All festival occasions, when rightly used, have a unifying effect upon the family, neighborhood, Sunday-school, church, state, or nation, in that they direct all minds, for the time being, away from self, and in one direction, toward one central thought. The family festivals are an enormous power in the hands of the mother who knows how to use them aright. By means of the birthday anniversaries, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and above all, Christmas, she can direct her children’s activities into channels of unselfish endeavor.
Of all festivals of the year the Christmas festival is perhaps the least understood, that is, if one is to judge by the manner in which the day is generally observed. Why do we celebrate Christmas? What are we celebrating? Is it not the greatest manifestation of love, unselfish love, that has ever been revealed to man? And how, as a rule, are children taught to observe it? Usually by expecting an undue amount of attention, an unlimited amount of injudicious feeding, and a selfish exaction of unneeded presents; thus egotism, greed, and selfishness are fostered, where love, generosity, and self-denial should be exercised.
The Christmas season is the season in which the joy of giving should be so much greater than that of receiving, that the child, through his own experiences, is prepared somewhat to comprehend that great truth, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.”
For weeks beforehand the mother can lay her plans by means of which each child in the family may be led to make something, or may do without something, or may earn money for the purchase of something, which is to add to his Christmas joy by enabling him to give to those he loves, and also to some less fortunate child who, but for his thoughtfulness, would be without any Christmas “cheer.” In this endeavor, of course, the mother must join with heart and soul, else the giving is liable to become a mere formal fulfillment of a taxing obligation.
Little children, when rightly dealt with, enjoy putting themselves into the preparations with which they are to surprise and please others fully as much, if not more, than they enjoy receiving presents. So near as yet are they to the hand of God that unselfish love is an easy thing to inculcate. Let me contrast two preparations for Christmas which have passed under my own eye. In the first case I chanced to be in one of those crowded toy-shops where hurried, tired women are trying to fill out their lists of supposed obligations for the Christmas season. All was confusion and haste, impatience, and more or less ill-humor. My attention was directed towards a handsomely dressed mother, leading by the hand an over-dressed little girl of about eight years of age. The tones of the woman’s voice struck like a discord through my soul. “Come on!” said she petulantly to the child who had stopped for a moment to admire some new toy. “Come on, we have to give her something and we may as well buy her a couple of dolls. They’ll be broken to pieces in three weeks’ time, but that’s no matter to us. Come on, I’ve no time to wait.” This last was accompanied by an impatient jerk of the loitering child’s arm. Thus what should have been the joy of Christmas-giving was made to that child a disagreeable, unwilling and useless expenditure of money. What part of the real Christmas spirit, the God spirit “which so loved the world,” could possibly come to a child from such a preparation for Christmas as this? Nor is it an unusual occurrence. Go into any of our large stores and shops just before Christmas and you will see scores of women checking off their lists in a way which shows the relief of having “one more present settled.” All the great, true, and beautiful spirit of Christmas joy is gone and a mere commercial transaction, oftentimes a vulgar display of wealth, has taken its place.
On the other hand, go with me into one of our quiet Kindergartens, where the sunshine without is rivaled by the sunshine within. See the white-aproned teacher seat herself and gather around her the group of eager children. Listen to the tones of her voice when she says, “Oh, children, children! You don’t know what a happy time I am going to let you have this Christmas! Just guess, each one of you, what we are going to do to make this the gladdest, brightest, happiest Christmas that ever was!” Look into the eager little faces anticipating a new joy, knowing from past experience that the joy means effort, endeavor, self-control, and self-denial; nevertheless, that it means happiness too. Listen to the eager questions and plans of the children. Some of them, alas, are showing their past training in selfishness, by their “You’re going to give each of us a present,” or “You’re going to have a party!” Then hear her gleeful answer, “No, guess again, it is better than that!—better even than that!” Then, after a pause, during which expectation stands on tiptoe, “I am going to let each one of you be a little Santa Claus. We are going to make not only mamma and papa happy, but also some dear little child who might not have a happy Christmas unless we gave one to him!” Listen, as I have listened, to the clapping of hands after such an announcement. Look at the light which comes into the eyes. Notice the eager look of interest upon each childish face as all seat themselves at the work-table and the plan of work is more definitely laid out. Go, as I have gone, morning after morning, and see these same children working patiently, earnestly, and continuously upon the little gifts which are to make Christmas happier for some one else. Will you then need to ask the question as to which is the truer way of celebrating the holy Christmas time? Not that I would have any mother deprived of the pleasure of giving to her children, any more than I would have her children robbed of their pleasure of giving to others. Let us be careful that our gifts are not gifts of useless profusion, of such articles as cultivate self-indulgence, vanity, or indolence. Gifts for children should be few and simple, such as are suggestive and will aid them in the future drawing out of their own inner thoughts or ideals. Above all let the joy of having given of his best to some one else be the chief thought of the glad Christmas time.