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PIERRE VAN PAASSEN
THE FEAST of Saint Nicholas on December 6, with its brightly decorated shops and the children's procession through the streets, provided a brief respite from the monotony of the long winter months. But Christmas Day did not. With us the commemoration of the Saviour's birth was by no means a joyous celebration, or the occasion for mirth, conviviality, good cheer, and pleasant social gatherings, as it is in all other countries of Christendom, and in latter years, I understand, in many places in Holland too. In my youth we clung to the old Calvinist interpretation of Christmas as handed down, I presume, from that gloomiest of men, John Calvin himself.
Christmas was a purely ecclesiastical function, a solemn observance of the most awesome mystery of the ages: the Incarnation of God Himself. Others may look upon the birth in Bethlehem as a turning-point in human history, as the dawn of a new era of grace and freedom, and thus make it the occasion of rejoicing. Not so our spiritual leaders. There are some out-of-the-way places in the highlands of Scotland and in the Cévennes in France, among kirkmen and Huguenots of the old stamp, where the same mournful and funereal atmosphere prevails around Christmas. But I think we were unique in this respect, that even the singing of carols was considered tantamount to blasphemy, that festive candles and gaily decorated fir trees were deemed pagan abominations, while light talk or a specially elaborate meal on that day was a snare of Satan.