All these things, I am sure, lie within Rosalind's vision, although she seems to see nothing but the ruddy blaze of the fire; all these things I see, as I have seen them these many Christmas Eves agone; but with this familiar landscape there are mingled all the sweet and sorrowful memories of our common life, recalled at this hour that the light of the highest truth may interpret them anew in the divine language of hope. I read on until I come to the quotation from the "Hymn to the Nativity," and then I close the book, and take up a copy of Milton close at hand. We have had our commemoration service of love, and now there comes into our thought, with the organ roll of this sublime hymn, the universal truth which lies at the heart of the season. I am hardly conscious that it is my voice which makes these words audible: I am conscious only of this mighty-voiced anthem, fit for the choral song of the morning stars:
"Ring out, ye crystal spheres, And bless our human ears, If ye have power to touch our senses so; And let your silver chime Move in melodious time; And let the bass of heaven's deep organ blow; And, with your ninefold harmony, Make up full concert to the angelic symphony.
"For, if such holy song Enwrap our fancy long, Time will run back and fetch the age of gold; And speckled vanity Will sicken soon and die, And leprous sin will melt from earthly mold; And hell itself will pass away, And leave her dolorous mansions to the peering day.
- - - - -
"The oracles are dumb, No voice or hideous hum Runs through the arched roof in words deceiving; Apollo from his shrine Can no more divine With hollow shriek the steep of Delphos leaving, No nightly trance or breathed spell Inspires the pale-eyed priest from the prophetic cell.
"The lonely mountains o'er, And the resounding shore, A voice of weeping heard and loud lament; From haunted spring, and dale Edged with poplars pale, The parting genius is with sighing sent; With flower-enwoven tresses torn, The nymphs in twilight shades of tangled thickets mourn."
- - - - -
Like a psalm the great Hymn fills the air, and like a psalm it remains in the memory. The fire has burned low, and a soft and solemn light fills the room. Neither of us speaks while the clock strikes twelve. I look out of the window. The heavens are ablaze with light, and somewhere amid those circling constellations I know that a new star has found its place, and is shining with such a ray as never before fell from heaven to earth.
* * * * *
CHRISTMAS IN THE OLDEN TIME
On Christmas-eve the bells were rung; The damsel donned her kirtle sheen; The hall was dressed with holly green; Forth to the wood did merry men go, To gather in the mistletoe. Thus opened wide the baron's hall To vassal, tenant, serf and all; Power laid his rod of rule aside And ceremony doffed his pride. The heir, with roses in his shoes, That night might village partner choose; The lord, underogating, share The vulgar game of "Post and Pair." All hailed, with uncontrolled delight, And general voice, the happy night That to the cottage, as the crown, Brought tidings of salvation down.
The fire, with well-dried logs supplied, Went roaring up the chimney wide; The huge hall-table's oaken face, Scrubbed till it shone, the day to grace, Bore then upon its massive board No mark to part the squire and lord. Then was brought in the lusty brawn By old blue-coated serving man; Then the grim boar's head frowned on high, Crested with bays and rosemary. Well can the green-garbed ranger tell How, when and where the monster fell; What dogs before his death he tore, And all the baitings of the boar. The wassal round, in good brown bowls, Garnished with ribbons, blithely trowls. There the huge sirloin reeked: hard by Plum-porridge stood, and Christmas pye; Nor failed old Scotland to produce, At such high-tide, her savory goose.
Then came the merry maskers in, And carols roared with blithesome din. If unmelodious was the song, It was a hearty note, and strong; Who lists may in their murmuring see Traces of ancient mystery; White shirts supplied the masquerade, And smutted cheeks the visors made; But O, what maskers richly dight, Can boast of bosoms half so light! England was "merry England" when Old Christmas brought his sports again; 'Twas Christmas broached the mightiest ale, 'Twas Christmas told the merriest tale; A Christmas gambol oft would cheer The poor man's heart through half the year.
* * * * *
SLY SANTA CLAUS
MRS. C.S. STONE
All the house was asleep, And the fire burning low, When, from far up the chimney, Came down a "Ho! ho!" And a little, round man, With a terrible scratching, Dropped into the room With a wink that was catching. Yes, down he came, bumping, And thumping, and jumping, And picking himself up without sign of a bruise!
"Ho! ho!" he kept on, As if bursting with cheer. "Good children, gay children, Glad children, see here! I have brought you fine dolls, And gay trumpets, and rings, Noah's arks, and bright skates, And a host of good things! I have brought a whole sackful, A packful, a hackful! Come hither, come hither, come hither and choose!
"Ho! ho! What is this? Why, they all are asleep! But their stockings are up, And my presents will keep! So, in with the candies, The books, and the toys; All the goodies I have For the good girls and boys. I'll ram them, and jam them, And slam them, and cram them; All the stockings will hold while the tired youngsters snooze."
All the while his round shoulders Kept ducking and ducking; And his little, fat fingers Kept tucking and tucking; Until every stocking Bulged out, on the wall, As if it were bursting, And ready to fall.
And then, all at once, With a whisk and a whistle, And twisting himself Like a tough bit of gristle, He bounced up again, Like the down of a thistle, And nothing was left but the prints of his shoes.
* * * * *
At the break of Christmas Day, Through the frosty starlight ringing, Faint and sweet and far away, Comes the sound of children, singing, Chanting, singing, "Cease to mourn, For Christ is born, Peace and joy to all men bringing!"
Careless that the chill winds blow, Growing stronger, sweeter, clearer, Noiseless footfalls in the snow Bring the happy voices nearer; Hear them singing, "Winter's drear, But Christ is here, Mirth and gladness with Him bringing!"
"Merry Christmas!" hear them say, As the East is growing lighter; "May the joy of Christmas Day Make your whole year gladder, brighter!" Join their singing, "To each home Our Christ has come, All Love's treasures with Him bringing!"
* * * * *
THE KNIGHTING OF THE SIRLOIN OF BEEF BY CHARLES THE SECOND
The Second Charles of England Rode forth one Christmas tide, To hunt a gallant stag of ten, Of Chingford woods the pride.
The winds blew keen, the snow fell fast, And made for earth a pall, As tired steeds and wearied men Returned to Friday Hall.
The blazing logs, piled on the dogs, Were pleasant to behold! And grateful was the steaming feast To hungry men and cold.
With right good-will all took their fill, And soon each found relief; Whilst Charles his royal trencher piled From one huge loin of beef.
Quoth Charles, "Odd's fish! a noble dish! Ay, noble made by me! By kingly right, I dub thee knight— Sir Loin henceforward be!"
And never was a royal jest Received with such acclaim: And never knight than good Sir Loin More worthy of the name.
* * * * *
THE CHRISTMAS GOOSE AT THE CRATCHITS'
You might have thought a goose the rarest of all birds; a feathered phenomenon, to which a black swan was a matter of course; and in truth, it was something like it in that house. Mrs. Cratchit made the gravy (ready before-hand in a little saucepan) hissing hot; Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigor; Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple-sauce; Martha dusted the hot plates; Bob took Tiny Tim beside him in a tiny corner, at the table; the two young Cratchits set chairs for everybody, not forgetting themselves, and mounting guard upon their posts, crammed spoons into their mouths, lest they should shriek for goose before their turn came to be helped. At last the dishes were set on, and grace was said. It was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs. Cratchit, looking slowly all along the carving knife, prepared to plunge it in the breast; but when she did, and when the long-expected gush of stuffing issued forth, one murmur of delight arose all around the board, and even Tiny Tim, excited by the two young Cratchits, beat on the table with the handle of his knife, and feebly cried hurrah!
There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn't believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavor, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by the apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs. Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small atom of a bone on the dish), they hadn't ate it all at last! Yet every one had had enough, and the youngest Cratchits in particular were steeped in sage and onion to the eye-brows! But now, the plates being changed by Miss Belinda, Mrs. Cratchit left the room alone—too nervous to bear witnesses—to take the pudding up, and bring it in.
Suppose it should not be done enough! Suppose it should break in turning out! Suppose somebody should have got over the wall of the backyard, and stolen it, while they were merry with the goose; a supposition at which the two young Cratchits became livid! All sorts of horrors were supposed.
Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper. A smell like a washing-day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastry cook's next door to each other, with a laundress next door to that! That was the pudding. In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit entered, flushed, but smiling proudly, with the pudding like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.
Oh, a wonderful pudding! Bob Cratchit said, and calmly too, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchit since their marriage. Mrs. Cratchit said that now the weight was off her mind, she would confess she had had her doubts about the quantity of flour. Everybody had something to say about it, but nobody said or thought it was at all a small pudding for so large a family. It would have been flat heresy to do so. Any Cratchit would have blushed to hint at such a thing.
At last the dinner was all done, the cloth was cleared, the hearth swept, and the fire made up. The compound in the jug being tasted and considered perfect, apples and oranges were put upon the table, and a shovelful of chestnuts on the fire. Then all the Cratchit family drew round the hearth, in what Bob Cratchit called a circle, meaning half a one; and at Bob Cratchit's elbow stood the family display of glass—two tumblers, and a custard-cup without a handle.
