Saturday, 22 December 2012


Ah! Christmas ! Christmas ! How welcome thou art to those whose pocketbooks have golden linings. They smile now in their pleasant homes. Mince pies and cranberry marmalade are getting ready on the upper shelf, out of little Bobby’s reach, and mother is chopping the suet, picking the currants and raisins, slicing the orange, lemon and citron peels for the plum pudding. What times of rejoicing and preparation in anticipation of the Christmas homecoming, when the absent ones will gather around the dinner table and the family will be complete for at least one day in the year. Some may not return; they have wandered too far from the old home and made new homes for themselves; but, if absent in body, they will be present in spirit. Oysters on the whole shell, the half shell or any way you want ‘em, for stuff in the turkey; or, if you prefer it, goose stuffed with sage and onions, with apple sass on the side. Regular old-fashioned cider, of pure apple juice without any chemical stuff in it, and five-year-old grape juice of which you might drink a gallon and not feel any bad effects, to wash down the dinner instead of stronger beverages that induce headaches and bad temper, and make you wish that Christmas would never come again. My! How it makes one’s mouth water in anticipation of the luxurious treat a-coming. Well, all prudent and thrifty Hamiltonians have reason to be grateful, for it has been a year of plenty for everybody able to work, and there has been work for all to do. The rich can guzzle their wines and gobble their venison, green turtle and canvasbacks for gold has poured into their coffers : the man who labors with hands and brain will have his humble fare and thank God that he has health and is able to provide for his family. But how is it with the widow, the orphan, the sick man at death’s door, and all the wretched paupers who throng the highways and byways? To them Christmas seems a bitter sarcasm. Depending upon themselves, it will be a dark and dreary day, for the light of hope had fled from their homes. The benevolent societies will to some extent brighten the homes of the less fortunate; still, hundreds even in our city will be passed by. Each individual reader of the Spectator can do his or her part in making it a glad Christmas by doing a little missionary work in looking up and providing for someone who might otherwise be forgotten. Do it not as a charity, but in the spirit of the golden rule : “Whatsoever ye would that others should do unto you, do ye even so unto them.” Your own Christmas will be brighter and happier when you have done one good act.


          Christmas is coming along in seven-league boots, and the eyes of the children are bright and their hearts are beating high with expectation. Christmas is essentially a holiday for the little folks, and they grow out of their dreams of the ruddy-faced old myth with sled and reindeers all too quickly. To many of those who have grown up and put away childish things, the glad time is often more of a struggle between a slim purse and a big heart than anything else, and yet they get their reward out of the sacrifices they are called upon to make in the pleasure they get out of making the children happy. Once upon a time we were all young ourselves, though you might not think it to look at some of us, and the pleasantest recollections of life, almost, hang around those memorable mornings when little barefooted, night-gowned forms stole cautiously from the snug, warm bed to the mantelpiece to see what Santa Claus had brought. The children don’t stay children very long, and it is worth a good deal to make them wholly happy once a year during the few years they are children, even if their little stomachs are hopelessly out of order for a few days afterward. Make their childhood bright and pleasant, and in after years, they will remember with gratitude and thank God that they were blessed with affectionate parents.


          Hamilton is certainly entitled to the bun for the number of fraternal societies and their membership. You can rarely meet a man who has not his name enrolled in one or more lodges, and nearly every society has at its foundation the beneficiary feature. Friendly, or benevolent, societies are a British institution, inaugurated among the poorer classes at the beginning of the eighteenth century for mutual insurance against the distress arising from sickness, death, accident or other causes of destitution. There were, at first, merely a banding together of a few persons on unscientific principles, but, in later years, became subjects of parliamentary action, and are now limited by law to operation on a basis founded on the experience deduced from the actuaries’ tables of insurance. Two hundred and eighty years ago, the Fund for Mercer’s Widows was started in London. In 1765, Dr. Price, an English scientist, and Benjamin Franklin, printer and philosopher, perfected actuary tables which still form the basis of life insurance by stock companies, and have been adopted by many of the fraternal societies. Hence fraternal benefits and commercial insurance owe their beneficence and their success to British and American brains and philanthropy, and the world is indebted to English-speaking people for working out the problem of saving for the benefit of the widow and orphan. The first railway accident insurance company was organized in London in 1849, and out of it has grown that splendid system of insurance against accidents of every kind that is now generally adopted.


