The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

A Christmas Dream
And How It Came True

Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888)

"I'm so tired of Christmas I wish there never would be another one!"
exclaimed a discontented-looking little girl, as she sat idly watching
her mother arrange a pile of gifts two days before they were to be given.

"Why, Effie, what a dreadful thing to say! You are as bad as old Scrooge;
and I'm afraid something will happen to you, as it did to him, if you
don't care for dear Christmas," answered mamma, almost dropping the silver
horn she was filling with delicious candies.

"Who was Scrooge? What happened to him?" asked Effie, with a glimmer of
interest in her listless face, as she picked out the sourest lemon-drop
she could find; for nothing sweet suited her just then.

"He was one of Dickens's best people, and you can read the charming story
some day. He hated Christmas until a strange dream showed him how dear and
beautiful it was, and made a better man of him."

"I shall read it; for I like dreams, and have a great many curious ones
myself. But they don't keep me from being tired of Christmas," said Effie,
poking discontentedly among the sweeties for something worth eating.

"Why are you tired of what should be the happiest time of all the year?"
asked mamma, anxiously.

"Perhaps I shouldn't be if I had something new. But it is always the same,
and there isn't any more surprise about it. I always find heaps of goodies
in my stocking. Don't like some of them, and soon get tired of those I do
like. We always have a great dinner, and I eat too much, and feel ill next
day. Then there is a Christmas tree somewhere, with a doll on top, or a
stupid old Santa Claus, and children dancing and screaming over bonbons
and toys that break, and shiny things that are of no use. Really, mamma,
I've had so many Christmases all alike that I don't think I _can_
bear another one." And Effie laid herself flat on the sofa, as if the mere
idea was too much for her.

Her mother laughed at her despair, but was sorry to see her little girl so
discontented, when she had everything to make her happy, and had known but
ten Christmas days.

"Suppose we don't give you _any_ presents at all,--how would that
suit you?" asked mamma, anxious to please her spoiled child.

"I should like one large and splendid one, and one dear little one, to
remember some very nice person by," said Effie, who was a fanciful little
body, full of odd whims and notions, which her friends loved to gratify,
regardless of time, trouble, or money; for she was the last of three
little girls, and very dear to all the family.

"Well, my darling, I will see what I can do to please you, and not say a
word until all is ready. If I could only get a new idea to start with!"
And mamma went on tying up her pretty bundles with a thoughtful face,
while Effie strolled to the window to watch the rain that kept her
in-doors and made her dismal.

"Seems to me poor children have better times than rich ones. I can't go
out, and there is a girl about my age splashing along, without any maid to
fuss about rubbers and cloaks and umbrellas and colds. I wish I was a

"Would you like to be hungry, cold, and ragged, to beg all day, and sleep
on an ash-heap at night?" asked mamma, wondering what would come next.

"Cinderella did, and had a nice time in the end. This girl out here has a
basket of scraps on her arm, and a big old shawl all round her, and
doesn't seem to care a bit, though the water runs out of the toes of her
boots. She goes paddling along, laughing at the rain, and eating a cold
potato as if it tasted nicer than the chicken and ice-cream I had for
dinner. Yes, I do think poor children are happier than rich ones."

"So do I, sometimes. At the Orphan Asylum today I saw two dozen merry
little souls who have no parents, no home, and no hope of Christmas beyond
a stick of candy or a cake. I wish you had been there to see how happy
they were, playing with the old toys some richer children had sent them."

"You may give them all mine; I'm so tired of them I never want to see them
again," said Effie, turning from the window to the pretty baby-house full
of everything a child's heart could desire.

"I will, and let you begin again with something you will not tire of, if I
can only find it." And mamma knit her brows trying to discover some grand
surprise for this child who didn't care for Christmas.

Nothing more was said then; and wandering off to the library, Effie found
"A Christmas Carol," and curling herself up in the sofa corner, read it
all before tea. Some of it she did not understand; but she laughed and
cried over many parts of the charming story, and felt better without
knowing why.

All the evening she thought of poor Tiny Tim, Mrs. Cratchit with the
pudding, and the stout old gentleman who danced so gayly that "his legs
twinkled in the air." Presently bedtime arrived.