These held the hot stuff from the jug, however, as well as golden goblets would have done; and Bob served it out with beaming looks, while the chestnuts on the fire sputtered and cracked noisily. Then Bob proposed:
"A merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!"
Which all the family re-echoed.
"God bless us every one!" said Tiny Tim, the last of all.
* * * * *
GOD BLESS US EVERY ONE
JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY
[From "Sketches in Prose."]
"God bless us every one!" prayed Tiny Tim, Crippled, and dwarfed of body, yet so tall Of soul, we tiptoe earth to look on him, High towering over all.
He loved the loveless world, nor dreamed, indeed, That it, at best, could give to him, the while, But pitying glances, when his only need Was but a cheery smile.
And thus he prayed, "God bless us every one!" Enfolding all the creeds within the span Of his child-heart; and so, despising none, Was nearer saint than man.
I like to fancy God, in Paradise, Lifting a finger o'er the rhythmic swing Of chiming harp and song, with eager eyes Turned earthward, listening—
The Anthem stilled—the angels leaning there Above the golden walls—the morning sun Of Christmas bursting flower-like with the prayer, "God bless us Every One!"
* * * * *
BELLS ACROSS THE SNOWS
FRANCES RIDLEY HAVERGAL
O Christmas, merry Christmas! Is it really come again, With its memories and greetings, With its joy and with its pain? There's a minor in the carol, And a shadow in the light, And a spray of cypress twining With the holly wreath to-night. And the hush is never broken By laughter light and low, As we listen in the starlight To the "bells across the snow."
O Christmas, merry Christmas! 'Tis not so very long Since other voices blended With the carol and the song! If we could but hear them singing As they are singing now, If we could but see the radiance Of the crown on each dear brow; There would be no sigh to smother, No hidden tear to flow, As we listen in the starlight To the "bells across the snow."
O Christmas, merry Christmas! This never more can be; We cannot bring again the days Of our unshadowed glee. But Christmas, happy Christmas, Sweet herald of good-will, With holy songs of glory Brings holy gladness still. For peace and hope may brighten, And patient love may glow, As we listen in the starlight To the "bells across the snow."
* * * * *
HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW
I heard the bells on Christmas Day Their old, familiar carols play, And wild and sweet The words repeat Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come, The belfries of all Christendom Had rolled along The unbroken song Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Till, ringing, swinging on its way, The world revolved from night to day A voice, a chime, A chant sublime Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth The cannon thundered in the South And with the sound The carols drowned Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent The hearth-stones of a continent, And made forlorn The households born Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head; "There is no peace on earth," I said; "For hate is strong And mocks the song Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep. "God is not dead; nor doth He sleep! The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail, With peace on earth, good-will to men!"
* * * * *
MINSTRELS AND MAIDS
Outlanders, whence come ye last? The snow in the street and the wind on the door. Through what green seas and great have ye past? Minstrels and maids, stand forth on the floor.
From far away, O masters mine, The snow in the street and the wind on the door. We come to bear you goodly wine, Minstrels and maids, stand forth on the floor.
From far away we come to you, The snow in the street and the wind on the door. To tell of great tidings strange and true, Minstrels and maids, stand forth on the floor.
News, news of the Trinity, The snow in the street and the wind on the door. And Mary and Joseph from over the sea! Minstrels and maids, stand forth on the floor.
For as we wandered far and wide, The snow in the street and the wind on the door. What hap do you deem there should us betide! Minstrels and maids, stand forth on the floor.
Under a bent when the night was deep, The snow in the street and the wind on the door. There lay three shepherds tending their sheep. Minstrels and maids, stand forth on the floor.
"O ye shepherds, what have ye seen, The snow in the street and the wind on the door. To slay your sorrow, and heal your teen?" Minstrels and maids, stand forth on the floor.
"In an ox-stall this night we saw, The snow in the street and the wind on the door. A babe and a maid without a flaw. Minstrels and maids, stand forth on the floor.
"There was an old man there beside, The snow in the street and the wind on the door. His hair was white and his hood was wide. Minstrels and maids, stand forth on the floor.
"And as we gazed this thing upon, The snow in the street and the wind on the door. Those twain knelt down to the Little One, Minstrels and maids, stand forth on the floor.
"And a marvellous song we straight did hear, The snow in the street and the wind on the door. That slew our sorrow and healed our care." Minstrels and maids, stand forth on the floor.
News of a fair and marvellous thing, The snow in the street and the wind on the door. Nowell, nowell, nowell, we sing! Minstrels and maids, stand forth on the floor.
* * * * *
INEXHAUSTIBILITY OF THE SUBJECT OF CHRISTMAS
So many things have been said of late years about Christmas, that it is supposed by some there is no saying more. O they of little faith! What! do they suppose that every thing has been said that can be said about any one Christmas thing?
About beef, for instance? About plum-pudding? About mince-pie? About holly? About ivy? About rosemary? About mistletoe? (Good Heavens! what an immense number of things remain to be said about mistletoe!) About Christmas Eve? About hunt-the-slipper? About hot cockles? About blind-man's-buff? About shoeing the wild-mare? About thread-the-needle? About he-can-do-little-that-can't-do-this? About puss-in-the-corner? About snap-dragon? About forfeits? About Miss Smith? About the bell-man? About the waits? About chilblains? About carols? About the fire? About the block on it? About school-boys? About their mothers? About Christmas-boxes? About turkeys? About Hogmany? About goose-pie? About mumming? About saluting the apple-trees? About brawn? About plum-porridge? About hobby-horse? About hoppings? About wakes? About "feed-the-dove"? About hackins? About yule-doughs? About going-a-gooding? About loaf-stealing? About Julklaps? (Who has exhausted that subject, we should like to know?) About wad-shooting? About elder-wine? About pantomimes? About cards? About New-Year's Day? About gifts? About wassail? About Twelfth-cake? About king and queen? About characters? About eating too much? About aldermen? About the doctor? About all being in the wrong? About charity? About all being in the right? About faith, hope, and endeavor? About the greatest plum-pudding for the greatest number?
Esto perpetua,—that is, faith, hope and charity, and endeavor; and plum-pudding enough by and by, all the year round, for everybody that likes it. Why that should not be the case, we cannot see,—seeing that the earth is big, and human kind teachable, and God very good, and inciting us to do it. Meantime, gravity apart, we ask anybody whether any of the above subjects are exhausted; and we inform everybody, that all the above customs still exist in some parts of our beloved country, however unintelligible they may have become in others. But to give a specimen of the non-exhaustion of any one of their topics.
Beef, for example. Now, we should like to know who has exhausted the subject of the fine old roast Christmas piece of beef, from its original appearance in the meadows as part of the noble sultan of the herd, glorious old Taurus,—the lord of the sturdy brow and ponderous agility, a sort of thunderbolt of a beast, well chosen by Jove to disguise in, one of Nature's most striking compounds of apparent heaviness and unencumbered activity,—up to its contribution to the noble Christmas-dinner, smoking from the spit, and flanked by the outposts of Bacchus. John Bull (cannibalism apart) hails it like a sort of relation. He makes it part of his flesh and blood; glories in it; was named after it; has it served up, on solemn occasions, with music and a hymn, as it was the other day at the royal city dinner:—
"Oh the roast beef of old England! And oh the old English roast beef!"
"And oh!" observe, not merely "oh!" again; but "and" with it; as if, though the same piece of beef, it were also another,—another and the same,—cut, and come again; making two of one, in order to express intensity and reduplication of satisfaction:—
"Oh the roast beef of old England! And oh the old English roast beef!"
We beg to assure the reader, that a whole Seer might be written on this single point of the Christmas-dinner; and "shall we be told" (as orators exclaim), "and this, too, in a British land," that the subject is "exhausted"!
Then plum-pudding! What a word is that! how plump and plump again! How round and repeated and plenipotential! (There are two p's, observe, in plenipotential; and so there are in plum-pudding. We love an exquisite fitness,—a might and wealth of adaptation). Why, the whole round cheek of universal childhood is in the idea of plum-pudding; ay, and the weight of manhood, and the plenitude of the majesty of city dames. Wealth itself is symbolized by the least of its fruity particles. "A plum" is a city fortune,—a million of money. He (the old boy, who has earned it)—
"Puts in his thumb,
videlicet, into his pocket,
And pulls out a plum, And says, What a good man am I!"