          The Good Book commands up to lay up treasures in heaven. Fraternal societies and old-line life insurance companies teach us that the way to lay up treasure on earth is to enroll our names in some order and by the payment of weekly or monthly assessments secure our families when we have finished this earthly pilgrimage, a fund that will afford at least temporary relief. When a member of one of these fraternal societies in Hamilton dies, his family is paid, within a few weeks, from $1,000 and upward, depending upon the policy carried. In a majority of cases, were it not for the wise forethought in providing the insurance, the family would left with little or nothing – barely sufficient to pay funeral expenses and for the medical attendance during the last sickness. The fraternal societies not only furnish insurance, but during life their members receive a weekly allowance in sickness and a re provided with a doctor. And all these benefits cost merely a nominal sum. The money some men spend in self-indulgence in liquor and tobacco alone would pay all demands of any one of the fraternal societies and lay up a treasure that would be handy to draw upon when incapacitated for labor by sickness or accident; and, in case of their death, leave a couple of thousand dollars to their families. Has it ever occurred to you, dear reader, that thousands of dollars are paid out monthly in Hamilton to members of the fraternal societies who are stricken down by sickness or accident or death? Without that help there would be great distress in many homes. Hardly a month passes in the year that from one to a dozen men die who leave to their families only the life insurance policy they have carried in some old-time company or in some fraternal society. The average man, with a family to support, does not earn much more than pays current expenses. When sickness comes, the wages stop. Here is where the fraternal society comes to the rescue. Should death ensue, after a long illness, the family exchequer is exhausted and there is no money left to pay the doctor or funeral expenses. Here is where the insurance policy does its blessed work. A policy of life insurance in some fraternal society or old-time company is the best Christmas gift a man can give his wife.


          The old boys and the old girls of Hamilton who have rounded up their threescore years and ten, and who, perhaps, have not spent a year in all that time away from the sound of the clock on the city hall or the chimes in the Church of the Ascension have seen wonderful changes in the city of their birth. The winter began earlier half a century ago and lasted longer, and in the Christmas holidays there was sleigh-riding with the temperature down below zero, to make the face and ears tingle. Probably the cold snap of the past few days comes nearer to an old-fashioned winter than many we have had in years. Ah! those were bright and cheerful days for the young, and as memory carries us back at these Christmas times, let us lay aside the cares and anxieties that come with years and responsibilities of daily life and enter with zest into the pleasures of youth. Do you want an object lesson to call back your youth? Take a walk in our business streets and see the groups of children in front of the large plate glass windows and hear their exclamations at everything on exhibition. There is nothing too small to escape them and each one has a choice. Santa Claus is a reality to the little tots, and the longer the illusion can be kept up, the happier will be the dream of youth. You didn’t have such show windows to look into, my old boy, when you were young, for the merchants and the toymakers had not advanced that far in catering to the pleasure of childhood. You were born in a practical generation, and old Santa Claus had not then left his native Germany to room with the reindeer in the wilds of Canada. The confectioners’ windows during holiday times are the delight of the children, especially of that class whose homes are not the most cheerful. Listen to two or three of them as they look upon the filmy candies, in every color of the rainbow, and impart to each other just the choice they would make if some good angel would only let them enter the shop and turn them loose on the mountains of the chocolates and taffies and the great mouthfuls of sugar and coconut-coated balls of sweetness. Poor little waifs! They have to gratify their desires in imagination only, for that plate glass stands between them and their heaven.


          The candies and cakes in the confectioners’ windows appeal, not only to the waifs, but there are people of a larger growth who have not the means to buy such delicacies for the little ones in their homes. Christmas, after all, is a tantalizing season, and while mothers may pass by the same windows at every season in the year, they hardly give them a thought. Good bread, with or without butter, is manna to a hungry kid, except at Christmas, when he or she wants  currant buns and tarts and fruit cake – anything that will put their little stomachs in disorder for the next week or two. But what cares childhood for a sour stomach so long as the eating delights the palate? The old boys and the old girls of a past century forget all these things, and they only renew their youth in seeing the children of the present enjoy them as they did in the long ago. When you are looking around, my old boy, and come across a group of God’s poor kids in front of shop windows, especially confectioners,’ blow in a quarter and learn that it is more blessed to give than receive.

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