Two Christmas Celebrations (1856)

A great many years ago, Augustus Caesar, then Emperor of Rome, ordered his mighty realm to be taxed; and so, in Judea, it is said, men went to the towns where their families belonged, to be registered for assessment. From Nazareth, a little town in the north of Judea, to Bethlehem, another little but more famous town in the south, there went one Joseph, the carpenter, and his wife Mary,--obscure and poor people,
both of them, as the story goes. At Bethlehem they lodged in a stable; for there were many persons in the town, and the tavern was full. Then and there a little boy was born, the son of this Joseph and Mary; they named him JEHOSHUA, a common Hebrew name, which we commonly call Joshua; but, in his case, we pronounce it JESUS. They laid him in the crib of
the cattle, which was his first cradle. That was the first Christmas, kept thus in a barn, 1856 years ago. Nobody knows the day or the month; nay, the year itself is not certain.

After a while the parents went home to Nazareth, where they had other
sons,--_James_, _Joses_, _Simon_, and _Judas_,--and daughters also;
nobody knows how many. There the boy JESUS grew up, and it seems
followed the calling of his father; it is said, in special, that he made
yokes, ploughs, and other farm-tools. Little is known about his early
life and means of education. His outside advantages were, no doubt,
small and poor; but he learned to read and write, and it seems became
familiar with the chief religious books of his nation, which are still
preserved in the Old Testament.

At that time there were three languages used in Judea, beside the
Latin, which was confined to a few officials: 1. The Syro-Chaldaic,--the
language of business and daily life, the spoken language of the common
people. 2. The Greek,--the language of the courts of justice and
official documents; the spoken and written language of the foreign
traders, the aristocracy, and most of the more cultivated people in the
great towns. 3. The old Hebrew,--the written and spoken language of the
learned, of theological schools, of the priests; the language of the Old
Testament. It seems Jesus understood all three.

At that time the thinking people had outgrown the old forms of religion,
inherited from their fathers, just as a little girl becomes too stout
and tall for the clothes which once fitted her babyhood; or as the
people of New England have now become too rich and refined to live in
the rough log-cabins, and to wear the coarse, uncomfortable clothes,
which were the best that could be got two hundred years ago. For mankind
continually grows wiser and better,--and so the old forms of religion
are always getting passed by; and the religious doctrines and ceremonies
of a rude age cannot satisfy the people of an enlightened age, any more
than the wigwams of the Pequod Indians in 1656 would satisfy the white
gentlemen and ladies of Boston and Worcester in 1856. The same thing
happens with the clothes, the tools, and the laws of all advancing
nations. The human race is at school, and learns through one book after
another,--going up to higher and higher studies continually. But at that
time cultivated men had outgrown their old forms of religion,--much of
the doctrine, many of the ceremonies; and yet they did not quite dare to
break away from them,--at least in public. So there was a great deal of
pretended belief, and of secret denial of the popular form of religion.
The best and most religious men, it seems likely, were those who
had least faith in what was preached and practised as the authorized
religion of the land.

In the time of David, many years before the birth of Jesus, the Hebrew
nation had been very powerful and prosperous; afterwards there followed
long periods of trouble and of war, civil and domestic; the union of the
tribes was dissolved, and many calamities befell the people. In their
times of trouble, religious men said, "God will raise us up a GREAT KING
like DAVID, to defend and deliver us from our enemies. He will set
all things right." For the Hebrews looked on David as the Americans
on WASHINGTON, calling him a "man after God's own heart,"--that is,
thinking him "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts
of his countrymen." Sometimes they called this expected Deliverer, the
MESSIAH, that is the ANOINTED ONE,--a term often applied to a king or
other great man. Sometimes it was thought this or that special man, a
king, or general, would be the Messiah, and deliver the nation from its
trouble. Thus, it seems, that once it was declared that King HEZEKIAH
would perform this duty; and indeed CRYUS, a foreigner, a king of
Persia, was declared to be the MESSIAH, the Anointed One. But, at other
times, they, who declared the Deliverer would come, seem to have had no
particular man in their mind, but felt sure that somebody would come. At
length the expectation of a Messiah became quite common; it was a
fixed fact in the public opinion. But some thought the Deliverer, the
Redeemer, the second David, would be one thing, some another; just
as men now call their favorite candidate for the presidency a second
Washington; but some think he will be a Whig, and support the Fugitive
Slave Bill; some, a Democrat, and favor the enslavement of Kansas; while
others are sure he will be a Republican, and prohibit the extension of
Slavery; while yet others look for some Anointed Politician to abolish
that wicked institution clear out of the land.

When the nation was in great peril, the people said, "the Messiah
will soon come and restore all things;" but probably they had no very
definite notion about the Deliverer or the work he was to do.