Observe a little boy at a Christmas-dinner, and his grandfather opposite him. What a world of secret similarity there is between them! How hope in one, and retrospection in the other, and appetite in both, meet over the same ground of pudding, and understand it to a nicety! How the senior banters the little boy on his third slice! and how the little boy thinks within himself that he dines that day as well as the senior! How both look hot and red and smiling, and juvenile. How the little boy is conscious of the Christmas-box in his pocket! (of which, indeed, the grandfather jocosely puts him in mind); and how the grandfather is quite as conscious of the plum, or part of a plum, or whatever fraction it may be, in his own! How he incites the little boy to love money and good dinners all his life! and how determined the little boy is to abide by his advice,—with a secret addition in favor of holidays and marbles,—to which there is an analogy, in the senior's mind, on the side of trips to Hastings, and a game at whist! Finally, the old gentleman sees his own face in the pretty smooth one of the child; and if the child is not best pleased at his proclamation of the likeness (in truth, is horrified at it, and thinks it a sort of madness), yet nice observers, who have lived long enough to see the wonderful changes in people's faces from youth to age, probably discern the thing well enough, and feel a movement of pathos at their hearts in considering the world of trouble and emotion that is the causer of the changes. That old man's face was once like that little boy's! That little boy's will be one day like that old man's! What a thought to make us all love and respect one another, if not for our fine qualities, let at least for the trouble and sorrow which we all go through!
Ay, and joy too; for all people have their joys as well as troubles, at one time or another,—most likely both together, or in constant alternation: and the greater part of troubles are not the worst things in the world, but only graver forms of the requisite motion of the universe, or workings towards a better condition of things, the greater or less violent according as we give them violence, or respect them like awful but not ill-meaning gods, and entertain them with a rewarded patience. Grave thoughts, you will say, for Christmas. But no season has a greater right to grave thoughts, in passing; and, for that very reason, no season has a greater right to let them pass, and recur to more light ones.
So a noble and merry season to you, my masters; and may we meet, thick and three-fold, many a time and oft, in blithe yet most thoughtful pages! Fail not to call to mind, in the course of the 25th of this month, that the divinest Heart that ever walked the earth was born on that day: and then smile and enjoy yourselves for the rest of it; for mirth is also of Heaven's making, and wondrous was the wine-drinking at Galilee.
* * * * *
SONG OF THE HOLLY
Blow, blow thou winter wind— Thou art not so unkind As man's ingratitude! Thy tooth is not so keen, Because thou art not seen, Although thy breath be rude. Heigh ho! sing heigh ho! unto the green holly: Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly. Then heigh ho! the holly! This life is most jolly!
Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky— Thou dost not bite so nigh As benefits forgot! Though thou the waters warp, Thy sting is not so sharp As friend remembered not. Heigh ho! sing heigh ho! unto the green holly, Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly. Then heigh ho, the holly! This life is most jolly!
* * * * *
UNDER THE HOLLY-BOUGH
Ye who have scorned each other, Or injured friend or brother, In this fast-fading year; Ye who, by word or deed, Have made a kind heart bleed, Come gather here! Let sinned against and sinning Forget their strife's beginning, And join in friendship now. Be links no longer broken, Be sweet forgiveness spoken Under the Holly-Bough.
Ye who have loved each other, Sister and friend and brother, In this fast-fading year: Mother and sire and child, Young man and maiden mild, Come gather here; And let your heart grow fonder, As memory shall ponder Each past unbroken vow; Old loves and younger wooing Are sweet in the renewing Under the Holly-Bough.
Ye who have nourished sadness, Estranged from hope and gladness In this fast-fading year; Ye with o'erburdened mind, Made aliens from your kind, Come gather here. Let not the useless sorrow Pursue you night and morrow, If e'er you hoped, hope now. Take heart,—uncloud your faces, And join in our embraces Under the Holly-Bough.
* * * * *
CEREMONIES FOR CHRISTMAS
Come, bring with a noise, My merry, merry boys, The Christmas log to the firing, While my good dame, she Bids ye all be free, And drink to your heart's desiring.
With the last year's brand Light the new block, and For good success in his spending, On your psalteries play, That sweet luck may Come while the log is a-teending.
Drink now the strong beer, Cut the white loaf here, The while the meat is a-shredding; For the rare mince-pie, And the plums stand by, To fill the paste that's a kneading.
* * * * *
He comes in the night! He comes in the night! He softly, silently comes; While the little brown heads on the pillows so white Are dreaming of bugles and drums. He cuts through the snow like a ship through the foam, While the white flakes around him whirl; Who tells him I know not, but he findeth the home Of each good little boy and girl.
His sleigh it is long, and deep, and wide; It will carry a host of things, While dozens of drums hang over the side, With the sticks sticking under the strings: And yet not the sound of a drum is heard, Not a bugle blast is blown, As he mounts to the chimney-top like a bird, And drops to the hearth like a stone.
The little red stockings he silently fills, Till the stockings will hold no more; The bright little sleds for the great snow hills Are quickly set down on the floor. Then Santa Claus mounts to the roof like a bird, And glides to his seat in the sleigh; Not the sound of a bugle or drum is heard As he noiselessly gallops away.
He rides to the East, and he rides to the West, Of his goodies he touches not one; He eateth the crumbs of the Christmas feast When the dear little folks are done. Old Santa Claus doeth all that he can; This beautiful mission is his; Then, children, be good to the little old man, When you find who the little man is.
* * * * *
THE CEREMONIES FOR CHRISTMAS DAY
Kindle the Christmas brand, and then Till sunset let it burn; Which quench'd, then lay it up again Till Christmas next return.
Part must be kept wherewith to teend The Christmas log next year, And where 'tis safely kept, the fiend Can do no mischief there.
* * * * *
HARRIET F. BLODGETT
Oh! holly branch and mistletoe. And Christmas chimes where'er we go. And stockings pinned up in a row! These are thy gifts, December!
And if the year has made thee old, And silvered all thy locks of gold, Thy heart has never been a-cold Or known a fading ember.
The whole world is a Christmas tree, And stars its many candles be. Oh! sing a carol joyfully The year's great feast in keeping!
For once, on a December night An angel held a candle bright. And led three wise men by its light To where a child was sleeping.
* * * * *
THE FESTIVAL OF ST. NICHOLAS
MARY MAPES DODGE
We all know how, before the Christmas-tree began to flourish in the home-life of our country, a certain "right jolly old elf," with "eight tiny reindeer," used to drive his sleigh-load of toys up to our housetops, and then bound down the chimney to fill the stockings so hopefully hung by the fireplace. His friends called him Santa Claus; and those who were most intimate ventured to say, "Old Nick." It was said that he originally came from Holland. Doubtless he did; but, if so, he certainly, like many other foreigners, changed his ways very much after landing upon our shores. In Holland, St. Nicholas is a veritable saint, and often appears in full costume, with his embroidered robes glittering with gems and gold, his mitre, his crosier, and his jewelled gloves. Here Santa Claus comes rollicking along on the 25th of December, our Holy Christmas morn; but in Holland, St. Nicholas visits earth on the 5th, a time especially appropriated to him. Early on the morning of the 6th, which is St. Nicholas Day, he distributes his candies, toys and treasures, and then vanishes for a year.
Christmas Day is devoted by the Hollanders to church-rites and pleasant family visiting. It is on St. Nicholas Eve that their young people become half wild with joy and expectation. To some of them it is a sorry time; for the saint is very candid, and, if any of them have been bad during the past year, he is quite sure to tell them so. Sometimes he carries a birch-rod under his arm, and advises the parents to give them scoldings in place of confections, and floggings instead of joys.
It was well that the boys hastened to their abodes on that bright winter evening; for, in less than an hour afterwards, the saint made his appearance in half the homes of Holland. He visited the king's palace, and in the self-same moment appeared in Annie Bouman's comfortable home. Probably one of our silver half-dollars would have purchased all that his saintship left at the peasant Bouman's. But a half-dollar's worth will sometimes do for the poor what hundreds of dollars may fail to do for the rich: it makes them happy and grateful, fills them with new peace and love.
Hilda van Gleck's little brothers and sisters were in a high state of excitement that night. They had been admitted into the grand parlor: they were dressed in their best, and had been given two cakes apiece at supper. Hilda was as joyous as any. Why not? St. Nicholas would never cross a girl of fourteen from his list, just because she was tall and looked almost like a woman. On the contrary, he would probably exert himself to do honor to such an august-looking damsel. Who could tell? So she sported and laughed and danced as gayly as the youngest, and was the soul of all their merry games. Father, mother and grandmother looked on approvingly; so did grandfather, before he spread his large red handkerchief over his face, leaving only the top of his skull-cap visible. This kerchief was his ensign of sleep.
Earlier in the evening, all had joined in the fun. In the general hilarity, there had seemed to be a difference only in bulk between grandfather and the baby. Indeed, a shade of solemn expectation, now and then flitting across the faces of the younger members, had made them seem rather more thoughtful than their elders.
