Saturday, 24 November 2012


The good old song says:
                   “Apple pie and ‘simmon beer:
                    Christmas comes but once a year.”
          The day not only for apple pie, but mince pie, and turkey stuffed with oysters or chestnuts, and then the plum pudding of the good old sort, such as mother used to make. But suppose you change the Christmas bird to goose, stuffed with onions. You remember, my old Hamiltonian, when turkey was a rarity and goose was the great Canadian bird. It was not the kind of goose that was raised down towards the bay; goose of an uncertain age, valuable because of the thick coat of feathers and down worn; but the young, tender goose, fattened for the Christmas market, and, oh! so juicy and tasty. We had farmers, like the occasional one of the present day, who would swear to you by all that was holy that the goose he was selling you was less than nine months old, and as tender as a spring chicken; and then when it came out of the bake pan for the dinner would be as tough as a bit of bull beef. The good mother would feel so disappointed that the pleasure of the dinner was lost to her, and if the father had not been one of the Rev. James Caughey’s latest converts, and his name enrolled in the First church as a member, the air might have been blue with words that would not look well in print on the anniversary of the blessed Savior. But the goose that was young and tender and the onion stuffing that was seasoned to the finest taste! The memory of that dinner always makes the mouth water, and the old Hamiltonian wishes that he were back fifty years to enjoy the feast as only a boy knows how to enjoy a good dinner. Goose and plum pudding, a quarter of mince pie and other fixins’ as a benediction, and what better is there in life? Such a dinner gives one a foretaste of the good things in the New Jerusalem where, we hope, all good Hamiltonians will meet after the joys and sorrows of this life are ended.


          But haven’t we other holidays besides Christmas? To be sure we have. There’s the Queen’s birthday – God bless her memory – the summer holiday with fun, frolic and firecrackers, and excursions on the lake, and other things consoling to the inner man. Such days are welcome to saint and sinner. Then there is New Year’s Day, hailed by everybody as the most festive of all festive holidays. The children like the day as well as grown folks, although the stocking hanging in the chimney place and the visits of the good old Santa Claus are missing. The children wonder at this, too. They cannot understand why Santa Claus, who is so kind to the little folks, should not bring them precious gifts to them on New Year’s as well as Christmas eve. Well, he does not do so – and that is a fact – for some especially good reason of his own. Perhaps the kind old fellow has given away all his good things on Christmas eve, or has grown weary climbing down and up back chimneys and through chinks and crannies, to hunt up thousands and thousands of cunning little stockings that hang all over your house on Christmas eve. Happy is the Hamilton home tonight where there are little stockings to be filled, and health, bright children to scamper through the house by early dawn tomorrow morning, to find what old Santa has left them.


          And then think how ugly and how sooty Santa Claus must get in his chimney on Christmas eve! Supposing he should come on New Year’s, all grimy and unwashed, like chimney-sweeps we used to see in Hamilton in the long ago, and some good boy or girl saw him in this horrid plight! Why, it would frighten them into a goose-fit. His kind, jolly face, beaming with delightful love, would be so masked by the hideous effects of his hard Christmas work, that it would not be desirable for any one to see him; nor would he care to show himself, we suppose. Well, be all this as it may, the fact is that he does not give presents nor travel about on his polly errands on New Year’s. Our Irish grandmothers were inclined to be a bit superstitious, and they used to tell us when we were young that if we hung up our stockings on New Year’s eve, the Leprechaun – horrid name to a Canadian innocent’s ear – would steal into our bedchambers in the dead of night and carry us off, bed and all, to mysterious realms that the Irish fairies inhabited. This was enough to prevent our longing for more presents. We philosophically concluded that we would rather bear the ills we had than fly to others that we know not of.


