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Salmagundi [Christmas Accidents.–American Custom Of "treating"]
by [?]

This year’s crop of Christmas accidents appears to be up to the average. As an angel-maker Christmas outclasses St. Patrick’s day and is almost equal to the Fourth of July. The North celebrates the birth of our dear Lord by stuffing itself to the bursting point with plum budding, while the South manifests its appreciation of God’s mercy by blowing itself to pieces with gunpowder. Dozens of people were killed, hundreds lost more or less important portions of their anatomy while a great army of new-made dyspeptics goes marching onward to the grave. I cannot understand what either plumpudding or gunpowder has to do with saving grace. The man must be very gross who can celebrate with gluttony and drunkenness the birth of the Redeemer. Why should anyone desire to transform the world into a murderous pandemonium because of the arrival of the Prince of Peace? Truth to tell, Christmas has become a secular holiday rather than a day for religious rejoicing, and Deists, Atheists and Agnostics take as much interest in its observation as do those who believe in the divinity of the Babe of Bethlehem. More people get drunk on Christmas than on any other day in the year. It is a time of violence and blood, rather than of “peace on earth, good will to men.” I move that we switch, and instead of celebrating the nativity of Christ, observe the birth of Bacchus. We will then be privileged to drink until we are drunken. We can then stuff ourselves with the good things of earth and be consistent. We can then explode cannon-crackers, fire anvils and yoop with our mouths open without being guilty of the slightest disrespect to our God. But what must Christ Jesus think as he looks over the jasper walls, of this high revel, supposedly held as a sacrament? Surely he must be sorry he was ever born of woman. But gluttony, and drunkenness and fireworks are not the full extent of a so-called Christian world’s offering. We have perverted the communistic doctrine of Christ in our practice of giving Christian presents. So long as custom confines gifts to immediate relatives and dependents it was well enough, for the largesse was usually selected with discretion and prompted by love; but it has now become the practice to send gifts to pretty much the entire circle of one’s acquaintances. The result is the expenditure of tens of millions of money annually in the purchase of useless plunder. And the worst of it is that presents are usually given on the reciprocity plan–the custom has well nigh left the realm of sentiment and degenerated into social tyranny or brute selfishness. The homes of this land are littered to-day with trash which the recipients did not want and cannot use. And half the people who incurred this foolish expense are suffering the inconvenience of poverty. On the day after Christmas a lady shoved me her presents. They made a truly imposing pile. “There’s not a solitary thing in the entire load,” said she, “for which I have the slightest use. I cannot retain much of the stuff as keepsakes because of the bulk, and I am neither privileged to sell it or to give it away. I would have appreciated a rose or a ribbon from one I love more than all this trumpery from the people who are for the most part mere acquaintances. And I? Oh I adhered to the custom–went broke buying a lot of useless truck with which to encumber others. And now that Christmas is over and we contemplate our thin purses and impossible presents, we all wonder why ‘that monster custom’ doesn’t permit us to exercise a little common sense. Christmas is becoming ever more and more a nightmare to me. The dinners are simply dreadful. The housewife begins a month in advance to plot against the stomachs of her people. I never ate but one Christmas dinner for which I did not feel like apologizing to my doctor, and that was not eaten in strictly religious company. It was a regular Bohemian lunch partaken of on a Pullman by myself, a newspaper man and two other sinners. The everlasting roast turkey, the pudding, pies and all the rest of the greasy, indigestible mass was missing. We had tongue sandwiches and Budweiser, deviled ham and more beer. I remarked that we were awfully wicked, but the newspaper man consoled me by saying the Christ was something of a Bohemian himself. We take an infinite deal of pains and spend an awful sight of money just to make ourselves miserable.” One great trouble with the American people is that they do not have nearly enough holidays. In fact, Christmas is the only one really worthy of the name, for on New Year’s, and July Fourth, we do not cease business until noon, while on Thanksgiving we forget to chase the nimble nickel merely long enough to feed. Next to gain-getting, eating seems to be the important business of the Universe. It is the manner in which a semi-civilized people express pleasure. Ouida has called attention to this fact somewhere. If a general wins an important battle, if a poet writes an immortal epic, if a Columbus discovers a new world, or if a God becomes incarnate we–eat! Yet there be sentimentalists who say that soul and stomach are not synonymous! It appears that the heart cannot feel, that the brain cannot enjoy unless we’re shovelling a varied assortment of provender into the belly. That humble but useful organ seems to be the seat of all joy, as it is the source of most sorrow.