"Come, now, and toast your feet," said Effie's nurse, "while I do your
pretty hair and tell stories."

"I'll have a fairy tale to-night, a very interesting one," commanded
Effie, as she put on her blue silk wrapper and little fur-lined slippers
to sit before the fire and have her long curls brushed.

So Nursey told her best tales; and when at last the child lay down under
her lace curtains, her head was full of a curious jumble of Christmas
elves, poor children, snow-storms, sugarplums, and surprises. So it is no
wonder that she dreamed all night; and this was the dream, which she never
quite forgot.

She found herself sitting on a stone, in the middle of a great field, all
alone. The snow was falling fast, a bitter wind whistled by, and night was
coming on. She felt hungry, cold, and tired, and did not know where to go
nor what to do.

"I wanted to be a beggar-girl, and now I am one; but I don't like it, and
wish somebody would come and take care of me. I don't know who I am, and I
think I must be lost," thought Effie, with the curious interest one takes
in one's self in dreams.

But the more she thought about it, the more bewildered she felt. Faster
fell the snow, colder blew the wind, darker grew the night; and poor Effie
made up her mind that she was quite forgotten and left to freeze alone.
The tears were chilled on her cheeks, her feet felt like icicles, and her
heart died within her, so hungry, frightened, and forlorn was she. Laying
her head on her knees, she gave herself up for lost, and sat there with
the great flakes fast turning her to a little white mound, when suddenly
the sound of music reached her, and starting up, she looked and listened
with all her eyes and ears.

Far away a dim light shone, and a voice was heard singing. She tried to
run toward the welcome glimmer, but could not stir, and stood like a small
statue of expectation while the light drew nearer, and the sweet words of
the song grew clearer.

From our happy home
Through the world we roam
One week in all the year,
Making winter spring
With the joy we bring,
For Christmas-tide is here.

Now the eastern star
Shines from afar
To light the poorest home;
Hearts warmer grow,
Gifts freely flow,
For Christmas-tide has come.

Now gay trees rise
Before young eyes,
Abloom with tempting cheer;
Blithe voices sing,
And blithe bells ring,
For Christmas-tide is here.

Oh, happy chime,
Oh, blessed time,
That draws us all so near!
"Welcome, dear day,"
All creatures say,
For Christmas-tide is here.

A child's voice sang, a child's hand carried the little candle; and in the
circle of soft light it shed, Effie saw a pretty child coming to her
through the night and snow. A rosy, smiling creature, wrapped in white
fur, with a wreath of green and scarlet holly on its shining hair, the
magic candle in one hand, and the other outstretched as if to shower gifts
and warmly press all other hands.

Effie forgot to speak as this bright vision came nearer, leaving no trace
of footsteps in the snow, only lighting the way with its little candle,
and filling the air with the music of its song.

"Dear child, you are lost, and I have come to find you," said the
stranger, taking Effie's cold hands in his, with a smile like sunshine,
while every holly berry glowed like a little fire.

"Do you know me?" asked Effie, feeling no fear, but a great gladness, at
his coming.

"I know all children, and go to find them; for this is my holiday, and I
gather them from all parts of the world to be merry with me once a year."

"Are you an angel?" asked Effie, looking for the wings.

"No; I am a Christmas spirit, and live with my mates in a pleasant place,
getting ready for our holiday, when we are let out to roam about the
world, helping make this a happy time for all who will let us in. Will you
come and see how we work?"

"I will go anywhere with you. Don't leave me again," cried Effie, gladly.

"First I will make you comfortable. That is what we love to do. You are
cold, and you shall be warm, hungry, and I will feed you; sorrowful, and I
will make you gay."

With a wave of his candle all three miracles were wrought,--for the snow-
flakes turned to a white fur cloak and hood on Effie's head and shoulders,
a bowl of hot soup came sailing to her lips, and vanished when she had
eagerly drunk the last drop; and suddenly the dismal field changed to a
new world so full of wonders that all her troubles were forgotten in a

Bells were ringing so merrily that it was hard to keep from dancing. Green
garlands hung on the walls, and every tree was a Christmas tree full of
toys, and blazing with candles that never went out.

