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crowding out at this early hour on a mid-winter's morn; more especially as the natives certainly feel the cold of their own climate more than foreigners do, at least they take much greater precautions against it. But what most surprised me, was to see the vast numbers of children, not infants, but children from six to ten years of age, who were so zealously brought to this service. Many were carried over the cold streets, and through the closely packed crowd.
An honest countryman might be seen here holding up in his arms what in Ireland would be expressively called “a clever lump of a boy,” that he might see and hear to more advantage.
Mothers anxiously guided in little girls, with heads tied up in kerchiefs ; young lads carefully conducted under their auspices still younger brothers; and motherly little sisters of twelve years old, with airs of maternal authority, worked their onward way with junior ones. The object of all these seemed to be, to get as far in as they quietly could; and with wonderful, but noiseless, scarcely perceptible perseverance, the end was accomplished.
“I do not think many of our English parents would like children to come out to church service so early in mid-winter," I remarked to my companion, as we came out. This kind Swede endeavoured to give me all the information in his power, because he said he wished to make his country better known to the English; and he thought of course that I would achieve that object. I kept for once my own counsel, and so got the information.
“Many of these people,” he said, “come from the country. The lower classes among us are anxious to get their children to this Jul-otta, because it is a tradition among them, that they will in that case easily learn to read; and in a country where all must read, it is naturally an object to have that art easily acquired, especially as the parish schools are both few and far apart, so that their parents are often the sole instructors of children.”
“Well, if all superstition had no worse tendency, I think even in England they might not get up a quarrel about that,--I am not sure of it though. But indeed this concourse of people to a Christmas morning service, would be almost incredible in England; and is the more singular to me, because the people here do not go to church nearly so much as we do."
“Yet this is nothing to what you would see in the country,” said my companion. “What would you think of people sledging twenty English miles to church, and back the same distance ? Yes, it is common to go to Otte-song, that distance, and back again on Christmas morning!”
“What does Otte-song mean ?"
“Yes, Madame, that I will tell you. Otte, in our language, means the first part of the morning— from three till six o'clock; and Jul-otta means the same part of the Christmas morning, not of the service for it. We have Otte-song, or morning song—I think you call it so in England ? "
“Yes, or morning prayer—it is the same thing.”
“Yes. We have that every morning in our churches, and it is called Otte-song; but when we speak of the same service on Christmas morning, it is usual to call it Jul-otta. In the country, the people often set out for the distant churches at midnight. In returning, there is generally a race to get home first; for it is said, whoever gets home first from Jul-otta, shall get his harvest first in next season; or, if he is in want of such a blessing, will be the first to get a wife. Some
times it is a little unsafe to return in such company ;-yes, I assure you! I went with a friend of mine once-a mad fellow he was. We started at two o'clock in the morning, in his sledge. I knew he wanted to get married; and I will tell you, Madame, I did not like it coming back. But he bought a horn, and blew it all the road home, so that the other sledges left his way clear; and he arrived first, and was married that year. Yes, that is true!"
“It is a pity," I said, “that among you they make the Jul-Afton so exclusively a family affair." They have quite a dislike to let a stranger mix with their home society on that evening, although they are less exclusive and more hospitable on Christmas-day.
“Yes: you see, Madame, our people are a domesticated and home-loving people. I think families here are much more attached than they are with you. This Jul-Afton is our great family festival; Jul-day, or Christmas-day, is observed more religiously. It is not so pleasant to you to see Jul-Afton here in Stockholm. In the capital, all is artificial life. In my province, you would have seen it better. There it is a joyful time, not for poor people only, but for beasts and birds."
“Beasts and birds !"
“Yes, that it certainly is. I will tell you that, also. At harvest time the Yule-sheaf-Can I say so in English ?”
Perfectly well!”“The Yule-sheaf is put by unthrashed at every farm-house; and on Christmas-eve it is hung out on a high pole near the farmer's door, for the famishing birds to make their Jul-Afton. If the Yule-sheaf were not seen there, the people would believe the farmer would have a bad season; they would think him a hard man, and not like to help him."
And, pray, how do they manage for the beasts?"
“They give them double food on Jul-Afton.”
“What a pity that Jul-Afton comes but once a year !" I exclaimed, thinking of the lean, hard, half-fed beef and mutton that so often was presented before me. “But pray go on.”
"They give the beasts double food on Christmaseve," continued my friend, not quite giving me credit for such a gormandising reflection; "and then the labourers say: 'Eat well, my good beasts, and thrive well, for this is Jul-Afton. If this were omitted, they would expect some misfortune to befall