Christmas in Legend and Story by  Elva S. Smith

"The Gracious Time"

A CCORDING to tradition, on the Holy Night there fell upon Bethlehem of Judea a strange and unnatural calm; the voices of the birds were hushed, water ceased to flow and the wind was stilled. But when the child Jesus was born all nature burst into new life; trees put forth green leaves, grass sprang up and bright flowers bloomed. To animals was granted the power of human speech and the ox and the ass knelt in their stalls in adoration of the infant Saviour. Then it was that the shepherds abiding in the field with their flocks heard the angels praising God, and kings of the Orient watching in their "far country" saw ablaze in the heavens the long-expected sign. Even in distant Rome there sprang up a well or fountain which "ran largely" and the ancient prophetess, Sibyl, looking eastward from the Capitoline hill heard the angel song and saw in vision all the wonders of that night.

There are many such traditional tales of the nativity, of the "star-led wizards" and of the marvels wrought by the boy Christ. They tell of the bees singing their sweet hymn of praise to the Lord, of the palm-tree bending down its branches that the weary travellers fleeing from the wrath of Herod might be refreshed by its fruit, of the juniper which opened to conceal them and of the sweet-smelling balsam which grew wherever the drops of moisture fell from the brow of the Boy "as He ran about or toiled in His loving service for His Mother." Quaint fancies some of these, perhaps, and not all of them worth preserving; but oftentimes beautiful, and with a germ of truth.

From the centuries between then and now, come stories of holy men, of bishops and peasant-saints, and of brave men who preached the White Christ to the vikings of the north or on Iona's isle. As in popular belief, with each returning eve of the nativity the miracles of the first Christmas happen again, so in these tales the thorn-tree blossoms anew and wonderful roses bloom in the bleak forest.

Other stories tell how on each Christmas eve the little Christ-child comes again to earth and wanders through village or town, while lighted candles are placed in the windows to guide Him on His way.

These various legends and traditional tales, which sprang up among the people like flowers by the wayside and became a part of the life of the Middle Ages, are still of interest to us of to-day and have a distinct charm of their own. And when the childlike faith and beauty of thought of the finest of these have found expression in literary form they seem particularly suited for our reading at "the gracious time."

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