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THE CHRISTMAS TREE.
From the German of Carl Sheffer.
We hasten to the third and last point; and will now attend briefly to the Symbolical meaning of the Christmas Tree, as it has been already touched upon, in the stories of the heathen past, and as has been reechoed in the Heathen writings. What does the Christmas Tree signify?
Do you ask me what it meaneth,
This green, beauteous Christmas Tree? 'Tis the mild and rosy spring dream,
In the midst of winter cold.
Proudly in its light and glory
Full of fruit, with joyous shade,
Imaged by the Christmas Tree.
Let us stand adore and love,
Us shall visit from above. Thus sings a German Poet, Wilhelm Wackernagel, explaining the rich, poetic meaning of the Christmas tree. We have only a little to add, of a Christain historical character. The Christmas-tree must be regarded as the Genealogical Tree of Humanity. At its foot stand Adam and Eve, The serpent twines around its trunk. Above is enthroned the image of the angel, of the star, or of Christ himself. “Yes, the human race is such a tree in the desert of Winter, a fir tree, with sharp and pricking needles, but destitute of lovely flowers, of sweet and juicy fruits. Only at the Christmas Festival, is the dreary firtree clothed with blossoms of light, with fair and delicious fruit. Thus the birth of the Redeemer brings the flowerless and leafless tree of humanity, standing in the dreary cold of winter, to new bloom, and fruit of spiritual life.
But just as little as the adornment of the Christmas Tree is of its own power and life, so little do these fruits of the Spirit grow forth from the power and life of our race—they are wonderfully and graciously lent and given, through Christ alone. Only in this way, can the tree of our race fruitless and bearing leaves alone, come to possess radiance, bloom, and fruits well pleasing to God—through the blessing and wondrous power of the festival of the birth of Christ which consecrates and glorifies the cheerless fir tree into the rich, radiant, and beautiful Christmas Tree. But to this end it is necessary that the tree be transplanted from the winter cold out of doors, into the pleasant chamber. For man too, must, in order to bear new and spiritual fruits, be transplated into another soil, into a new climate, out of the winter-cold of selfishness and vanity into the quickening warmth of the love of Christ and of the heavenly Father. Then he blooms and shines like the tree on Christmas-Eve, let it storm and freeze never so hard, out in the world.”
You know how the Lord himself says, in the New Testament; ye shall know them by their fruits. Let us fully apply his own word also to that tree, which represents indeed all humanity, but in the last and highest instance, the Son of Man.
Christ applies the parable of a tree only once, to himself. He says John 15:1: “I am the vine ye are the branches." Here he selects the most glorious and noblest of all trees, the tree which, according to a pious tradition, came from Paradise, a tree alone in its kind, whose fruit so wonderfully, just like soul and body, unites the visible and invisible, juice and spirit, earthly and heavenly in itself.
In the Church of the Middle Ages, the fir tree was the sign of St. Landelin, who died about 686 on ground strewn with ashes, and in clothing of hair. Landelin, like St. Bonifacius, had felled a holy fir tree, held in great esteem among Alemanni, and had erected a cross made of its wood. This legend teaches us, that Christians should look up, from the green fir tree which was once dedicated to German Cities, to the tree of the cross on Golgotha.
For this reason the cross of Christ, in ancient Grecian paintings, is not made of hewn beams, but is a green tree, with leaves and bloom and fruit. In the old German paintings they give the “ dry wood” at least a green color, ainly with some reference to the passage already mentioned, Luke 23: 31, and with a still deeper allusion to the religious signification of the Mediæval word: grûn (green).
