The Christmas-Eve Child: 1883-1950s

christmas-franz-josef-and-elisabeth

The old adage that a Christmas-Eve child is born to sorrow is illustrated in the case of the Empress of Austria, who celebrated her sixtieth birthday on the twenty-fourth of last month. The Duchess Elizabeth of Bavaria was married to Francis Joseph of Austria at the early age of sixteen, and was then considered the loveliest woman in Europe. She was not well received by the great families of Austria, who thought that the emperor should have chosen a bride from a more famous house than a collateral branch of the Wittelsbachs of Bavaria. The Hungarians, however, went mad with enthusiasm over their beautiful queen, and throughout her reign have remained her devoted slaves. She was passionately fond of riding, and for long spent a portion of each year in the hunting-fields of England and Ireland.

The breakdown of her health compelled her first to forego this pleasure, and then she was debarred from fencing, and even from her mountaineering excursions. The unhappy marriage of her only son and the refusal of the Pope and the emperor to consent to his divorce preyed upon her mind, and since his tragic death nine years ago, at Mayerling, she has led the life of a recluse.

The Argonaut [San Francisco CA] 24 January 1898.

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: There are dozens of superstitions about children born on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day. Here is a sampling.

In Malta:

Many women and children believe that those who are born on Christmas Eve, just at the very time when our Lord was born, will continue until their death to be transformed to a ghost while asleep, every year just on Christmas Eve. They then go out and wander all over the island frightening people with their groanings..and awake in the morning quite unconscious of their nocturnal expedition. Others…add..that a person may get rid of this annual transformation by taking a sieve and spending from eleven o’clock at night until Christmas morning at dawn counting the holes.  Publications, Vol. 52 Folklore Society, 1903 p. 83

From North-Lincolnshire and the Pennsylvania Dutch:

A person who is born on Christmas Day will be able to see spirits. Choice Notes from “Notes and Queries,” 1859: p. 51

In Silesia there is a superstition that a boy born on Christmas day must be brought up a lawyer or he will become a thief. Topeka [KS] Weekly Capital 24 December 1897: p. 6

It is accounted the happiest omen for a boy to be born on Christmas day, but unlucky for a girl. An old name for her was “the sorrow child.” Rockford [IL] Republic 22 December 1921: p. 8

It is very lucky for a child to be born on Christmas day, especially if the day falls on a Sunday. Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 22 December 1883: p. 1

There is a certain “division of labour” in the beliefs about these Christmas children:

If a baby is born on Christmas Eve at midnight, and it’s a girl, she’s a witch [Italian Cleveland Ohio 1958]

If a baby is born on Christmas Eve at midnight, and it’s a boy, he is believed to be a werewolf [Italian Stoney Creek Ohio 1958]

In many parts of England there is a superstition that boys born on Christmas Day should be brought up to enter the church, and girls should become nurses. Willkes-Barre [PA] Times-Leader 24 March 1919: p. 7

A child born at midnight on Christmas Eve is destined to be an evil person [Ukraine, Lorain Ohio 1961]

It is believed if you are born on Christmas Eve, you will possess the evil eye [Cleveland Ohio 1956]

A child that is born at twelve o’clock Christmas Eve will possess special powers. Many Italians in Cleveland believe and make a practice of using this power [Italian, Cleveland Ohio 1950]

A child born at midnight on Christmas Eve can understand the speech of animals. [Irish, Cambridge Ohio 1955]

Popular Beliefs and Superstitions A Compendium of American Folklore, From the Ohio Collection of Newbell Niles Puckett, Hand, et al: 1981

This young woman was closely watched by her parents, who were worried that she would turn out to be a vampire:

“I want to tell you of a superstition which dealt with me directly and which we observed in our house for approximately eighteen to twenty years. In Italy it was always believed that anyone born on midnight on Christmas Eve would be a vampire. I was born here in Cleveland at seven-thirty A.M., however my parents played safe and kept a close watch on me for quite a number of years. It was a very strict rule that at bedtime or when we were locking up for the night that the broom be placed at a diagonal in back of the front door. It didn’t matter if other doors or windows were kept unlocked or open, but it was the front door that was important because this was the only entrance they could use. This practice was followed so that if other vampires would try to come to our house to snatch me away or to do malice to others in the house, he or she would have to count every wisk in the broom, and by that time it would be dawn, and they’d return to their natural forms, and consequently it would be too late because, according to legend, they start roaming from twelve until dawn.” [Italian, Cleveland Ohio 1956]

Popular Beliefs and Superstitions A Compendium of American Folklore, From the Ohio Collection of Newbell Niles Puckett, Hand, et al: 1981, p. 1123

In English speaking countries, and in Scandinavia, births on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day are accounted lucky. But in other parts of Europe, they are considered very unlucky, and the many tragedies which darkened the life of Empress Elizabeth of Austria, finally culminating in her assassination at Geneva, are ascribed by numbers of people to the fact that she was born on Christmas Eve. Folk lore throughout the South of Europe, not only in Latin countries, but also in some parts of the Balkans, has taught for hundreds of years past that a terrible blight resets upon those born on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, popular superstition holding such births to be sacrilegious. Richmond [VA] Times Dispatch 27 December 1912: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil is uncertain whether it is sacrilegious to try to claim the same birthday as the Infant Saviour or whether it was believed that the child was conceived on a Holy Day. Puritans punished persons whose children were born on a Sunday, believing that all babies came exactly nine months after conception, on the same day of the week on which they were begotten. Certainly many children whose birthdays fall close to Christmas bitterly regret their natal day as unlucky since it often means that they do not have a separate birthday celebration and consequently double the presents.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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