Yule-Tide In Many Lands - LightNovelsOnl.com
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Four hundred years later the anchor of the _Santa Maria_ was discovered and brought to the United States to be one of its treasured exhibits at the great Columbian Exposition, where a descendant of Columbus was the honored guest of the Government.
One hundred and fifty years after the building of the Fortress of Navidad, after many ineffectual attempts, a settlement was effected in the New World by a colony from England. They sailed from Blackwell, on the Thames, on December 19, 1606, and for six weeks were "knocking about in sight of England." Their first Christmas was spent within sight of their old homes. According to Captain John Smith's account, "It was, indeed, but a sorry Christmas that we spent on board," as many of them were very sick, yet Smith adds, "We made the best cheer we could." The colonists landed and solemnly founded Jamestown on May 13, 1607. That year Yule-tide was spent by Captain Smith among the Powhatan Indians, by whom he was taken captive. This colony consisted of men only; no genuine Christmas observance could take place without women and children, and no women arrived until 1609, and then only twenty came. But after the ninety young women arrived in 1619, supplied to planters for one hundred pounds of tobacco each, and a cargo of twenty negroes had landed to help with the work, there may have been an attempt at keeping Christmas although there is no record of the fact.
At this season there was usually a raid made upon the Indians. Smith's last expedition against them was at Christmastime, when, as he records in his journal, "The extreme winde, rayne, frost, and snow caused us to keep Christmas among the salvages where we weere never more merry, nor fed on more plenty of good Oysters, Fish, Flesh, Wild Fowl and good bread, nor never had better fires in England."
In after years prosperity smiled on the land of the Jamestown settlers. Amidst the peace and plenty that followed the earlier years of strife and poverty, the Virginians became noted for their hospitality and lavish observance of Yule-tide. It was the happy home-coming for daughters, sons, uncles, aunts, and cousins of the first, second, and even the third degree. For whosoever was of the name and lineage, whether rich or poor, was welcomed at this annual ingathering of the family. Every house was filled to overflowing; great hickory fires were lighted on the open hearths; the rooms were brilliantly lighted with candles, and profusely trimmed with greens.
From doors and ceilings were hung sprigs of the mysterious mistletoe, for
"O'er the lover I'll shake the berry'd mistletoe; that he May long remember Christmas,"
was the thought of merry maidens as they decorated their homes.
Christmas brought carriage-loads of guests to these old-time homes, to partake of the good cheer and enjoy weeks of fun and frolic, indoors and out. For many days before Christmas arrived, colored cooks, the regular, and extra ones, were busy cooking from morning till evening, preparing for the occasion. The storerooms were replete with every variety of tempting food the ingenious minds of the cooks could devise, for Christmas dinner was the one great test of their ability and woe to Auntie whose fire was too hot, or whose judgment was at fault on this occasion.
[Ill.u.s.tration: LIGHTING THE YULE-LOG IN COLONIAL DAYS.]
To the whites and blacks Christmas was a season of peace, plenty, and merriment. In the "Great House" and in the cabin there were music, dancing, and games until New Year. This was "Hiring Day," and among the blacks joy was turned to sadness as husbands, fathers, brothers, and lovers were taken away to work on distant plantations, for those who hired extra help through the year were often extremely cruel in their treatment of the slaves.
The gladsome Virginia Christmas in time became the typical one of the South, where it was the red-letter day of the year, the most joyous of all holidays. The churches were lovingly and tastefully decorated with boughs of green and flowers by the ladies themselves and conscientiously attended by both old and young. In the South there was never any of the somberness that attended church services in the North among descendants of the Plymouth Colony who came to America later.
The Puritans of England early discountenanced the observance of Christmas. But among the Pilgrims who reached the American coast in December, 1620, were mothers who had lived so long in Holland they loved the old-time custom of making merry on that day. To these dear women, and to the kind-hearted, child-loving Elder Brewster, we are indebted for the first observance of the day held by the Plymouth Colony.
