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Finding it scarcely possible even to stand in this large church, which, on common occasions is rather empty and very dark, we left it, and went to one still larger, that commonly called Stor Kylran, or the Great Church. Here the brilliancy was still greater, the crowd scarcely less. An enormous candlestick of seven branches was all lighted up: it was, in former times, an offering from one of the queens in gratitude for her royal husband's escape from the Danes. The people who, on this Christmas morn, when the cold was really almost terrible in its strength-thronged thus to the churches, were chiefly of the lower, middle, or working classes: the great people are not so much to be seen in the ice-cold churches. There was, however, on this occasion one noble and beautiful example of the contrary. In a great, conspicuous pew with a gilt crown in front, sat the second, and best-loved, prince of Sweden, the amiable and talented son of King Oscar I., Prince Gustaf, whose purely artistic head, and, what might really be called spiritual countenance, always seemed to predict an early death. A prediction too soon fulfilled ; for, not long after I saw him there, a nearly sudden death caused the first break in that happy family of which he was the pride and charm. He died at Christiania. This was his last. Jul-otta'— the last time he joined in morning-song on Christmas-day on earth. May we not hope that he may join the song of the redeemed in heaven!
It was a strange sight to see such numbers of persons thus thronging to church at six o'clock on a northern winter morning, especially when it is clear that the natives fear the cold more, and take greater precautions against it than foreigners do. But what most surprised me was to see the multitude of children, chiefly from six to ten years old, who were so zealously brought to this morning-song. Many of these were carried carefully through the streets, and lifted over the closely-packed throng into the churches. A man might be seen holding up in his arms a good stout, sturdy, little Swede, to give him a chance of seeing as well as hearing. Mothers were anxiously guiding in little girls with heads swathed in cotton or silk handkerchiefs : young lads conducted their juniors, and motherly little sisters with airs of maternal authority, pertinaciously, but very quietly, worked a passage for younger ones. The most perfect silence, the completest decorum prevailed-no rudeness, pushing, or excitement, but a quiet perseverance. When we left this great church I remarked to my friend that not many English parents would like their little ones to be thus brought out to early prayers at such a season, even in our milder clime.
He informed me in reply of the cause that exists in Sweden for this attendance of children at the Christmas morning-song, or, as the term for this early service is in Swedish, 'Jul-otta. It will be perhaps more agreeable to readers if I relate all this in the form of a dialogue as it passed between us while we walked along.
SWEDE.-I will explain to you willingly, madame, our customs, as I wish much that my country should be made known to England by persons who have made themselves acquainted with it. The people whom you now see crowding to the churches with their children come in great part from the country parts around the capital ; and the working-classes of Sweden are always anxious to bring their little children to this .Jul-otta,' because it is a tradition among them that children who have attended this first service of Christmas morning will learn to read without difficulty.”
B.-" That is truly a sort of superstitious belief that seems to be productive of a good effect. But are the Swedes, then, so anxious that their children should learn to read ?"
SWEDE.-" That does not depend on themselves; they are obliged to have them taught to read, and even to write, in order that they should be confirmed; for all persons are obliged to be confirmed. Without a certificate of confirmation one can hardly get a place, or be apprenticed to a trade, and unless confirmed, persons cannot even be married.”
B.--Then, indeed, I see the necessity of learning to read in Sweden, for without reading there is no confirmation, and without confirmation there is no matrimony."
SWEDE.--"Just so, madame; and there is indeed no respectability. The clergy are responsible for seeing that their people are duly instructed and confirmed; so that on the trial of a prisoner, if he be found ignorant, the pastor of his parish is written to by the judge to know why that poor creature has been neglected, and the clergyman, or priest as we say here, must answer.”
B.-"That is good. But if the clergy take that charge, why are the parents so anxious that the children should read quickly?”
SWEDE.—“I will tell you that also. Our parishes are very large, often thirty or forty English miles from end to end. The
schools, too, are far apart, as well as the churches. Many parents can never send their children to them, and must teach them themselves at home. You see, therefore, it is of consequence to them that they should learn easily. When they are to be confirmed, they must go to their priest and receive instruction for six months ; this is called by them reading before the priest, and is the most important and interesting time of the lives of our young people. We had not confirmation in our Lutheran church until a late period, when one of our chaplains in London saw the rite administered there, and was the means of having it adopted here.
B.-“This concourse of people at morning prayer in such intense cold and great darkness as this would scarcely be believed in England, especially as this is not only a Protestant land, but one where you know they do not go to church generally nearly as much as we do."
SWEDE.—"That is quite true. Our churches are too cold, they are never warmed, and in our winters it is thought dangerous to stay in them so long as our service lasts. But the eagerness you observe in hastening to them on Christmas morn is nothing in Stockholm to what you would see in the country. What do you say to persons sledging twenty English miles to this first service, and back on Christmas morn? Yet I have myself come that distance to 'Otte-song' and back again."