There is an ancient tradition in regard to the grave of Adam, which originated with the Jews, but was taken up by Christian antiquity, and preserved in the Church of the Middle Ages. According to this story, first mentioned by Origen, Adam was buried on Golgatha, so that the reconciling cross of the second Adam was erected directly on the grave of the first Adam. Thence it comes that in mediæval paintings and sculptures, representing the crucifixion of Christ, and his descent from the cross, the grave of Adam, with him, either lying in, or arising from the same, is drawn right beneath the cross.
on Adam's grave with the serpent which coils around the beam of the cross, reminds us not only of the brazen serpent, which Moses lifted up in the wilderness as a type of Christ (John 3: 14; Num. 21: 8, 9), but points to Paradise, with the trees of life and death, together with the first Gospel of the son of the
woman who should crush the head of the serpent, and whose heel should bebruised by it (Gen. 3:15). As already mentioned, the serpent entwined itself around the trunk of the Christmas tree, at the foot of which, in old times, the figures of Adam and Eve stood. Thus there lies, in the Christmas tree, so rootless and still bearing fruit so rich and rare, a symbolical reference to the tree of the cross, which,—memorable for all times,– bears its dying and still everliving fruit on Golgotha. Of
course, all kinds of other fruits are accustomed to hang on the Christmas tree, apples, nuts, and all sorts of sweetmeats between burning waxtapers. On the other hand, in Catholic countries, they adorn the tree with waxen images of Mary, of Joseph and of the Christ Child.
The burning tapers, the lights, which scatter the darkness, and whose brilliancy shed down joy, knowledge, and life,--they remind us of the holy natal night, with its heavenly glory. They point to the new born child, who, at his first public appearance in the world, was able to say: I am the light of the world!
The fruits, which as it were, ripen out of these blossoms of light, have also a symbolical meaning.
The apple is called, in Latin, “malum” (from puñov); “malum” means also “evil,” “wicked.” Thus the language, of the Ancient Church (Latin) through its very terminology, awakens in a surprising manner recollections which go back to Paradise, with its fruit and its sin, -recollections which, although without conscious intention, connect the deed with its punishment. In the Old Testament the apple is a symbol of the “word,” of course not in the deep theosophic sense of John 1:1. The Rabbins compare the Law to an apple; "for it has taste and smell.” According to the Talmud, the people of Israel are “the apple tree,” which bears the fruit of the fulfilment of the Law. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver”—so it is said in the proverbs of the wisest king (Prov. 25, 11). With this saying, the golden and silver apples of the Christmas tree are involuntarily brought to mind, and we understand that lightly-whispered word which they address to the quiet, expectant soul. Apples (pomegranates, grained apples) were worn by the Jewish high priest on the edge of his garment, between the bells, the symbols of the annunciation. The golden apples of the Hesperides hanging in a lovely garden guarded by a dragon, are known all the world over. Here again the myth awakes the thought, so often found, of the Paradise of the Bible. - Apple of Paradise” is the name still given to a certain small, but especially beautiful species of this fruit. The apple of Eve, with its inscription, the source of so much
envy and contention, is well known. On the Christmas tree, it is changed into the apple of peace, bearing this inscription:
This sign of peace shall never cease;
All feud is at an end. The nut, with its sweet kernel, which lies encased in its hard flinty covering, as in a cell, is the symbol of the wonderful, mysterious enig. matical, which has first to be disclosed, or revealed. In Germany the nut, especially, the hazel-nut takes the place of the tropical almond. The children used to play with nuts in Rome. " To forsake its nuts (nuces relinquere) was a proverbial expression for: “to pass out of childhood's years.” Nuts were distributed at marriage feasts. He who wishes to have the kernel, must crack the nut (Qui e nuce nucleum esse vult, nucem frangat)-says a Roman poet, hinting at the toil and labor preceding enjoyment.
The Holy Scriptures mention only the nutmeg, whose strong balsamic odor is said to be the emblem of faith and love. Apples and nuts play no inconsiderable rôle in the old German mythology.
We will adduce only one scene.
In one of the Songs of the Edda, about Idunna and Thiassi, a contest is celebrated, which affords a most striking parallel to one of the Labors. of the Greek Hercules, only the German myth naturally appears in a genuinely German costume.
