“Oh, dear! Christmas is coming in a fortnight, and I have got to think up presents for everybody!” said young Ellen Stuart, as she leaned languidly back in her chair. “Dear me, it’s so tedious! Every body has got everything that could be thought of.”
Sound familiar? This year much has been made about the over-commercialization of Christmas, and the new concept of the “dead-weight loss”, the term economists use to describe the difference between what is spent on a gift for you (let’s say $50) and the value you put on it (about $41, according to economists). It seems that at last, Americans have decided that too much is, well, too much, and the idea of giving to charity, instead of buying stuff that will be returned, regifted, or merely thrown away is catching on.
But the plight of the gift giver is nothing new. After all, it’s the theme of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, probably the most popular seasonal stage show of the season, after The Nutcracker. Both of these beloved works are well over a century old. More to the point, however, is a lesser known story by Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The “little woman who wrote the book that started this great war”, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, was a prolific writer, and in a short story called Christmas; or, The Good Fairy, Miss Ellen Stuart laments the state of the holidays. The holiday tale opens with the paragraph quoted above, and Ellen’s aunt, knitting quietly in the parlor, shows her how she might make Christmas more meaningful and worthwhile.
“There are worlds of money wasted, at this time of year, in getting things that nobody wants, and nobody cares for after they are got,” Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote in 1850. Sometimes we are very slow to learn the simplest of lessons.
She didn’t know the half of it…..
The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center is located at Nook Farm, Hartford, CT . Website