When Jesus was about thirty years old, he began to speak in public.
He sometimes preached in the Meeting-Houses, which were called
Synagogues,--but often out of doors, wherever he could gather the people
about him. He broke away from the old established doctrines and forms.
He was a come-outer from the Hebrew church. He told men that religion
did not consist in opinions or ceremonies, but in right feelings and
right actions; that goodness shown to men was worth more than sacrifice
offered to God. In short he made Religion consist in Piety, which is
Love to God, and Benevolence, which is Love to Men. He utterly forbid
all vengeance, and told his followers "love your enemies, bless them
that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which
despitefully use you and persecute you." He taught that the soul was
immortal,--a common opinion at that time,--and declared that men who
had been good and kind here would be eternally happy hereafter, but the
unkind and wicked would be cast "into everlasting fire prepared for the
devil and his angels." He did not represent religion as a mysterious
affair, the mere business of the priesthood, limited to the temple and
the Sabbath, and the ceremonies thereof; it was the business of every
day,--a great manly and womanly life.

Men were looking for the ANOINTED, the Messiah, and waiting for him to
come. Jesus said, "I am the Messiah; follow me in the religious life,
and all will be well. God is just as near to us now, as of old time to
Moses and Elias. A greater than Solomon is here. The Kingdom of Heaven,
a good time coming, is close at hand!"

No doubt he made mistakes. He taught that there is a devil,--a being
absolutely evil, who seeks to ruin all men; that the world would soon
come to an end, and a new and extraordinary state would miraculously
take place, in which his followers would be abundantly rewarded, and his
twelve most conspicuous friends would sit "sit on twelve thrones judging
the twelve tribes of Israel." Strange things were to happen in this good
time which was coming. But spite of that, his main doctrine, which he
laid most stress upon, was, that religion is piety and benevolence; for
he made these the chief commandments,--"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God
with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind; thou
shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."

He went about in various part of the country, talking, preaching,
lecturing, making speeches, and exhorting the people to love each other
and live a noble, manly life,--each doing to all as he would wish them
to do to him. He recommended the most entire trust in God. The people
came to him in great crowds, and loved to hear him speak; for in those
days nobody preached such doctrines,--or indeed any doctrines with such
power to convince and persuade earnest men. The people heard him gladly,
and followed him from place to place, and could not hear enough of
him and his new form of religion,--so much did it commend itself to
simple-hearted women and men. Some of them wanted to make him their

But while the people loved him, the great men of his time--the great
Ministers in the Hebrew church, and the great Politicians in the
Hebrew state--hated him, and were afraid of him. No doubt some of
these ministers did not understand him, but yet meant well in their
opposition; for if a man had all his life been thinking about the "best
manner of circumcision," or about "the mode of kneeling in prayer," he
would be wholly unable to understand what Jesus said about love to God
and to man. But no doubt some of them knew he was right, and hated him
all the more for that very reason. When they talked in their libraries,
they admitted that they had no faith in the old forms of religion; but
when they appeared in public they made broad their phylacteries, and
enlarged the borders of their garments; and when they preached in their
pulpits, they laid heavy burdens on men's shoulders, and grievous to be
borne. The same thing probably took place then which has happened ever
since; and they who had no faith in God or man, were the first to accuse
this religious genius with being an infidel!

So, one night they seized Jesus, tried him before daylight next morning,
condemned him, and put him to death. The seizure, the trial, the
execution, were not effected in the regular legal form,--they did not
occupy more than twelve hours of time,--but were done in the same wicked
way that evil men also used in Boston when they made Mr. Simms and Mr.
Burns slaves for life. But Jesus made no resistance; at the "trial"
there was no "defence;" nay, he did not even feel angry with those
wicked men; but, as he hung on the cross, almost the last words he
uttered were these,--"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they
do." Such wicked men killed Jesus, just as in Old England, three hundred
years ago, the Catholics used to burn Protestants alive; or as in New
England, two hundred years ago, our Protestant fathers hung the Quakers
and whipped the Baptists; or as the Slaveholders in the South now beat
an Abolitionist, or whip a man to death who insists on working for
himself and his family, and not merely for men who only steal what he
earns; or as some in Massachusetts, a few years ago, sought to put in
jail such as speak against the wickedness of Slavery.

After Jesus was dead and buried, some of his followers thought that he
rose from the dead and came back to life again within three days, and
showed himself to a few persons here and there,--coming suddenly and
then vanishing, as a "ghost" is said to appear all at once and then
vanish, or as the souls of other dead men are thought to "appear" to the
spiritualists, who do not, however, _see_ the ghosts, but only _hear_
and _feel_ them. Very strange stories were told about his coming to men
through closed doors, and talking with them,--just as in our time the
"mediums" say the soul of Dr. Franklin, or Dr. Channing, or some great
man comes and makes "spiritual communication." They say, that at last,
he "was parted from them, and carried up into heaven," and "sat on the
right hand of God."

