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BY THE FIRESIDE.
The following description of Christmas in Burgundy is from M. Fertiaults Coup d'ail sur les Noëls en Bourgogne, prefixed to the Paris edition of Les Noëls Bourguignons de Bernard de la Monnoye (Gui Barózai), 1842.
“Every year, at the approach of Advent, people refresh their memories, clear their throats, and begin preluding, in the long evenings by the fireside, those carols whose invariable and eternal theme is the coming of the Messiah. They take from old closets pamphlets, little collections begrimed with dust and smoke, to which the press, and sometimes the pen, has consigned these songs; and as soon as the first Sunday of Advent sounds, they gossip, they gad about, they sit together by the fireside, sometimes at one house, sometimes at another, taking turns in paying for the chestnuts and white wine, but singing with one common voice, the grotesque praises of the Little Jesus. There are very few villages even, which, during all the evenings of Advent, do not hear some of these curious canticles shouted in their streets, to the nasal drone of bagpipes. In this case the minstrel comes as a reinforcement to the singers at the fireside; he brings and adds his dose of joy (spontaneous or mercenary, it matters little which) to the joy which breathes around the hearth-stone; and when the voices vibrate and resound, one voice more is always welcome. There, it is not the purity of the notes which makes the concert, but the quantity,-non qualitas, sed quantitas ; then, (to finish at once with the minstrel,) when the Saviour has at length been born in the manger, and the beautiful Christmas Eve is passed, the rustic piper makes his round among the houses, where every one compliments and thanks him, and, moreover, gives him in small coin the price of the shrill notes with which he has enlivened the evening entertainments.
“More or less, until Christmas Eve, all goes on in this way among our devout singers, with the difference of some gallons of wine or some hundreds of chestnuts. But this famous eve once come, the scale is pitched upon a higher key ; the closing evening must be a memorable one. The toilet is begun at nightfall; then comes the hour of supper, admonishing divers appetites; and groups, as numerous as possible, are formed to take together this comfortable evening repast. The supper finished, a circle gathers around the hearth, which is arranged and set in order this evening after a particular fashion, and which at a later hour of the night is to become the object of special interest to the children. On the burning brands an enormous log has been placed. This log assuredly does not change its nature, but it changes its name during this evening: it is called the Suche (the Yule-log). "Look you,' say they to the children, if you are good this evening, Noel' (for with children one must always personify) will rain down sugar-plums in the night. And the children sit demurely, keeping as quiet as their turbulent little natures will permit. The groups of older persons, not always as orderly as the children, seize this good opportunity to surrender themselves with merry hearts and boisterous voices to the chanted worship of the miraculous Noel. For this final solemnity, they have kept the most powerful, the most enthusiastic, the most electrifying carols. Noel! Noel! Noel! This magic word resounds on all sides; it seasons every sauce, it is served up with every course. Of the thousands of canticles which are heard on this famous eve, ninety-nine in a hundred begin and end with this word; which is, one may say, their Alpha and Omega, their crown and footstool. This last evening, the merry-making is prolonged. Instead of retiring at ten or eleven o'clock, as is generally done on all the preceding evenings, they wait for the stroke of midnight : this word sufficiently proclaims to what ceremony they are going to repair. For ten minutes or a quarter of an hour, the bells
have been caling the faithful with a triple-bob-major; and each one, furnished with a little taper streaked with various colors, (the Christmas Candle,) goes through the crowded streets, where the lanterns are dancing like Will-o'-the-Wisps, at the impatient summons of the multitudinous chimes. It is the Midnight Mass. Once inside the church, they hear with more or less piety the Mass, emblematic of the coming of the Messiah. Then in tumult and great haste they return homeward, always in numerous groups; they salute the Yule-log; they pay homage to the hearth; they sit down at table; and, amid songs which reverberate louder than ever, make this meal of after-Christmas, so long looked for, so cherished, so joyous, so noisy, and which it has been thought fit to call, we hardly know why, Rossignon. The supper eaten at nightfall is no impediment, as you may imagine, to the appetite's returning ; above all, if the going to and from church has made the devout eaters feel some little shafts of the sharp and biting north-wind. Rossignon then goes on merrily, --sometimes far into the morning hours; but nevertheless, gradually throats grow hoarse, stomachs are filled, the Yule'log burns out, and at last the hour arrives when each one, as best he may, regains his domicile and his bed, and puts with himself between the sheets the material for a good sore throat, or a good indigestion, for the morrow. Previous to this, care has been taken to place in the slippers, or wooden shoes, of the children the sugar-plums, which shall be for them, on their waking, the welcome fruits of the Christmas log."
In the Glossary, the Suche, or Yule-log, is thus defined :
“ This is a huge log, which is placed on the fire on Christmas Eve, and which in Burgundy is called, on this account, lai Suche de Noei. Then the father of the family, particularly among the middle classes, sings solemnly Christmas carols with his wife and children, the smallest of whom he sends into the corner to pray that the Yule-log may bear him some sugar-plums. Meanwhile, little parcels of them are placed under each end of the log, and the children come and pick them up, believing, in good faith, that the great log has borne them."