One day, during the last Christmas rush, I overheard a little ragged boy say to his baby sister as they stood gazing hungrily at the big show window of a toy shop, "How I wish I could get that dollie for you, sister. You know you never had a dollie. I do wish I had money to get that one."
One of the most pathetic things in life, one which has often made my heart bleed during Christmas time is to see poor ragged children like these little ones, looking so longingly into the gaily dressed shop windows at the dolls and toys and other beautiful things, the like of which they never had in their lives. What a wonderful time they would have; how happy they think they would be if they only had the money to buy some of these wonderful things! But with the wisdom which comes prematurely to the children of the poor, they resign themselves to the consciousness that they never can have them.
Not less pathetic than the children are the mothers who vainly long to brighten Christmas for their little ones with the gifts their child-hearts crave. When I see poor women who are obliged to leave their children at home and go out washing or scrubbing floors, standing with their scrubbing pails on their arms looking so longingly at the Christmas show windows, I can read their thoughts. How they long to take some of those things home to their loved ones, things which they know that though they should scrub their fingers to the bone their children will never have. Yet how eagerly they look at the pretty clothing, the dolls, the toys, the things which they see other children have, but which are forever denied to their children, who are just as precious to them as the better-to-do children are to their mothers.
We are all looking into the show windows of life, longing to get the beautiful things we see displayed there, the things which will delight, which will add to our joy and happiness. And those of us who enjoy an abundance of the good things find it hard to deny ourselves, especially at Christmas time when all purse-strings are loosened, any of the superfluous things we desire. All sorts of temptations are constantly besieging us during the holiday season to buy things for ourselves and for others which we do not need. Here is where the right sort of Christmas giving will do a double service. The very learning to say "No" to selfish desires, the denying ourselves the things we long for, but can do without, helps build a strong, beautiful character.
To refrain from burdening well-to-do people with a lot of gimcrack things which are of no earthly use to any one, and to give the money which is usually expended on these things where it is really needed, would be to give in the spirit of Him whose nativity we commemorate.
Dorothy Dix, one Christmas, told of a young man who showed her a couple of hundred of silly presents he had received from girls, "and who," she said, "after sadly inquiring of me what I supposed most of the things were intended for, remarked: 'Gee! I'd trade the whole lot off for one good pair of socks.' "
How many men and women find themselves in a similar position after Christmas. And how gladly they would throw the stuff in the ash-barrel were it not for the fear of offending their friends. In how many homes do we see these Christmas presents, which are neither useful nor ornamental, lying about cluttering table and mantelpiece, always in the way. The recipients do not dare to throw them away or put them out of sight for fear those who gave them might notice, and think they were not appreciated.
What is the sense of spending money and time in embarrassing well-to-do-people with useless stuff of this sort, when both might be expended in doing real good? This year when once happy and prosperous people in war-devastated Europe are starving and looking to America for help in their awful need, waste of any sort is a crime. It is our privilege to be able to give, to give generously in response to any appeal for help, but in our giving let us not forget the little ragged children and the poor mothers, even in prosperous America, who are looking longingly at the Christmas show windows for the things they ought to have, but cannot themselves buy.
In almost every home there are discarded dolls and toys, outgrown articles of clothing, pictures, books, all sorts of things which are no longer needed, or used by the family, but which would make many a poor mother and many a little child happy this Christmas time.
The time is coming when we shall have uprooted from our economic system the evils that make poverty and misery in this beautiful world; when no one need be poor but through his own fault. But until that happy time arrives, no one is excused from doing his part in hastening its coming, or from his daily responsibility in helping to bear his brother's burdens.
To have and not to give, or to give stingily, grudgingly, or only to those from whom we expect something in return, is to be outside the pale of Christian brotherhood. It is to know nothing of the Christ spirit; it is to be contemptible. Emerson says, "He is base - and that is the only base thing in the universe - to receive favors and render none. In the order of nature we cannot render benefits to those from whom we receive them, or only seldom. But the benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent, to somebody. Beware of too much good staying in your hand. It will fast corrupt and worm worms. Put it away quickly in some sort."
The world war is loosening our heart and our purse-strings as never before, and we are finding ourselves all the richer for it. In the broadening of our sympathies, and the opening of the door of narrow self-centered lives into wider interests and world fellowship with all who are suffering, we are learning the truth of Christ's "It is more blessed to give than to receive."
Perhaps you feel rather poor this year on account of the high cost of living, and the many war funds to which duty compelled you to contribute, and have been thinking of cutting down on your Christmas presents. By all means, let us all cut out the presents that we were wont to give in the quid pro quo spirit. But let us not cut out the small gifts from which we expect no return, but which will make somebody happy.
Love, which is the essence of the Christmas spirit, always finds some way to serve.
A little girl who had only three pennies with which to buy a Christmas present for her grandmother was puzzling over what she could buy with so small a sum when a happy thought came to her. With one penny she bought a sheet of paper and an envelope, and with the other two a stamp, to carry a letter in which she said, "I have no gift to send you, dear grandma, but I love you, love you, love you, and here are a hundred kisses for you." Among the many remembrances which that grandmother received, it is said that this childish letter was the only one which she cried over, and locked up with her dead baby's curl of hair and one or two other priceless things.
I know a very poor woman who has nothing to give in the way of material presents, but who does more good according to her means than anyone else I know of. She makes a point of going about among poor people before Christmas, trying to cheer up and comfort the cripples, the unfortunate, the sick and discouraged, all those who are in trouble. She gives such a wealth of love, of sympathy, of encouragement, of sunshine, of good cheer, that they feel richer after she has visited them than many dollars' worth of material gifts would have made them. Mere things are cold and unsympathetic in comparison with what this poor woman gives them.
No one is so poor that he cannot give something. Where love is there is always something to give, for "love never faileth." But where love is not, where the Christ spirit is absent, there is poverty, indeed.
"Though Christ a thousand times In Bethlehem be born,
If He's not born in thee,
Thy soul is all forlorn"