His friends and followers went about from place to place, and preached
his doctrines; but gradually added many more of their own. They said
that he was the Anointed, the Messiah, the Christ, who was foretold in
the Old Testament, and that did strange things called Miracles; that at
a marriage feast, where wine was wanted, he changed several barrels of
water into wine of excellent quality; that he fed five thousand men with
five loaves, walked on the water, opened the eyes, ears, and mouths of
men born blind, deaf, and dumb, and at a touch or a word brought back
a maimed limb. They called him a SAVIOUR, sent from God to redeem the
Jews, and them only, from eternal damnation; next, said that he was the
Saviour of all mankind,--Jews and Gentiles too; that he was a Sacrifice
offered to appease the wrath of God, who had become so angry with his
children that he intended to torment them all forever in hell. By and by
his followers were called CHRISTIANS,--that is, men who took Jesus for
the Christ of the Old Testament; and in their preaching they did not
make much account of the noble ideas Jesus taught about man, God, and
religion, or of his own great manly life; but they thought his DEATH
was the great thing,--and that was the means to save men from eternal
torment. Then they went further, and declared that Jesus was not the
son of Joseph and Mary, but THE SON OF GOD and Mary,--miraculously born;
next, that he was GOD'S ONLY SON, who had never had any child before,
and never would have another; again, that he was a GOD who had lived
long before Jesus was born, but for the then first time took the human
form; and at last, that he was THE ONLY GOD, the Creator and Providence
of all the universe; but was man also, the GOD-MAN. Thus, gradually,
the actual facts of his history were lost out of sight, overgrown with
a great mass of fictions, poetic and other stories, which make him a
mythological character; the Jesus of fact was well-nigh forgot,--the
Christ of fiction took his place.

Well, after the death of Jesus, his followers went from town to town,
from country to country, preaching "Christ and him crucified;" they
taught that the world would soon end, for Jesus would come back and
"judge the world," raising the dead,--and then all who had believed in
him would be "saved," but the rest would be "lost forever;" a new world
would take the place of the old, and the Christians would have a good
time in that Kingdom of Heaven. This new "spiritual world" would contain
some extraordinary things; thus, "every grape-vine would have ten
thousand trunks, every trunk ten thousand branches, every branch ten
thousand twigs, every twig ten thousand clusters, every cluster ten
thousand grapes, and every grape would yield twenty-five kilderkins of

But everywhere they recommended a life of sobriety and self-denial,
of industry and of kind deeds,--a life of religion. Everywhere the
Christians were distinguished for their charity and general moral
excellence. But the Jews hated them, and drove them away; the Heathens
hated them, and put many to death with dreadful tortures; all the
magistrates were hostile. But when the common people saw a man or a
woman come out and die rather than be false to a religious emotion or
idea, there were always some who said, "That is a strange thing,--a man
dying for his God. There must be something in that religion! Let us
also become Christians." So the new doctrine spread wide; not the simple
religion of Jesus,--piety and morality; but what his followers called
Christianity,--a mixture of good and evil. In two or three hundred years
it had gone round the civilized world. Other forms of religion fell to
pieces, one by one. Judaism went down with the Hebrew people, Heathenism
went down, and Christianity took heir place. The son of Joseph and Mary,
born in a stable, and killed by the Jews, was worshipped as the ONLY GOD
all round the civilized world. The new form of religion spread very
much as SPIRITUALISM has done in our time, only in the midst of worse
persecution than the Mormons have suffered. At this day there are some
two hundred and sixty millions of people who worship Jesus of Nazareth;
most of them think he was God, the only God. But a small number of men
believe that he was no God, no miraculous person, but a good man with a
genius for religion. All the Christians think he was full of all manner
of loving kindness and tender mercy. So all over the world to-day,
among the two hundred and sixty millions of Christians, there is great
rejoicing on account of his birth, which it is erroneously supposed took
place on the 25th of December, in the year ONE. They sing psalms, and
preach sermons, and offer prayers, and make a famous holiday. But the
greater part of the people think only of the festival, and very little
of the noble boy who was born so long ago in a tavern-barn in Judea. And
of all the ministers who talk so much about the old Christ, there are
not many who would welcome a new man who should come and do for this
age the great service which Jesus did for his own time. But, as on the
Fourth of July, slaveholders, and border ruffians, and kidnappers, and
men who believe there is no higher law, ring their bells, and fire their
cannons, and let off their rockets, making more noise than all those
who honor and defend the great Principles of Humanity which make
Independence Day famous,--so on Christmas, not only religious people,
but Scribes, and Pharisees, and Hypocrites make a great talk about
"Christ and him crucified;" when, if a man of genius for religion were
now to appear, they would be the first to call out "Infidel!" "Infidel!"
and would kill him if it were possible or safe.

Well, one rainy Sunday evening, in 1855, just twelve days before
Christmas, in the little town of Soitgoes, in Worcester County, Mass.,
Aunt Kindly and Uncle Nathan were sitting in their comfortable parlor
before a bright wood-fire. It was about eight o'clock, a stormy night;
now it snowed a little, then it rained, then snowed again, seeming as if
the weather was determined on some kind of storm, but had not yet made
up its mind for snow, rain, or hail. Now the wind roared in the chimney,
and started out of her sleep a great tortoise-shell cat, that lay on
the rug which Aunt Kindly had made for her. Tabby opened her yellow eyes
suddenly, and erected her _smellers_, but finding it was only the wind
and not a mouse that made the noise, she stretched out a great paw and
yawned, and then cuddled her head down so as to show her white throat,
and went to sleep again.

