WOMEN AND THEIR WORK

The New Spirit of Christmas

December 1 1917
WOMEN AND THEIR WORK

The New Spirit of Christmas

December 1 1917

The New Spirit of Christmas

WOMEN AND THEIR WORK

THE road to the drab little town in the sheeplands was rough to the feet, the chill and dark of early winter settled in damply and the woman came with weariness and anxiety to the door of the tavern. The man who was with her made some earnest explanation to the landlord, but the landlord was unmoved. “The house is full, but you might make a place in the stable,” he said. So Mary had a manger for the hour of her maternity. A star travelled overhead and touched the straw litter of the shed with gold, and rested above the young Child and His mother, but few people saw it; there was no noisy celebration. We have devised many ways of keeping the day since, but the spirit of the first Christmas was sacrifice.

It is well for us to remember that, this year, when many a woman wishes the day would hurry over, we have become so accustomed to Christmas as a time of reunions, of gathering about fires, of reviving old myths and playing over old traditions, and the loneliness and anxiety of the times seem as unnatural as they are cruel.

Perhaps, after all, we have been getting away from the spirit of the day as it was in the beginning. We have been too comfortable all along to look far beneath the surface of things; we are too comfortable even yet, to forget our personal losses in the larger suffering.

“The women of France are wonderful,” the Relief Commissioner tells us, “the Belgian women are divine.

Both smile and their heads are high, and there is not an empty face anywhere.

You are wrong who think they want pity. They do not admit surrender—no, never—not even where the country has suffered the worst from an invading soldiery. Frequently the father and grown sons of a family have all been killed, but there are still the children and crippled and old people to care for

and there is the driving necessity of trying to wrest from the depleted soil enough food to keep starvation at bay.

In England the women are as brave according to their necessity. A visitor tells of one charming home in southern England with all the characteristic refinement and simplicity of the English country home, where six years ago the children were being given every possible advantage that a moderate income could afford. At that time the boys were at home from school on a visit, two manly little chaps with splendid possibilities ahead of them. This year the visitor went back. The dining-room blinds were open. The mother sat at the head of the table dressed in black. The elder daughter was putting on the supper of bread and milk. She moved slowly; perhaps she was

tired after a day’s work in a munition factory, perhaps her heart was following her husband to whom she had been married only five days when he had to go back to the front. Servants were gone, and money. The father had fallen at Gallipoli. Two tablets in the village church told of the death of the two boys, who had been the pride of the family. The woman in black smiled at her daughters.

It seems that everywhere in Europe women have discovered the surprising thing that all happiness lies in service. What of things in Canada?

This year our soldiers will be spending Christmas in the mud of front line trenches, in damp dugouts and musty cellars. When they eagerly unwrap a newspaper to get the news from home and read of political dallying, of profiteering and luke-warm patriotism, they must have some doubts as to whether the game is worth while. It might be safe to say that more than one will long for a bullet to end it all. Everyone knows that not the least of the after-thewar “problems” will be the bitterness of the men who have lived through its tortures while others were indifferent. A year ago women could have said, “We had no part in passing this measure or permitting the neglect of that; they never asked us what we thought.” This excuse has no meaning now. It has been claimed that when women were allowed to vote a new human element would come into the national viewpoint, yet we find women glibly pledging themselves to a party without any very serious consideration of principles. The big world movie is making its pictures fast. You don’t grasp the meaning of one until another more puzzling crops up, but the world was never before in such need of people with a clear vision and the courage to follow it.

In other years these were not relevant subjects Continued on page 115.

The New Spirit of Christmas

Continued from'page 111.

for Christmas time — there were sumptuous dinners and mistletoe, escapades and gay entertainments in keeping with the season, or with what we thought the season meant. We had lost its real symbolism, we had forgotten the majes-

tic simplicity of the birth in the Bethlehem stable, just as even now, being removed from the actual suffering and horror of war, something of the spectacular in the new “war activities” of women catches the popular fancy. In the stricken countries of Europe the women do anything as a matter of course. No one cavils over whether it will spoil their femininity. In England five million women of every class have taken the place of as many men in the country’s industries. In France the women who drive motor ambulances and help with the wounded, go unconcernedly about in their khaki coats and trousers. They are ; doing a necessary thing as well as they I can and they have forgotten about themselves. Before the war is over more women in this country will be doing what has always been considered men’s work. If they can do it with the naturalness and sincerity of the Red Cross sisters it will make them more than ever women.

Then there are the women who are making certain little corners of the world restful and safe for men and children. When the homes of a nation go under, the nation is well on its way to defeat. It is also to the homes of the world that men go to recover from its battles. The business of home-keeping was never so important as it is now, nor ever so hard, nor so promising. There was a time when even the fairly sensible parents in homes of refinement believed it was a good thing ‘ for a girl to be brought up to know how to work, but they hoped for a degree of prosperity which would never make it necessary. Now the cooks and maids and nurses that we were depending on for the future are working in the fields and factories of Europe. It should be a good thing for Canadian homes; it means that the finest brains and breeding in the land will actually take charge of the kitchens, that women with education and character and personality will spend much of their ! time with their children, that they will be proud of their cooking, of the simple artistic beauty of their homes.

We have not been spared a knowledge of the more sordid evils incident to war conditions, and when we look back to the first Christmas and think of the sacrifice and the purpose of it, no wonder our vision blurs and we wonder what has come of it all. It is in stray glimpses from the men themselves that we see the purpose still shining. Perhaps no one has explained it more clearly than Lieut. Kettle in a poem, ‘“To My Daughter Betty, The Gift of Love,” written a few days before he was killed in action at Ginchy. Betty was one of the war babies; her father had never seen her, but if Betty should live long enough to learn that the war was all a mistake she will still know that her father was right. He said:

“In wiser days my darling rosebud grown

To beauty proud as was your mother’s prime,

In that desired, delayed, incredible time

You’ll ask why I abandoned you, my

And that dear breast which was your baby’s throne

To dice with death. And oh, they’ll give you rhyme

And reason. One will call the things sublime

And one decry it in a knowing tone.

But here where the mad guns curse over-

And tired men sigh, with mud for couch and floor,

Know that we fools, now with the foolish

Died not for king or flag or emperor,

But for a dream born in a herdsman’s

And for the secret scripture of the poor.”