Last week, we all had a little fun with “Sketches by Boz”; but with the intention of making this a more regular sort of thing, we shall dub this adventurous process: “The Easy Chair Excerpts.” Brought to you from: my easy chair.
Up today is “A March Christmas,” which has come to stand on its own as a favorite short story for the holidays, but which is actually the first segment of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.
Now, this is a story about four sisters celebrating Christmas with their mother, who is working hard to support them while their father is off in the army. There isn’t enough money for extravagances; and the girls are far from happy about it. Poor li’l munchkins 😦
“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
“It’s so dreadful to be poor,” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.
“I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,” added little Amy, with an injured sniff.
. . . “You know the reason Mother proposed not having any presents this Christmas was because it is going to be a hard winter for everyone; and she thinks we ought not to spend money for pleasure, when our men are suffering so in the army. We can’t do much, but we can make our small sacrifices, and ought to do it gladly. But I am afraid I don’t”; and Meg shook her head, as she thought regretfully of all the pretty things she wanted.
“But I don’t think the little we should spend would do any good. We’ve each got a dollar, and the army wouldn’t be much helped by our giving that . . . Mother didn’t say anything about our money, and she won’t wish us to give up everything. Let’s each buy what we want, and have a little fun . . .” cried Jo.
And so, each of the girls resolves to buy herself a present with her dollar. But then — da da DAAA! — they notice their mother’s worn-out slippers; and bless their pretty hearts, they start fighting over who’s going to get to buy her a new pair!
But they come up with a solution. One girl will buy the slippers; and the other three will buy Marmee something else that’s new and lovely. So there goes the stuff they were going to buy for themselves! But they seem to make their resolution with willing hearts.
All except for Amy, that is. She says, “I’ll get a little bottle of cologne; she likes it, and it won’t cost much, so I’ll have some left to buy my pencils.”
Oops. I think Amy left her Christmas spirit in the pocket of her other jumper.
But then — on Christmas morning, Amy disappears for a while before her mother comes in; and when she returns, she says to her sisters, “I only meant to change the little bottle for a big one, and I gave all my money to get it, and I’m truly trying not to be selfish anymore . . . You see I felt ashamed of my present, after reading and talking about being good this morning, so I ran round the corner and changed it the minute I was up: and I’m so glad, for mine is the handsomest now.”
Oh boy, Amy. Seems like you’ve still got a little vanity going on there. Ah, well — you meant well, and you’ve got a good little heart.
But then comes the “Christmas clincher.” The girls all sacrificed their own gifts so that they could buy beautiful things for their mother; but still, they thought that they’d at least have a hot, delicious Christmas breakfast to look forward to.
Nope. Because then Marmee comes home, and says: “Not far away from here lies a poor woman with a little newborn baby. Six children are huddled into one bed to keep from freezing, for they have no fire. There is nothing to eat over there; and the oldest boy came to tell me they were suffering from hunger and cold. My girls, will you give them your breakfast as a Christmas present?”
They were all unusually hungry, having waited nearly an hour, and for a minute no one spoke; only a minute, for Jo exclaimed impetuously, —
“I’m so glad you came before we began!”
So “die Engel-kinder” (or, the angel children, as the poor little cold and hungry German waifs call them) set out with their breakfast, and give it all away. Then they come back home, and eat lousy bread and milk.
When I read that, I thought: “I’d be gosh-darned if I gave MY Christmas breakfast to some hungry little German children!”
But then I realized that Jesus probably didn’t like that very much. And considering what HE gave away (a lot more than a lousy breakfast), I began to think I didn’t have a right to be so stingy. I guess that’s what the March girls thought, too!
Ah, well. I still hope no one shows up at my door on Christmas morning to ask for my breakfast.