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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 every one around the Christmas fire; and made
the little picture shining in our bright young eyes, complete.

Time came, perhaps, all so soon, when our thoughts over-leaped that
narrow boundary; when there was some one (very dear, we thought
then, very beautiful, and absolutely perfect) wanting to the fulness
of our happiness; when we were wanting too (or we thought so, which
did just as well) at the Christmas hearth by which that some one
sat; and when we intertwined with every wreath and garland of our
life that some one's name.

That was the time for the bright visionary Christmases which have
long arisen from us to show faintly, after 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 were 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 effected, 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 honour 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, and 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 honoured and ennobled name, and arrived and
were received at home in a shower of tears of joy; is it possible
that 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 mile-stone in the track as this
great birthday, we look back on the things that never were, as
naturally and full as gravely as on the things that have been and
are gone, or have been and still are? If it be 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 honour and with
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--placider 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 round the Christmas fire, where what is sits 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
towards that City upon Christmas Day, and from its silent hosts
bring those we loved, among us. 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 favourite 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 leads 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 for ever!"

We had a friend who was our friend from early days, with whom we
often pictured the changes that were to come upon our lives, and
merrily imagined how we would speak, and walk, and 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.

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