A piece titled “Christmas” written by Margaret Fuller is included in a collection of her works published in 1855 by one of her brothers. This collection, published five years after her death, includes her book Woman in the Nineteenth Century, along with, as brother/editor Arthur B. Fuller says in the Preface: “several other papers, which have appeared at various times in the Tribune and elsewhere, and yet more which have never till now been published.”
In “Christmas,” Fuller, who harbored concerns about materialism, expresses a desire that the traditions and expectations be more in line with the true meaning of the holiday, or at least the meaning many of us who celebrate it most associate with this holiday:
“Christmas would seem to be the day peculiarly sacred to children; and something of this feeling is beginning to show itself among us, though rather from German influence than of native growth. The ever-green tree is often reared for the children on Christmas evening, and its branches clustered with little tokens that may, at least, give them a sense that the world is rich, and that there are some in it who care to bless them. It is a charming sight to see their glistening eyes, and well worth much trouble in preparing the Christmas-tree.
“Yet, on this occasion, as on all others, we should like to see pleasure offered to them in a form less selfish than it is. When shall we read of banquets prepared for the halt, the lame, and the blind, on the day that is said to have brought their friend into the world? When will children be taught to ask all the cold and ragged little ones whom they have seen during the day wistfully gazing at the shop-windows, to share the joys of Christmas-eve?”
I heard a news clip the other day about ways parents can be savvy in order to get their hands on that “perfect gift” for their child, which due to shipping delays and supply shortages is posing a challenge this year. I thought to myself, how did we go so astray? It’s nothing new, for sure, that we as parents and adults want nothing more than to deliver our children’s wish list to the highest degree possible and we’ve all seen children disappointed when their top ask is not there under that Christmas tree on that special morning.
A lot has changed since the 1830s when much of what we associate with Christmas was rather new in this county, yet, what Fuller expresses in this piece all those years ago is still worthy of contemplation.
When I was growing up, Christmas held so much joy and a part of that delight was the presents, the toys and games I could expect under the tree. And when my children were growing up, the same thing. The climax was that frenzied gift opening on Christmas morning. Also heartwarming was the gathering of family, the eggnog and specially prepared meals, the tree and its trimmings, but where was the true generosity, the caring for those who may be less fortunate?
Oh, yes, there are the toys donated to Toys for Tots. There are the cans of food delivered to the decorated box at work. There are those who volunteered on Christmas day at the local community kitchen and shelters, an act I always admired.
Discovering and reading Fuller’s “Christmas” essay for the first time forces me to reckon with my gift-giving focus and the insular way I tend to spread love and joy to mostly those in my circle.
As usual, it’s up to adults and parents to refocus the lens. This lens is the one our children use to learn and navigate the world, including the meaning and expectations of the Christmas holiday and others. Believe me, I do not cast one single stone, but I do aim to do something this year that is unusual. I only have a few days left to figure this out, but there are so many ways to make this holiday sparkle a little more for someone else.
I imagine if Margaret Fuller had the opportunity to celebrate another Christmas with her two-year-old son, Nino, and husband Giovanni, she would have spent the days leading up to the holiday gathering nature’s tokens and making decorations for the tree they would bring into the house, underneath which a toy or two would appear. There would have been conversing, singing, and baking with the family she hadn’t been able to celebrate with for years. In addition, I imagine Margaret, with inquisitive Nino in tow, visiting neighbors and other townsfolk, spreading cheer and wisdom, taking stock of what is being done and what needs to be done to better the situation of others. (Fuller had become a serious reformer and with her firsthand view of the suffering and unfair treatment of others, her flame for equality was burning very bright. As bright as the lights on a million Christmas trees!)
It seems the answer, as usual, doesn’t have to be an either-or, it can be a joyous, gift-giving celebration and a day, a week, a year of acting out ways to move as a more generous spirit in the world.
Happy winter holidays to all! May the light of life shine on us and may we share this joyous light with as many as possible.
Check out the other posts about Margaret Fuller on our site and keep an eye out for Maria’s book, The Light Above: A Memoir with Margaret Fuller, to be released early next year, 2022!
Fuller, Margaret. Woman in the Nineteenth Century and Kindred Papers, edited by Arthur B. Fuller, Boston: John P. Jewett & Co., 1855.