IT IS the evening tide
of December 24th, 1837—the year in which "Victoria the Good" came to
the British throne. It is Sunday evening; the morrow is Christmas,
and some preparation must be made for its due observance. But first
And so all gather
around the ingle - father, mother and children. But why should this
scene of joyful anticipation of things to come be mingled with alloy
of sadness. Mark the tear that trickles down the furrowed cheek of
her who with maternal pride looks on the seven who will some day
rise up and call her blessed? Ah! One is not, and this is a broken
circle that now foregathers around the hearth stone. The mother's
eyes rest on the vacant chair. But the Comforter whispers softly—"He
is not dead! He fell asleep in Jesus, breathing sweetly—"Praise the
And now the husband
and father takes the book wherein is record of births and deaths on
the pages provided for this purpose between the Old Testament and
"And `Let us worship
God' he says with solemn air.
They chant their notes with simple guise;
And tune their hearts, by far the noblest aim."
Then turning to the
Gospel of Luke he reads the story of how Jesus, taking our nature,
was born in a manger, and how the Shepherds, while watching their
flocks by night, were visited by an angel sent by God. Supposing
that he was a messenger of evil, the shepherds were alarmed, but he
spoke to them in kindly words—"Fear not; for I bring you good
tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is
born this day in the city of David a Saviour who is Christ the
Lord." Then, suddenly, there appeared a heavenly host praising God
and saying—"Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good
will toward men."
The father now
briefly narrates the death of Jesus:
"How guiltless blood
for guilty man was shed;
He who bore in heaven the second name
Had not on earth whereon to lay his head."
Then, on bended knee,
they close the service with thanksgiving to the Father God in heaven
for His wondrous love manifested in the gift of His Son Christ the
Saviour and in supplication for that other Comforter to guide them
into all truth, and to the better land.
Then follows brief
converse and questioning on that wonderful digest of Bible truth
which tells us "what we are to believe concerning God and what
duties God requires of man."
It may be interesting
to know that the edition of this catechism most favored by the young
learner was that old time square page pamphlet known as "The New
England Primer." In these days this memorable booklet is seldom
seen, and its face and make up are almost forgotten. Probably
prepared as a First Reader, it began with the alphabet, followed by
the a b abs and the b a bas; and then by the capitals, each letter
having a quaint picture illustrative of a riming couplet. For
example with A, B and C we find the following:
A In Adam's fall
We sin-ned all.
B My Book and Heart
Shall never part.
C The Cat doth play
And after slay.
And so on to Z which
is honored with a triplet,
Z Zaccheus he
Did climb the tree
His Lord to see.
Then followed a
Catechism for very young people, as
Who was the first
Who was the first woman?
Where did Adam and Eve dwell?
Other contents were
"The Lord's Prayer." "Now I lay me down to sleep," "The Apostle's
Creed," "John Rogers, the First Martyr in Queen Mary's Reign," "The
Shorter Catechism," "Dialogue between Christ, Youth and the Devil."
All hearts are now
overflowing with cheer, and ready hands make preparation for the
great Christmas Holiday. Notably must be put in place the Christmas
back-log—the largest and chief foundation of the roaring fire on
whose efficiency depends the most important elements of the
Christmas dinner. Putting in the back-log usually made some stir as
well as some smoke in the kitchen. The half-consumed sticks were
removed from the fire-place, the andirons were set aside, and the
ashes were drawn forward. The log was then rolled into proper
position hard to the rear, and the smaller sticks, beginning with
the brands and the kindling, were built up in front with proper
adjustment on the replaced andirons. The smoke clears away and order
is restored. Meanwhile others had twisted a long cord from the
coarser fibres of home-grown flax, for suspending the Christmas
roast before the fire on the morrow. And now the stockings were hung
up, and the hour had come when Santa Claus had sole right of way. So
old and young seek repose in balmy sleep.
This is Christmas!
Cheery voices ring through the house—"Merry Christmas! Merry
Christmas!" But what about Santa Claus? Did he come?" Yes! Yes! Good
old fellow!" What followed, you, my reader, can easily guess.
When breakfast was
over immediate attention is given to the piece de resistance.
Whatever it may be—turkey, goose, cut of beef, or perchance, young
pig,—attached to one end of the flaxen cord, the other end of which
is tied to a large beam immediately over the hearth, it is suspended
in front of the fire. That the process of cooking may go on evenly
on all sides, the roast must be kept ever on the whirl, bringing all
parts in turn to the direct rays of heat. The impetus for this
circular movement is given by some person in constant attendance.
