previous next

LVII. Christmas all the time.

“ Papa,” said a certain little girl of my acquaintance, on the 26th of last December, “why can't it be Kismas all the time?” It seemed to revive a similar meditation that arose in her mind on the morning after her birthday, when she asked where her birthday was gone. On the day succeeding Christmas this melancholy inquiry certainly seemed a very natural reflection. That day of delight-the early waking, the matutinal stocking, the decorated house, the gathering of kindred, the successive presents, the universal petting-why could not these remain and become human nature's daily food? A child's desire of felicity is and ought to be boundless. It is only time that teaches us the limitations of happiness, and we often accept these restrictions a great deal too soon. “Care is taken,” Goethe says, “that the trees shall not grow up into the sky;” but the stronger the impulse the greater the growth.
To let the new life in, we know
Desire must ope the portal;
Perhaps the longing to be so
Helps make the soul immortal.


I know, at any rate, that the little girl's longing set me wishing that her life could be made, so far as possible, a continuous Christmas.

Do not, gentle reader, come in at once with discreeter severity, and point out that the very essence of a holiday lies in its being a holiday — that is, something exceptional-and that the wish to have it last all the time is as reasonable as the wish which children sometimes form, and indeed sometimes act upon, to have their breakfast or dinner last all day. But what made the joy of Christmas, after all Behind all the visible presents and special amusements there lay the general atmosphere of a time of joy, of freedom, of love and attention and companionship; a cheerful and smiling household, in short, instead of one preoccupied and careworn; a day of “Come here, darling!” instead of “Run away, dear” --and tills is surely a large part of what Christmas means to a child. So far as these things go, it is worth a little effort to keep up the spirit of Christmas even when that happy season has gone by.

Think again of the value of that atmosphere of sunshine! The crossest person is less apt to be cross to a child on Christmas morning; the most exacting is a little less rigid. The child is then a prime object, something to be especially considered, not put aside. On ordinary days how often the child, for whom the parent would perhaps die-if [293] it came to that — is yet made the scapegoat of that parent's moods, or occupations, or nerves! The tender mother could not hear without tears, in a police report, the tale of a child whom some brutal father had kicked because he himself was surly or disappointed; and yet she herself that morning has perhaps vented some temporary vexation, half unconsciously, on her child, and then has thought the little thing unreasonable because it cried. How much of what we call moodiness in children is in reality fatigue or dyspepsia in the parent! I remember well that when I taught a school in a suburb of Boston, just after leaving college, there were days when everything went wrong, and the best boys in the school seemed filled with a spirit of restlessness and irritation. At first it seemed to me that it must be the weather; and at last, on serious reflection, I made the discovery that these exceptional days of discord were invariably the days after I had myself been out unusually late the night before. The nervous irritation of the pupils simply reflected that of the teacher; he was the sinner, they only the scapegoats. Could one simply be reasonable with children, it would go a great way towards making them reasonable with us. Could we always be to them what we are on Christmas-day, it would certainly help them towards having a Christmas all the year round. [294]

But the presents! Christmas consists in the presents, we say, and we cannot be giving gifts all the time. It might possibly be better if we could do this than to concentrate on one day such a superabundance of enjoyment. But granting that it is desirable, even at the risk of excess, to have that one glorious hour of crowded life once a year, there is nothing essentially unreasonable in the thought of a gift every day. For what does a gift mean to a child? Few children, luckily, are so precocious as to care what a tiling costs. A present is a novelty, that is all-something fresh and unexpected, great or small; and what it really costs, in this sense, is not money, but sympathy and ingenuity. By far the most enjoyable Christmas gift received by the aforesaid little three-year-old girl was a small and cheap basket containing a thimble, a needle, two spools of thread, and some scraps of silk and ribbon, perhaps costing altogether the sum of thirty cents. The superb doll, the cynosure of neighboring eyes, was soon neglected, but the basket was and is a daily joy. Of all necessary elements in making a child happy, it seems to me that money, beyond a very little, is the least important. The real Lord and Lady Bountiful are not those whose least gift implies a fortune, but they are Caleb Garth, in “Middlemarch,” who never forgets to cut the large red seal from his letters for the expectant children; they are the wise [295] mother or aunt who teaches the little ones to bring home a daily treasure in every empty bird's-nest, or pine cone, or clump of moss, or in the brown cocoon on the twig, the winter cradle that holds the gorgeous beauty of the emperor moth. For what purpose did Nature create horse-chestnut trees except to show that the most valueless things may become the chief possessions in the enchanted land of childhood Could we provide each front door with a horse-chestnut tree that would never stop bearing, and could we provide some sympathetic soul inside the door to praise these treasures and count them, and point out the very large and the very small ones, and occasionally carve them into baskets, it would really go a great way towards providing for the child a Christmas all the time.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Christmas (7)
J. W. Von Goethe (1)
Caleb Garth (1)
Bountiful (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
December 25th (2)
December 24th (1)
December (1)
26th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: