The Christmas Sheaf - Julenek


Sheaves - For an Old Time Christmas

Quoted from an old manuscript:

The Christmas feeding of the birds is prevalent in many of the provinces of Norway and Sweden: bunches of oats are placed on the roofs of houses, on trees and fences, for them to feed upon.

Two or three days before cart-loads of sheaves are brought into the towns for this purpose, and both rich and poor buy, and place them everywhere.

Large quantities of oats, in bundles, were on sale in Christiania, and everybody bought bunches of them. In many of the districts the farmers' wives and children were busy at that season preparing the oats for Christmas eve.

Every poor man, and every head of a family had saved a penny or two, to buy a bunch of oats for the birds to have their Christmas feast. I remember well the words of a friend of mine, as we were driving through the streets of Christiania; he said, with deep feeling:

"A man must be very poor indeed if he cannot spare a few coins to feed the little birds on Christmas-day!"

What a pleasing picture it is to see the little creatures flying round, or perched on the thickest part of the straw and picking out the grain!

It is a beautiful custom, and speaks well for the natural goodness of heart of the Scandinavian.

And now for a poem:

The Christmas Sheaf

Far over in Norway's distant realm,
That land of ice and snow,
Where the winter nights are long and drear,
And the north winds fiercely blow,
From many a low-thatched cottage roof,
On Christmas eve, 'tis said,
A sheaf of grain is hung on high,
To feed the birds o'erhead.

In years gone by, on Christmas eve,
When the day was nearly o'er,
Two desolate, starving birds flew past
A humble peasant's door.
"Look! Look!" cried one, with joyful voice
And a piping tone of glee:
"In that sheaf there is plenteous food and cheer,
And the peasant had but three.
One he hath given to us for food,
And he hath but two for bread,
But he gave it with smiles and blessings,
'For the Christ-child's sake,' he said."

"Come, come," cried the shivering little mate,
"For the light is growing dim;
'Tis time, ere we rest in that cosy nest,
To sing our evening hymn."
And this was the anthem they sweetly sang,
Over and over again:
"The Christ-child came on earth to bless
The birds as well as men."

Then safe in the safe, snug, warm sheaf they dwelt,
Till the long, cold night was gone,
And softly and clear the sweet church bells
Rang out on the Christmas dawn,
When down from their covert, with fluttering wings,
They flew to a resting-place,
As the humble peasant passed slowly by,
With a sorrowful, downcast face.
"Homeless and friendless, alas! am I,"
They heard him sadly say,
"For the sheriff," (he wept and wrung his hands)
"Will come on New Year's day."

The birdlings listened with mute surprise.
"'Tis hard," they gently said;
"He gave us a sheaf of grain for food,
When he had but three for bread.
We will pray to God, He will surely help
This good man in distress;"
And they lifted their voices on high, to crave
His mercy and tenderness.
Then again to the Christmas sheaf they flew,
In the sunlight, clear and cold:
"Joy! joy! each grain of wheat," they sang,
"Is a shining coin of gold."

"A thousand ducats of yellow gold,
A thousand, if there be one;
O master! the wonderful sight behold
In the radiant light of the sun."
The peasant lifted his tear-dimmed eyes
To the shining sheaf o'erhead;
"'Tis a gift from the loving hand of God,
And a miracle wrought," he said.
"For the Father of all, who reigneth o'er,
His children will ne'er forsake,
When they feed the birds from their scanty store,
For the blessed Christ-child's sake."

The Christmas Sheaf

"The fields of kindness bear golden grain,"
Is a proverb true and tried;
Then scatter thine alms, with lavish hand,
To the waiting poor outside;
And remember the birds, and the song they sang,
When the year rolls round again:
"The Christ-child came on earth to bless
The birds as well as men."

—Mrs. A. M. Tomlinson.

Royal Copenhagens Collectibles

The 1911 Christmas Plate depicts the christmas sheaf.

The tradition of the Christmas Sheaf in Sweden

At Christmas, the last sheaf of grain saved at harvest time was raised high on a pole, a gable or on a roof as a generous offering to the birds.

It was said that these feathered visitors would eat less in the barn if they had their own sheaf to enjoy.

Another tradition maintained that it looked prosperous to be openhanded with the grain in this manner.

But the initiated say there is a deeper significance. In the sheaf is the essence of the harvest, the vital power that makes grain grow, the spirit of fertility itself. There was magic around the last sheaf gathered after the threshing was done, or the last sheaf brought in from the field.

All the generating force and energy lay hidden in it, according to the old belief.

Saved until Christmas it could be offered to the cattle on Christmas morning or placed outside the house to emit blessings to all who lived there and to all visitors. Naturally, the birds took advantage.

The Christmas Sheaf

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