In one place many little spirits sewed like mad on warm clothes, turning
off work faster than any sewing-machine ever invented, and great piles
were made ready to be sent to poor people. Other busy creatures packed
money into purses, and wrote checks which they sent flying away on the
wind,--a lovely kind of snow-storm to fall into a world below full of

Older and graver spirits were looking over piles of little books, in which
the records of the past year were kept, telling how different people had
spent it, and what sort of gifts they deserved. Some got peace, some
disappointment, some remorse and sorrow, some great joy and hope. The rich
had generous thoughts sent them; the poor, gratitude and contentment.
Children had more love and duty to parents; and parents renewed patience,
wisdom, and satisfaction for and in their children. No one was forgotten.

"Please tell me what splendid place this is?" asked Effie, as soon as she
could collect her wits after the first look at all these astonishing

"This is the Christmas world; and here we work all the year round, never
tired of getting ready for the happy day. See, these are the saints just
setting off; for some have far to go, and the children must not be

As he spoke the spirit pointed to four gates, out of which four great
sleighs were just driving, laden with toys, while a jolly old Santa Claus
sat in the middle of each, drawing on his mittens and tucking up his wraps
for a long cold drive.

"Why, I thought there was only one Santa Claus, and even he was a humbug,"
cried Effie, astonished at the sight.

"Never give up your faith in the sweet old stones, even after you come to
see that they are only the pleasant shadow of a lovely truth."

Just then the sleighs went off with a great jingling of bells and
pattering of reindeer hoofs, while all the spirits gave a cheer that was
heard in the lower world, where people said, "Hear the stars sing."

"I never will say there isn't any Santa Claus again. Now, show me more."

"You will like to see this place, I think, and may learn something here

The spirit smiled as he led the way to a little door, through which Effie
peeped into a world of dolls. Baby-houses were in full blast, with dolls
of all sorts going on like live people. Waxen ladies sat in their parlors
elegantly dressed; black dolls cooked in the kitchens; nurses walked out
with the bits of dollies; and the streets were full of tin soldiers
marching, wooden horses prancing, express wagons rumbling, and little men
hurrying to and fro. Shops were there, and tiny people buying legs of
mutton, pounds of tea, mites of clothes, and everything dolls use or wear
or want.

But presently she saw that in some ways the dolls improved upon the
manners and customs of human beings, and she watched eagerly to learn why
they did these things. A fine Paris doll driving in her carriage took up a
black worsted Dinah who was hobbling along with a basket of clean clothes,
and carried her to her journey's end, as if it were the proper thing to
do. Another interesting china lady took off her comfortable red cloak and
put it round a poor wooden creature done up in a paper shift, and so badly
painted that its face would have sent some babies into fits.

"Seems to me I once knew a rich girl who didn't give her things to poor
girls. I wish I could remember who she was, and tell her to be as kind as
that china doll," said Effie, much touched at the sweet way the pretty
creature wrapped up the poor fright, and then ran off in her little gray
gown to buy a shiny fowl stuck on a wooden platter for her invalid
mother's dinner.

"We recall these things to people's minds by dreams. I think the girl you
speak of won't forget this one." And the spirit smiled, as if he enjoyed
some joke which she did not see.

A little bell rang as she looked, and away scampered the children into the
red-and-green school-house with the roof that lifted up, so one could see
how nicely they sat at their desks with mites of books, or drew on the
inch-square blackboards with crumbs of chalk.

"They know their lessons very well, and are as still as mice. We make a
great racket at our school, and get bad marks every day. I shall tell the
girls they had better mind what they do, or their dolls will be better
scholars than they are," said Effie, much impressed, as she peeped in and
saw no rod in the hand of the little mistress, who looked up and shook her
head at the intruder, as if begging her to go away before the order of the
school was disturbed.

Effie retired at once, but could not resist one look in at the window of a
fine mansion, where the family were at dinner, the children behaved so
well at table, and never grumbled a bit when their mamma said they could
not have any more fruit.

"Now, show me something else," she said, as they came again to the low
door that led out of Doll-land.

"You have seen how we prepare for Christmas; let me show you where we love
best to send our good and happy gifts," answered the spirit, giving her
his hand again.

"I know. I've seen ever so many," began Effie, thinking of her own

"No, you have never seen what I will show you. Come away, and remember
what you see to-night."

