An Essay in the Direction of the Better Enjoyment of Yuletide Festivities
F. RAYMOND COULSONDecember11909
The Good Old Fashion
An Essay in the Direction of the Better Enjoyment of Yuletide Festivities
F. RAYMOND COULSON
"GIVE everybody’s love to everybody so that nobody may be aggrieved by anybody being forgotten by somebody.” Those are my sentiments about Christmas. For I am an astonishingly old-fashioned person. And in spite of repeated assurances that Christmas is decaying, I am convinced that the entire populace of the British Isles (and of the Britains beyond the seas) are astonishingly old-fashioned persons too.
It is one of the little affectations of this foolish young century that Christmas is played out, that its sentiment has departed, and that it has become a nuisance and a bore. But if that is the case, how is it that at this season we expend ten million golden sovereigns in Good Cheer?
How is it that eighteen million Christmas puddings steam on festive boards, and that the mistletoe bough is still thoughtfully suspended in convenient situations?
“Do you know that you are dying fast?” demands the New Age, addressing Father Christmas.
“Am I?” exclaims that surprised old gentleman—a remarkably hale old gentleman, with a twinkle in his eye. “Then what is the meaning of these gay decorations, these happy throngs, these crowded toy shops, and this magnificent display of turkeys?” And Father Christmas laughs — a good-natured, robustious laugh, that goes rousing responsive echoes all round the world.
We know that make-believe cynic, that ineffectual pretender, who ac-
tively employs himself at this time of vear in proclaiming that Christmas is a depressing nuisance, and that he will he profoundly glad when it is over. But cast an observant eve on the doings of this supercilious person. Do you find them supporting his protestations? Do you find him holding haughtily aloof, treating Christmas and its merrymaking with disdain? Do you find him on Christmas Day austerely sitting down to a mutton chop or a frugal repast of cold meat and pickles?
No! You find him boisterously sending his plate up for a second helping of turkey, and exhibiting special gusto in regard to the accompanying sausages. You find him hilariously merry, with a paper cap on his head, pulling crackers, smoking big cigars, pledging everybody in wassail, and making strenuous elTorts to entice the prettiest young lady in the company under the mistletoe. And later on you will find him the life and soul of the party, lustily singing songs, playing hunt the simper, propounding ingen-
ious conundrums, and superintending the snap-dragon.
We know these sombre misanthropes who despise Christmas, and assure us contemptuously that it is obsolete. We meet them going home on Christmas Eve, veritable Father Christmases themselves, with bulging pockets, bulky parcels, and beaming countenances. We meet them at the toy emporium, absorbed in the mechanism of talking dolls and clockwork trains. We meet them intently gazing into the windows of jewellers’ shops at nice little gold lockets and chains and pendants bearing the intimation, “Suitable for Christmas Presents.” We meet them at the poulterer’s pointing at the largest goose on the hook, and inquiring, “What does that one weigh?” We meet them at the wine merchant’s, ordering mellow port, and ginger wine, and Benedictine from the monastery. And these are the people who call the Christmas festival humbug!
Oh, the humbugs !
It is often said, with doleful shaking of heads, that if Dickens could come back he would be sorely hurt and disappointed at the change that has developed in the spirit of Christmas. But I don’t think he would. We have discarded some of the old customs, but we have established new. And Dickens would discover as much warmth of heart, and charity, and kindness, and good humor as when he was enthusiastically preaching his gospel of Kind Hearts and Merry Souls.
Indeed, I think that instead of disappointment, Dickens would experience gladness in his coming back. He would find fewer Scrooges and more Fezziwigs—though the Fezziwigs might at first try to assume disguises and delude him into the belief that they were cynics. He would find a prodigious packing of Christmas hampers to rejoice the hearts of Tiny Tims. He would find gigantic conspiracies at work for the wholq-v
sale diffusion of dolls, toys, chocolates, creams, oranges, and mince pies. He would find bustling gentlemen and sw'eet-faced ladies tying up parcels of crackers and puddings, and firing them off with such remarkable precision of aim as to land on the doorsteps of the very people who wanted them most and didn’t expect them—the little people in the alleys and the mean streets.
He would find Happiness-andLaughter Agencies flourishing — agencies of Goodwill that were undreamt of in the days when he heard the Chimes and sang his Christmas Carol. He would find that above all things Mrs. Britannia has deter-
mined to look after the children: that national bodies, local bodies, public bodies, private bodies, and in fact everybody’s concern is to sweeten the lives of the children, not only at Christmas, but all the year round.
lie would find that Bumble had vanished, and that the workhouse was by no means such a forbidding institution to reside in nowadays as it was in his day. He would find that not only the young folk, but the old folk and the sick, arc cared for as he never had the happiness of seeing them cared for. He would find a thousand generous streams of charity brightly flowing in every direction thiough a distinctly im-
proved world. And when he had surveyed all these things with delight in his eyes and gladness in his heart and a glow of satisfaction on his kind, sympathetic face, imagine our twentieth century cynic approaching him with the remark, “VYe have outgrown that sentimental stuff of yours, you know, Mr. Dickens. Christmas is out of date. We think it a nuisance and a bore. The Dickens Christmas is altogether a thing of the past.”
