Julenek - or Christmas Sheaf


From an old book of a hundred years ago comes this commentary: "One of the prettiest of Christmas customs is the Norwegian practice of giving, on Christmas Day, a dinner to the birds.

On Christmas morning every gable, gateway, or barn-door, is decorated with a sheaf of grain fixed on the top of a tall pole, wherefrom it is intended that the birds should make their Christmas dinner.

Even the peasants contrive to have a handful set by for this purpose, and what the birds do not eat on Christmas Day, remains for them to finish at their leisure during the winter."

And from another old book (100 years ago) comes this poem
on the subject of the "Julenek":


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 (julenek) 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 (julenek) 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 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.


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