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Chapter 2

A CHRISTMAS DINNER

Christmas time! That man must be a misanthrope indeed, in whose
breast something like a jovial feeling is not roused--in whose mind
some pleasant associations are not awakened--by the recurrence of
Christmas. There are people who will tell you that Christmas is
not to them what it used to be; that each succeeding Christmas has
found some cherished hope, or happy prospect, of the year before,
dimmed or passed away; that the present only serves to remind them
of reduced circumstances and straitened incomes--of the feasts they
once bestowed on hollow friends, and of the cold looks that meet
them now, in adversity and misfortune. Never heed such dismal
reminiscences. There are few men who have lived long enough in the
world, who cannot call up such thoughts any day in the year. Then
do not select the merriest of the three hundred and sixty-five for
your doleful recollections, but draw your chair nearer the blazing
fire--fill the glass and send round the song--and if your room be
smaller than it was a dozen years ago, or if your glass be filled
with reeking punch, instead of sparkling wine, put a good face on
the matter, and empty it off-hand, and fill another, and troll off
the old ditty you used to sing, and thank God it's no worse. Look
on the merry faces of your children (if you have any) as they sit
round the fire. One little seat may be empty; one slight form that
gladdened the father's heart, and roused the mother's pride to look
upon, may not be there. Dwell not upon the past; think not that
one short year ago, the fair child now resolving into dust, sat
before you, with the bloom of health upon its cheek, and the gaiety
of infancy in its joyous eye. Reflect upon your present blessings-
-of which every man has many--not on your past misfortunes, of
which all men have some. Fill your glass again, with a merry face
and contented heart. Our life on it, but your Christmas shall be
merry, and your new year a happy one!

Who can be insensible to the outpourings of good feeling, and the
honest interchange of affectionate attachment, which abound at this
season of the year? A Christmas family-party! We know nothing in
nature more delightful! There seems a magic in the very name of
Christmas. Petty jealousies and discords are forgotten; social
feelings are awakened, in bosoms to which they have long been
strangers; father and son, or brother and sister, who have met and
passed with averted gaze, or a look of cold recognition, for months
before, proffer and return the cordial embrace, and bury their past
animosities in their present happiness. Kindly hearts that have
yearned towards each other, but have been withheld by false notions
of pride and self-dignity, are again reunited, and all is kindness
and benevolence! Would that Christmas lasted the whole year
through (as it ought), and that the prejudices and passions which
deform our better nature, were never called into action among those
to whom they should ever be strangers!

The Christmas family-party that we mean, is not a mere assemblage
of relations, got up at a week or two's notice, originating this
year, having no family precedent in the last, and not likely to be
repeated in the next. No. It is an annual gathering of all the
accessible members of the family, young or old, rich or poor; and
all the children look forward to it, for two months beforehand, in
a fever of anticipation. Formerly, it was held at grandpapa's; but
grandpapa getting old, and grandmamma getting old too, and rather
infirm, they have given up house-keeping, and domesticated
themselves with uncle George; so, the party always takes place at
uncle George's house, but grandmamma sends in most of the good
things, and grandpapa always WILL toddle down, all the way to
Newgate-market, to buy the turkey, which he engages a porter to
bring home behind him in triumph, always insisting on the man's
being rewarded with a glass of spirits, over and above his hire, to
drink 'a merry Christmas and a happy new year' to aunt George. As
to grandmamma, she is very secret and mysterious for two or three
days beforehand, but not sufficiently so, to prevent rumours
getting afloat that she has purchased a beautiful new cap with pink
ribbons for each of the servants, together with sundry books, and
pen-knives, and pencil-cases, for the younger branches; to say
nothing of divers secret additions to the order originally given by
aunt George at the pastry-cook's, such as another dozen of mince-
pies for the dinner, and a large plum-cake for the children.

On Christmas-eve, grandmamma is always in excellent spirits, and
after employing all the children, during the day, in stoning the
plums, and all that, insists, regularly every year, on uncle George
coming down into the kitchen, taking off his coat, and stirring the
pudding for half an hour or so, which uncle George good-humouredly
does, to the vociferous delight of the children and servants. The
evening concludes with a glorious game of blind-man's-buff, in an
early stage of which grandpapa takes great care to be caught, in
order that he may have an opportunity of displaying his dexterity.

On the following morning, the old couple, with as many of the
children as the pew will hold, go to church in great state:
leaving aunt George at home dusting decanters and filling casters,
and uncle George carrying bottles into the dining-parlour, and
calling for corkscrews, and getting into everybody's way.