According to the Journal of William Bradford, kept for so many years, the Pilgrims went ash.o.r.e, "and ye 25 day (Dec.) begane to erecte ye first house for comone use to receive them and their goods." Bradford conscientiously refrains from alluding to the day as Christmas, but descendants of these G.o.dly Puritans are glad to learn that home-making in New England was begun on Christmas Day.
Many very interesting stories have been written about this first Christmas. One writer even pictures the more lenient Elder Brewster as going ash.o.r.e that morning and inviting the Indian Chief Ma.s.sasoit to go aboard the _Mayflower_ with him. According to the story, the good man endeavored to impress the chief with the solemnity and significance of the occasion, and then with Ma.s.sasoit, two squaws, and six boys and girls, becomingly attired in paint and feathers, he returned to the s.h.i.+p.
The women and children from over the sea met their new neighbors and guests, received from them little baskets of nuts and wintergreen berries, and in exchange gave their guests beads, toys, raisins, and such simple gifts, to which Elder Brewster added a blessing bestowed upon each child.
The story reads well. But the truth, according to history, makes the first visit of Ma.s.sasoit occur some three months later, on March twenty-second. The Puritans had a happy Christmas dinner together on board the s.h.i.+p which was the only home they possessed as yet, and it is to be presumed that the exceedingly conscientious non-observers of the day partook quite as freely of the salt fish, bacon, Brussels sprouts, gooseberry tarts, and English plum pudding, as did those homesick, tear-choked women who prepared the dinner.
It is certainly to be regretted that vessels are no longer built with the wonderful storage capacity of the _Mayflower_! Beside bringing over the innumerable _family relics_ that are treasured throughout this country, it is stated that this s.h.i.+p brought a barrel full of ivy, holly, laurel, and immortelles, with which the table was decorated, and wreaths woven for the children to wear. Bless those dear, brave women who dared to bring "green stuff" for "heathenish decorations" way across the ocean! Let us add a few extra sprays of green each Christmas in memory of them. The greens, plum puddings, and other good things had such a happy effect that, according to Bradford, "at night the master caused us to have some Beere." This was an event worthy of a capital B, as the men had worked all day in the biting cold at house-building, with only a scanty supply of water to drink.
Alas! That Christmas on the _Mayflower_ was the last the Pilgrims were to enjoy for many a long year. Other s.h.i.+p-loads of people arrived during the year and in 1621, "One ye day called Christmas Day, ye Gov.
called them out to worke (as was used), but ye most of this new company excused themselves and said it wente against their consciences to work on yt day. So ye Gov. tould them that if they made it mater of conscience, he would spare them till they were better informed. So he led away ye rest and left them, but when they came home at noone from their worke, he found them in ye streete at play, openly, some pitching ye bair, and some at stoole-ball, and shuch-like sports. So he went to them and tooke away their implements, and tould them that was against his conscience, that they should play and others worke. If they made ye keeping of it mater of devotion, let them kepe their houses, but ther should be no gameing or revelling in ye streets.
Since which time nothing had been attempted that way, at least openly." And thus ended the last attempt at Christmas observance during Governor Bradford's many terms of office.
The Ma.s.sachusetts Colony that arrived in 1630, and settled in and around Boston, believed that Christ's mission on earth as the Saviour of man was too serious a one to be celebrated by the fallen race. He came to save; they considered it absolutely wicked for any one to be lively and joyous when he could not know whether or no he was doomed to everlasting punishment. Beside that, jollity often led to serious results. Were not the jails of Old England full to repletion the day after Christmas? It was wisest, they thought, to let the day pa.s.s unnoticed. And so only occasionally did any one venture to remember the fact of its occurrence. Among the men and women who came across the ocean during succeeding years there must have been many who differed from the first colony in regard to Christmas, for in May, 1659, the General Court of Ma.s.sachusetts deemed it necessary to enact a law: "That whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labour, feasting, or any other way, upon any such accounts as aforesaid, shall be subjected to a fine of five s.h.i.+llings."
