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Or at the bright moontide, in sol - i - tude wan-der
A - mid the
dark shades of the lone - ly Ash Grove. the beau-ties of na- ture to me?
'Twas there, while the black-bird was cheer-ful - ly
sing -ing, la - den,
I first met that dear one, the joy of my heart.
A - sound us for glad-ness the blue - bells were ring-ing;
Ah! then lit - tle thought I how soon we should part.
"I am going to write to Grandpa and Grandma to-day,” said Belle, “and I can tell them how we
sang Grandpa's song on Christmas day, with him and Grandma in our hearts.”
“That is very thoughtful of you, little girl,” said Uncle Jack. “And now, I think it is a good time to read the Christmas letter written by Grandpa's friend, Dr. Henry van Dyke, to all public school children. Belle, I am sure Grandpa would like to know about our reading Dr. van Dyke's letter as well as about our singing his own Welsh song.”
“I'll tell him that, too, Uncle Jack,” answered Belle. “What is Dr. van Dyke's letter?”
In reply, Uncle Jack began to read:
A CHRISTMAS GREETING FROM DR. HENRY VAN DYKE.
Here's a Merry Christmas to you, girls and boys of the public schools!
I know you come from many different lands and races and have been brought up in many different creeds. But you all belong to America now, and twenty years from now America will belong to you and other boys and girls like you. The old people will have disappeared, and the children who are in the schools to-day will be the owners and rulers of the country. So I wish you all a Merry Christmas now, in the days of your youth.
What does that mean? Think about it for a little while. Certainly it means that joy, — clean, pure, honest
merriment — is good for people. It is better than medicine for the health. It helps the soul and the body to grow. I would not trust a boy or a girl who could not laugh. But I could not love one who laughed at the pain or shame of others. If you want to grow up, and not down, you must find happiness in wholesome things, and you must share it with others. Isn't that the first and simplest meaning of a Merry Christmas?
Another meaning is this: it is more blessed to give than to receive. Christmas has become the general festival of gifts. Some of them are large and costly, others are little and of small money value. But none of them is worth anything at all unless the heart of the giver goes with it. Then, the giving is a merry thing just because it does you good to feel that you can add something, however little, to the happiness of others.
But there is another and a broader meaning in Merry Christmas. It means good will to all. Even where there are no gifts, — and think how few there are in this great, big world to whom we can make them, — this season of the year brings us the chance to express a friendly feeling and a kind wish for the welfare of everybody. People talk about fraternity, — brotherhood. That is what fraternity means; to wish good to other people. Of course, the wish is a helpless thing without the deeds to follow it. But you will never find the right deeds unless, first of all, you have the kind wish. Ask
yourself, then, whether you really wish well to your parents and your brothers and sisters and all the other folks. For good will is the biggest part of a Merry Christmas.
Now, you see, all this lies outside of the region of the law. Nobody can compel you to do it. Nobody can forbid you to do it. It really belongs to the region of religion. And in this country we say that no laws must be made about religion; everybody must be free to follow the dictates of heart and conscience. But you understand that the best part, and the most important part, of this human life of ours always lies beyond the reach of the laws. You may change them and improve them ever so much, and yet the world will not really be much happier or better off, unless you and I and the other folks are kinder and more generous and more helpful. And the only thing that will bring that about is an influence inside of our hearts, — something that we call faith, and hope, and love.
So, if you are going to keep Christmas, my last wish for you is that this influence may come into the holidays for you. Whatever your church or creed may be, may your first thought on Christmas day be one of thankfulness and your first action be one of kindness! Then you will understand how good it is to be merry in the right way, — the Christmas way.
Sincerely your friend,
HENRY VAN DYKE.