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One Christmas at Shiloh
by [?]

“I tell you people,” he said to his congregation, “we’s goin’ to have a reg’lar ‘Benjamin’s mess’!”

The coloured folk, being not quite sure of the quotation, laughed heartily, exclaiming in admiration of their pastor, “Dat Todbu’y is sholy one mess hisse’f.”

“Now any of de sistahs dat’s willin’ to he’p mek dis comin’ Chris’mus a real sho ‘nough one, ‘ll ‘blige me by meetin’ me in de basement of de chu’ch aftah services. De brothahs kin go ‘long home ‘twell dey called fu’.”

There was another outburst of merriment at this sally, and it was a good-natured score or more of sisters who a little later met the pastor as agreed. Among them was Martha Maria Mixon, for she was very close to her pastor, and for many a day had joyed his clerical heart with special dinners.

“Ah,” said the preacher, rubbing his hands, “Sistah Marthy, I see you’s on han’ ez usual to he’p me out, an’ you, too, Sis Jinny, an’ Sis Dicey,” he added, quick to note the signs of any incipient jealousy, and equally ready to check it. “We’s all hyeah, de faithful few, an’ we’s all ready fu’ wo’k.”

The sisters beamed and nodded.

“Well, we goin’ to have some’p’n evah night, beginnin’ wid Chris’mus night, straight on endurin’ of de week, an’ I want to separate you all into companies fu’ to take chawge of each night. Now, I’s a-goin’ to have a powahful preachah f’om de Souf wid us, an’ I want you all to show him what we kin do. On Chris’mus day we goin’ to have a sermont at de chu’ch an’ a festabal in de evenin’ wid a Chris’mus tree. Sis’ Marthy, I want you to boa’d de minister.”

“La, Brothah Todbu’y, I don’t scarcely feel lak I’s ‘portant ‘nough fu’ dat,” said Mrs. Mixon modestly, “but I’ll do de bes’ I kin. I hatter be lak de widder’s mice in de scuse o’ meal.”

“We ain’t got no doubt ’bout what you able to do, Sis Marthy,” and the pastor passed to the appointment of his other committees. After evening services the brothers were similarly called in consultation and appointed to their respective duties.

To the black people to whom these responsibilities were thus turned over, joy came, and with it the vision of other days–the vision of the dear old days, the hard old days back there in the South, when they had looked forward to their Christmas from year to year. Then it had been a time of sadness as well as of joy, for they knew that though the week was full of pleasure, after it was over must come separation and sadness. For this was the time when those who were to be hired out, loaned, or given away, were to change their homes. So even while they danced they sighed, and while they shouted they moaned. Now there was no such repressing fact to daunt them. Christmas would come. They would enjoy themselves, and after it was over would go back to the same homes to live through the round of months in the midst of familiar faces and among their own old loved ones. The thought gave sweetness to their labour, and the responsibilities devolving upon them imbued the sacred holiday with a meaning and charm that it had never had before for them. They bubbled over with importance and with the glory of it. A sister and a brother could not meet without a friendly banter.

“Hi, Sis’ Dicey,” Brother Williams would call out across the fence to his neighbour, “I don’ believe you doin’ anything to’ds dat Chris’mus celebration. Evah time I sees you, you’s in de washtub tryin’ to mek braid an’ meat fo’ dat no ‘count man o’ yo’n.”

Sister Dicey’s laugh rang out loud and musical before she replied, “Nevah you min’, Brothah Williams. I don’ see yo’ back bowed so much by de yoke.”

“Oh, honey, I’s labo’in’ even ef you do’n know it, but you’ll see it on de day.”