Like a flash that bright world vanished, and Effie found herself in a part
of the city she had never seen before. It was far away from the gayer
places, where every store was brilliant with lights and full of pretty
things, and every house wore a festival air, while people hurried to and
fro with merry greetings. It was down among the dingy streets where the
poor lived, and where there was no making ready for Christmas.

Hungry women looked in at the shabby shops, longing to buy meat and bread,
but empty pockets forbade. Tipsy men drank up their wages in the bar-
rooms; and in many cold dark chambers little children huddled under the
thin blankets, trying to forget their misery in sleep.

No nice dinners filled the air with savory smells, no gay trees dropped
toys and bonbons into eager hands, no little stockings hung in rows beside
the chimney-piece ready to be filled, no happy sounds of music, gay
voices, and dancing feet were heard; and there were no signs of Christmas

"Don't they have any in this place?" asked Effie, shivering, as she held
fast the spirit's hand, following where he led her.

"We come to bring it. Let me show you our best workers." And the spirit
pointed to some sweet-faced men and women who came stealing into the poor
houses, working such beautiful miracles that Effie could only stand and

Some slipped money into the empty pockets, and sent the happy mothers to
buy all the comforts they needed; others led the drunken men out of
temptation, and took them home to find safer pleasures there. Fires were
kindled on cold hearths, tables spread as if by magic, and warm clothes
wrapped round shivering limbs. Flowers suddenly bloomed in the chambers of
the sick; old people found themselves remembered; sad hearts were consoled
by a tender word, and wicked ones softened by the story of Him who forgave
all sin.

But the sweetest work was for the children; and Effie held her breath to
watch these human fairies hang up and fill the little stockings without
which a child's Christmas is not perfect, putting in things that once she
would have thought very humble presents, but which now seemed beautiful
and precious because these poor babies had nothing.

"That is so beautiful! I wish I could make merry Christmases as these good
people do, and be loved and thanked as they are," said Effie, softly, as
she watched the busy men and women do their work and steal away without
thinking of any reward but their own satisfaction.

"You can if you will. I have shown you the way. Try it, and see how happy
your own holiday will be hereafter."

As he spoke, the spirit seemed to put his arms about her, and vanished
with a kiss.

"Oh, stay and show me more!" cried Effie, trying to hold him fast.

"Darling, wake up, and tell me why you are smiling in your sleep," said a
voice in her ear; and opening her eyes, there was mamma bending over her,
and morning sunshine streaming into the room.

"Are they all gone? Did you hear the bells? Wasn't it splendid?" she
asked, rubbing her eyes, and looking about her for the pretty child who
was so real and sweet.

"You have been dreaming at a great rate,--talking in your sleep, laughing,
and clapping your hands as if you were cheering some one. Tell me what was
so splendid," said mamma, smoothing the tumbled hair and lifting up the
sleepy head.

Then, while she was being dressed, Effie told her dream, and Nursey
thought it very wonderful; but mamma smiled to see how curiously things
the child had thought, read, heard, and seen through the day were mixed up
in her sleep.

"The spirit said I could work lovely miracles if I tried; but I don't know
how to begin, for I have no magic candle to make feasts appear, and light
up groves of Christmas trees, as he did," said Effie, sorrowfully.

"Yes, you have. We will do it! we will do it!" And clapping her hands,
mamma suddenly began to dance all over the room as if she had lost her

"How? how? You must tell me, mamma," cried Effie, dancing after her, and
ready to believe anything possible when she remembered the adventures of
the past night.

"I've got it! I've got it!--the new idea. A splendid one, if I can only
carry it out!" And mamma waltzed the little girl round till her curls flew
wildly in the air, while Nursey laughed as if she would die.

"Tell me! tell me!" shrieked Effie. "No, no; it is a surprise,--a grand
surprise for Christmas day!" sung mamma, evidently charmed with her happy
thought. "Now, come to breakfast; for we must work like bees if we want to
play spirits tomorrow. You and Nursey will go out shopping, and get heaps
of things, while I arrange matters behind the scenes."

They were running downstairs as mamma spoke, and Effie called out

"It won't be a surprise; for I know you are going to ask some poor
children here, and have a tree or something. It won't be like my dream;
for they had ever so many trees, and more children than we can find

"There will be no tree, no party, no dinner, in this house at all, and no
presents for you. Won't that be a surprise?" And mamma laughed at Effie's
bewildered face.

