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4. “The Compliments of the Season.”

WHAT an impotent, impudent sham—what a dreary humbug—an Australian Christmas is! Mercury at eversomuch, pink bonnets and white jackets; red dust macadamising your throat, and tickling your nostrils like cayenne, when the wind blows; black leaves hanging grim and silent as undertaker's mutes in the scorching sunlight, when the breeze is dead; myriads of locusts rattling away like shipwrights' hammers on an iron steamer; indoor festivals at which the guests, in spite of open windows and illegitimate shirt sleeves, look brown and oleaginous as the uneatable roast beef; outdoor gatherings—picnics, forsooth—for the consumption of cold fowl, champagne, and strawberry ice. That Christmas! Bosh!

Oh, for a good old English Christmas Week, in rural places and pre-railway times! The “up” coaches feathered with game and turkeys; the “down” coaches bright as sunlit greenhouses with a broad smile of uncaged schoolboys, puffing out their cheeks like mischievous cherubs as they salute every one they pass with a hailstorm from their pea-shooters; the mellowed anticipatory mirth of Christmas Eve—to Christmas night what silver is to gold; the jubilant bells breaking out at midnight—sweet yet startling, like angel-voices long ago in Palestine—to herald Christmas in; the peep out on Christmas morning, through the arabesques of the frosted pane, upon the pure, peaceful hush of snow for many a mile: on cottage-roofs, ruffed round with icicles; in cottage-gardens, printed with the fanlike footmarks of the hunger-tamed, brown birds—black from their contrast with its spotless white; wrapping the old church-tower in its thousandth winter-robe, powdering its polished ivy-leaves, shrouding the swelling graves; gathered in deep drifts in ditches; burying the bending hedges; turning the sliced haystacks into monster twelfth-cakes; stretching far as the eye can reach over the now unfamiliar-looking fields.

The “merry, merry bells of Yule” peal through the little village over its circling meadows, and from the hamlet homes, and the outlying farms, men, women, and children troop merrily to church: grayheaded patriarchs,


  ― 118 ―
grandames in scarlet cloaks; stout yeomen in top boots, matrons with broad, sunny faces that typify their hearts; rustic belles, with cheeks redder than their ribbons; rustic beaux, sheepish, large-fisted, and sleek-haired; less pretentious ploughmen in Jim Crows, green smocks, and leather leggings; bullet-headed little boys, roguish and loud; curly-pated little girls, demure and silent.

And then the hearty greetings from young and old and rich and poor (once a year, at all events, brotherly and gay) as one walks briskly up the churchyard path; the happy family-clusters in the crowded pews—scattered at other times, but households once again in this uniting season; the freshness of the service on this the birthday of its Founder; the pleasant sameness of the old vicar's old Christmas sermon—to his old parishioners, a thirty-years familiar friend; the joyous Christmas dinner, with its mountainous supply of utile and dulce, and their most business-like consumption (languid, beggarly picnics, indeed!); the country dances, forfeits, hunt-the-slipper; the kisses snatched from coy and yet not unwilling maidens beneath the mistletoe (which too soon, alas! hangs berryless); the roasted chestnuts, punch, and ghost-stories before the blazing fire; the closing frolic, crowning supper, and valedictory hot elderberry wine— that's what I call Christmas!

“A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!”—how the old greeting awakens memories of similar good wishes, from other lips, in other lands: from those lips, in the dear old familiar places, perchance, never to be heard again! Heimweh casts a sad shade on Christmas festivities in this part of the world. Their warmth to many a one is thermometrical alone. Watching family-gatherings—like Charles Lamb's friend at Mackerey End, the only one who had no cousin there—the stranger feels more than ever strange. His Christmas Tide is hardly “merry.”

And what of his New Year? as, on the last night of the old, he sits listening in his solitude to the ticking of the clock—solemn at such a time as the audible beating of a dying heart—in throngs

The Beloved, the True-hearted,
Come to visit him once more:

those from whom he is severed by the ocean, and those between whom and him there spreads that wider, sailless sea. Phantoms of vanished joys arise; old sorrows, too, long cherished sacredly in the soul's secret places; and bitterly he feels that now there is none to share with him his pleasure or his pain. “A Happy New Year”—however goodnaturedly uttered—seems but a mockery to a lonely heart.




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But enough of this. Christmas, after all, everywhere teaches the same lesson of the charity that thinks no ill, of world-wide love. One Janus-glance backwards may be allowed in January; but the god had a second face, and, like it, we, too, ought to look bravely on the future.

As the household, forgetting the day's troubles and forgiving all its little wrongs, meet in the evening in a cheerful circle round the hearth of Home—Demophoon-like, deriving purity and strength from its golden blaze,—so should the whole Christian family close the year with a like sanctifying, animating glee—cleansed from the soils of the old year at its concluding festival—casting off old spites, and pettinesses, and impurities as a rescued beggar sloughs his squalid rags—we should step hopefully over the threshold of the new, and uncomplaining enter on its toils.

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