Christmas at the Rauhe Haus
based on Elihu Burritt’s “Christmas in Germany” (c. 1850)
You find a hand-built chapel among small homes
constructed by children. But what children –
vicious young ne’er-do-wells from a Dickens novel,
pickpockets and worse; if not murderers, at least
boys handy with cudgel or knife; petty thieves;
girls just as bad. And here they’ve planted trees,
and a garden around the cottages they built.
Ducks and geese in the pond are no happier,
this December morning, than the children
who’ve invited everyone from miles around
to help them celebrate. People arrive
by carriage to sit on hard benches in the chapel
with its Christmas tree alight with tapers. And who
sits at the table of honor with a linen cloth?
"The poorest of the poor, the lamest of the lame,
the blindest of the blind, the oldest of the aged.
"Pauper guests from the hovels, hedges, and
highways of the neighborhood." How amazed
you were, Elihu, who’d traveled among society
and knew its ways, to witness this turnabout;
how children saved from the ditch, and raised
with love, would want to share their bounty –
their hand-baked bread, cakes, and confections,
hand-knit stockings, wooden shoes. Their joy.