"Do it. I shall like it, I think; and I won't ask any questions, so it
will all burst upon me when the time comes," she said; and she ate her
breakfast thoughtfully, for this really would be a new sort of Christmas.

All that morning Effie trotted after Nursey in and out of shops, buying
dozens of barking dogs, woolly lambs, and squeaking birds; tiny tea-sets,
gay picture-books, mittens and hoods, dolls and candy. Parcel after parcel
was sent home; but when Effie returned she saw no trace of them, though
she peeped everywhere. Nursey chuckled, but wouldn't give a hint, and went
out again in the afternoon with a long list of more things to buy; while
Effie wandered forlornly about the house, missing the usual merry stir
that went before the Christmas dinner and the evening fun.

As for mamma, she was quite invisible all day, and came in at night so
tired that she could only lie on the sofa to rest, smiling as if some very
pleasant thought made her happy in spite of weariness.

"Is the surprise going on all right?" asked Effie, anxiously; for it
seemed an immense time to wait till another evening came.

"Beautifully! better than I expected; for several of my good friends are
helping, or I couldn't have done it as I wish. I know you will like it,
dear, and long remember this new way of making Christmas merry."

Mamma gave her a very tender kiss, and Effie went to bed.

* * * * *

The next day was a very strange one; for when she woke there was no
stocking to examine, no pile of gifts under her napkin, no one said "Merry
Christmas!" to her, and the dinner was just as usual to her. Mamma
vanished again, and Nursey kept wiping her eyes and saying: "The dear
things! It's the prettiest idea I ever heard of. No one but your blessed
ma could have done it."

"Do stop, Nursey, or I shall go crazy because I don't know the secret!"
cried Effie, more than once; and she kept her eye on the clock, for at
seven in the evening the surprise was to come off.

The longed-for hour arrived at last, and the child was too excited to ask
questions when Nurse put on her cloak and hood, led her to the carriage,
and they drove away, leaving their house the one dark and silent one in
the row.

"I feel like the girls in the fairy tales who are led off to strange
places and see fine things," said Effie, in a whisper, as they jingled
through the gay streets.

"Ah, my deary, it _is_ like a fairy tale, I do assure you, and you
_will_ see finer things than most children will tonight. Steady, now,
and do just as I tell you, and don't say one word whatever you see,"
answered Nursey, quite quivering with excitement as she patted a large box
in her lap, and nodded and laughed with twinkling eyes.

They drove into a dark yard, and Effie was led through a back door to a
little room, where Nurse coolly proceeded to take off not only her cloak
and hood, but her dress and shoes also. Effie stared and bit her lips, but
kept still until out of the box came a little white fur coat and boots, a
wreath of holly leaves and berries, and a candle with a frill of gold
paper round it. A long "Oh!" escaped her then; and when she was dressed
and saw herself in the glass, she started back, exclaiming, "Why, Nursey,
I look like the spirit in my dream!"

"So you do; and that's the part you are to play, my pretty! Now whist,
while I blind your eyes and put you in your place."

"Shall I be afraid?" whispered Effie, full of wonder; for as they went out
she heard the sound of many voices, the tramp of many feet, and, in spite
of the bandage, was sure a great light shone upon her when she stopped.

"You needn't be; I shall stand close by, and your ma will be there."

After the handkerchief was tied about her eyes, Nurse led Effie up some
steps, and placed her on a high platform, where something like leaves
touched her head, and the soft snap of lamps seemed to fill the air.

Music began as soon as Nurse clapped her hands, the voices outside sounded
nearer, and the tramp was evidently coming up the stairs.

"Now, my precious, look and see how you and your dear ma have made a merry
Christmas for them that needed it!"

Off went the bandage; and for a minute Effie really did think she was
asleep again, for she actually stood in "a grove of Christmas trees," all
gay and shining as in her vision. Twelve on a side, in two rows down the
room, stood the little pines, each on its low table; and behind Effie a
taller one rose to the roof, hung with wreaths of popcorn, apples,
oranges, horns of candy, and cakes of all sorts, from sugary hearts to
gingerbread Jumbos. On the smaller trees she saw many of her own discarded
toys and those Nursey bought, as well as heaps that seemed to have rained
down straight from that delightful Christmas country where she felt as if
she was again.