Now the spirit of fun reigned supreme. The very flames danced and capered in the polished grate. A pair of prim candles, that had been staring at the astral lamp, began to wink at other candles far away in the mirrors. There was a long bell-rope suspended from the ceiling in the corner, made of glass beads, netted over a cord nearly as thick as your wrist. It generally hung in the shadow, and made no sign; but to-night it twinkled from end to end. Its handle of crimson glass sent reckless dashes of red at the papered wall, turning its dainty blue stripes into purple. Passers-by halted to catch the merry laughter floating through curtain and sash into the street, then skipped on their way with the startled consciousness that the village was wide awake. At last matters grew so uproarious that the grandsire's red kerchief came down from his face with a jerk. What decent old gentleman could sleep in such a racket! Mynheer van Gleck regarded his children with astonishment. The baby even showed symptoms of hysterics. It was high time to attend to business. Mevrouw suggested that, if they wished to see the good St. Nicholas, they should sing the same loving invitation that had brought him the year before.
The baby stared, and thrust his fist into his mouth, as Mynheer put him down upon the floor. Soon he sat erect, and looked with a sweet scowl at the company. With his lace and embroideries, and his crown of blue ribbon and whalebone (for he was not quite past the tumbling age), he looked like the king of babies.
The other children, each holding a pretty willow basket, formed at once in a ring, and moved slowly around the little fellow, lifting their eyes meanwhile; for the saint to whom they were about to address themselves was yet in mysterious quarters.
Mevrouw commenced playing softly upon the piano; soon the voices rose,—gentle, youthful voices, rendered all the sweeter for their tremor,—
"Welcome, friend! St. Nicholas, welcome! Bring no rod for us to-night! While our voices bid thee welcome, Every heart with joy is light.
"Tell us every fault and failing; We will bear thy keenest railing So we sing, so we sing: Thou shalt tell us everything!
"Welcome, friend! St. Nicholas, welcome! Welcome to this merry band! Happy children greet thee, welcome! Thou art gladdening all the land.
"Fill each empty hand and basket; 'T is thy little ones who ask it. So we sing, so we sing: Thou wilt bring us everything!"
During the chorus, sundry glances, half in eagerness, half in dread, had been cast towards the polished folding-doors. Now a loud knocking was heard. The circle was broken in an instant. Some of the little ones, with a strange mixture of fear and delight, pressed against their mother's knee. Grandfather bent forward, with his chin resting upon his hand; grandmother lifted her spectacles; Mynheer van Gleck, seated by the fireplace, slowly drew his meerschaum from his mouth; while Hilda and the other children settled themselves beside him in an expectant group.
The knocking was heard again.
"Come in," said the mevrouw, softly.
The door slowly opened; and St. Nicholas, in full array, stood before them. You could have heard a pin drop. Soon he spoke. What a mysterious majesty in his voice! what kindliness in his tone!
"Karel van Gleck, I am pleased to greet thee, and thy honored vrouw, Kathrine, and thy son, and his good vrouw, Annie.
"Children, I greet ye all,—Hendrick, Hilda, Broom, Katy, Huygens and Lucretia. And thy cousins,—Wolfert, Diedrich, Mayken, Voost and Katrina. Good children ye have been, in the main, since I last accosted ye. Diedrich was rude at the Haarlem fair last fall; but he has tried to atone for it since. Mayken has failed, of late, in her lessons; and too many sweets and trifles have gone to her lips, and too few stivers to her charity-box. Diedrich, I trust, will be a polite, manly boy for the future; and Mayken will endeavor to shine as a student. Let her remember, too, that economy and thrift are needed in the foundation of a worthy and generous life. Little Katy has been cruel to the cat more than once. St. Nicholas can hear the cat cry when its tail is pulled. I will forgive her, if she will remember from this hour that the smallest dumb creatures have feeling, and must not be abused."
As Katy burst into a frightened cry, the saint graciously remained silent until she was soothed.
"Master Broom," he resumed, "I warn thee that boys who are in the habit of putting snuff upon the foot-stove of the school-mistress may one day be discovered, and receive a flogging—"
(Master Broom colored, and stared in great astonishment.)
"But, thou art such an excellent scholar, I shall make thee no further reproof.
"Thou, Hendrick, didst distinguish thyself in the archery match last spring, and hit the doel,[A] though the bird was swung before it to unsteady thine eye. I give thee credit for excelling in manly sport and exercise; though I must not unduly countenance thy boat-racing, since it leaves thee too little time for thy proper studies.
[Footnote A: Bull's-eye.]
"Lucretia and Hilda shall have a blessed sleep to-night. The consciousness of kindness to the poor, devotion in their souls, and cheerful, hearty obedience to household rule, will render them happy.
"With one and all I avow myself well content. Goodness, industry, benevolence and thrift have prevailed in your midst. Therefore, my blessing upon you; and may the New Year find all treading the paths of obedience, wisdom and love! To-morrow you shall find more substantial proofs that I have been in your home. Farewell!"
With these words came a great shower of sugar-plums upon a linen sheet spread out in front of the doors. A general scramble followed. The children fairly tumbled over each other in their eagerness to fill their baskets. Mevrouw cautiously held the baby down upon the sheet till the chubby little fists were filled. Then the bravest of the youngsters sprang up and threw open the closed doors. In vain they searched the mysterious apartment. St. Nicholas was nowhere to be seen.
Soon they all sped to another room, where stood a table, covered with the whitest of linen damask. Each child, in a flutter of pleasure, laid a shoe upon it, and each shoe held a little hay for the good saint's horse. The door was then carefully locked, and its key hidden in the mother's bedroom. Next followed good-night kisses, a grand family procession to the upper floor, merry farewells at bedroom doors, and silence, at last, reigned in the Van Gleck mansion.
Early the next morning, the door was solemnly unlocked and opened in the presence of the assembled household; when, lo! a sight appeared, proving good St. Nicholas to be a saint of his word.
Every shoe was filled to overflowing; and beside each stood a many-colored pile. The table was heavy with its load of presents,—candies, toys, trinkets, books and other articles. Every one had gifts, from grandfather down to the baby.
* * * * *
THE CHRISTMAS HOLLY
The holly! the holly! oh, twine it with bay— Come give the holly a song; For it helps to drive stern winter away, With his garment so sombre and long;
It peeps through the trees with its berries of red, And its leaves of burnished green, When the flowers and fruits have long been dead, And not even the daisy is seen. Then sing to the holly, the Christmas holly, That hangs over peasant and king; While we laugh and carouse 'neath its glittering boughs, To the Christmas holly we'll sing.
The gale may whistle, the frost may come To fetter the gurgling rill; The woods may be bare, and warblers dumb, But holly is beautiful still. In the revel and light of princely halls The bright holly branch is found; And its shadow falls on the lowliest walls, While the brimming horn goes round.
The ivy lives long, but its home must be Where graves and ruins are spread; There's beauty about the cypress tree, But it flourishes near the dead; The laurel the warrior's brow may wreathe, But it tells of tears and blood; I sing the holly, and who can breathe Aught of that that is not good?
Then sing to the holly, the Christmas holly, That hangs over peasant and king; While we laugh and carouse 'neath its glittering boughs, To the Christmas holly we'll sing.
* * * * *
TO THE FIR-TREE
FROM THE GERMAN
O Fir-tree green! O Fir-tree green! Your leaves are constant ever, Not only in the summer time, But through the winter's snow and rime You're fresh and green forever.
O Fir-tree green! O Fir-tree green! I still shall love you dearly! How oft to me on Christmas night Your laden boughs have brought delight. O Fir-tree green! O Fir-tree green! I still shall love you dearly.
* * * * *
WILLIAM MAKEPEACE THACKERAY
Christmas is here; Winds whistle shrill, Icy and chill, Little care we; Little we fear Weather without, Sheltered about The Mahogany-Tree.
Once on the boughs Birds of rare plume Sang in its bloom; Night-birds are we; Here we carouse, Singing, like them, Perched round the stem Of the jolly old tree.
Here let us sport, Boys, as we sit— Laughter and wit Flashing so free. Life is but short— When we are gone, Let them sing on, Round the old tree.
Evenings we knew, Happy as this; Faces we miss, Pleasant to see. Kind hearts and true, Gentle and just, Peace to your dust! We sing round the tree.
Care like a dun, Lurks at the gate; Let the dog wait; Happy we'll be! Drink, every one; Pile up the coals; Fill the red bowls, Round the old tree!
Drain we the cup.— Friend, art afraid? Spirits are laid In the Red Sea. Mantle it up; Empty it yet; Let us forget, Round the old tree!
Sorrows begone! Life and its ills, Duns and their bills, Bid we to flee. Come with the dawn, Blue-devil sprite; Leave us to-night, Round the old tree!
* * * * *
But is old, old, good old Christmas gone? Nothing but the hair on his good, gray, old head and beard left? Well, I will have that, seeing I cannot have more of him.
Hue and Cry after Christmas.
A man might then behold At Christmas, in each hall, Good fires to curb the cold, And meat for great and small. The neighbors were friendly bidden, And all had welcome true, The poor from the gates were not chidden, When this old cap was new. Old Song.