Uncle Nathan and Aunt Kindly were brother and sister. He was a little
more than sixty, a fine, hale, hearty-looking, handsome man as you could
find in a summer's day, with white hair and a thoughtful, benevolent
face, adorned with a full beard as white as his venerable head. Aunt
Kindly was five-and-forty or thereabouts; her face a little sad when you
looked at it carelessly in its repose, but commonly it seemed cheerful,
full of thought and generosity, and handsome withal; for, as her brother
told her, "God administered to you the sacrement of beauty in your
childhood, and you will walk all your life in the loveliness thereof."

Uncle Nathan had been an India merchant from his twenty-fifth to about
his fiftieth year, and had now, for some years, been living with his
sister in his fine, large house,--rich and well educated, devoting his
life to study, works of benevolence, to general reform and progress. It
was he who had the first anti-slavery lecture delivered in the town,
and actually persuaded Mr. Homer, the old minister, to let Mr. Garrison
stand in the pulpit on a Wednesday night and preach deliverance unto
the captives; but it could be done only once, for the clergymen of the
neighborhood thought anti-slavery a desecration of their new wooden
meeting-houses. It was he, too, who asked Lucy Stone to lecture on
woman's rights, but the communicants thought it would not do to let a
"woman speak in the church," and so he gave it up. All the country knew
and loved him, for he was a natural overseer of the poor, and guardian
of the widow and the orphan. How many a girl in the Normal School every
night put up a prayer of thanksgiving for him; how many a bright boy
in Hanover and Cambridge was equally indebted for the means of high
culture, and if not so thankful, why, Uncle Nathan knew that gratitude
is too nice and delicate a plant to grow on common soil. Once, when
he was twenty-two or three, he was engaged to a young woman of Boston,
while he was a clerk in a commission store. But her father, a skipper
from Beverly or Cape Cod, who continued vulgar while he became rich,
did not like the match. "It won't do," said he, "for a poor young man to
marry into one of our fust families; what is the use of aristocracy if
no distinction is to be made, and our daughters are to marry Tom, Dick,
and Harry?" But Amelia took the matter sorely to heart; she kept her
love, yet fell into a consumption, and so wasted away; or, as one of
the neighbors said, "she was executed on the scaffold of an upstart's
vulgarity." Nathan loved no woman in like manner afterwards, but after
her death went to India, and remained years long. When he returned and
established his business in Boston, he looked after her relations, who
had fallen into poverty. Nay, out of the mire of infamy he picked up
what might have been his nephews and nieces, and, by generous breeding,
wiped off from them the stain of their illicit birth. He never spoke of
poor Amelia; but he kept a little locket in one end of his purse; none
ever saw it but his sister, who often observed him sitting with it in
his hand, hand hour by hour looking into the fire of a winter's night,
seeming to think of distant things. She never spoke to him then, but
left him alone with his recollections and his dreams. Some of the
neighbors said he "worshipped it;" others called it "a talisman." So
indeed it was, and by its enchantment he became a young man once more,
and walked through the moonlight to meet an angel, and with her enter
their kingdom of heaven. Truly it was a talisman; yet if _you_ had
looked at it, you would have seen nothing in it but a little twist of
golden hairs tied together with a blue silken thread.

Aunt Kindly had never been married; yet once in her life, also, the
right man seemed to offer, and the blossom of love opened with a dear
prophetic fragrance in her heart. But as her father was soon after
struck with palsy, she told her lover they must wait a little while, for
her first duty must be to the feeble old man. But the impatient swain
went off and pinned himself to the flightiest little humming-bird in all
Soitgoes, and in a month was married, having a long life before him for
bitterness and repentance. After the father died, Kindly remained at
home; and when Nathan returned, years after, they made one brotherly and
sisterly household out of what might else have gladdened two connubial
homes. "Not every bud becomes a flower."

Uncle Nathan sat there, his locket in his hand, looking into the fire;
and as the wind roared in the chimney, and the brands crackled and
snapped, he thought he saw faces in the fire; and when the sparks rose
up in a little cloud, which the country children call "the people coming
out of the meeting-house," he thought he saw faces in the fire; they
seemed to take the form of the boys and girls as he had lately seen them
rushing out of the Union School-house, which held all the children
in the village; and as he recognized one after the other, he began
to wonder and conjecture what would be the history of this or that
particular child. While he sat thus in his waking dream, he looked
fixedly at the locket and the blue thread which tied together those
golden rays of a summer sun, now all set and vanished and gone, but
which was once the morning light of all his promised days; and as his
eyes, full of waking dreams, fell on the fire again, a handsome young
woman seemed to come forth from between the brands, and the locks of her
hair floated out and turned into boys and girls, of various ages, from
babyhood to youth; all looking somewhat like him and also like the
fair young woman. But the brand rolled over, and they all vanished in a
little puff of smoke.

