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The History of Christmas: Day 6 – Awaiting Arrival of Perchta (650 CE) December 20, 2012

Posted by Yarnspnr in History of Christmas.
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The History of Christmas
Day 6: Awaiting the Arrival of Perchta- 650 CE

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Perchta, goddess of vegetation and fertility in Germanic mythology, is somewhat of an enigma. Depending on the date and location, she could be male or female and held many different names, including Percht, Frau Berchte, Quantembermann, Kwaternik, Frau Faste, Frau Berch, Posterli, and Frontastenweiber. And there are those who looked upon Perchta as simply another version of the goddess Holde, or Frau Holle.

It is said she would enter homes at Twelfth Night, giving small silver coins to children and young servants whom she knew had worked hard and behaved well during the year. She searched the home to ensure all the flax had been spun. If not, she would cut open the bellies of the wicked, lazy children, to stuff them with straw and pebbles. Long after Christianity had taken root in the area, the common people still looked upon Perchta/Holde as a goddess.

*

Near a small town, south of what is now called Munich in Germania, a bearded man entered his cottage, closing the door on a howling wind as snow followed him into the room.

“Josef, the weather is getting worse. Is there enough wood for the fire?”

“Ja, Herta, I have only just finished piling it next to the door so it is within easy reach. The plow and the wagon are both hidden as well.”

“Poppa, the raging rout is a bad sign, not?”

The old man turned and looked at his daughter. “Ilse, we were fortunate that the rout came peacefully this year but it is certainly raging out there now. I feel we shall have a plentiful new year. Have you finished your spinning? There must be no flax left.”

“Ja. I have, Poppa. The distaff is empty, the wheel is at rest and a good deal of yarn is laid by.”

The father nodded and let out a long breath. Removing his coat, he examined the supper table. He could see five places set on the rough hewn boards. “Five settings, Herta? Are we expecting more company than I know about?”

“I invited Berit to spend some time with us. She lives alone and I felt she would enjoy the company. Beside, while she’s here, she said she would tell our fortunes. No harm in that. The other setting is for Perchta.”

“Frau Berch,” he mumbled, sniffing towards the oven. “Zemmede, I presume?”

“Of course, zemmede, with Perchta coming to our home.”

The family enjoyed zemmede, a fasting fare made of flour, milk and water. Josef turned his gaze back to his daughter. “I hope you haven’t lied to us this year. Perchta will cut open your stomach and fill it with rubbish if you have.”

“Frau Berch will bring me nuts and apples again this year. I deserve it as hard working a daughter as I am.”

Ilse was interrupted by a knock at the door. Man and wife gave each other a solemn look as the father moved to open it.

“Guten Abend, Herr Erchanbold.”

Herta’s friend, Berit, fluttered through the opening, clapping snow from her mittens. “You are all ready for Perchta’s visit I see. Herta, the zemmede smells delicious.”

*

This is the first time that a seasonal visitor has the ability to tell if children are naughty or nice – a large part of our Christmas celebration today. Also it is the first suggestion of a special food prepared strictly for the season.

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