There is nothing in England that exercises a more delightful spell over my imagination than the lingerings of the holiday customs and rural games of former times. They recall the pictures my fancy used to draw in the May morning of life, when as yet I only knew the world through books, and believed it to be all that poets had painted it; and they bring with them the flavor of those honest days of yore, in which, perhaps with equal fallacy, I am apt to think the world was more homebred, social, and joyous than at present. I regret to say that they are daily growing more and more faint, being gradually worn away by time, but still more obliterated by modern fashion. They resemble those picturesque morsels of Gothic architecture, which we see crumbling in various parts of the country, partly dilapidated by the waste of ages, and partly lost in the additions and alterations of latter days. Poetry, however, clings with cherishing fondness about the rural game and holiday revel, from which it has derived so many of its themes—as the ivy winds its rich foliage about the Gothic arch and mouldering tower, gratefully repaying their support, by clasping together their tottering remains, and, as it were, embalming them in verdure.
Of all the old festivals, however, that of Christmas awakens the strongest and most heartfelt associations. There is a tone of solemn and sacred feeling that blends with our conviviality, and lifts the spirit to a state of hallowed and elevated enjoyment. The services of the church about this season are extremely tender and inspiring: they dwell on the beautiful story of the origin of our faith, and the pastoral scenes that accompanied its announcement; they gradually increase in fervor and pathos during the season of Advent, until they break forth in full jubilee on the morning that brought peace and good-will to men. I do not know a grander effect of music on the moral feelings than to hear the full choir and the pealing organ performing a Christmas anthem in a cathedral, and filling every part of the vast pile with triumphant harmony.
It is a beautiful arrangement, also, derived from the days of yore, that this festival, which commemorates the announcement of the religion of peace and love, has been made the season for gathering together of family connections, and drawing closer again those bands of kindred hearts, which the cares and pleasures and sorrows of the world are continually operating to cast loose; of calling back the children of a family, who have launched forth in life, and wandered widely asunder, once more to assemble about the paternal hearth, that rallying-place of the affections, there to grow young and loving again among the endearing mementos of childhood.
There is something in the very season of the year, that gives a charm to the festivity of Christmas. At other times, we derive a great portion of our pleasures from the mere beauties of Nature. Our feelings sally forth and dissipate themselves over the sunny landscape, and we "live abroad and everywhere." The song of the bird, the murmur of the stream, the breathing fragrance of spring, the soft voluptuousness of summer, the golden pomp of autumn; earth with its mantle of refreshing green, and heaven with its deep, delicious blue and its cloudy magnificence,—all fill us with mute but exquisite delight, and we revel in the luxury of mere sensation. But in the depth of winter, when Nature lies despoiled of every charm, and wrapped in her shroud of sheeted snow, we turn for our gratifications to moral sources. The dreariness and desolation of our landscape, the short gloomy days and darksome nights, while they circumscribe our wanderings, shut in our feelings also from rambling abroad, and make us more keenly disposed for the pleasures of the social circle. Our thoughts are more concentrated; our friendly sympathies more aroused. We feel more sensibly the charm of each other's society, and are brought more closely together by dependence on each other for enjoyment. Heart calleth unto heart, and we draw our pleasures from the deep wells of living kindness which lie in the quiet recesses of our bosoms; and which, when resorted to, furnish forth the pure element of domestic felicity.
The pitchy gloom without makes the heart dilate on entering the room filled with the glow and warmth of the evening fire. The ruddy blaze diffuses an artificial summer and sunshine through the room, and lights up each countenance with a kindlier welcome. Where does the honest face of hospitality expand into a broader and more cordial smile—where is the shy glance of love more sweetly eloquent—than by the winter fireside? and as the hollow blast of wintry wind rushes through the hall, claps the distant door, whistles about the casement, and rumbles down the chimney, what can be more grateful than that feeling of sober and sheltered security, with which we look around upon the comfortable chamber, and the scene of domestic hilarity?
The English, from the great prevalence of rural habits throughout every class of society, have always been fond of those festivals and holidays which agreeably interrupt the stillness of country life; and they were in former days particularly observant of the religious and social rights of Christmas. It is inspiring to read even the dry details which some antiquaries have given of the quaint humors, the burlesque pageants, the complete abandonment to mirth and good fellowship, with which this festival was celebrated. It seemed to throw open every door, unlock every heart. It brought the peasant and the peer together, and blended all ranks in one warm generous flow of joy and kindness. The old halls of castles and manor-houses resounded with the harp and the Christmas carol, and their ample boards groaned under the weight of hospitality. Even the poorest cottage welcomed the festive season with green decorations of bay and holly—the cheerful fire glanced its rays through the lattice, inviting the passenger to raise the latch, and join the gossip knot huddled round the hearth beguiling the long evening with legendary jokes, and oft-told Christmas tales.
One of the least pleasing effects of modern refinement is the havoc it has made among the hearty old holiday customs. It has completely taken off the sharp touchings and spirited reliefs of these embellishments of life, and has worn down society into a more smooth and polished, but certainly a less characteristic surface. Many of the games and ceremonials of Christmas have entirely disappeared, and, like the sherris sack of old Falstaff, are become matters of speculation and dispute among commentators. They flourished in times full of spirit and lustihood, when men enjoyed life roughly, but heartily and vigorously: times wild and picturesque, which have furnished poetry with its richest materials, and the drama with its most attractive variety of characters and manners. The world has become more worldly. There is more of dissipation and less enjoyment. Pleasure has expanded into a broader, but a shallower stream, and has forsaken many of those deep and quiet channels, where it flowed sweetly through the calm bosom of domestic life. Society has acquired a more enlightened and elegant tone; but it has lost many of its strong local peculiarities, its homebred feelings, its honest fireside delights. The traditionary customs of golden-hearted antiquity, its feudal hospitalities, and lordly wassailings, have passed away with the baronial castles and stately manor-houses in which they were celebrated. They comported with the shadowy hall, the great oaken gallery, and the tapestried parlor, but are unfitted for the light showy saloons and gay drawing-rooms of the modern villa.
Shorn, however, as it is, of its ancient and festive honors, Christmas is still a period of delightful excitement in England. It is gratifying to see that home feeling completely aroused which holds so powerful a place in every English bosom. The preparations making on every side for the social board that is again to unite friends and kindred—the presents of good cheer passing and repassing, those tokens of regard and quickeners of kind feelings—the evergreens distributed about houses and churches, emblems of peace and gladness—all these have the most pleasing effect in producing fond associations, and kindling benevolent sympathies. Even the sound of the waits, rude as may be their minstrelsy, breaks upon the midwatches of a winter night with the effect of perfect harmony. As I have been awakened by them in that still and solemn hour "when deep sleep falleth upon man," I have listened with a hushed delight, and connecting them with the sacred and joyous occasion, have almost fancied them into another celestial choir, announcing peace and good-will to mankind. How delightfully the imagination, when wrought upon by these moral influences, turns everything to melody and beauty! The very crowing of the cock, heard sometimes in the profound repose of the country, "telling the night-watches to his feathery dames," was thought by the common people to announce the approach of the sacred festival:
"Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes Wherein our Saviour's birth was celebrated, This bird of dawning singeth all night long: And then, they say, no spirit dares stir abroad; The nights are wholesome—then no planets strike, No fairy takes, no witch hath power to charm, So hallowed and so gracious is the time."
Amidst the general call to happiness, the bustle of the spirits, and stir of the affections, which prevail at this period, what bosom can remain insensible? It is, indeed, the season of regenerated feeling—the season for kindling not merely the fire of hospitality in the hall, but the genial flame of charity in the heart. The scene of early love again rises green to memory beyond the sterile waste of years, and the idea of home, fraught with the fragrance of home-dwelling joys, reanimates the drooping spirit—as the Arabian breeze will sometimes waft the freshness of the distant fields to the weary pilgrim of the desert.
Stranger and sojourner as I am in the land—though for me no social hearth may blaze, no hospitable roof throw open its doors, nor the warm grasp of friendship welcome me at the threshold—yet I feel the influence of the season beaming into my soul from the happy looks of those around me. Surely happiness is reflective, like the light of heaven; and every countenance bright with smiles, and glowing with innocent enjoyment, is a mirror transmitting to others the rays of a supreme and ever-shining benevolence. He who can turn churlishly away from contemplating the felicity of his fellow-beings, and can sit down darkling and repining in his loneliness when all around is joyful, may have his moments of strong excitement and selfish gratification, but he wants the genial and social sympathies which constitute the charm of a merry Christmas.
* * * * *
CHURCH DECKING AT CHRISTMAS
Would that our scrupulous sires had dared to leave Less scanty measure of those graceful rites And usages, whose due return invites A stir of mind too natural to deceive; Giving the memory help when she could weave A crown for Hope!—I dread the boasted lights That all too often are but fiery blights, Killing the bud o'er which in vain we grieve. Go, seek, when Christmas snows discomfort bring, The counter Spirit found in some gay church Green with fresh holly, every pew a perch In which the linnet or the thrush might sing, Merry and loud, and safe from prying search, Strains offered only to the genial spring.