Mr. Dickens, like Father Christmas himself, would respond with a genial laugh, and gently patting our cynic on the shoulder, he would exclaim in his most joyous and emphatic tones, “My dear sir, I don't believe it !”
Being an old-fashioned person, I confess that there are some Christmas institutions, once cherished, that
I now miss. 1 deplore the disappearance of the terrifying but popular Christmas ghost. I miss the weird stories of haunted belfries and lonely granges ; and the wondrous yarns about snowed-up travelers who went through the most appalling vicissitudes on Christmas Eve, and emerged triumphantly out of them into perfect security and joy on Christmas morning. I miss the mysterious Christmas hampers that used to arrive from nowhere, and the benevolent uncles who came from the ends of the earth, staggering under loads of riches, and arrived just in the nick of time to make suffering heroes and heroines happy.
Poor old clown and pantaloon, too, have gone, with their red-hot pokers and strings of sausages. And the waits are under the ban of the New Age. It is now the fashion to sneer at the waits—and in some cases even to greet them with active hostility. Last Christmas four of these pathetic survivals of a bygone day were actually hauled before a magistrate for singing and playing instruments with the object of gathering alms ! What would our dear old grandfathers have thought of that ?
The magistrate, however, after hearing these slighted performers warble, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” to a cornet and fiddle accompaniment, honorably acquitted them with his compliments, and a Christmas box. And I hope that the kind old gentleman enjoyed a particularly merry Christmas.
I confess with shameless assurance that I
like the waits. When at 3 a.in., they issue the summons, “Christians, awake!” I obediently do so, I assuredly harbor no resentment against them for arousing me. On the contrary, their visitation diffuses a genial glow of satisfaction throughout my being : for, nestling comfortably among the blankets, I chuckle to think how much pleasanter their performance is for me inside than for them outside.
I would much rather be in bed at 3 a.m. on a cold, raw, dark, foggy December m o r 11 ing' than standing out there in the road with cold nose and frozen fi ngers, blowing a cornet or fiddling “The Mistletoe Bough” in order to earn a n honest sixpence.
There i s s o m e t hing very Christin a s s y in “The Mistletoe Bough”
—that old familiar tune,
“stretched measure of an antique song.” It is undeniably doleful, but it awakens echoes of old Christmases and memories of old friends. And when their music is done and they have tramped off into the darkness I am grateful to the waits for giving me a more exquisite pleasure still—the fresh settling down to sleep. I know of no greater luxury than to wake up
in the middle of the night in winter, to enjoy the consciousness of warmth and repose, and then to sink oft" blissfully again to sleep.
And however bitterly the twentieth century may sneer at the Christmas waits they are far preferable to those other Christmas waits that you get in excursion trains.
Our cynics tell us that Christmas cards also have lost their charm and become a mere hol1 o w convention, but this, too, I deny. Most people live lives too crowded and busy to keep up correspon d e n c e with their
di u m e rous friends: and the Christmas card flashes brightly across the silence like a ray of sunshine in a shady place. It says to the distant friend, “You see, although I don’t write I haven’t forgotten you.”
Some people of grimly practical mind declare that the wish, “A Happ y Christmas,” whether conveyed by oral greeting or by card, can really make no difference to yaur happiness. But I affirm that it does make a difference. This can easily be demonstrated by taking the negative view. Suppose everybody carefully refrained from uttering a seasonable compliment, and not a single soul wished us a Happy Christmas.
Again, it is affirmed that scarcely anybody reads the verses on Christmas cards. People, we are assured,
have grown so accustomed to all the familiar wishes and poetical sentiments, that they are "taken as read."
This may be so. though I don’t admit it. But perhaps a concession to the critical spirit might be made. This is an age of alert intelligence— of keen eagerness to acquire instructive facts and useful knowledge in the briefest form ; and it might propitiate the sneering objectors to Christmas cards if something useful were embodied in them—something that tvould plead for their continuance on the ground of stern utility. For example, the inscription might run :
May Christmas Day be Glad and bright,
And fill your Heart with Pure Delight.
A Bar of Iron worth £i,
\\ orked into Horseshoes is worth £2.
This would be pleasing and informative to the recipient. And edification might be imparted on Christmas morning by this:
May Richest Christmas Toys be Thine.
To Remove Grease Spots,
And Renovate an old Silk Hat,
Rub well with Beer on a Soft Linen Rag.
There are great possibilities in this idea. But, on the whole, I incline to the belief that the sentimental will still prevail over the matter-offact, and that we shall unrepentantly continue to follow the good oldfashion.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.