For upward of twenty-two years it remained unlawful in Ma.s.sachusetts to have a merry Christmas. There were no pretty gifts on that day to make happy little G.o.d-be-thanked, Search-the-scriptures, Seek-wisdom, Prudence, Hope, or Charity. However, Santa Claus had emissaries abroad in the land. In December, 1686, Governor Andros, an Episcopalian, and a representative of the King, brought about the first concession in favor of the day. He believed in celebrating Christmas and intended to hold appropriate services. The law enacted by Parliament in June, 1647, abolis.h.i.+ng the observance of the day, had been repealed in 1659, and Gov. Andros knew he had the law in his favor. But every meeting-house was conscientiously (or stubbornly) closed to him. So he was forced to hold service in the Town House, going with an armed soldier on each side to protect him from the "good will" exhibited by his fellow townsmen. He held services that day, and it is believed to be the first observance of Christmas held under legal sanction in Boston.
The great concession was made by the Old South Congregation in 1753 when it offered its sanctuary to the wors.h.i.+pers in King's Chapel, after that edifice was burned, for them to hold their Christmas services. It was with the implicit understanding that there was to be no spruce, holly, or other greens used on that occasion to desecrate their meeting-house.
Little by little the day was brought into favor as a holiday, but it was as late as the year 1856, while Nathaniel P. Banks was Governor, that the day was made a legal holiday in Ma.s.sachusetts.
The good Dutch Fathers, true to the teachings of their forefathers, sailed for the New World with the image of St. Nicholas for a figurehead on their vessel. They named the first church they built for the much-loved St. Nicholas and made him patron saint of the new city on Manhattan Island. Thanks, many many thanks, to these st.u.r.dy old Dutchmen with unp.r.o.nounceable names who preserved to posterity so many delightful customs of Christmas observance. What should we have done without them? They were quite a worthy people notwithstanding they believed in enjoying life and meeting together for gossip and merrymaking. Christmas was a joyful season with them. The churches and quaint gabled houses were trimmed with evergreens, great preparations were made for the family feasts, and business was generally suspended.
The jolly old City Fathers took a prolonged rest from cares of office, even ordering on December 14, 1654, that, "As the winter and the holidays are at hand, there shall be no more ordinary meetings of this board (the City Corporation) between this date and three weeks after Christmas. The Court messenger is ordered not to summon any one in the meantime."
Sensible old souls! They were not going to allow business to usurp their time and thought during this joyful season! The children must have their trees, hung with gifts; the needy must be especially cared for, and visits must be exchanged; so the City was left to take care of itself, while each household was busy making ready for the day of days, the season of seasons.
What a time those _hausfraus_ had polis.h.i.+ng up their silver, pewter, bra.s.s, and copper treasures, in opening up best rooms, and newly sanding the floors in devious intricate designs! What a pile of wood was burned to bake the huge turkeys, pies, and puddings! What pains the fathers took to select the rosiest apples and the choicest nuts to put in each child's stocking on Christmas Eve. Fortunately, children obeyed the injunction of Scripture in those days, and despised not the day of small things.
How fortunate it was that there were no trains or other rapid modes of conveyance to bring visitors from the Puritan Colonies at this season. There was no possibility of any of their strict neighbors dropping in unexpectedly to furnish a free lecture, while the Dutch families were merrily dancing. The Puritans were located less than two hundred and eighty-five miles distant, yet they were more distantly separated by ideas than by s.p.a.ce. But a little leaven was eventually to penetrate the entire country, and the customs that are now observed each Christmas throughout the Eastern, Middle, and Western States, are mainly such as were brought to this country by the Dutch. Americans have none of their own. In fact, they possess but little that is distinctively their own because they are a conglomerate nation, speaking a conglomerate language.