Aunt Kindly sat at the table reading the Bible. I don't know why she
read the Gospels, for she knew them all four by heart, and could repeat
them from end to end. But Sunday night, when none of the neighbors were
there, and she and Nathan were all alone, she took her mother's great
squared Bible and read therein. This night she had been reading,
in chapter xxxi. of Proverbs, the character of a noble woman; and,
finishing the account, turned and read the 28th verse a second time,--

_"Her children rise up and call her blessed."_

I do not know why she read _that_ verse, nor what she thought of it; but
she repeated it to herself three or four times,--

_"Her children rise up and call her blessed."_

As she was taking up the venerable old volume to lay it away for the
night, it opened by accident at Luke xiv., and her eye fell on verses
12, 13--

_"But when thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends not
thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen nor thy rich neighbor, lest they also
call thee again, and a recompense be made thee. But when thou makest a
feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind; and thou shalt be
blessed; for they cannot recompense thee."_

She sat a moment recollecting that Jesus said,--

_"Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of
such is the kingdom of heaven;"_ and had also denounced woe on all such
as cause these little ones to offend, and declared that in heaven their
angels continually behold the face of the Father.

After a few minutes she turned to Nathan, who had replaced the brands
in hopes to bring back the vision by his "faculty divine," and
said,--"Brother, I wonder if it would not be better to make a little
change in our way of keeping Christmas. It is a good thing to call
together the family once a year,--our brothers and sisters and nephews
and nieces,--we all of us love the children so much, and have a good
time. I would not give that up. The dinner is very well; but the evening
goes off a little heavy; that whist playing, we both dislike it; so much
talk about such trifles. What if we should have a Child's Festival on
Christmas night, and ask all the little folks in the town to your nice
New Hall,--it will be done before that time, won't it? It will be a good
christening for it; and Mr. Garrison, whom you have asked to speak there
on New-Year's day, will like it all the better if baptized by these
little ones, who 'are of the kingdom of heaven.' Surely little children
may run before the great Liberator."

"Just what I was thinking of," said Uncle Nathan; "as I looked at the
sparks of fire, I was saying to myself, 'I have not quite done my duty
to the boys and girls in Soitgoes.' You and I," said he, rather sadly,
putting the locket in his purse and pressing the gold ring gently down
on it, "you and I have no children. But I sometimes feel like adopting
all the boys and girls in the parish; and when I saw that great troop of
them come out of the school-house last week, I felt a little reproach,
that, while looking after their fathers and mothers, I had not done more
for the children."

"I am sure you gave the town that great new school-house," said Kindly.

"Yes, that's nothing. I furnished the money and the general idea; Eliot
Cabot drew the plan,--capital plan it is too; and Jo Atkins took the
job. I paid the bills. But how will you arrange it for Christmas?"

"Well," said Kindly, who had an organizing head, "we'll have a
Children's Party. I'll ask all under fifteen, and if some older ones
come in, no matter; I hope they will. Of course the fathers and mothers
are to come and look on, and have a real good time. We will have them
in the New Hall. I wonder why they call it the New Hall; there never was
any old one. We will have some plain cake and lemonade, music, dancing,
little games, and above all a CHRISTMAS TREE. There shall be gifts on
it for all the children under twelve. The people who are well to do will
give something to buy the gifts for the children of their own standing,
and you and I will make up what is wanting for the poor ones. We'll have
little games as well as a dance. Mrs. Toombs,--Sally Wilkins that used
to be,--the minister's wife, has a deal of skill in setting little
folks to play; she has not had much use for it, poor thing, since her
marriage, six or seven years ago. What a wild romp she used to be! but
as good as Sunday all the time. Sally will manage the games; I'll see to
the dancing."

"The children can't dance," said Uncle Nathan; "you know there never was
a dancing-school in town."

"Yes they can," said Kindly. "The girls will dance by nature, and the
boys will fall in, rather more clumsily of course. But it will do well
enough for us. Besides, they have all had more practice than you think
for. You shall get the pine-tree, or hemlock, and buy the things,--I'll
tell you what, to-morrow morning,--and I will manage the rest."

