Posted by: ktzefr | December 21, 2016

4 Christmases Remembered


img_43971942.  The world was at war.  Millions of lives would be changed forever.  And yet…there was music and shows and art and literature.  One of the puzzling aspects of being human, of living in the larger world, is that no matter how terrible things may be in one place at any given time, there is joy and laughter somewhere.  Memories of the good times are powerful antidotes to despair.  The following quotes are from writers in the 40s, looking back at the Christmases of their childhoods. 

All excerpts originally appeared in Vogue and were included in the anthology, Vogue’s First Reader, published by Conde Nast Publications in 1942.  I love stumbling across old anthologies as they are often full of small treasures — glimpses at another place and time through multiple sets of eyes.


“Early on Christmas morning, long before dawn, the members of the choral society have climbed the steep spiral stairway in the medieval clock tower.  Suddenly from the tower’s gallery, which is still wrapped in the gloom of night, come the swelling tones of “Silent Night, Holy Night.”  The town awakens.  Thousands of candles appear before the darkened panes.  It is as if a fire is raging.  The flames in the windows leap from house to house, jump across squares and race upstairs.”

~ Pierre Van Paassen, “I Remember Christmas in Holland”


“We were called to the table, arranged with pine branches, the room lit only by candles.  Our glasses were filled with golden Gumpoldskirchener wine, and we were allowed to take a sip…This night we did not have to go to bed early.  The neighbours came in, one playing the zither, another the harmonica and every one sang: “Silent night, holy night…

Then our peasant landlady came in with a huge pan of steaming incense and palm branches blessed at Easter…she went all over the house, to the stables and barns, until the entire place was full of incense–this to protect the house from fire in the coming year.  As midnight approached, we had hot punch and were snugly bundled in our coats and mufflers and set out to the village church.  The night, the forest, all nature seemed to hold its breath to hear the church bells calling the faithful to midnight mass.”

~Leo Lania, “I Remember Christmas in Austria”


“…I saw on the nearby slopes dancing lights which slowly converged toward the church.  They were the lanterns of the mountaineers going to midnight mass, and each of those stars was followed, not by the Magi kings, but by troupes of delighted children.  At the bottom of the ravine, the little illumined church shone like a lighthouse — a port where they could find at once repose, warmth, and, above all, love.  The slopes were steep, and the children fell and laughed.  But the difficulty only increased the value of the expedition. Never have I heard the Christmas hymns sung with more vigour than in the little church of Verrieres, covered softly with snow.”

~Andre Maurois, “I Remember Christmas in France”


“…in the evening, the children could stay up with their elders by the Yule log that crackled in the great open fireplace with its gleaming iron fire-dogs.  Here were told tales of the long ago.  Here we crunched hot chestnuts, and we drank white wine.  From every village the people headed for the sanctuary; the father, shod with straw-lined sabots, walking ahead with a pitchfork, for it was rumoured that a wolf had been heard howling at the moon.  Betrothed girls walked on the arms of their gallants, following the fiddler who scraped joyous airs on his violin.   

At the top of the hill, a group looked into the distance; a song rose in the night.  The families stopped and watched the glowworms hastening toward the church.  The father said:  “Those are the people from across the river.  I recognize their Christmas carol.”

~ Robert Goffin, “I Remember Christmas in Belgium”


Pierre van Paassen, in the same piece (above), shares a legend worth repeating…

“On Christ-night, according to an old Dutch legend, when all is still and the town’s lights burn low, the Holy Child, hand in hand with His mother, goes around on tiptoe in the snow-smothered streets and peeks through keyholes and shutters to see whether there is not a broken heart in the house, or any soul in anguish or distress.” The legend goes that if He finds such a place, it is marked with a sign so the angels can come at dawn to deliver their best gift — the blessing of peace.

Today, more than seven decades later, the world still needs the blessing of peace.





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