"How splendid! Who is it for? What is that noise? Where is mamma?" cried
Effie, pale with pleasure and surprise, as she stood looking down the
brilliant little street from her high place.

Before Nurse could answer, the doors at the lower end flew open, and in
marched twenty-four little blue-gowned orphan girls, singing sweetly,
until amazement changed the song to cries of joy and wonder as the shining
spectacle appeared. While they stood staring with round eyes at the
wilderness of pretty things about them, mamma stepped up beside Effie, and
holding her hand fast to give her courage, told the story of the dream in
a few simple words, ending in this way:--

"So my little girl wanted to be a Christmas spirit too, and make this a
happy day for those who had not as many pleasures and comforts as she has.
She likes surprises, and we planned this for you all. She shall play the
good fairy, and give each of you something from this tree, after which
every one will find her own name on a small tree, and can go to enjoy it
in her own way. March by, my dears, and let us fill your hands."

Nobody told them to do it, but all the hands were clapped heartily before
a single child stirred; then one by one they came to look up wonderingly
at the pretty giver of the feast as she leaned down to offer them great
yellow oranges, red apples, bunches of grapes, bonbons, and cakes, till
all were gone, and a double row of smiling faces turned toward her as the
children filed back to their places in the orderly way they had been

Then each was led to her own tree by the good ladies who had helped mamma
with all their hearts; and the happy hubbub that arose would have
satisfied even Santa Claus himself,--shrieks of joy, dances of delight,
laughter and tears (for some tender little things could not bear so much
pleasure at once, and sobbed with mouths full of candy and hands full of
toys). How they ran to show one another the new treasures! how they peeped
and tasted, pulled and pinched, until the air was full of queer noises,
the floor covered with papers, and the little trees left bare of all but

"I don't think heaven can be any gooder than this," sighed one small girl,
as she looked about her in a blissful maze, holding her full apron with
one hand, while she luxuriously carried sugar-plums to her mouth with the

"Is that a truly angel up there?" asked another, fascinated by the little
white figure with the wreath on its shining hair, who in some mysterious
way had been the cause of all this merry-making.

"I wish I dared to go and kiss her for this splendid party," said a lame
child, leaning on her crutch, as she stood near the steps, wondering how
it seemed to sit in a mother's lap, as Effie was doing, while she watched
the happy scene before her.

Effie heard her, and remembering Tiny Tim, ran down and put her arms about
the pale child, kissing the wistful face, as she said sweetly, "You may;
but mamma deserves the thanks. She did it all; I only dreamed about it."

Lame Katy felt as if "a truly angel" was embracing her, and could only
stammer out her thanks, while the other children ran to see the pretty
spirit, and touch her soft dress, until she stood in a crowd of blue gowns
laughing as they held up their gifts for her to see and admire.

Mamma leaned down and whispered one word to the older girls; and suddenly
they all took hands to dance round Effie, singing as they skipped.

It was a pretty sight, and the ladies found it hard to break up the happy
revel; but it was late for small people, and too much fun is a mistake. So
the girls fell into line, and marched before Effie and mamma again, to say
goodnight with such grateful little faces that the eyes of those who
looked grew dim with tears. Mamma kissed every one; and many a hungry
childish heart felt as if the touch of those tender lips was their best
gift. Effie shook so many small hands that her own tingled; and when Katy
came she pressed a small doll into Effie's hand, whispering, "You didn't
have a single present, and we had lots. Do keep that; it's the prettiest
thing I got."

"I will," answered Effie, and held it fast until the last smiling face was
gone, the surprise all over, and she safe in her own bed, too tired and
happy for anything but sleep.

"Mamma, it was a beautiful surprise, and I thank you so much! I don't see
how you did it; but I like it best of all the Christmases I ever had, and
mean to make one every year. I had my splendid big present, and here is
the dear little one to keep for love of poor Katy; so even that part of my
wish came true."

And Effie fell asleep with a happy smile on her lips, her one humble gift
still in her hand, and a new love for Christmas in her heart that never
changed through a long life spent in doing good.

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