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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
that I looked out from my windows. The long snow-covered place beneath them ended in a semicircle of lights; the snow-covered heights of Södormaln glittered with lights to the water's edge: the dark statue of Carl XIII. rose solitary from the white surface of the ground; the lonely sentinel, crippled with cold, was moving beside it; in one spot, a red light burned over the snow; it was only a lantern held stationary; as the bearer went on, a flickering, streaming light flitted over the scene. That Christmas-night in Sweden was unlike any I had ever passed. Its eve had not been spent in any very religious manner; yet never did thoughts of that event surpassing all human conception, the event which angels wondered at and men despised, the advent of the Redeemer, more deeply fill my mind and penetrate my soul.
The fourth time of my waking, the white clear light had darkened; I started up to light the lamp; it was already six o'clock. I was ready, however, and had even had time to send many thoughts—swifter, certainly, than even electric telegraph could carry them—to a distant and beloved land; to leave a petition, also, for some dear ones there, before the throne of Him who could send a blessing where I could only send a
thought, a wish! I soon heard the slipshod sound of goloshes coming up the long stone stairs. The men here fear to go on the cold, not the wet, ground without these constant defences. A voice spoke in the outer room, and said,
"I told my brother yesterday, that in England one must always say: 'My compliments of the season to you, but I forgot to say so to you myself. I hope you will pardon it, Madame !"
"It is time enough,” I replied through the door to my punctilious Swede, who considers himself to have acquired a perfect knowledge of our national customs, manners, and habits, and is most desirous to conform to them “it is time enough; it is today that is said. Christmas-day, not Christmaseve, is our great festival.”
"Is it so-o? Then, Madame, I will say it now, if you will allow me.”
I make no answer, as I am speaking through the door; and so my tall Swede, drawing himself perpendicularly up, as stiff and straight as the door itself, makes a very low bow to it, and distinctly says—"My compliments of the season to you, Madame."
And, the ceremony over, we descended the icy cold staircase, and passed over the frozen streets,