“The Merry Christmas Time”

Christmas celebrations in the late 1800s weren’t anything like they are today. The focus was on church activities, caroling, and the warm gathering of family and friends. Gifts were secondary to the celebration of this holy season, and giving was more about caring than buying expensive presents. For those whose very existence depended on the kindness of strangers, support from charity and provisions for the poor were appreciated more than ever to help them through the harsh winters and desperate times.

In 1860, the country was on the verge of war. South Carolina had seceded from the Union on December 20th of that year.  Other states would follow in the months after. By February, 1861, the Confederacy would be officially formed, and by April, the country was at war. During the Christmas season of 1860, the country was poised for a traumatic change that would take its toll on the celebration that year and the years to come.

This article from the December 29, 1860, issue of the Weekly Anglo-African newspaper reflects the unsettled feelings of the time.  Not only was the threat of war discussed in the social gatherings of activist and concerned white citizens in both the northern and southern portions of the country, it was also an important topic in black newspapers across the U. S. and in Canada. Now more than ever the poor, the enslaved, and the disenfranchised needed a helping hand. And this help could only come from individual donations, along with church organizations.

The writer asks those of his readers with “the means or even the possibility to give” to remember the poor this time of year.  He suggests that offerings like a “half a load of coal” or a turkey or a few blankets would make welcome gifts for those in need who are too proud to ask for help. This season, he tells his readers, offers the perfect time to give what will be most appreciated.

“Reader, with the means or even the possibility to give, you cannot imagine until you have tried, how much these little benevolences add to the joy of the merry Christmas times.”

This message holds true for us today, even with all the assistance programs available to those in need. Charity is a gift of love that benefits both the giver and receiver.

When viewing this article, don’t forget to use the magnifying tool included on the page. And while you’re there, why not check out other articles and speeches in the Black Abolitionist Archive. It’s a great way to experience a unique perspective on a very traumatic time in U.S. history.