The First New England Christmas
G. L. STONE AND M. G. FICKETT
IT WAS a warm and pleasant Saturday--that twenty-third of December,
1620. The winter wind had blown itself away in the storm of the day
before, and the air was clear and balmy.
The people on board the Mayflower were glad of the pleasant day. It
was three long months since they had started from Plymouth, in England,
to seek a home across the ocean.
ow they had come into a harbour that
they named New Plymouth, in the country of New England.
Other people called these voyagers Pilgrims, which means wanderers. A
long while before, the Pilgrims had lived in England; later they made
their home with the Dutch in Holland; finally they had said good-bye to
their friends in Holland and in England, and had sailed away to America.
There were only one hundred and two of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower,
but they were brave and strong and full of hope. Now the Mayflower was
the only home they had; yet if this weather lasted they might soon have
warm log-cabins to live in. This very afternoon the men had gone ashore
to cut down the large trees.
The women of the Mayflower were busy, too. Some were spinning, some
knitting, some sewing. It was so bright and pleasant that Mistress Rose
Standish had taken out her knitting and had gone to sit a little while
on deck. She was too weak to face rough weather, and she wanted to enjoy
the warm sunshine and the clear salt air. By her side was Mistress
Brewster, the minister's wife. Everybody loved Mistress Standish and
Mistress Brewster, for neither of them ever spoke unkindly.
The air on deck would have been warm even on a colder day, for in one
corner a bright fire was burning. It would seem strange now, would it
not, to see a fire on the deck of a vessel? But in those days, when the
weather was pleasant, people on shipboard did their cooking on deck.
The Pilgrims had no stoves, and Mistress Carver's maid had built this
fire on a large hearth covered with sand. She had hung a great kettle on
the crane over the fire, where the onion soup for supper was now
Near the fire sat a little girl, busily playing and singing to herself.
Little Remember Allerton was only six years old, but she liked to be
with Hannah, Mistress Carver's maid. This afternoon Remember had been
watching Hannah build the fire and make the soup. Now the little girl
was playing with the Indian arrowheads her father had brought her the
night before. She was singing the words of the old psalm:
"Shout to Jehovah, all the earth,
Serve ye Jehovah with gladness; before
him bow with singing mirth."
"Ah, child, methinks the children of Old England are singing different
words from those to-day," spoke Hannah at length, with a faraway look in
"Why, Hannah? What songs are the little English children singing now?"
questioned Remember in surprise.
"It lacks but two days of Christmas, child, and in my old home everybody
is singing Merry Christmas songs."
"But thou hast not told me what is Christmas!" persisted the child.
"Ah, me! Thou dost not know, 'tis true. Christmas, Remember, is the
birthday of the Christ-Child, of Jesus, whom thou hast learned to love,"
Hannah answered softly.
"But what makes the English children so happy then? And we are English,
thou hast told me, Hannah. Why don't we keep Christmas, too?"
"In sooth we are English, child. But the reason why we do not sing the
Christmas carols or play the Christmas games makes a long, long story,
Remember. Hannah cannot tell it so that little children will
understand. Thou must ask some other, child."
Hannah and the little girl were just then near the two women on the
deck, and Remember said:
"Mistress Brewster, Hannah sayeth she knoweth not how to tell why Love
and Wrestling and Constance and the others do not sing the Christmas
songs or play the Christmas games. But thou wilt tell me wilt thou not?"
she added coaxingly.
A sad look came into Mistress Brewster's eyes, and Mistress Standish
looked grave, too. No one spoke for a few seconds, until Hannah said
almost sharply: "Why could we not burn a Yule log Monday, and make some
meal into little cakes for the children?"
"Nay, Hannah," answered the gentle voice of Mistress Brewster. "Such are
but vain shows and not for those of us who believe in holier things.
But," she added, with a kind glance at little Remember, "wouldst thou
like to know why we have left Old England and do not keep the Christmas
Day? Thou canst not understand it all, child, and yet it may do thee no
harm to hear the story. It may help thee to be a brave and happy little
girl in the midst of our hard life."
"Surely it can do no harm, Mistress Brewster," spoke Rose Standish,
gently. "Remember is a little Pilgrim now, and she ought, methinks, to
know something of the reason for our wandering. Come here, child, and
sit by me, while good Mistress Brewster tells thee how cruel men have
made us suffer. Then will I sing thee one of the Christmas carols."
With these words she held out her hands to little Remember, who ran
quickly to the side of Mistress Standish, and eagerly waited for the
story to begin.
"We have not always lived in Holland, Remember. Most of us were born in
England, and England is the best country in the world. 'Tis a land to be
proud of, Remember, though some of its rulers have been wicked and
"Long before you were born, when your mother was a little girl, the
English king said that everybody in the land ought to think as he
thought, and go to a church like his. He said he would send us away from
England if we did not do as he ordered. Now, we could not think as he
did on holy matters, and it seemed wrong to us to obey him. So we
decided to go to a country where we might worship as we pleased."