Idunna is the happy possessor of Golden apples. Loki, an Ase is to take them. To this end, he allures Idunna into a forest for the purpose of there showing her still more beautiful apples. The giant Thiassi now comes, concealed in the skin of an eagle, and violently carries her off. Loki hastens to free the prisoner. Equipped with the hawk pinions of Freija, he flies to the castle of the giant. Idunna is there alone. Loki quickly transforms her into a nut, takes it in his talons, and bears it off. The giant, thus robbed, hastens after the hawk on the pinions of the eagle. The Ases, to save the fugitive, pile up brushwood, behind which Loki conceals himself with his booty. When the eagle-giant comes to the spot, the copse wood is quickly set on fire. The pursuer plunges into the fiercely mounting flames, singes his feathers, and the Ases quickly surround him and slay him. Thus the song.
Idunna is the goddess of Spring. Loki, the south wind, brings back the more beautiful seasons of the year. Thiassi, the icy Storm of the North, is defeated. The nut and apple are the fruits, which, in the depth of Winter, awaken recollections of the fruity Autumn, and hopes of a beautiful returning Spring.
But let us forsake the myth and return to present realities. We transport ourselves in spirit into that trembling happy moment, which is to disclose the beautified gleaming Christmas tree to the gaze of a cluster of waiting children. There we stand before a primeval place, sanctified and dedicated by truth and poetry, by fiction, by faith and hope, by divine and national consciousness.
We feel the power of religious thought, which seeks and finds its expression here; we feel the breath from home, which unites earthly and heavenly, human and divine, national and Christian. With joy we greet and obey, this year again, the words of our poet:
D’rum pflanzet grüne Aeste
Nit frommer Liebe Hand,
Solch' grosses Heil uns hat gesandt.
CHEERFULNESS.—Christian people should be cheerful; for they have precious promises, and their prospects are cheering. Cheerfulness is enjoined on the sacred page as a duty. “Rejoice evermore; rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say rejoice.” It is also conducive to health. Prov. 17: 22. “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine; but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” It moreover recommends religion, by showing how it inspires gladness, and makes happy him who possesses it.
A pig in a string is a troublesome article to manage; two pigs in a string are more troublesome still, to a degree, perhaps, in proportion to the squares of their distances- -a ram in a halter is also proverbial for obstinacy—mules are celebrated for their pertinacity, and donkeys for their stupidity; but all the pigs, rams, mules, and asses in the world, put together, would be more easily managed than a company of singers in a village church. About four miles from Loppington, there is a village called Snatcham. The living is but small, and the rector preside sand performs his duty without the aid of a curate. You cannot imagine a milder and more gentle creature than this excellent clergyman. He is quite a picture, either for a pen or pencil. He is not more than five feet four inches in height, somewhat stout, but not very robust; he is nearly seventy years of age-perhaps quite by this time; his hair, what little is left of it, is as white as silver; his face is free from all wrinkles either of care or age; his voice is slender, but musical with meekness. The practical principle of his demeanor has always been—any thing for a quiet life. He would not speak a harsh word, or think an unkind thought to or of any human being, but he is now and then tempted to think that when the apostle Paul recommended the Christians to live peaceably with all men, he put in the saving clause, “if possible,” with particular reference to village choristers. Snatcham choir is said to be the best in the county : such, at least, is the opinion of the choristers themselves, and he must be a bold man who should say to the contrary. They are no doubt very sincere when they say that they never heard any better than themselves; for, to judge from their singing, one would not imagine that they had ever heard any one else. Snatcham church does not boast an organ, and it is well it does not, for if it did, the whole choir would insist upon playing on it all at once; but instead of an organ it has a band of music, which has been gradually increasing for some years past. It commenced about thirty-five years ago, with a pitch-pipe, which was presently superseded by a fute. It was soon found, however, that the dulcet notes of a single flute were quite lost amid the chaos of sounds produced by the vocal efforts of the choir, so a second flute was added by way of re-enforcement; but all the futes in the world would be no match for the double bass voice of Martin Grubb the Snatcham butcher, under whose burly weight and hurly-burly notes the whole music gallery trembled and shook. To give pungency to the instrumental department, therefore, a hautboy was added; but the vocalists felt it a point of honor to outscream the instruments, and the miscellaneous voice of James Gripe, the miller's son, who sang tenor, treble, or counter-tenor, just as it happened, was put into requisition for extra duty to match the hautboy. James Gripe could sing very loud; but the louder he sang, the more you heard that kind of noise that is produced