The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 8 (December 1, 1933)
Christmas—Old and New
“Are you going away for Christmas?” a friend said to me.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Very far. Back to Boyhood.”
When I told the editor that the title of this article would be “Christmas—Old and New,” I slipped a little, for of course, all Christmases are really the same Christmas. The differences in toys and other incidentals no more change the main swing of Christmas than variations of fashion change a woman. Once a woman, always a woman, and yet? Well—.
When I was a boy at Christchurch, in the dim long ago, the Christmas season did not begin as early as it does now. There were no parades of Santa Claus in public places weeks before he was due for his dive down chimneys. Of course the days were sunnier in the old times, the roasted birds were more tender, the duff was more fruity, the pork-butchers were more chubby, the grocers were more joyous, and altogether things were more miraculous somehow. The posts of old-fashioned verandahs were swathed with greenery on Christmas Eve, and the city was full of enchantment. Every moment I expected a real fairy godmother to do something splendid for me. No kind of magic could have surprised me; even if it had been as stupendous as the present “talkies” and radio broadcasting. Grown-ups told me that fairies lived only in story books and old folk-tales, but that did not lessen my belief in them.
* * *
The best thrills of Christmas are for children between two and five years young, the age when the whole world—sun, moon, stars, land and sea, fields and woods—is their kingdom. Wordsworth makes us see this in one of his inspired flights:—
“Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing boy.
Alas! he has to be introduced to Longfellow's “Life is real, life is earnest.” Fairyland has to be exchanged for the schoolroom.
Is there any more pleasant spectacle on earth than a happy, beautiful mother with two or three children in a toyshop at Yuletide? Beautiful, yes, because all mothers look beautiful when they see their children happy. It is beauty independent of a Grecian nose or an Egyptian powder or paste. It comes from the heart, where all real inspiring beauty has its source. Bright eyes of childhood, wide-open in wonderment! Little dimpled hands reaching out as if they would clutch the whole of the alluring stock! Delightful chuckles and glad some prattle! That's why all Christmases are the same Christmas, because every Christmas brings those cheerful scenes.
* * *
Happy, care-free childhood may change its toys, but not its joys. Seeing those radiant little bundles of humanity, hugging little parcels, makes an absurdity of local and general politics and all disputations and wrangles about problems and solutions. Those beaming faces, where faith, hope and love are charmmgly enthroned, are the best salute of Christmas, the warmest influence to melt the frozen heart of any money-grubbing Scrooge.
* * *
What a horrible old miser Scrooge was until the spirit of Christmas changed him! “Merry Christmas ! Out upon Merry Christmas,” he snarled at his poverty-stricken nephew before the great transformation. “What's Christmas to you but a time for paying bills without money—a time for finding yourself a year older and not an hour richer? If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”
* * *
So spoke the old Scrooge—but what a lovable chap he became when the “Christmas feeling” filled him. “I am as light as a feather,” he shouted. “I am as happy as an angel. I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A Merry Christmas to everybody! A Happy New Year to all the world. Hollo, here! Whoop! Hollo!”
* * *
Suppose that you asked an earnest clergyman to define the “Christmas feeling!” What would he say? He might try this on you: “A happy and a holy state of mind, that blessed feeling of goodwill towards men, that truly Christian recognition of the principle of the Sermon on the Mount, the putting of the Lord's Prayer into active life.”
Right enough, but not enough, for the “Christmas feeling” is not wholly religious—at least not in the majority of folk. It has something of the old festive paganism as well as benevolent Christianity.
* * *
However, whatever may be the theory about the “Christmas feeling” it is a noble spirit when it does stir the mind and heart. For a few days life's little fretful irritations fall away. The choleric Colonel (of the old school) may beam upon the careless duffer who has trodden on a tender toe, or smile upon the woman whose cherub-laden go-cart has bumped a rheumatic knee. The cynic corks up his acid-bottles; the pedestrian feels less poisonous towards the motorist; the motorist forgives the pedestrian page 6 for his trespasses. And so the geniality goes on until some day in January, when the world drifts back to its hard working rule, “Business is business.”
* * *
To some folk the “Christmas feeling” comes naturally; others take something for it. A friend of mine—a total abstainer from malted, fermented and spirituous beverages—told me in the strictest confidence that once a year, about a week before Christmas, he was moved by some influence to put just one drop of wine in a pint of water. He knew it would give him the “Christmas feeling”—and it did. Also, this tiny starter kept him in a glow for ten days. Did I believe that? I did not. I mean I did not believe that the one drop of wine worked the miracle. The result would have been the same if somebody had put a drop of ginger-ale in the flagon of water, and told my friend that it was wine.
* * *
One thing the “Christmas feeling” does for people. It leads them to face feasts (solid and liquid) which would frighten them at other times of the year. They have confidence that the spirit of Christmas will save them from the penalties which they would suffer at another season for the same feats of eating and drinking.
A doctor friend of mine told me that he had a patient with a troubled liver and other internal disorders which called for cautious dieting. “I know it's hard advice to give you at Christmas time,” the doctor said to the patient, “but you must not take more than a spoonful of whisky a day—and, as for plum-pudding, you might as well take a dose of prussic acid.”
“Will my patient act on that advice?” the doctor remarked to me. “He will not. I've given him that same advice for the past twenty years at Christmas time, but he goes his own obstinate way, and survives somehow, by a miracle.”
* * *
“You will take your own medicine, of course?” I said.
The doctor laughed. “It's queer,” he replied, “but I have the same inner troubles as that patient, and I've had them for about the same time—twenty years. I consulted a good doctor, and he gave the same advice as I have always given my patients.”
“You took it?”
“At Christmas time? Not on your life—nor mine.”
* * *
Perhaps the only persons who do not have the real “Christmas feeling” are those who earn their living by making things “Christmasy” for others. No doubt the postman's Christmas feelings are decidedly mixed. To designers of Christmas cards this season is already stale—a thing of the past—and their minds may be busy with new notions for 1934–35. However, some of the persons who find a profit in the pleasure of others look cheerful enough in Christmas week. The pork-butcher, the poulterer, and the grocer glow with geniality as they hand out the good things and take in the good money.page 7
“For they can conquer who believe they can.“—Dryden.
(Rly. Publicity photos.)
King Carnival begins his “Wonder Week” reign at Oriental Bay, Wellington, on Saturday, 18th November, 1933. This spectacular, stirring drive for the restoration of national confidence was opened by the Governor-General, Lord Bledisloe.