Christmas-Eve At Goldsberg
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
(From "Friendship's Offering ; or, The Annual Remembrancer."
[London, 1823, 12mo.])
There are few places where Christmas-eve is kept with greater ceremonial than at Goldsberg. The most remarkable features of this celebration are said to derive their origin from a dreadful plague which befel this town in 1553. According to an ancient and now almost illegible stone monument placed against the wall of the parish church, Goldsberg was ravaged in that year by a terrible plague, which carried off above 2,500 persons. Oral tradition, indeed, affirms that there were not more than 25 housekeepers left alive in the place; and that every house was shut up so strictly that not one of the survivors knew what had become of his neighbour. Martinus Tabornus, speaking of this pestilence in what are called his "Cladibus Goldsbergensibus" [see Note 41], says, it was so infectious that few houses were ever opened; everything appeared dead and gone: the grass was growing in many places, and the number who perished exceeded 2,500. At this period, says tradition, one of the surviving inhabitants went to the Lower Ring, at two o'clock on Christmas morning, and sung a Christmas Carol, with a view to animate those who had escaped the plague, the malignity of which had been stayed by the cold, to unit ewith him in the solemn celebration of an epoch so joyful to the human race. Some few ventured to him, and after singing another carol they repaired to the Upper Ring, in order to excite those who lived in its vicinity to accompany them in their thanksgiving. The ceremony, as it is now performed, is said to have arisen from a desire to perpetuate the remembrance of this affecting scene. About two o'clock in the morning there are frequently not less than 2,000 persons collected from the town, the suburbs, and the villages belonging to the township, and assembled in the Lower Ring. Most of these have previously attended the rituals of Christmas-eve, which are celebrated at midnight in the Franciscan monastery. At this hour the commander of the town-guard collects the whole of the night-police, in conjunction with the Ring Chanter, as he is termed. This person is a townsman with a good voice ; he is fetched from the Tickelley, leads the train in procession to the Lower Ring, and there forms them into a circle. The clock has no sooner struck two than the night-watch proclaims the hour, and the Ring-chanter opens with the psalm, " Unto us this day a child is born," in which he is not only joined by the whole assembled multitude, but at the very same instant by those who are waiting the signal in the Upper Ring : every house encircling both Rings has its windows open and illuminated. After singing the hymn which begins, " This day let us praise," etc., the procession moves forward to the Upper .Ring, where a fresh circle is formed, the hour is again proclaimed, and the Chanter sings the two hymns, "We sons of Christ," and " Let us bound for joy," the whole town re-echoing them far and near. This portion of the ceremony being completed, at three o'clock the town-bands perform several pieces with horns and trumpets on the tower of the town-hall : and the Chanter of the, Latin school, who has joined them there with all his scholars afterwards begins the hymn, "To God alone," accompanied by horns, trumpets, and the voices of those in both Rings. This is succeeded by vocal and instrumental music composed for the occasion. At four o'clock regular service is performed in the parish church, which is splendidly lighted up by children bearing in-numerable stars made of paper soaked in oil, wax torches, or what are called trees, presenting a blazing display of light. A sermon constitutes the next part of the ceremony, and the whole is closed at six o'clock by a Te Deum, accompanied by horns and trumpets.