|Nativity Scene at the 2009 Christmas market in Metz, Lorraine, France|
Photo by Josiane of Lorraine
In today's world of rapid transportation, we would consider eastern French Lorraine - which was known to my ancestors as Lothringen - a "stone throw" away from my Kreis Saarburg ancestors' villages. It is not surprising, given the proximity to the French border, that some of the Christmas customs in Lothringen were much the same as those in Kreis Saarburg.
In a book by Josef Ollinger called "Geschichten und Sagen von Saar und Mosel, the author includes French Lorraine as a part of the above-named German regions, with Christmas customs that would have been very familiar to my Kreis Saarburg ancestors. Since many of the traditions, whether from Lothringen or Kreis Saarburg, were unfamiliar to me, I thought it would be fun to share them for this post.
The Midnight mass was the most important part of the Christmas time, and a true family celebration. In the days before Christmas, in order to get ready for the Midnight mass, everyone in the family gathered together to practice the church hymns so that the singing would be especially beautiful on the holy night.
|Christ Child baking Christmas cookies|
Willow and hazelnut switches were cut by the householder, if possible it was a midnight cutting which gave the branches the best defensive power. They were bound together and meant to defend against trouble-making spirits who wanted to do evil on the night of the Christ Child's birth.
|Modern children's book of Christmas carols|
They also shared familiar Christmas stories. In some areas of Lothringen, three stools were placed near the hearth so that, if the Holy Family should arrive, they would have a place to sit and warm themselves. It was strongly forbidden to sit on the non-burning end of the log, which would surely lead to calamity in the future ( a matter of common sense as well as a superstition in my opinion).
The appearance in the hallway of the house of the Christ child with his silver wings was the high point of the Christmas Eve celebration for the young ones. Dressed in white, the Christ Child walked into the Stube (good room) and asked each child to sing a Christmas song or say a prayer, admonished them to be good children, gave them some sweets - and disappeared.
Before going to the Midnight Mass, the householder went out to wake his bees in their basket hives. He said, in blessing, "the Savior has been born." It was believed that the bees hummed/sang all during the time of the Midnight mass. The householder also went to the stable to spread a thick layer of straw beneath the animals to protect them from predator's teeth and claws during the upcoming year. Another legend said that at midnight, in honor of Christ's birth, the animals were given the gift of speech.
It was also believed that if someone wanted to learn who in the village would die within the next year, he or she must be in the cemetery when the clock struck midnight on Christmas Eve. Then the faces of those who would not live to see the next Christmas would appear. If there was a face that could not be recognized, it meant that the person who stood in the cemetery would die that year.
The house held a jug with the Barbara Zweige which had been cut about Dec. 4. Usually these were cherry branches that had budded, the flowers meant to open by Christmas Eve. The cherry branches (Kirschzweig) or other fruit tree cuttings were placed in water and kept in a warm room after they were cut. If all went well, on Christmas day the sprig displayed blossoms. If the branch bloomed precisely on December 25th, it was regarded as a particularly good sign for the future.
|December flowering cherry tree branches,|
After the Christmas Eve log had been completely burned, the fire was left to die out, since the ash and charcoal had gained a wonderful power of blesssing. The wife carefully saved what was left of the Christmas Eve fire.The charcoal would be placed under the bed of the man of the house and on the timberwork of the storeroom stall and of the stable. This protected all from lightening, fire, and sickness.