Story type: Essay
Those who are anxious about the fate of Christmas, whether it is not becoming too worldly and too expensive a holiday to be indulged in except by the very poor, mark with pleasure any indications that the true spirit of the day–brotherhood and self-abnegation and charity–is infusing itself into modern society. The sentimental Christmas of thirty years ago could not last; in time the manufactured jollity got to be more tedious and a greater strain on the feelings than any misfortune happening to one’s neighbor. Even for a day it was very difficult to buzz about in the cheery manner prescribed, and the reaction put human nature in a bad light. Nor was it much better when gradually the day became one of Great Expectations, and the sweet spirit of it was quenched in worry or soured in disappointment. It began to take on the aspect of a great lottery, in which one class expected to draw in reverse proportion to what it put in, and another class knew that it would only reap as it had sowed. The day, blessed in its origin, and meaningless if there is a grain of selfishness in it, was thus likely to become a sort of Clearing-house of all obligations and assume a commercial aspect that took the heart out of it–like the enormous receptions for paying social debts which take the place of the old-fashioned hospitality. Everybody knew, meantime, that the spirit of good-will, the grace of universal sympathy, was really growing in the world, and that it was only our awkwardness that, by striving to cram it all for a year into twenty-four hours, made it seem a little farcical. And everybody knows that when goodness becomes fashionable, goodness is likely to suffer a little. A virtue overdone falls on t’other side. And a holiday that takes on such proportions that the Express companies and the Post-office cannot handle it is in danger of a collapse. In consideration of these things, and because, as has been pointed out year after year, Christmas is becoming a burden, the load of which is looked forward to with apprehension–and back on with nervous prostration–fear has been expressed that the dearest of all holidays in Christian lands would have to go again under a sort of Puritan protest, or into a retreat for rest and purification. We are enabled to announce for the encouragement of the single-minded in this best of all days, at the close of a year which it is best not to characterize, that those who stand upon the social watch-towers in Europe and America begin to see a light–or, it would be better to say, to perceive a spirit–in society which is likely to change many things, and; among others, to work a return of Christian simplicity. As might be expected in these days, the spirit is exhibited in the sex which is first at the wedding and last in the hospital ward. And as might have been expected, also, this spirit is shown by the young woman of the period, in whose hands are the issues of the future. If she preserve her present mind long enough, Christmas will become a day that will satisfy every human being, for the purpose of the young woman will pervade it. The tendency of the young woman generally to simplicity, of the American young woman to a certain restraint (at least when abroad), to a deference to her elders, and to tradition, has been noted. The present phenomenon is quite beyond this, and more radical. It is, one may venture to say, an attempt to conform the inner being to the outward simplicity. If one could suspect the young woman of taking up any line not original, it might be guessed that the present fashion (which is bewildering the most worldly men with a new and irresistible fascination) was set by the self-revelations of Marie Bashkirtseff. Very likely, however, it was a new spirit in the world, of which Marie was the first publishing example. Its note is self-analysis, searching, unsparing, leaving no room for the deception of self or of the world. Its leading feature is extreme candor. It is not enough to tell the truth (that has been told before); but one must act and tell the whole truth. One does not put on the shirt front and the standing collar and the knotted cravat of the other sex as a mere form; it is an act of consecration, of rigid, simple come-out-ness into the light of truth. This noble candor will suffer no concealments. She would not have her lover even, still more the general world of men, think she is better, or rather other, than she is. Not that she would like to appear a man among men, far from that; but she wishes to talk with candor and be talked to candidly, without taking advantage of that false shelter of sex behind which women have been accused of dodging. If she is nothing else, she is sincere, one might say wantonly sincere. And this lucid, candid inner life is reflected in her dress. This is not only simple in its form, in its lines; it is severe. To go into the shop of a European modiste is almost to put one’s self into a truthful and candid frame of mind. Those leave frivolous ideas behind who enter here. The ‘modiste’ will tell the philosopher that it is now the fashion to be severe; in a word, it is ‘fesch’. Nothing can go beyond that. And it symbolizes the whole life, its self-examination, earnestness, utmost candor in speech and conduct.
The statesman who is busy about his tariff and his reciprocity, and his endeavor to raise money like potatoes, may little heed and much undervalue this advent of candor into the world as a social force. But the philosopher will make no such mistake. He knows that they who build without woman build in vain, and that she is the great regenerator, as she is the great destroyer. He knows too much to disregard the gravity of any fashionable movement. He knows that there is no power on earth that can prevent the return of the long skirt. And that if the young woman has decided to be severe and candid and frank with herself and in her intercourse with others, we must submit and thank God.
And what a gift to the world is this for the Christmas season! The clear-eyed young woman of the future, always dear and often an anxiety, will this year be an object of enthusiasm.