood on the snowy plain, and looked up at it, perhaps with nearly as much pleasure as the happy urchins for whom it was prepared, and who, with eager joyous faces, were preparing for their dance around it. We entered the great gate of our court; I climbed the back stone stairs in the dark, and found my way into our Grevinnan's kitchen. The quiet cook was busy at the furnace
preparing the Jul-Afton, or Christmas supper. My little maid—who, I believe, would understand me if I spoke a language known only before the confusion of tongues—was there also. I had brought their Jul-klappar, in the form of a number of rixdaler put up in letters. I did not know the Swedish mode of giving Christmas presents ; so, as I had been anxiously expecting the English post all day, I ran in, exclaiming, “ The post has come !" and dropped down on the table two letters directed to Beata and Karin ; and then I ran on to the great unhome-like, lighted-up, and uncarpeted salong, as, according to the barbarising system of Swedish speech, the French word salon is spelt and pronounced. Here an assembly, chiefly of ladies, expected my return, to begin the lottery.
This lottery is not at all to my taste, and I was stiff-necked enough not to join in it. The articles bought by each person are delivered over to the hostess, who numbers them, and each person draws a number accordingly: but the way in which the business was managed, was not very amusing; and after it was ended, all the housekeeping articles were thrown over to the share of the hostess.
While we were eating dried fruits at another
table, there came a loud knocking at the door; a strange figure, grotesquely clothed in white, came in; a white paper mask on its face, towering up to the top of the head, in a fool's cap fashion, with two gray eyes looking palely out of the holes cut for them; a large basket on each arm, and a bundle on the back. These were filled with Julklappar; and away it tumbled over the floor, jerking out white paper parcels and enormous packages, to be caught at by all those whose names and addresses they bore. These presents are all sent anonymously; no one is supposed to know the name of the giver, but every one knows it very well. One of the young ladies was about to steal over the boundary line of single-blessedness into the land of matrimony: a small cask was rolled into the room, with a circular from a young grocer, pretending to solicit the custom of her hostess. The cask contained numerous little comical papers of spices, &c.; but underneath these were some valuable presents. A musical lady received a pasteboard guitar, which she directly cut open with her scissars, and proved that some notes of value could be drawn even from such an instrument. I got a pair of figures made in confectionary, from the old maid-of-honour
to the queen of Gustavus III. ; representing, as the lively old lady of eighty-eight said, a pair of droll characters I had described in a book that amused her. While all this was going on, I thought (was it sentimental, or foolish, to do so ?) of other Christmases, in other times, in other scenes—of the gift of affection given directly, with affection's kiss, to the object of affection, with those dear words which dwell in the heart, to make it bleed when Christmas comes round and round, and brings them in the same voices no more—“A happy, happy Christmas !"
This anonymous distribution of gifts is amusing; but here, in general, it is very business-like; it gives one the notion of value received, and to be accredited by one friend to another. The quantity of money spent in them is amazing, and they are expected to be reciprocal.
As to supper, I was anxious to see the famous gröt: the Lut fisk, however, came first. I wished to taste it, but the smell was invincible, and I only bowed to it at a distance, and then came the much-talked-of gröt, which was merely hot rice, with a jug of cold milk, and the usual accompaniment of a Swedish table-a fine basin of pounded sugar, to use with it. Our Jul-Afton was
over. We rose from table, made low curtseys to our hostess and her son, who curtsied and bowed in return. In Sweden, the Danish words, “Thanks for the food,” are omitted; but when you next meet you must express your thanks for a previous entertainment. After meals, children commonly kiss their parents' hands and thank them. I then withdrew to my solitary rooms, to quiet and star-gazing.
The heat of these air-tight rooms, and the whitish light of the clear, though at present nearly moonless nights, had often drawn me from my sofa-couch to the windows, to gaze out on a striking and singular scene, until the extraordinary chill which follows such exploits in this climate, sent me back again to feel the warming effects of thick walls, double windows, and stoveheated rooms.
My good Swede had said he would come for me at half-past six on Christmas morning; the wish to be ready, kept me more wakeful on this night, on which 1852 years ago, a clearer light shone around other watchers, and glory to God and good-will to men were chanted along the vaults of another sky.
It was on nothing like the plains of Bethlehem