What Christmas is as we Grow Older

What Christmas is as We Grow Older

Time was, with most of us, when Christmas Day encircling all our limited world like

a magic ring, left nothing out for us to miss or seek; bound together all our home

enjoyments, affections, and hopes; grouped everything and everyone around

the Christmas fire; and made the little picture shine in our bright young eyes,


The time came, perhaps, all so soon, when our thoughts over-leaped that narrow

boundary; when there was someone (very dear, we thought then, very beautiful,

and absolutely perfect) wanting to the fulness of our happiness; when we were

wanting to (or we thought so, which did just as well) at the Christmas hearth by which

that someone sat, and when we intertwined with every wreath and garland of our life,

that someone’s name.

That was the time for the bright visionary Christmases which have long arisen from us

to show faintly, after a summer rain, in the palest edges of the rainbow!

That was the time for the beatified enjoyment of the things that were to be and never

were, and yet the things that were so real in our resolute hope that it would be hard

to say, now, what realities achieved since have been stronger!

What! Did that Christmas never really come when we and the priceless pearl who was

our young choice was received, after the happiest of totally impossible marriages,

by the two united families previously at daggers—drawn on our account?

When brothers and sisters-in-law, who had always been rather cool to us before

our relationship was affected, perfectly doted on us, and when fathers and mothers

overwhelmed us with unlimited incomes? Was that Christmas dinner never really

eaten, after which we arose and generously and eloquently rendered honor to our late

rival, present in the company, then and there exchanging friendship and forgiveness,

and founding an attachment, not to be surpassed in Greek or Roman story,

which subsisted until death? Has that same rival long ceased to care for that same

priceless pearl, married for money, and become usurious? Above all, do we really

know, now, that we should probably have been miserable if we had won and worn

the pearl and that we are better without her?

That Christmas, when we had recently achieved so much fame; when we had been

carried in triumph somewhere for doing something great and good; when we had won

an honored and ennobled name and arrived and were received at home in a shower

of tears of joy; is it possible that Christmas has not come yet?

And is our life here, at the best, so constituted that pausing as we advance at such

a noticeable milestone in the track as this great birthday, we look back on the things

that never was, as naturally and full as gravely as on the things that have been

and are gone, or have been and still are? If it is so, and so it seems to be, must

we come to the conclusion that life is little better than a dream and little worth

the loves and strivings that we crowd into it?

No! Far be such miscalled philosophy from us, dear Reader, on Christmas Day!

Nearer and closer to our hearts be the Christmas spirit, which is the spirit of active

usefulness, perseverance, cheerful discharge of duty, kindness, and forbearance!

It is in the last virtues especially that we are, or should be, strengthened

by the unaccomplished visions of our youth; for, who shall say that they are not

our teachers to deal gently even with the impalpable nothings of the earth!

Therefore, as we grow older, let us be more thankful that the circle of our Christmas

associations and of the lessons that they bring expands! Let us welcome every

one of them and summon them to take their places by the Christmas hearth.

Welcome, old aspirations, glittering creatures of an ardent fancy, to your shelter

underneath the holly! We know you and have not outlived you yet. Welcome,

old projects and old loves, however fleeting, to your nooks among the steadier lights

that burn around us. Welcome, all that was ever real to our hearts,

and for the earnestness that made you real, thanks to Heaven!

Do we build no Christmas castles in the clouds now? Let our thoughts, fluttering like

butterflies among these flowers of children, bear witness! Before this boy,

there stretches out a Future, brighter than we ever looked on in our old romantic time,

but bright with honor and with the truth. Around this little head on which the sunny

curls lie heaped, the graces sport, as prettily, as airily, as when there was no scythe

within the reach of Time to shear away the curls of our first love. Upon another girl’s

face near it—more placid but smiling bright—a quiet and contented little face,

we see Home fairly written. Shining from the word, as rays shine from a star,

we see how, when our graves are old, other hopes than ours are young, other hearts

than ours are moved; how other ways are smoothed; how other happiness blooms,

ripens, and decays—no, not decays, for other homes and other bands of children,

not yet in being nor for ages yet to be, arise, and bloom and ripen to the end of all!