* * * * *
SO, NOW IS COME OUR JOYFULST FEAST
So, now is come our joyfulst feast, Let every man be jolly; Each room with ivy leaves is drest, And every post with holly. Though some churls at our mirth repine, Round your foreheads garlands twine; Drown sorrow in a cup of wine, And let us all be merry.
Now all our neighbours' chimnies smoke, And Christmas logs are burning; Their ovens they with baked meats choke, And all their spits are turning. Without the door let sorrow lie; And if for cold it hap to die, We'll bury't in a Christmas pie, And evermore be merry.
Now every lad is wondrous trim, And no man minds his labour; Our lasses have provided them A bag-pipe and a tabor; Young men and maids, and girls and boys, Give life to one another's joys; And you anon shall by their noise Perceive that they are merry.
Rank misers now do sparing shun; Their hall of music soundeth; And dogs thence with whole shoulders run, So all things there aboundeth. The country folks themselves advance For crowdy-mutton's[A] come out of France; And Jack shall pipe, and Jill shall dance, And all the town be merry.
[Footnote A: Fiddlers.]
* * * * *
Out of the mists of childhood, Steeped in a golden glory, Come dreamy forms and faces, Snatches of song and story; Whispers of sweet, still faces; Rays of ethereal glimmer, That gleam like sunny heavens, Ne'er to grow colder or dimmer: Now far in the distance, now shining near, Lighting the snows of the shivering year.
Faces there are that tremble, Bleared with a silent weeping, Weird in a shadowy sorrow, As if endless vigil keeping. Faces of dazzling brightness, With childlike radiance lighted, Flashing with many a beauty, Nor care nor time had blighted. But o'er them all there's a glamour thrown. Bright with the dreamy distance alone.
Aglow in the Christmas halo, Shining with heavenly lustre, These are the fairy faces That round the hearthstone cluster. These the deep, tender records, Sacred in all their meetness, That, wakening purest fancies, Soften us with their sweetness; As, gathered where flickering fagots burn, We welcome the holy season's return.
* * * * *
In the rush of the merry morning, When the red burns through the gray, And the wintry world lies waiting For the glory of the day; Then we hear a fitful rushing Just without upon the stair, See two white phantoms coming, Catch the gleam of sunny hair.
Are they Christmas fairies stealing Rows of little socks to fill? Are they angels floating hither With their message of good-will? What sweet spell are these elves weaving, As like larks they chirp and sing? Are these palms of peace from heaven That these lovely spirits bring?
Rosy feet upon the threshold, Eager faces peeping through, With the first red ray of sunshine, Chanting cherubs come in view; Mistletoe and gleaming holly, Symbols of a blessed day, In their chubby hands they carry, Streaming all along the way.
Well we know them, never weary Of this innocent surprise; Waiting, watching, listening always With full hearts and tender eyes, While our little household angels, White and golden in the sun, Greet us with the sweet old welcome,— "Merry Christmas, every one!"
* * * * *
A MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU
THEODORE LEDYARD CUYLER
My own boyhood was spent in a delightful home on one of the most beautiful farms in Western New York—an experience that any city-bred boy might envy. We had no religious festivals except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas, and the latter was especially welcome, not only on account of the good fare but its good gifts. Christmas was sacred to Santa Claus, the patron saint of good boys and girls. We counted the days until its arrival. If the night before the longed-for festival was one of eager expectation in all our houses, it was a sad time in all barn-yards and turkey-coops and chicken-roosts; for the slaughter was terrible, and the cry of the feathered tribes was like "the mourning of Hadadrimmon." As to our experiences within doors, they are portrayed in Dr. Clement C. Moore's immortal lines, "The Night Before Christmas," which is probably the most popular poem for children ever penned in America. As the visits of Santa Claus in the night could only be through the chimney, we hung our stockings where they would be in full sight. Three score and ten years ago such modern contrivances as steam pipes, and those unpoetical holes in the floor called "hot-air registers," were as entirely unknown in our rural regions as gas-burners or telephones. We had a genuine fire-place in our kitchen, big enough to contain an enormous back-log, and broad enough for eight or ten people to form "a circle wide" before it and enjoy the genial warmth.
The last process before going to bed was to suspend our stockings in the chimney jambs; and then we dreamed of Santa Claus, or if we awoke in the night, we listened for the jingling of his sleigh-bells. At the peep of day we were aroused by the voice of my good grandfather, who planted himself in the stairway and shouted in a stentorian tone, "I wish you all a Merry Christmas!" The contest was as to who should give the salutation first, and the old gentleman determined to get the start of us by sounding his greeting to the family before we were out of our rooms. Then came a race for the chimney corner; all the stockings came down quicker than they had gone up. What could not be contained in them was disposed upon the mantelpiece, or elsewhere. I remember that I once received an autograph letter from Santa Claus, full of good counsels; and our colored cook told me that she awoke in the night and, peeping into the kitchen, actually saw the veritable old visitor light a candle and sit down at the table and write it! I believed it all as implicitly as I believed the Ten Commandments, or the story of David and Goliath. Happy days of childish credulity, when fact and fiction were swallowed alike without a misgiving! During my long life I have seen many a day-dream and many an air-castle go the way of Santa Claus and the wonderful "Lamp of Aladdin."
In after years, when I became a parent, my beloved wife and I, determined to make the Christmastide one of the golden days of the twelve months. In mid-winter, when all outside vegetation was bleak and bare, the Christmas-tree in our parlor bloomed in many-colored beauty and bounty. When the tiny candles were all lighted the children and our domestics gathered round it and one of the youngsters rehearsed some pretty juvenile effusion; as "they that had found great spoil." After the happy harvesting of the magic tree in my own home, it was my custom to spend the afternoon or evening in some mission-school and to watch the sparkling eyes of several hundreds of children while a huge Christmas-tree shed down its bounties. Fifty years ago, when the degradation and miseries of the "Five-Points" were first invaded by pioneer philanthropy, it was a thrilling sight to behold the denizens of the slums and their children as they flocked into Mr. Pease's new "House of Industry" and the "Brewery Mission" building. The angelic host over the hills of Bethlehem did not make a more welcome revelation to them "who had sat in darkness and the shadow of death." In these days the squalid regions of our great cities are being explored and improved by various methods of systematic beneficence. "Christian Settlements" are established; Bureaus of Charity are formed and Associations for the relief of the poor are organized. A noble work; but, after all, the most effective "bureau" is one that, in a water-proof and a stout pair of shoes, sallies off on a wintry night to some abode of poverty with not only supplies for suffering bodies, but kind words of sympathy for lonesome hearts. A dollar from a warm hand with a warm word is worth two dollars sent by mail or by a messenger-boy. The secret of power in doing good is personal contact. Our incarnate "Elder Brother" went in person to the sick chamber. He anointed with His own hand the eyes of the blind man and He touched the loathsome leper into health. The portentous chasm between wealth and poverty must be bridged by a span of personal kindness over which the footsteps must turn in only one direction. The personal contact of self sacrificing benevolence with darkness, filth and misery—that is the only remedy. Heart must touch heart. Benevolence also cannot be confined to calendars. Those good people will exhibit the most of the spirit of our Blessed Master who practice Christmas-giving and cheerful, unselfish and zealous Christmas-living through all the circling year.
* * * * *
There are sounds in the sky when the year grows old, And the winds of the winter blow— When night and the moon are clear and cold, And the stars shine on the snow, Or wild is the blast and the bitter sleet That beats on the window-pane; But blest on the frosty hills are the feet Of the Christmas time again! Chiming sweet when the night wind swells, Blest is the sound of the Christmas Bells!
Dear are the sounds of the Christmas chimes In the land of the ivied towers, And they welcome the dearest of festival times In this Western world of ours! Bright on the holly and mistletoe bough The English firelight falls, And bright are the wreathed evergreens now That gladden our own home walls! And hark! the first sweet note that tells, The welcome of the Christmas Bells!
The owl that sits in the ivy's shade, Remote from the ruined tower, Shall start from his drowsy watch afraid When the clock shall strike the hour; And over the fields in their frosty rhyme The cheery sounds shall go, And chime shall answer unto chime Across the moonlit snow! How sweet the lingering music dwells,— The music of the Christmas Bells.
It fell not thus in the East afar Where the Babe in the manger lay; The wise men followed their guiding star To the dawn of a milder day; And the fig and the sycamore gathered green, And the palm-tree of Deborah rose; 'Twas the strange first Christmas the world had seen— And it came not in storm and snows. Not yet on Nazareth's hills and dells Had floated the sound of Christmas Bells.
The cedars of Lebanon shook in the blast Of their own cold mountain air; But nought o'er the wintry plain had passed To tell that the Lord was there! The oak and the olive and almond were still, In the night now worn and thin; No wind of the winter-time roared from the hill To waken the guests at the inn; No dream to them the music tells That is to come from the Christmas Bells!
The years that have fled like the leaves on the gale Since the morn of the Miracle-Birth, Have widened the fame of the marvellous tale Till the tidings have filled the earth! And so in the climes of the icy North, And the lands of the cane and the palm, By the Alpine cotter's blazing hearth, And in tropic belts of calm, Men list to-night the welcome swells, Sweet and clear, of Christmas Bells!