The next morning it was fine, bright weather; and the garments blossomed
white on the clotheslines all round the village; and with no small
delight the housewives looked on these perennial hanging-gardens,
periodically blooming, even in a New England winter. Uncle Nathan
mentioned his sister's plan to one of his neighbors, who said, "Never'll
go here!" "But why not?" "Oh, there's Deacon Willberate and Squire Allen
are at loggerheads about the allusion to slavery which Rev. Mr. Freeman
made in his prayer six months ago. They had a quarrel then, you know,
and have not spoken since. If the Deacon likes it, the Squire won't, and
_vice versa_. Then, Colonel Stearns has had a quarrel and a lawsuit with
John Wilkinson about that little patch of meadow. They won't go; each is
afraid of meeting the other. Half the parish has some _miff_ against the
other half. I believe there never was such a place for little quarrels
since the Dutch took Holland. There's a tempest in every old woman's
teapot. Widow Seedyweedy won't let her daughters come, because, as she
says, you are a temperance man, and said, at the last meeting, that rum
made many a widow in Soitgoes, and sent three quarters of the paupers to
the almshouse. She declared, the next day, that you were 'personal, and
injured her feelings; and 'twas all because you was rich and she was a
poor lone widow, with nothing but her God to trust in.'"

"Oh, dear me," said Uncle Nathan, "it is a queer world,--a queer world;
but after all it's the best we've got. Let us try to make it better

Aunt Kindly could not sleep much all night for thinking over the
details of the plan. Before morning it all lay clear in her mind. Monday
afternoon she went round to talk with the neighbors and get all things
ready. Most of them liked it; but some thought it was "queer," and
wondered "what our pious fathers would think of keeping Christmas in New
England." A few had "religious scruples," and would do nothing about it.
The head of the Know-nothing lodge said it was "a Furrin custom, and I
want none o' them things; but Ameriky must be ruled by 'Mericans; and
we'll have no Disserlutions of the Union, and no Popish ceremonies like
a Christmas Tree. If you begin so, you'll have the Pope here next, and
the fulfilment of the seventeenth chapter of Revelations."

Hon. Jeduthan Stovepipe also opposed it. He was a rich hatter from
Boston, and a "great Democrat;" who, as he said, had lately "purchased
grounds in Soitgoes, intending to establish a family." He "would not
like to have Cinderella Jane and Edith Zuleima mix themselves up with
widow Wheeler's children,--whose father was killed on the railroad five
or six years before,--for their mother takes in washing. No, Sir," said
he; "it will not do. You have no daughters to marry, no sons to provide
for. It will do well enough for you to talk about 'equality,' about
'meeting the whole neighborhood,' and that sort of thing; but I intend
to establish a family; and I set my face against all promiscuous
assemblages of different classes of society. It is bad enough on
Sundays, when each man can sit buttoned up in his own pew; but a
festival for all sorts and conditions of children,--its is contrary
to the genius of our republican institutions." His wife thought quite
differently; but the poor thing did not dare say her soul was her own
in his presence. Aunt Kindly went off with rather a heavy heart,
remembering that Jeduthan was the son of a man sent to the State Prison
for horse stealing, and born in the almshouse at Bankton Four Corners,
and had been bound out as apprentice by the selectmen of the town.

At the next house, Miss Robinson liked it; but hoped she "would not ask
that family o'niggers,--that would make it so vulgar;" and she took a
large pinch of Scotch snuff, and waddled off to finish her ironing.
Mrs. Deacon Jackson--she was a second wife, with no children--hoped that
"Sally Bright would not be asked, because her father was in the State
Prison for passing counterfeit money; and the example would be bad, not
friendly to law and order." But as Aunt Kindly went out, she met the old
Deacon himself,--one of those dear, good, kind souls, who were born
to be deacons of the Christian religion, looking like one of the eight
beatitudes; and as you stopped to consider which of that holy family he
most resembled, you found he looked like all of them. "Well!" said he,
"now ma'am, I like that. That will be a _Christian_ Christmas,--not a
Heathen Christmas. Of course you'll ask all the children of 'respectable
people;' but I want the _poor ones_, too. Don't let anybody frighten you
from asking Sip Tidy's children. I don't know that I like colored folks
particularly, but I think God does, or he would not have colored 'em,
you know. Then do let us have all of Jo Bright's little ones. When I get
into the State Prison, I hope somebody'll look after my family. I know
_you_ will. I don't mean to go there; but who knows? 'If everybody had
his deserts, who would escape a flogging?' as the old saying is. Here's
five dollars towards expenses; and if that ain't enough, I'll make it
ten. Elizabeth will help you make the cake, &c. You shall have as many
eggs as you want. Hens hain't laid well since Thanksgiving; now they do
nothing else."

Captain Weldon let one iron cool on the anvil, and his bellows sigh out
its last breath in the fire and burn the other iron, while he talked
with Aunt Kindly about it. The Captain was a widower, about fifty years
old, with his house full of sons and daughters. He liked it. Patty, his
oldest daughter, could help. There were two barrels of apples, three
or four dollars in money, and more if need be. "That is what I call the
democracy of Christianity," said the good man. "I shall see half the
people in the village; they'll be in here to get their horses corked
before the time comes, and I'll help the thing along a little. I'll
bring the old folks, and we'll sing some of the old tunes; all of us
will have a real old-fashioned good time." Almira, his daughter, about
eighteen years old, ran out to talk with Kindly, and offered to do all
sorts of work, if she would only tell her what. "Perhaps Edward
will come, too," said Kindly. "Do you want him?" asked Almira. "Oh,
certainly; want all the LOVERS," replied she,--not looking to see how
her face kindled, like a handsome morning in May.