When the church-party return to lunch, grandpapa produces a small
sprig of mistletoe from his pocket, and tempts the boys to kiss
their little cousins under it--a proceeding which affords both the
boys and the old gentleman unlimited satisfaction, but which rather
outrages grandmamma's ideas of decorum, until grandpapa says, that
when he was just thirteen years and three months old, HE kissed
grandmamma under a mistletoe too, on which the children clap their
hands, and laugh very heartily, as do aunt George and uncle George;
and grandmamma looks pleased, and says, with a benevolent smile,
that grandpapa was an impudent young dog, on which the children
laugh very heartily again, and grandpapa more heartily than any of
them.

But all these diversions are nothing to the subsequent excitement
when grandmamma in a high cap, and slate-coloured silk gown; and
grandpapa with a beautifully plaited shirt-frill, and white
neckerchief; seat themselves on one side of the drawing-room fire,
with uncle George's children and little cousins innumerable, seated
in the front, waiting the arrival of the expected visitors.
Suddenly a hackney-coach is heard to stop, and uncle George, who
has been looking out of the window, exclaims 'Here's Jane!' on
which the children rush to the door, and helter-skelter down-
stairs; and uncle Robert and aunt Jane, and the dear little baby,
and the nurse, and the whole party, are ushered up-stairs amidst
tumultuous shouts of 'Oh, my!' from the children, and frequently
repeated warnings not to hurt baby from the nurse. And grandpapa
takes the child, and grandmamma kisses her daughter, and the
confusion of this first entry has scarcely subsided, when some
other aunts and uncles with more cousins arrive, and the grown-up
cousins flirt with each other, and so do the little cousins too,
for that matter, and nothing is to be heard but a confused din of
talking, laughing, and merriment.

A hesitating double knock at the street-door, heard during a
momentary pause in the conversation, excites a general inquiry of
'Who's that?' and two or three children, who have been standing at
the window, announce in a low voice, that it's 'poor aunt
Margaret.' Upon which, aunt George leaves the room to welcome the
new-comer; and grandmamma draws herself up, rather stiff and
stately; for Margaret married a poor man without her consent, and
poverty not being a sufficiently weighty punishment for her
offence, has been discarded by her friends, and debarred the
society of her dearest relatives. But Christmas has come round,
and the unkind feelings that have struggled against better
dispositions during the year, have melted away before its genial
influence, like half-formed ice beneath the morning sun. It is not
difficult in a moment of angry feeling for a parent to denounce a
disobedient child; but, to banish her at a period of general good-
will and hilarity, from the hearth, round which she has sat on so
many anniversaries of the same day, expanding by slow degrees from
infancy to girlhood, and then bursting, almost imperceptibly, into
a woman, is widely different. The air of conscious rectitude, and
cold forgiveness, which the old lady has assumed, sits ill upon
her; and when the poor girl is led in by her sister, pale in looks
and broken in hope--not from poverty, for that she could bear, but
from the consciousness of undeserved neglect, and unmerited
unkindness--it is easy to see how much of it is assumed. A
momentary pause succeeds; the girl breaks suddenly from her sister
and throws herself, sobbing, on her mother's neck. The father
steps hastily forward, and takes her husband's hand. Friends crowd
round to offer their hearty congratulations, and happiness and
harmony again prevail.

As to the dinner, it's perfectly delightful--nothing goes wrong,
and everybody is in the very best of spirits, and disposed to
please and be pleased. Grandpapa relates a circumstantial account
of the purchase of the turkey, with a slight digression relative to
the purchase of previous turkeys, on former Christmas-days, which
grandmamma corroborates in the minutest particular. Uncle George
tells stories, and carves poultry, and takes wine, and jokes with
the children at the side-table, and winks at the cousins that are
making love, or being made love to, and exhilarates everybody with
his good humour and hospitality; and when, at last, a stout servant
staggers in with a gigantic pudding, with a sprig of holly in the
top, there is such a laughing, and shouting, and clapping of little
chubby hands, and kicking up of fat dumpy legs, as can only be
equalled by the applause with which the astonishing feat of pouring
lighted brandy into mince-pies, is received by the younger
visitors. Then the dessert!--and the wine!--and the fun! Such
beautiful speeches, and SUCH songs, from aunt Margaret's husband,
who turns out to be such a nice man, and SO attentive to
grandmamma! Even grandpapa not only sings his annual song with
unprecedented vigour, but on being honoured with an unanimous
encore, according to annual custom, actually comes out with a new
one which nobody but grandmamma ever heard before; and a young
scapegrace of a cousin, who has been in some disgrace with the old
people, for certain heinous sins of omission and commission--
neglecting to call, and persisting in drinking Burton Ale--
astonishes everybody into convulsions of laughter by volunteering
the most extraordinary comic songs that ever were heard. And thus
the evening passes, in a strain of rational good-will and
cheerfulness, doing more to awaken the sympathies of every member
of the party in behalf of his neighbour, and to perpetuate their
good feeling during the ensuing year, than half the homilies that
have ever been written, by half the Divines that have ever lived.

Charles Dickens