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Christmas—Masquerades— Visit from a party of masks
-Custom of preserving wedding-clothes-New Year's Eve-Superstitions-Professor Kalmikow's delusion -Fiendish pranks-Phantasmagoria.
THE Christmas festivities, which commenced here at the usual time, were protracted till Twelfth-day, or the term of Epiphany. They had not, however, the sweet attractions, or any of the endearing customs, observed in my native land and in other countries of Europe. There was no distribution of the consecrated wafer among the family-circle, no Christmas-eve dinner or joyous meeting of friends at the social board, no busy preparations for baking Christmas cakes (strucle). The only observable result of the festival was the termination of a six
weeks' fast; for not until that day did the people begin to eat meat. They also paid visits to each others' houses, and on the evening of the second day, the whole town swarmed with masks.
Before touching, however, on the subject of the masquerade, I should say a few words on the round of visits which it is the custom to pay at this season.
The first day of Christmas is assigned to visits from men, the day following is given to ladies, who, apparelled in their best dresses, go round to see all their acquaintances. The whole town is then simultaneously in motion, and the streets are filled with
of women in elegant, or at least costly dresses. During these holidays the toilette of the Berezovian ladies is seen in all its splendour ; and, among the number, may be found dresses which have cost their wearers several thousand rubles. It is, indeed, a curious display, embracing costly Chinese silks, blonds, sables, gold, pearls, precious stones, and exquisite furs.
It cannot be said that the Berezovian ladies show much taste in the arrangement of their dress, as they constantly combine stuffs and colours wholly unsuitable, while with the above
display of costly materials, they might, if they possessed any tact, easily make a brilliant choice.
The principal and most favourite amusement at Christmas, in which all the Berezovians are delighted to take a part, is that of disguises, or what is called here a masquerade. time commences, as I before remarked, on the second day after Christmas, and lasts till Epiphany. Every evening, people make their appearance in a variety of disguises; nor is the diversion confined to the higher or richer classes, as government functionaries and merchants; but is shared by the humblest, and by old and young alike. Fancy costumes and masks are procured by the wealthier inhabitants from Tobolsk, and are thus brought into use from year to year, while the lower classes present themselves in less costly dresses, but which answer the same purpose. They who are too poor to procure a different costume, borrow any garments, however old and common from others, and disguised in these, with a handkerchief drawn over the face instead of a mask, divert themselves as well as the best. A merry heart makes everything go pleasantly.
On the approach of dusk the town is crowded with maskers, some on foot, others in sledges, proceeding from house to house; and all frolicsome and happy, the more so if, as frequently happens, they find the doors of houses not bolted against them, and their owners willing to give them a welcome. Most of the masked parties enter the house without saying anything, or even having anything to say, and after lounging in the apartments for a few minutes, depart as they came, continuing their visits in this manner through the town, Personal acquaintances and friends, if they like to awaken curiosity, venture on some pantomimes agreeing with the characters they have assumed, but do not speak. These more licensed visitors, although they may not be recognized, are requested to remain longer in the house. After perambulating the whole town, the masked parties usually terminate their visits in some friendly circle, where they have been invited to pass the rest of the evening.
The most distinguished of our masked company consisted of government functionaries, with a sprinkling of the principal aristocracy of the town.
Among them we recognised the
director of police in a Cossack costume; the judge of the district dressed as a hussar; and the paymaster-general as a lancer ; while the postmaster wore the costume of a civilian of the seventeenth century; the physician disguised himself as a woman; the lady of the director of police appeared in a costume resembling a Cracovian ; the professor's sister wore a dress of a nondescript character, suggested by her own fancy, and lastly our friend, Madame Xand her brother were disguised as Turks.
This numerous party were preceded by a violin-player, an addition which was considered a great novelty, and on that account much admired.
They came to a stand before my apartments, and I could not, of course, do less than invite them in. Directly they entered, the violinist, drawing his bow from behind his ear—as is the custom with many of these artists—struck up a popular Polish mazourka, awakening in my troubled heart a throng of recollections. The masks then danced rather attempted to dance, for the Berezovians have no true conception of that elegant art. But each couple performed their gyrations in the way nature prompted, and after spending