Then to avoid catastrophe—that is to keep the cord from being
untwisted and falling to pieces with consequent disaster to the
roast, the whirling must be now in the direction of the hop vine and
now in that of the scarlet runner. Thus goes on apace the roast and
the varied accompaniments.
Meanwhile we shall
leave this essential feature of a "Merry Christmas" to the cook and
take in a side show with the boys.
rebellion of 1837-8 was then at the climax. The small boys of the
family had been interested in the progress of the story as it had
been told in the columns of that pioneer Halifax newspaper the
Acadian Recorder, whose old time face, peculiar folding and crooked
head-lettering made on the youthful mind a picture never to be
Well, these same boys
were intensely loyal—almost too much so. Having little knowledge of
aristocratic tory government by "The Family Compact" of that day,
which had given rise to the rebellion, they held in bitter
execration the rebels Papineau and MacKenzie. And so from blocks of
wood they had fashioned in effigy these leaders in the forefront of
the popular movement—rebellion or reform, one may call it, according
to the point of view from which it is regarded. The boys called it
high treason. In this judgment the court agreed, and the traitors
against country and Crown were sentenced to be hanged between the
hours of 9 and 10 on Christmas morning. The execution was now
carried out in due form,—Papineau and MacKenzie were hanged from a
projecting log in the wood pile. A characteristic of such events,
however, was lacking—there was no thronging of the streets by a
concourse of people from far and near to witness the event.
In the evening
interest centered around the parlor hearth. Pater familias tells the
oft repeated story of his early exploits while home-making was going
on in the forest—which even then was so near that the voice of the
hooting owl could often be heard at the twilight hour when he
awakened from his all day sleep. The story was told of the first
clearing in the forest, of the wigwam near the brook, of the stone
heap on which the bed of fir boughs was made, of exploits in hunting
the bears that killed the sheep and of the foxes that came to the
very door to prey on the poultry. Nor did the tale forget to
describe the piling frolic and the jovial scene that followed it in
the evening after the work was done. Or it may be that the evening
was prolonged by tales of ghosts and apparitions until every shadow
on the wall seemed to be a visitor from the spirit world.
The most sacred spot
in all the house was the hearth. In our homes of the present day we
seldom have such a place, nor if we had, do we know what it meant to
those who preceded us in the long ago. There is in this profane age
of ours no holy place—all places being alike common. There is no
central spot around which to form the family circle, where under the
inspiration of the gloaming, we rehearse old time legends, while the
dancing shadows on the wall behind us keep time with the flickering
light gleaming from the open fire. What fondly cherished memories
have some of us of such a circle with its beautiful picture of
father, mother, brothers and sisters of varied age and stature—a
circle as yet unbroken by the relentless hand that severs
affection's strongest bonds. In the present day we are so engrossed
by concerns that appeal to sense that we scarcely believe there is a
spirit world or a never ending hereafter.
In fancy we still
hear the outside driving wind, the drifting snow and the rattling
hail against the window pane, by contrast emphasizing the comfort,
the peace, the joy within, as yet untouched by forecast of rift.
The family to-day
consists of disjecta membra—scattered members, one here,
another there, so that the very term "family circle" is itself a
relic of the past age. With the old Romans the hearth was the shrine
where dwelt the penates and the lares—the household gods—spirits of
departed ancestors who lingered around the home, keeping guard over
its inmates from generation to generation. Why should it not be so?
Is this thought too strange for you? Shall we say that such a
sentiment is a mere idle fancy or superstition of ill-balanced
minds? Why may we not believe that the spirits of our departed dear
ones, though they speak to us in no voice audible to the fleshly
ear, appear to us in no form visible to the eye of sense, yet love
to linger around the home they once inhabited, watching over and
guarding those who now occupy these homes? If you cannot sympathize
with such a thought, allow those of keener apprehension, to whom God
whispers in the ear to cherish the thought that the dear ones with
whom they once held sweet converse and fellowship are still near
them as God's messengers sent forth to minister to them in times of
joy and of sorrow, seeming to say:
"There is no death! An angel form
Walks through the earth with silent tread;
He bears our best loved things away,
And then we call them dead.
"And ever near us, though unseen,
The dear immortal spirits tread;
For all the boundless universe
Is life:—There is no dead!"