One sour old man, who lived off the road, did not like it. 'Twas a
Popish custom; and said, "I always fast on Christmas." His family knew
_they_ did, and many a day besides; for he was so covetous that he
grudged the water which turned his own mill.

Mr. Toombs, a young minister, who had been settled six or seven years,
and loved the commandments of religion much better than the creed of
theology, entered into it at once, and promised to come, and not wear
his white cravat. His wife, Sally Wilkins that used to be, took to it
with all her might.

So all things were made ready. Farmers sent in apples and boiled
chestnuts; and there were pies, and cookies, and all manner of creature
comforts. The German who worked for the cabinet-maker decorated the
hall, just as he had done in Wittenberg often before; for he was an
exile from the town where Martin Luther sleeps, and his Katherine, under
the same slab. There were branches of Holly with their red berries,
Wintergreen and Pine boughs, and Hemlock and Laurel, and such other
handsome things as New England can afford even in winter. Besides,
Captain Weldon brought a great Orange-tree, which he and Susan had
planted the day after their marriage, nearly thirty years before. "Like
Christmas itself," as he said,--"it is a history and a prophecy; full of
fruit and flowers, both." Roses, and Geraniums, and Chrysanthemums, and
Oleanders were there, adding to the beauty.

All the children in the village were there. Sally Bright wore the medal
she won the last quarter at the Union School. Sip Tidy's six children
were there; and all the girls and boys from the poor-house. The Widow
Wheeler and her children thought no more of the railroad accident.
Captain Weldon, Deacon Jackson and his wife, and the Minister were
there; all the Selectmen, and the Town Clerk, and the Schoolmasters and
Schoolma'ams, and the Know-nothing Representative from the South Parish;
great, broad-shouldered farmers came in, with Baldwin apples in their
cheeks as well as in their cellars at home, and their trim tidy wives.
Eight or ten Irish children came also,--Bridget, Rosanna, Patrick, and
Michael, and Mr. And Mrs. O'Brien themselves. Aunt Kindly had her piano
there, and played and sung.

Didn't they all have a good time? Old Joe Roe, the black fiddler, from
Beaver Brook, Mill Village, was over there; and how he did play! how
they did dance! Commonly, as the young folks said, he could play only
one tune, "Joe Roe and I;" for it is true that his sleepy violin did
always seem to whine out, "_Joe Roe and I, Joe Roe and I, Joe Roe and
I_." But now the old fiddle was wide awake. He cut capers on it; and
made it laugh, and cry, and whistle, and snort, and scream. He held it
close to his ear, and rolled up the whites of his eyes, and laughed a
great, loud, rollicking laugh; and he made his fiddle laugh, too, right

The young people had their games. Boston, Puss in the Corner, Stir
you must, Hunt the Squirrel round the Woods, Blind Man's Buff, and
Jerusalem. Mr. Atkins, who built the hall, and was a strict Orthodox man
a Know-nothing, got them to play "Break the Pope's neck," which made a
deal of fun. The oldest people sung some of the old New England tunes,
in the old New England way. How well they went off! in particular,

     "How beauteous are their feet
      Who stand on Zion's Hill;
      And bring salvation on their tongues,
      And words of peace reveal."

But the great triumph of all was the Christmas Tree. How big it was!
a large stout Spruce in the upper part of the hall. It bore a gift for
every child in the town. Two little girls had the whooping cough, and
could not come out; but there were two playthings for them also, given
to their brothers to be taken home. St. Nicolas--it was Almira Weldon's
lover--distributed the gifts.

Squire Stovepipe came in late, without any of the "family" that he was
so busy in "establishing," but was so cold that it took him a good while
to warm up to the general temperature of the meeting. But he did at
length; and talked with the Widow Wheeler, and saw all her well-managed
children, and felt ashamed of his meanness only ten days before. Deacon
Willberate saw his son Ned dancing with Squire Allen's rosy daughter,
Matilda,--for the young people cared more for each other than for all
the allusions to slavery in all the prayers and sermons too, of the
whole world,--and it so reminded him of the time when he also danced
with _his_ Matilda,--not openly at Christmas celebrations, but by
stealth,--that he went straight up to his neighbor; "Squire Allen,"
said he, "give me your hand. New Year's is a good day to square just
accounts; Christmas is not a bad time to settle needles quarrels. I
suppose you and I, both of us, may be wrong. I know I have been for one.
Let by-gones be by-gones." "Exactly so," said the Squire. "I am sorry,
for my part. Let us wipe out the old score, and chalk up nothing for the
future but good feelings. If a prayer parted, perhaps a benediction will
unite us; for Katie and Ned look as if they meant we should be more than
mere neighbors. Let us begin by becoming friends."

