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.





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