Welcome, everything! Welcome, alike what has been, and what never was, and what

we hope may be, to your shelter underneath the holly, to your places around

the Christmas fire, where what is sitting open-hearted! In yonder shadow, do we see

obtruding furtively upon the blaze, an enemy’s face? By Christmas Day, we do forgive

him! If the injury he has done us may admit of such companionship, let him come here

and take his place. If otherwise, unhappily, let him go; hence, assured that we will never

injure nor accuse him.

On this day, we shut out Nothing!
“Pause,” says a low voice. “Nothing? Think!”
“On Christmas Day, we will shut out from our fireside, Nothing.”

“Not the shadow of a vast City where the withered leaves are lying deep?” the voice replies. “Not the shadow that darkens the whole globe? Not the shadow of the City
of the Dead?”

Not even that. Of all days in the year, we will turn our faces toward that City upon

Christmas Day, and from its silent hosts, bring those we loved among us.

The city of the Dead, in the blessed name wherein we are gathered together at this

time, and in the Presence that is here among us according to the promise, we will

receive, and not dismiss, thy people who are dear to us!

Yes. We can look upon these children angels that alight, so solemnly, so beautifully

among the living children by the fire and can bear to think how they departed from us.

Entertaining angels unawares, as the Patriarchs did, the playful children

are unconscious of their guests, but we can see them—can see a radiant arm around

one favorite neck, as if there were a tempting of that child away. Among the celestial

figures, there is one, a poor misshapen boy on earth, of a glorious beauty now,

of whom his dying mother said it grieved her much to leave him here, alone,

for so many years as it was likely would elapse before he came to her—being such

a little child. But he went quickly and was laid upon her breast, and in her hand,

she led him.

There was a gallant boy who fell, far away, upon a burning sand beneath a burning sun

and said,

“Tell them at home, with my last love, how much I could have wished to kiss them once but that I died contented and had done my duty!”

Or there was another, over whom they read the words,

“Therefore, we commit his body to the deep,”

and so consigned him to the lonely ocean and sailed on. Or there was another,

who lay down to his rest in the dark shadow of great forests and, on earth, awoke

no more. O shall they not, from sand and sea and forest, be brought home at such

a time!

There was a dear girl—almost a woman—never to be one—who made a mourning

Christmas in a house of joy and went her trackless way to the silent City.

Do we recollect her, worn out, faintly whispering what could not be heard, and falling

into that last sleep for weariness? O look upon her now! O look upon her beauty,

her serenity, her changeless youth, her happiness! The daughter of Jairus was recalled

to life, to die, but she, more blest, has heard the same voice, saying unto her,

“Arise forever!”

We had a friend who was our friend from our early days, with whom we often pictured

the changes that were to come upon our lives and merrily imagined how we would

speak, walk, think, and talk when we came to be old. His destined habitation in the City

of the Dead received him in his prime. Shall he be shut out from our Christmas

remembrance? Would his love have so excluded us? Lost friend, lost child, lost parent,

sister, brother, husband, wife, we will not so discard you! You shall hold your

cherished places in our Christmas hearts and by our Christmas fires,

and in the season of immortal hope, and on the birthday of immortal mercy,

we will shut out Nothing!

The winter sun goes down over town and village; on the sea, it makes a rosy path

as if the Sacred tread were fresh upon the water. A few more moments, and it sinks,

and night comes on, and lights begin to sparkle in the prospect. On the hill-side beyond

the shapelessly-diffused town and in the quiet keeping of the trees that gird

the village steeple, remembrances are cut in stone, planted in common flowers,

growing in grass, entwined with lowly brambles around many a mound of earth.

In town and village, there are doors and windows closed against the weather;

there are flaming logs heaped high; there are joyful faces; there is healthy music

of voices.

Be all ungentleness and harm excluded from the temples of the Household Gods,

but be those remembrances admitted with tender encouragement! They are of the time

and all its comforting and peaceful reassurances, and of the history that re-united even

upon earth the living and the dead, and of the broad beneficence and goodness

that too many men have tried to tear to narrow shreds.

The End