"What became of that cruel king, Mistress Brewster?"
"He ruleth England now. But thou must not think too hardly of him. He
doth not understand, perhaps. Right will win some day, Remember, though
there may be bloody war before peace cometh. And I thank God that we, at
least, shall not be called on to live in the midst of the strife," she
went on, speaking more to herself than to the little girl.
"We decided to go to Holland, out of the reach of the king. We were not
sure whether it was best to move or not, but our hearts were set on
God's ways. We trusted Him in whom we believed. Yes," she went on, "and
shall we not keep on trusting Him?"
And Rose Standish, remembering the little stock of food that was nearly
gone, the disease that had come upon many of their number, and the five
who had died that month, answered firmly: "Yes. He who has led us thus
far will not leave us now."
They were all silent a few seconds. Presently Remember said: "Then did
ye go to Holland, Mistress Brewster?"
"Yes," she said. "Our people all went over to Holland, where the Dutch
folk live and the little Dutch children clatter about with their wooden
shoes. There thou wast born, Remember, and my own children, and there we
lived in love and peace."
"And yet, we were not wholly happy. We could not talk well with the
Dutch, and so we could not set right what was wrong among them. 'Twas so
hard to earn money that many had to go back to England. And worst of
all, Remember, we were afraid that you and little Bartholomew and Mary
and Love and Wrestling and all the rest would not grow to be good girls
and boys. And so we have come to this new country to teach our children
to be pure and noble."
After another silence Remember spoke again: "I thank thee, Mistress
Brewster. And I will try to be a good girl. But thou didst not tell me
about Christmas after all."
"Nay, child, but now I will. There are long services on that day in
every church where the king's friends go. But there are parts of these
services which we cannot approve; and so we think it best not to follow
the other customs that the king's friends observe on Christmas.
"They trim their houses with mistletoe and holly so that everything
looks gay and cheerful. Their other name for the Christmas time is the
Yuletide, and the big log that is burned then is called the Yule log.
The children like to sit around the hearth in front of the great,
blazing Yule log, and listen to stories of long, long ago.
"At Christmas there are great feasts in England, too. No one is allowed
to go hungry, for the rich people on the day always send meat and cakes
to the poor folk round about.
"But we like to make all our days Christmas days, Remember. We try never
to forget God's gifts to us, and they remind us always to be good to
"And the Christmas carols, Mistress Standish? What are they?"
"On Christmas Eve and early on Christmas morning," Rose Standish
answered, "little children go about from house to house, singing
Christmas songs. 'Tis what I like best in all the Christmas cheer. And I
promised to sing thee one, did I not?"
Then Mistress Standish sang in her clear, sweet voice the quaint old
As Joseph was a-walking,
He heard an angel sing:
"This night shall be the birth-time
Of Christ, the heavenly King.
"He neither shall be born
In housen nor in hall,
Nor in the place of Paradise,
But in an ox's stall.
"He neither shall be clothed
In purple nor in pall,
But in the fair white linen
That usen babies all.
"He neither shall be rocked
In silver nor in gold,
But in a wooden manger
That resteth in the mould."
As Joseph was a-walking
There did an angel sing,
And Mary's child at midnight
Was born to be our King.
Then be ye glad, good people,
This night of all the year,
And light ye up your candles,
For His star it shineth clear.
Before the song was over, Hannah had come on deck again, and was
listening eagerly. "I thank thee, Mistress Standish," she said, the
tears filling her blue eyes. "'Tis long, indeed, since I have heard that
"Would it be wrong for me to learn to sing those words, Mistress
Standish?" gently questioned the little girl.
"Nay, Remember, I trow not. The song shall be thy Christmas gift."
Then Mistress Standish taught the little girl one verse after another of
the sweet old carol, and it was not long before Remember could say it
The next day was dull and cold, and on Monday, the twenty-fifth, the sky
was still overcast. There was no bright Yule log in the Mayflower, and
no holly trimmed the little cabin.
The Pilgrims were true to the faith they loved. They held no special
service. They made no gifts. Instead, they went again to the work of
cutting the trees, and no one murmured at his hard lot.
"We went on shore," one man wrote in his diary, "some to fell timber,
some to saw, some to rive, and some to carry; so no man rested all that
As for little Remember, she spent the day on board the Mayflower. She
heard no one speak of England or sigh for the English home across the
sea. But she did not forget Mistress Brewster's story; and more than
once that day, as she was playing by herself, she fancied that she was
in front of some English home, helping the English children sing their
And both Mistress Allerton and Mistress Standish, whom God was soon to
call away from their earthly home, felt happier and stronger as they
heard the little girl singing:
He neither shall be born
In housen nor in hall,
Nor in the place of Paradise,
But in an ox's stall.