“Christmas Eve” (from the Richmond Whig [Richmond, Virginia] 24 December 1869; p. 2.)
The preparations for Christmas are completed to-day, and a busy time it will be to old and young. All the stores and shops that provide toys, cakes, candies, rhyme books and the various nick-nacks, as well as those that supply wines, liquors and cordials, will be thronged by crowds. The hunt for Christmas presents and supplies will commence early in the day and continue until late at night. Festivities and religious observances, strangely enough mated, will begin to-night. To-night stockings will be hung up in numberless houses to receive from Santa Claus, or Kris-Kringle, as he is variously called, the presents he is, by a very pleasing fiction, supposed to bring to the young people. How those little hearts will be all of a flutter when they retire to-night and arise in the morning! Churches will be dressed with evergreens to-day, and Christmas trees will be provided in many families. The tradiiton is that CHRIST was born about the middle of the night, hence the custom in Catholic churches of ushering in Christmas day by the celebration of three masses, one at midnight, one at early dawn, and the other in the morning. As the celebration of Christmas begins to-night, it may not be out of place to introduce Sir WALTER SCOTT’s famous lines as applicable to the occasion. They are from Marmion:
Heap on more wood! The wind is chill;
But let it whistle as it will
We’ll keep our Christmas merry still!
Each age has deemed the new-born year
The fittest time for festal cheer;
E’en heathen York, the savage Dane
At Jol more deep the mead did drain,
High on the beach his galleys drew,
And feasted all his pirate crew;
Then in his low and pine built hall
Where shields and axes decked the wall
They gorged upon the half-dressed steer,
Caroused in seas of sable beer,
While round in brutal jest were thrown
The half-gnawed rib and marrow bone,
Or listened all in grim delight
While scalds yell’d out the joys of fight.
* * * * * * * *
And well our Christian Sires of old,
Loved when the year its course had rolled,
And brought blithe Christmas back again,
With all his hospitable train.
Domestic and religious rite
Gave honor to the holy night:
On Christian-eve the bells were rung;
On Christmas-eve the mass was sung:
That only night in all the year
Saw the stoled priest the chalice rear.
The damsel donned her kirtle sheen:
The hall was dressed with holly green:
Forth to the wood did merry men go
To gather in the mistletoe.
Then opened wide the Baron’s hall
To vassal, tenant, serf and all;
Power laid his rod of rule aside
And ceremony doffed her pride.
The heir, with roses in his shoes
That night might village partner choose;
The lord underogating share
The vulgar game of “post and pair.”
All hailed with uncontroll’d delight
And general voice the happy night
That to the cottage and the crown
Brought tidings of salvation down.
The fire with well-dressed logs supplied,
Went roaring up the chimney wide;
The huge hall-table’s oaken face
Scrubb’d till it shone, the day to grace,
Bore then upon its massive board
No mark to part the squire and lord.
Then was brought in the lusty brawn
By old blue-coated serving man;
Then the grim boar’s head frowned on high,
Crested with bays and rosemary.
What dogs before his death he tore,
And all the baiting of the boar,
The wassail round, in good brown bowls,
Garnished with ribbands, blithely trowls.
There the huge sirloin reeked; hard by
Plum porridge stand and Christmas pie;
Nor failed old Scotland to produce
At such high time her savory goose.
Then came the merry maskers in,
And carols roar’d with blithesome din.
Who lists may in their mummery see
Traces of ancient mystery;
White shirts supplied the masquerade,
And smutted cheeks the visors made.
England was merry England, when
Old Christmas brought his sports again;
’Twas Christmas broached the mightiest ale;
’Twas Christmas told the merriest tale;
A Christmas gambol oft would cheer
The poor man’s heart through half the year.
The occasion would not be properly honored were we to omit that delightful inspiration for which our young people are indebted to a son of the venerated and beloved Bishop MOORE, who for so many years presided over the Episcopal Church of Virginia.
’Twas the night before Christmas, when, all thro’ the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nested all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced through their heads;
And mamma in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter;
Away to the window I flew like a flash
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled and shouted, and called them by name—
“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer! now, Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Dunder and Blixen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now, dash away, dash away, dash away all![”]
As the leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys and St. Nicholas too;
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot!
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedlar just opening his pack;
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And his beard on his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
He was chubby and plump; a right jolly old elf;
And I laughed, when I saw him, in spite of myself.
A wink of his eye, and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
he spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings—then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle;
But I heard him exclaim, as he drove out of sight,
“HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, AND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT!”