Holy Night - A Christmas legend by Ludwig Thoma
Bavarian poet Ludwig Thoma penned this work as a rhyming narrative in old Bavarian dialect in 1915, at a time of crisis in his life. Enrico de Paruta has used Thoma’s original text – freely adapted from the Christmas gospel according to St Luke – as inspiration for his musical nativity play “Heilige Nacht“.
In the reign of Caesar Augustus, the carpenter Joseph and his wife Maria, who is with child, live a modest life in the town of in Nazareth. They receive a letter from the tax authorities with an order to register for a census in Bethlehem. Despite the difficult journey ahead of them, Maria remains unruffled. After all, it is said in the Scriptures that they will arrive safe and sound in Bethlehem …
The road to Bethlehem
The next morning Maria and Joseph trudge through the deep snow. During their midday rest they are overtaken by wealthy Manasse on his sledge who refuses to give them a lift. Joseph is aghast. But soon the apprentice Hansei comes by and helps Joseph carry Maria, now feeling very weak, to the gates of Bethlehem. As he has no identity papers, Hansei bids farewell to them here. Poor as he may be, the Lord shall reward him.
Guests from afar
There is no room for Maria and Joseph at either of the inns in Bethlehem. The porter at the Rössl sends them away gruffly. And they are also turned away by the Lamm. Maria tries to hide how weak she is feeling. Then Joseph remembers that his cousin and her rich husband, Josias, live in Bethlehem. He hopes that his relatives will give them a hot meal and a bed for the night. But he may be disappointed …
At Josias’ door
Joseph and Maria are greeted by their cousin and her husband with nothing but abuse and they refuse to give them shelter. Joseph is in despair while Mary tries to keep up his spirits. A stranger – probably an angel – shows them the way to a derelict hut. Old Simmei lets them in and makes up a bed for them for the night in the stable. When he realises that Maria may give birth to her child that very night, he looks after them with touching affection.
The moon and the stars are shining more brightly than ever; nature is in expectation of an extraordinary event. In Bethlehem, while the rest of the town has retired for the night, Joseph’s cousin is tortured by pangs of conscience. She reproaches Josias for having sent away her relatives. A hefty argument ensues. In the meantime, Hansei, asleep in hut where the shepherds spend the night, dreams that he is with God the Father in heaven. The Lord promises Hansei that he shall be rewarded for his good deed one day. Suddenly Hansei is awoken by a voice crying, “Come! Come everyone! The holiest of moments has arrived!“
In the stable
Simmei cannot get to sleep. He catches sight of a bright light shining in the stable. Has a fire broken out? He is overcome by the solemnity of the moment. Christ has just been born in the stable. All the stars shine brightly in the sky, the angels rejoice and the heavens proclaim the birth of Christ. Excited, the shepherds make their way to the stable. Simmei leads them in. They glimpse a baby child in a manger. It is the Saviour. They huddle in prayer before Him and pay their respects. They do so in a true and sincere way, typical of simple people. As they take their leave, they press some coins into Simmei’s hand. Their offering comes from their hearts. They return home through the night. No one in Bethlehem has realised what a wonderful event has just occurred. But when you go to Christmas mass, just think about it: Baby Jesus was seen only by the poor. Doesn’t that have something to tell us?
Translation: Stephen Conn, Heidelberg
© edp München 2009