The Story of an Ancient French Christmas Tradition
This account, taken from the original French in a book entitled La Nuit de Noel Dans Tous les Pays (Christmas Eve in All Countries), recounts the charming old Christmas tradition of filling a large shoe (instead of a Christmas stocking) with presents for a child. This traditional French custom reminds us of a time when Christmas was less commercialized.
THE CHRISTMAS SHOE
The time of the vigil is already advanced; the smallest children agree to attend midnight mass in the white chapel,that is, to sleep under their white curtains, while their parents go to church. But before, all moved, they place, with great care, their shoe at the foot of the cast iron chenets. During their sleep, they dream of apple sugar, polichinelles, sweets and toys of all kinds…
Mom waits for baby to be well asleep; then, she steps forward discreetly and fills the cute, wide-open pump with the objects she knows her dear little one desires most—she has made him say it so many times!…
The next day, as soon as he wakes up, the child runs, barefoot, the court beating, his eye still big with sleep and already shining with pleasure, to contemplate the treasures, objects of all his hopes.
Despite the shorter night, with what eagerness the father and mother are standing, from the nascent day, to watch for the awakening of their son, to be the happy witnesses of his surprise, of his exuberant joy, when he sees the toys, sweets and gifts of all kinds, which the little Jesus sends him by his faithful messenger the good man Christmas123.Note 123:(back)Readings for all,Dec. 1903. Excerpt from an article by François Veuillot.
Sometimes, when the children have not been wise, when they have been mischievous, liars, greedy, disobedient or angry, little Jesus does not send, in remembrance… than a handful of yards.
Who of us has not been the naïve and happy victim of this deception imbued with maternal affection? A little girl said to her mom, “I don’t know why my little sister Luce always finds in her Christmas shoe precisely what she wants?”
—”Ah! My dear Lise, she is always wiser than you!”
“Oh! that mom and dad will be surprised and happy, said a charming baby, when they see all that little Jesus has brought me!”
Also, when our more completely awakened reason has revealed the mystery, what bitter disappointment, what a trouble in our childish joys!
There is nothing more graceful than this fiction of the Christmas shoe, used by moms to make their capricious babies reasonable.
A well-known critic recommended it, and we want to reproduce the fresh picture that his pen drew a few years ago.
“I was following a young mother who was holding a little girl by the hand. The child raved about the dolls and toys. She wanted to be bought the entire bazaar.
“No,” his mother said softly: “It’s soon Christmas and little Jesus will bring you in your shoe what he has chosen for you.
“It is here,” replies the little one, “that the Child Jesus comes to buy toys?
—Yes, no doubt, for wise children.
—For wise little children?
—Yes, little Jesus wants to surprise them to reward them.
—Then I will be wise!
«… What is this little Jesus who buys toys from merchants… and who mysteriously breaks into the chimneys? Children don’t realize it.
“What is certain is that little Jesus is not for them an abstraction, a symbol. They see him passing through the air, pressing on his chest hands full of cakes and toys, they feel him above them very good and very fair: they tell themselves that with Him you have to walk straight, or otherwise… the shoes will remain empty. What cries of joy they will throw when they see that little Jesus has chosen precisely what they desired most, what they had asked their mother ten times.”
Sometimes the Child Jesus reserves his best gifts for the poor and afflicted, as the legend of the periwinklesproves.
Once lived in Saint-Malo a poor woman whose almost all the boys had drowned at sea. Only one had survived. His mother kept him with her…
One day in December, she became seriously ill.
Her son hears her crying. He remembers it’s Christmas Eve. So, gently he takes off his shoes and comes to put his worn hoof near the cold ashes; then he opens the window and begins to pray while looking at the sky. Suddenly, just as the bells announce the Midnight Mass, he sees a luminous cloud that stops just above the house.
It was no ordinary cloud, or, to put it better, it was a swarm of these sea snails called periwinkles and eaten on the Breton coast. The first filled the hooves,the following covered the floor, and when the place ran out in the poor room, they crawled on the wooden panels of the facade, or clung to the slates of the roof.
However, the poor widow in wonder felt better… She hurriedly filled several baskets that she went to sell the next day: never had she made such beautiful recipes, for no one had ever seen such beautiful and appetizing sea snails.
Our poets have often treated this subject so touching and so naïve with the Christmas shoe:
As they do every year, In papillotes, barefoot, In front of the large fireplace The pink babies came. At midnight in wise children The pretty Jesus only on his knees We love it in the pictures Go, hands full of toys, From the top of its blue sky descend; And, for fear of being forgotten, Pink babies, in the ashes, All put on their little shoes. Behind a log they even have, While we did not see them, Put, as a supreme precaution, Their little slippers and stockings. Then their eyelids closed. In the shade of the curtains friends. Blonde babies, pink babies, Laughing fell asleep And until the hour when dawn removes The stars of the firmament They had such a lovely dream That they were stilllaughing while sleeping126. Note 126: (return) Rostand.
Our children know by heart these beautiful verses by André Theuriet:
It's midnight, the barn is dark, The Virgin dreams and Joseph sleeps; The Child rests in this shadow Having on the forehead the gold star. Dressed in satin and moire, The forehead is bordered by a vermeil ray, Through the great dark night, Jesus passes like a sun. Sliding on a moon ray, It penetrates into homes. Only the cricket, in the brown night, Sees fill the small shoes. Christmas! Jesus has just been born. Beech shoes and hooves Are arranged in the black hearth. Christmas! Children, come and see The wonders that around, Jesus, for the small world, From the top of the heavens makes it rain!
No less gracious is the following poemsent to us by one of our good friends from Canada.
Yesterday evening, at the Angelus, When the night stretched out its veil, I saw, from the most beautiful star Take down the little Jesus. On the roof of each house, He stopped to listen! Because to the wicked child who cries He will not come to bring anything. He who misses his prayer, Or who tears his clothes, Will have only one severe penis, With a piece of bread bis. But Jesus, to the wise children, Will bring beautiful toys, Booklets filled with images, And babies with big soft eyes. With an eternal feather, In triumphant characters, An angel was writing on his wing The name of the good little children. Let those, in the fireplace, Put on their shoes without fear Little Jesus, in his tour, Will not forget them.