They are ringing to-night through the Norway firs, And across the Swedish fells, And the Cuban palm-tree dreamily stirs To the sound of those Christmas Bells! They ring where the Indian Ganges rolls Its flood through the rice-fields wide; They swell the far hymns of the Lapps and Poles To the praise of the Crucified. Sweeter than tones of the ocean's shells Mingle the chimes of the Christmas Bells!
The years come not back that have circled away With the past of the Eastern land, When He plucked the corn on the Sabbath day And healed the withered hand: But the bells shall join in a joyous chime For the One who walked the sea, And ring again for the better time Of the Christ that is to be! Then ring!—for earth's best promise dwells In ye, O joyous Prophet Bells!
Ring out at the meeting of night and morn For the dawn of a happier day! Lo, the stone from our faith's great sepulchre torn The angels have rolled away! And they come to us here in our low abode, With words like the sunrise gleam,— Come down and ascend by that heavenly road That Jacob saw in his dream. Spirit of love, that in music dwells, Open our hearts with the Christmas Bells!
Help us to see that the glad heart prays As well as the bended knees; That there are in our own as in ancient days The Scribes and the Pharisees; That the Mount of Transfiguration still Looks down on these Christian lands, And the glorified ones from that holy hill Are reaching their helping hands. These be the words our music tells Of solemn joy, O Christmas Bells!
* * * * *
THE BIRTH OF CHRIST
The time draws near the birth of Christ; The moon is hid—the night is still; The Christmas bells from hill to hill Answer each other in the mist.
Four voices of four hamlets round, From far and near, on mead and moor, Swell out and fail, as if a door Were shut between me and the sound.
Each voice four changes on the wind, That now dilate and now decrease, Peace and good-will, good-will and peace, Peace and good-will to all mankind.
Rise, happy morn! rise, holy morn! Draw forth the cheerful day from night; O Father! touch the east, and light The light that shone when hope was born!
* * * * *
THE CHRISTMAS CAROL
The minstrels played their Christmas tune To-night beneath my cottage eaves; While, smitten by a lofty moon, The encircling laurels, thick with leaves, Gave back a rich and dazzling sheen That overpowered their natural green.
Through hill and valley every breeze Had sunk to rest, with folded wings: Keen was the air, but could not freeze Nor check the music of the strings; So stout and hardy were the band That scraped the chords with strenuous hand!
And who but listened—till was paid Respect to every inmate's claim: The greeting given, the music played, In honor of each household name, Duly pronounced with lusty call, And "Merry Christmas" wished to all!
How touching, when, at midnight, sweep Snow-muffled winds, and all is dark, To hear, and sink again to sleep! Or, at an earlier call, to mark By blazing fire, the still suspense Of self-complacent innocence;
The mutual nod,—the grave disguise Of hearts with gladness brimming o'er; And some unbidden tears that rise For names once heard, and heard no more; Tears brightened by the serenade For infant in the cradle laid.
Hail ancient Manners! sure defence, Where they survive, of wholesome laws; Remnants of love whose modest sense Thus into narrow room withdraws; Hail, Usages of pristine mould, And ye that guard them, Mountains old!
* * * * *
CHRISTMAS AT FEZZIWIG'S WAREHOUSE
"Yo ho! my boys," said Fezziwig. "No more work to-night; Christmas Eve, Dick! Christmas, Ebenezer! Let's have the shutters up," cried old Fezziwig with a sharp clap of his hands, "before a man can say Jack Robinson...."
"Hilli-ho!" cried old Fezziwig, skipping down from the high desk with wonderful agility. "Clear away, my lads, and let's have lots of room here! Hilli-ho, Dick! Cheer up, Ebenezer!"
Clear away! There was nothing they wouldn't have cleared away, or couldn't have cleared away, with old Fezziwig looking on. It was done in a minute. Every movable was packed off, as if it were dismissed from public life forevermore; the floor was swept and watered, the lamps were trimmed, fuel was heaped upon the fire; and the warehouse was as snug, and warm, and dry, and bright a ball-room as you would desire to see upon a winter's night.
In came a fiddler with a music-book, and went up to the lofty desk and made an orchestra of it and tuned like fifty stomach-aches. In came Mrs. Fezziwig, one vast, substantial smile. In came the three Misses Fezziwig, beaming and lovable. In came the six followers whose hearts they broke. In came all the young men and women employed in the business In came the housemaid with her cousin the baker. In came the cook with her brother's particular friend the milkman. In came the boy from over the way, who was suspected of not having board enough from his master, trying to hide himself behind the girl from next door but one who was proved to have had her ears pulled by her mistress; in they all came, anyhow and everyhow. Away they all went, twenty couple at once; hands half round and back again the other way; down the middle and up again; round and round in various stages of affectionate grouping, old top couple always turning up in the wrong place; new top couple starting off again, as soon as they got there; all top couples at last, and not a bottom one to help them.
When this result was brought about the fiddler struck up "Sir Roger de Coverley." Then old Fezziwig stood out to dance with Mrs. Fezziwig. Top couple, too, with a good stiff piece of work cut out for them; three or four and twenty pairs of partners; people who were not to be trifled with; people who would dance and had no notion of walking.
But if they had been thrice as many—Oh, four times as many—old Fezziwig would have been a match for them, and so would Mrs. Fezziwig. As to her, she was worthy to be his partner in every sense of the term. If that's not high praise, tell me higher and I'll use it. A positive light appeared to issue from Fezziwig's calves. They shone in every part of the dance like moons. You couldn't have predicted at any given time what would become of them next. And when old Fezziwig and Mrs. Fezziwig had gone all through the dance; advance and retire; both hands to your partner, bow and courtesy, corkscrew, thread the needle, and back again to your place; Fezziwig "cut"—cut so deftly that he appeared to wink with his legs, and came upon his feet again without a stagger.
When the clock struck eleven the domestic ball broke up. Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig took their stations, one on either side of the door, and shaking hands with every person individually, as he or she went out, wished him or her a Merry Christmas!
* * * * *
Wake me to-night, my mother dear, That I may hear The Christmas Bells, so soft and clear, To high and low glad tidings tell, How God the Father loved us well; How God the Eternal Son Came to undo what we had done.
* * * * *
SIGNIFICANCE AND SPIRIT
A CHRISTMAS CARMEN
JOHN G. WHITTIER
Sound over all waters, reach out from all lands, The chorus of voices, the clasping of hands; Sing hymns that were sung by the stars of the morn, Sing songs of the angels when Jesus was born! With glad jubilations Bring hope to the nations! The dark night is ending and dawn has begun: Rise, hope of the ages, arise like the sun, All speech flow to music, all hearts beat as one!
Sing the bridal of nations! with chorals of love Sing out the war-vulture and sing in the dove, Till the hearts of the peoples keep time in accord And the voice of the world is the voice of the Lord! Clasp hands of the nations In strong gratulations: The dark night is ending and dawn has begun; Rise, hope of the ages, arise like the sun, All speech flow to music, all hearts beat as one!
Blow, bugles of battle, the marches of peace; East, west, north, and south let the long quarrel cease: Sing the song of great joy that the angels began, Sing of glory to God and of good-will to man! Hark! joining in chorus The heavens bend o'er us! The dark night is ending and dawn has begun; Rise, hope of the ages, arise like the sun, All speech flow to music, all hearts beat as one!
* * * * *
THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS
From "Pickwick Papers."
And numerous indeed are the hearts to which Christmas brings a brief season of happiness and enjoyment. How many families whose members have been dispersed and scattered far and wide, in the restless struggles of life, are then re-united, and meet once again in that happy state of companionship and mutual good-will, which is a source of such pure and unalloyed delight, and one so incompatible with the cares and sorrows of the world, that the religious belief of the most civilized nations, and the rude traditions of the roughest savages, alike number it among the first joys of a future state of existence, provided for the blest and happy! How many old recollections, and how many dormant sympathies, does Christmas time awaken!
We write these words now, many miles distant from the spot at which, year after year, we met on that day, a merry and joyous circle. Many of the hearts that throb so gaily then, have ceased to beat; many of the looks that shone so brightly then, have ceased to glow; the hands we grasped, have grown cold; the eyes we sought, have hid their lustre in the grave; and yet the old house, the room, the merry voices and smiling faces, the jest, the laugh, the most minute and trivial circumstance connected with those happy meetings, crowd upon our mind at each recurrence of the season, as if the last assemblage had been but yesterday. Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days, that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth, and transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own fireside and his quiet home!