According to the late Lawrence Hutton, "Our Christmas carols appear to have come from the Holy Land itself; our Christmas trees from the East by way of Germany; our Santa Claus from Holland; our stockings hung in the chimney, from France or Belgium; and our Christmas cards and verbal Christmas greetings, our Yule-logs, our boars' heads, our plum puddings and our mince pies from England. Our turkey is, seemingly, our only contribution." Let us add the squash-pie!
[Ill.u.s.tration: CHILDREN OF MANY NATIONALITIES AT CHRISTMAS CELEBRATION IN A NEW YORK SCHOOL.
Chinese, Italians, Swedes, Irish, English, German, French, Russian, Austrian.]
These customs which have become general throughout the United States, varying of course in different localities, are being rapidly introduced into the new possessions where they are engrafted on some of the prettiest customs observed by the people in former years. In Porto Rico on Christmas Day they have a church procession of children in beautiful costumes, which is a very attractive feature.
The people feast, dance, attend midnight ma.s.s on Christmas Eve, then dance and feast until Christmas morning. In fact they dance and feast most of the time from December twenty-fourth until January seventh, when not at church services. On Twelfth Night gifts are exchanged, for as yet Santa Claus has not ventured to visit such a warm climate, so the children continue to receive their gifts from the Holy Kings.
However, under the shelter of the American Flag, the Christmas tree is growing in favor. In Hawaii, so far as possible, the so-called New England customs prevail.
In the Philippines even beggars in the streets expect a "Christmas present," which they solicit in good English.
So from Alaska to the Island of Tutuila, the smallest of America's possessions, Yule-tide is observed in a similar manner.
Yule-tide has been singularly connected with important events in the history of the United States.
In the year 1776 Was.h.i.+ngton crossed the Delaware on Christmas night to capture nearly one thousand Hessians after their Christmas revelries.
A few days later, December 30th, Congress resolved to send Commissioners to the courts of Vienna, Spain, France, and Tuscany; and as victory followed the American leader, the achievements of this Yule-tide were declared by Frederick the Great of Prussia to be "the most brilliant of any recorded in the annals of military action." The year following, 1777, was probably one of the gloomiest Yule-tides in the experience of the American forces. They lay encamped at Valley Forge, sick and discouraged, dest.i.tute of food, clothing, and most of the necessities of life.
It was on Christmas Eve, 1783, that Was.h.i.+ngton laid aside forever his military clothes and a.s.sumed those of a civilian, feeling, as he expressed it, "relieved of a load of public care." After Congress removed to Philadelphia, Martha Was.h.i.+ngton held her first public reception in the Executive Mansion on Christmas Eve, when, it is stated, there was gathered "the most brilliant a.s.semblage ever seen in America."
At Yule-tide a few years later, 1799, the country was mourning the death of the beloved Father of his Country.
In later years, the season continued prominent in the history of great events. The most notable of these were the two Proclamations of President Lincoln, the one freeing the slaves, January 1, 1863, and the other proclaiming the "unconditional pardon and amnesty to all concerned in the late insurrection," on December 25, 1868. And may the peace then declared remain with this people forevermore!
THE VOICE OF THE CHRIST-CHILD
The earth has grown cold with its burden of care, But at Christmas it always is young, The heart of the jewel burns l.u.s.trous and fair, And its soul full of music breaks forth on the air, When the song of the Angels is sung.
It is coming, old earth, it is coming to-night!
On snowflakes which covered thy sod, The feet of the Christ-child fall gently and white, And the voice of the Christ-child tells out with delight That mankind are the children of G.o.d.
On the sad and the lonely, the wretched and poor, The voice of the Christ-child shall fall; And to every blind wanderer opens the door Of a hope which he dared not to dream of before, With a suns.h.i.+ne of welcome for all.
The feet of the humblest may walk in the field Where the feet of the holiest have trod, This, this is the marvel to mortals revealed, When the silvery trumpets of Christmas have pealed, That mankind are the children of G.o.d.