Colonel Stone took his youngest daughter, who had a club-foot, up to
the Christmas tree for her present, and there met face to face with
his enemy's oldest girl, who was just taking the gift for her youngest
brother, Robert,--holding him up in her bare arms that he might reach
it himself. But she could not raise him quite high enough, and so the
Colonel lifted up the little fellow till he clutched the prize; and when
he set him down, his hands full of sugar-cake, asked him, "Whose bright
little five-year-old is this? What is your name, blue eyes?" "Bobbie
Nilkinson," was the answer. It went right to the Colonel's heart. "It
is Christmas," said he; "and the dear Jesus himself said, 'Suffer little
children to come unto me.' Well, well, he said something to us old
folks, too: 'If thy brother trespass against thee,' &c., and 'If thou
bring thy gift to the altar, and there remember that thy brother hath
aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar; first be
reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.'" He walked
about awhile, thinking, and then found his neighbor. "Mr. Wilkinson,"
said he, "it is bad enough that you and I should quarrel in law, but let
us be friends in the gospel. As I looked at your little boy, and held
him up in my arms, and found out whose son he was, I felt ashamed that I
had ever quarreled with his father. Here is my hand, if you think fit
to take it." "With all my heart," said Wilkinson. "I fear I was more to
blame than you. But we can't help the past; let us make amends for the
future. I hope we shall have many a merry Christmas together in this
world and the next. Perhaps Uncle Nathan can settle our land-quarrel
better than any jury in Worcester county."

Mr. Smith, the Know-nothing representative, was struck with the bright
face of one of the little girls who wore a school-medal, and asked her
name. "Bridget O'Brien, your honor," was the answer. "Well, well," said
he, "I guess Uncle Nathan is half right; 'it's all prejudice.' I don't
like the Irish, _politically_. But after all, the Pope will have to
make a pretty long arm to reach round Aunt Kindly, and clear through the
Union School-house and spoil Miss Bridget,--a pretty long arm to do all

So it went on all round the room. "That is what I call the Christian
Sacrament," said Deacon Jackson to Captain Weldon. "Ah, yes," replied
the blacksmith; "it is a feast of love. Look there; Colonel Stearns and
John Wilkinson have not spoken for years. Now it is all made up. Both
have forgotten that little strip of Beaver-gray meadow, which has
cost them so much money and hard words and in itself is not worth the
lawyer's fees."

How the children played! how they all did dance! And of the whole
sportive company not one footed the measure so neat as little Hattie
Tidy, the black man's daughter. "What a shame to enslave a race of such
persons," said Mr. Stovepipe. "Yet I went in for the Fugitive Slave
Bill, and was one of Marshal Tukey's 'fifteen hundred gentlemen of
property and standing.' My God forgive me!" "Amen," said Mr. Broadside,
a great, stout, robust farmer; "I stood by till the Nebraska Bill put
slavery into Kansas, then I went right square over to the anti-slavery
side. I shall stick there forever. Dr Lord may try and excuse slavery
just as much as he likes. I know what all that means. He don't catch old
birds with chaff."

Uncle Nathan went about the room talking with the men and women; they
all knew him, and felt well acquainted with such a good-natured face;
while Aunt Kindly, with the nicer tact of a good woman, introduced the
right persons to each other, and so promoted happiness among those too
awkward to obtain it alone or unhelped. Besides this, she took special
care of the boys and girls from the poor-house.

What an appetite the little folks had for the good things! How the old
ones helped them dispose of these creature comforts! while such as were
half way between, were too busy with other matters to think much of the
eatables. Solomon Jenkins and Katie Edmunds had had a falling out. He
was the miller at Stony Brook; but the "course of true love never
did run smooth" with him; he could not coax Katie's to brook into his
stream; it would turn off some other way. But that night Katie herself
broke down the hindrance, and the two little brooks became one great
stream of love, and flowed on together, inseparable; now dimpling,
deepening, and whirling away full of beauty towards the great ocean of

Uncle Nathan and Aunt Kindly, how happy they were, seeing the joy of
all the company! they looked like two new Redeemers,--which indeed
they were. The minister said,--"Well, I have been preaching charity and
forgiveness and a cheerful happiness all my life, now I see signs of
the 'good time coming.' There's forgiveness of injuries," pointing
to Colonel Stearns and Mr. Wilkinson; "old enemies reconciled. All my
sermons don't seem to accomplish so much as your Christmas Festival,
Mr. Robinson," said he, addressing Uncle Nathan. "We only watered the
ground," said Aunt Kindly, "where the seed was long since sown by other
hands; only it does seem to come up abundantly, and all at once." Then
the minister told the people a new Christmas story; and before they went
home they all joined together and sung this hymn to the good tune of Old

     "Jesus shall reign where'er the sun
     Does his successive journeys run;
     His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
     Till moons shall wax and wane no more.

     Blessings abound where'er he reigns;
     The prisoner leaps to loose his chains;
     The weary find eternal rest,
     And all the sons of want are bless'd."

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