* * * * *
ON GOOD WISHES AT CHRISTMAS
At Christmas, which is a good holiday for most of us, but especially for that larger and better half of us, the young, there is, as everybody knows, a profusion of good things. The final cause of a great many existences is Christmas Day. How many of that vast flock of geese, which are now peacefully feeding over the long, cold wolds of Norfolk, or are driven gabbling and hissing by the gozzard to their pasture—how many of those very geese were called into being simply for Christmas Day! In the towns, with close streets and fetid courts, where the flaring gas at the corner of an alley marks the only bright spot, a gin-palace, there a goose-club is held; and there, for a short time, is the resting-place, side by side with a bottle of gin, of one of those wise-looking and self-concentrated gobblers, whose name men have generally, and, as we think, unjustly, applied to the silly one amongst themselves.
But it is only the profusion of good things, of cakes, puddings, spices, oranges, and fruits, from sunny Italy and Spain, from India and from Asia, from America, North and South, and even from distant Australia; it is not that amongst us, as long ago with the Franklin in Chaucer, that at this time—
"It snowes in our house Of meate and drinke;"
it is not that we have huge loads of beef chines, ribs, sirloins, legs, necks, breasts, and shoulders of mutton, fillets of veal, whole hogs, and pigs in various stages, from the tender suckling to the stiff-jointed father of a family, whose "back hair" makes good clothes-brushes, and whose head is brought in at college feasts; it is not that the air gives up its choicest fowl, and the waters yield their best fish: plentiful as these are with us, they are nothing in profusion to the kindly greeting and good wishes that fly about in the cold weather, and that circulate from land's end to land's end. The whole coast of England is surrounded by a general "shake hands." The coast-guard on their wintry walks do not greet each other more surely than old friends all over England do: one clasps another, and another a third, till from Dover to London and so on to York, from Yarmouth on the east to Bristol on the west, from John O'Groat's house at the extreme north to the Land's End, the very toe-nail of England on the south—a kindly greeting, we may be sure, will pass. And a cheerful thing it is, on this day of universal equality, on this day which—
"To the cottage and the crown, Brought tidings of salvation down,"
to think that we can touch and hold each other with friendly hands all over our land. We all of us shake hands on Christmas Day. Leigh Hunt had a quaint fancy that he had, as it were, by lineal descent, shaken hands with Milton. He would argue thus: he knew a man who had shaken hands with Dr. Johnson, who had clasped the hand of him who had shaken Dryden's right hand, who himself had thus greeted Andrew Marvell, who knew Master Elwood, the Quaker friend of Milton, who knew Milton himself; and thus, though our Sovereign has her hand kissed, not shaken, by her subjects, yet doubtless she will clasp the hands of her children, who, shaking those of others, will let the greeting and the good wishes descend to the lowest on that ladder of society which we are all trying to climb.
As for hearty good wishes, spoken in all kinds of voices, from the deepest bass to the shrillest treble, we are sure that they circulate throughout the little island, and are borne on the wings of the post all over the seas. Erasmus, coming to England in Henry VIII's time, was struck with the deep heartiness of our wishes—good, ay, and bad too; but he most admired the good ones. Other nations ask in their greetings how a man carries himself, or how doth he stand with the world, or how doth he find himself; but the English greet with a pious wish that God may give one a good morning or a good evening, good day, or "god'd'en," as the old writers have it; and when we part we wish that "God may be with you," though we now clip it into "Good b'ye."
* * * * *
A CHRISTMAS SONG
WILLIAM COX BENNETT
Blow, wind, blow, Sing through yard and shroud; Pipe it shrilly and loud, Aloft as well as below; Sing in my sailor's ear The song I sing to you, "Come home, my sailor true, For Christmas that comes so near."
Go, wind, go, Hurry his home-bound sail, Through gusts that are edged with hail, Through winter, and sleet, and snow; Song, in my sailor's ear, Your shrilling and moans shall be, For he knows they sing him to me And Christmas that comes so near.
* * * * *
RICHARD WATSON GILDER
With wild surprise Four great eyes In two small heads, From neighboring beds Looked out—and winked— And glittered and blinked At a very queer sight In the dim starlight.
As plain as can be A fairy tree Flashes and glimmers And shakes and shimmers. Red, green and blue Meet their view; Silver and gold Their sharp eyes behold; Small moon, big stars; And jams in jars, And cakes, and honey And thimbles, and money, Pink dogs, blue cats, Little squeaking rats, And candles, and dolls, And crackers, and polls, A real bird that sings, And tokens and favors, And all sorts of things For the little shavers.
Four black eyes Grow big with surprise; And then grow bigger When a tiny figure, Jaunty and airy, (Is it a fairy?) From the tree-top cries, "Open wide! Black Eyes! Come, children, wake now! Your joys you may take now!"
Quick as you can think Twenty small toes In four pretty rows, Like little piggies pink, All kick in the air— And before you can wink The tree stands bare!
* * * * *
A CHRISTMAS SONG
When mother-love makes all things bright, When joy comes with the morning light, When children gather round their tree, Thou Christmas Babe, We sing of Thee!
When manhood's brows are bent in thought, To learn what men of old have taught, When eager hands seek wisdom's key, Wise Temple Child, We learn of Thee!
When doubts assail, and perils fright, When, groping blindly in the night, We strive to read life's mystery, Man of the Mount, We turn to Thee!
When shadows of the valley fall, When sin and death the soul appall, One light we through the darkness see— Christ on the Cross, We cry to Thee!
And when the world shall pass away, And dawns at length the perfect day, In glory shall our souls made free, Thou God enthroned, Then worship Thee.
* * * * *
(A Selection from "Dreamthorp")
Sitting here, I incontinently find myself holding a levee of departed Christmas nights. Silently, and without special call, into my study of imagination come these apparitions, clad in snowy mantles, brooched and gemmed with frosts. Their numbers I do not care to count, for I know they are the numbers of many years. The visages of two or three are sad enough, but on the whole 'tis a congregation of jolly ghosts. The nostrils of my memory are assailed by a faint odor of plum-pudding and burnt brandy. I hear a sound as of light music, a whisk of women's dresses whirled round in dance, a click as of glasses pledged by friends. Before one of these apparitions is a mound, as of a new-made grave, on which the snow is lying. I know, I know! Drape thyself not in white like the others, but in mourning stole of crape; and instead of dance music, let there haunt around thee the service for the dead! I know that sprig of mistletoe, O Spirit in the midst! Under it I swung the girl I loved—girl no more now than I am a boy—and kissed her spite of blush and pretty shriek. And thee, too, with fragrant trencher in hand, over which blue tongues of flame are playing, I do know—most ancient apparition of them all. I remember thy reigning night. Back to very days of childhood am I taken by the ghostly raisins simmering in a ghostly brandy flame. Where now the merry boys and girls that thrust their fingers in thy blaze? And now, when I think of it, thee also would I drape in black raiment, around thee also would I make the burial service murmur.
- - - - -
This, then, is Christmas, 1862. Everything is silent in Dreamthorp. The smith's hammer reposes beside the anvil. The weaver's flying shuttle is at rest. Through the clear wintry sunshine the bells this morning rang from the gray church tower amid the leafless elms, and up the walk the villagers trooped in their best dresses and their best faces—the latter a little reddened by the sharp wind: mere redness in the middle aged; in the maids, wonderful bloom to the eyes of their lovers—and took their places decently in the ancient pews. The clerk read the beautiful prayers of our Church, which seem more beautiful at Christmas than at any other period. For that very feeling which breaks down at this time the barriers which custom, birth, or wealth have erected between man and man, strikes down the barrier of time which intervenes between the worshipper of to-day and the great body of worshippers who are at rest in their graves. On such a day as this, hearing these prayers, we feel a kinship with the devout generations who heard them long ago. The devout lips of the Christian dead murmured the responses which we now murmur; along this road of prayer did their thoughts of our innumerable dead, our brothers and sisters in faith and hope, approach the Maker, even as ours at present approach Him. Prayers over, the clergyman—who is no Boanerges, of Chrysostom, golden-mouthed, but a loving, genial-hearted, pious man, the whole extent of his life from boyhood until now, full of charity and kindly deeds, as autumn fields with heavy wheaten ears; the clergyman, I say—for the sentence is becoming unwieldy on my hands, and one must double back to secure connexion—read out in that silvery voice of his, which is sweeter than any music to my ear, those chapters of the New Testament that deal with the birth of the Saviour. And the red-faced rustic congregation hung on the good man's voice as he spoke of the Infant brought forth in a manger, of the shining angels that appeared in the mid-air to the shepherds, of the miraculous star that took its station in the sky, and of the wise men who came from afar and laid their gifts of frankincense and myrrh at the feet of the child. With the story every one was familiar, but on that day, and backed by the persuasive melody of the reader's voice, it seemed to all quite new—at least, they listened attentively as if it were. The discourse that followed possessed no remarkable thoughts; it dealt simply with the goodness of the Maker of heaven and earth, and the shortness of time, with the duties of thankfulness and charity to the poor; and I am persuaded that every one who heard returned to his house in a better frame of mind. And so the service remitted us all to our own homes, to what roast-beef and plum-pudding slender means permitted, to gatherings around cheerful fires, to half-pleasant, half-sad remembrances of the dead and the absent.