          However, although Santa Claus does not make his visits twice in the same year, New Year’s has its pleasures for both old and young, and next to Christmas, it is the greatest day in the year. Calls used to be made by the young men from house to house, upon their lady friends, who set out tables containing good cheer of fruit cake, cold turkey and chicken fixings, and perhaps wine and coffee, or some stimulating beverage. This was a pretty custom, happily now passed into innocuous desuetude, except among old-fashioned people, though regarded by many as a dangerous one, where wines and liquors were part of the good cheer. Our temperance friends assert, and not without reason, that many a young man was led into temptation by thoughtless and fascinating ladies on these festive occasions. If a young lady, with a kindly smile and beautiful eyes, places the cup in a young man’s hand, how can he resist? Surely there can be no stinging adder at the bottom of a glass offered by such lovey hands! Ah, but this is the one drop that helps fill the cup of misery. It may be the first drop only, but the first is so pleasant that it will be followed by others just like it till the sad cup overflows at last. Brush up your memory, my old Hamilton girl of half a century ago, and count the victims of the wine cup in your own list of friends who, like ships that pass in the night, have dropped out of sight forever. Banish the decanter from your Christmas dinner and from your social gatherings and your skirts, at least, will be clear from some weak brother’s downfall.


          Christmas is the time for presents too – presents of books, photographs, pictures, paintings, scrapbooks, albums, mementoes that last through the years. We go to our what-not, bookcase or museum, and, looking them over, read there the history of many happy Christmas days which are parts of the histories of our lives. Old faces are called up, that have gone away perhaps forever – faces that now look on other skies in distant lands – faces that calmly sleep in death. Who shall say that they may not see us, too, even in the mysterious clime to which we are all tending?


          This is the time for turning over a new leaf. The spendthrift, the intemperate man – and, sad to say, the intemperate woman – the loafer, the gambler, the thriftless merchant, the quarrelsome family, each and all resolve that they will turn over a new leaf with the beginning of the new year. How many are much better by it? Yes, they do turn over a new leaf, but most of them write upon its unsoiled page their old faults, and a year hence, it is as black, blotted and shameless in its record as the leaf that preceded it. There are some, however, who do better – who write beautiful and noble characters upon the new leaf, that change them for all afterlife. God bless them! Christmas and New Year’s, however, resemble each other to some extent. Both are seasons of festivity and joyful greetings. But one is to commemorate an important event in Christian history; the other an annual event in the changes of the season. Our great English authors , the loving, genial, philanthropic historians of character and lowly human life, have given most attention to Christmas. How the imperial Dickens immortalized himself in his Christmas stories. How full of Christian philanthropy and love. Is there a man or woman who can read any of these without ears, amid the most pleasant laughter? If so, he needs forgiveness. Read Dickens, or Wilkie Collins, or Tom Hood, to stir the sweet fountains of tears and laughter. What better Christmas present, especially to the boys and girls, than a complete set of Dickens, or Wilkie Collins, or Tom Hood?


          All these Christmas times recall to memory the days of long ago, when Hamilton was merging from the country town to the incorporated city. Don’t you remember, my dear old girls and boys, the many little social pleasures that5 filled in the holiday season? That was before the Crossleys and the Hunters, professional revivalists, felt it to be their special duty to decry the evils of dancing, or going now and then to the old barn, used as a theatre, on the corner of John and Rebecca streets, when old John Nickerson put on such delightful Christmas plays, with Couldock and Caroline and Peter Richings as the stars, and Charlotte Nickerson and Simcoe Lee and Sergeant Nickerson in the cast. We may have a fine opera house now, but no such talent and no such tragedies and comedies as were presented in that old barn, where the wind whistled through creaky clapboards, and it kept the men busy piling in the knots of wood in the stoves in the auditorium and on the stage to keep the audience and the actors from shivering. Don’t you remember George Steele and Johnny O’Neale and Jennings, and other orchestra leaders whose names have passed from memory? What music and what dancing, and the boys and girls went home at seasonable hours. Where was the harm? And then the singing schools and the old-time singing masters! These were pleasures that filled in the winter evenings and made Christmas and New Year’s long to be remembered. Even the good old-fashioned revivals were well-attended, and many a Methodist brother and sister today can date their conversion away back in the 50s. It wasn’t a bad world to live in fifty years ago; and it is getting better and brighter as the years roll by.
          “My heart still bends to the good old friends.
           To the good old days of yore;
           I turn with a sigh to the days gone by,
           And the hearts that greet me no more.”

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