B.“ What is Otte-song?'"
SWEDE.--"Otte' means the first part of the morning, from three to six o'clock, and otte-song' is the same as your morning-song. We have this every morning in our parish churches in Stockholm ; but when we speak of this service on Christmas morn, it is usual to call it 'Jul-otta :' and in all Churches throughout the country the people are eager to get to this first service, so that they even set out for the journeys to them at midnight. The return home is often a dangerous business ; for there is a race, chiefly among the young men ; who dash along in sledges blowing horns, and trying each to get home first, because there is a tradition that whoever comes home first from the Jul-otta’ shall have his harvest in first next season ; and they also believe that, if he should be unmarried, he will be the first to get a wife. I went once with a friend who was quite a thoughtless fellow, and I assure you he kept me in much fear; for he wanted, I knew, to be married, and he had brought a horn, and blew it all along the road to clear the way; we started at two o'clock in the morning, and he dashed along in his sledge, every one keeping out of his way. He got home first, and was married that year.
should see our Yuletime' in the country. Here, in the capital, all is artificial life, but in the country, ah! there it is a happy time; not for people only, but even for beasts and birds."
SWEDE.— “ Yes, for birds even. At harvest-time, where people are good, the “Yule-sheaf' is laid by unthreshed for a Christmas feast for the poor birds, who are famishing then in the frost. On Christmas-eve this sheaf is hung on a high pole at the farmer's door. If the Yule-sheaf' were not seen near a house the neighbours would believe the farmer would have a bad harvest : they would think him a hard man, and care little to help him."
B.—“And pray what is done for the beasts?"
SWEDE.-“They give them double food on Christmas-eve, and the herd generally says, “ Eat well and thrive, my good beasts, for this is ‘Jul-afton.""
B.-" It would be well for them if •Jul-afton' came oftener, for they always look half-starved, and in winter they must often want this double portion.”
SWEDE.—“If they did not get it on that evening some mischance would be expected. The servants also must be taken care of, and the mistress has to arrange supper-tables for them. Sometimes each servant has a little table, sometimes there is one table for two or three, and sometimes only one for several. Such a table is called “Jul-bord,' or 'Yule-table :' it is covered with a white napkin, and on it the mistress lays ‘Jul-buller,' or • Yule-bread ;' that is, Christmas cakes made in various figures : at farm-houses they make them in the shape of horned cattle, and animals; and on these tables are also laid the Jul-klapper,' or Christmas-boxes for the servants. What is left of the Christmas-bread is often kept till the first day of spring, that is the day when ploughing commences; which is, you know, another great rejoicing day in the country, and the farm servants then get the remains of their Christmas cakes and soften them in beer ; so you see that saves some expense, and helps their treat for ploughing-day.”
My attention was now drawn to the beauty and singularity of the scene around us. It was now half-past eight o'clock; it was not yet daylight, yet it was not dark; it was the clear twilight of the North ; but one could not fancy it was the morning : the red horizon was only more faintly coloured than when the sun had set the evening before ; the chief difference was that now the redness was on the east instead of the west. There was no rising sun; there was the stillness, calmness, and contemplative aspect of evening, with its shadowy and pensive light. It was strange to feel oneself, as a stray native of England, thus rambling admiringly through the streets of Stockholm before the sun had risen on a Christmas morn.
How wide the snowy scenery appeared! the air here is so clear, and the distant clouds at the horizon are turning to a deep orange hue, showing the action of the still invisible sun. Ice and snow all around, and the fresh rolling water hurrying in one solitary current through the crystal channel ; the white crisp ground, the white hills, white houses; the windows still glittering with light, and not a sight or plaint of misery to check one's enjoyment. That walk was a real pleasure !
I remarked the still lighted windows to my companion.
“ Yes,” he said, “many even here do light up their houses on Christmas morn, but not as they do in the country. Ah, if you were in my province, that is Wermland, then you would see how all houses are illuminated now, not the smallest is allowed to be utterly dark. People must be miserably poor if they cannot even put a single light in their window. And when a house is seen to be dark by persons going to church-oh, that is indeed bad—that is quite a disgrace.”
“ Well! the custom is a pleasing emblem ; it typifies the light of the world—the light that came into the world that we might not abide in darkness ; that we might be enabled to walk as children of the light and of the day.”
“It truly would be so," the Swede rejoined ; “but I fear many persons, like myself, have liked the old custom without thinking much of the emblem you speak of. This is quite an old custom; I think it comes from the old Catholic times; but the people like it because it is old."
When we reached the great doors that admit me into the court of the large house wherein I lodge, I found a tidy, prettymannered little girl waiting there with a small basket in her hand containing some tiny plants. She asked me to buy one. It was the first flower of spring, the Anemone hepatica, which forms its little buds in autumn, then buries them beneath the snow, and when spring melts away its chilly, covering, appears