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A Christmas Story of 1887

Editor’s Note: This Christmas story originally appeared in a Columbus, Ohio newspaper on December 24th, 1887. It was subtitled ‘As Compared to the Ordinary Christmas Day’. It is shared here in its complete form, with punctuation, spelling and vocabulary exactly as it was printed in the original. Such humorous stories were very common in local newspapers of the era. What was funny then is just as funny now. For more about Christmas of the 19th century, take a listen to the latest episode of the Merry Podcast.

It was the 24th of December; from a force of circumstances that render it impossible to be otherwise, according to the almanac, it was also Christmas Eve. The wind rushed and tore around the corners like an alderman seeking votes on election day.

The snow was falling fast, and the thermometer hovered in the neighborhood of zero, now above, then below, like a moth around an electric light.

These few facts show conclusively that it was a typical Christmas eve.

Why typical, I cannot say, for I have sat beneath the trees of the 24th of December, sans coat and hat, feeling comfortable – but that was some degrees further south than New York.

At any rate, it was called a typical Christmas Eve.

Inside his private office sat John Smith, the millionaire leather dealer of the “Swamp”, poring over his accounts. It was even o’clock, and all the clerks had gone home, leaving the proprietor alone. By the way, did you ever meet a man by the name of Ebenezer Scrooge? Of course not; nobody else ever did, either – but John Smith? You know lots of John Smiths. A man does not need to have a name like a rusty saw to be mean. From this you will infer that Mr. John Smith was mean; so he was – this particular one.

The amalgamated meaning of Scrooge and Marley did not begin to compare with the close fistedness of this John Smith. Consequently he was rich. I am not mean, neither are you; but are we rich? Such subjects are painful on Christmas Eve – we will go on with the story.

Outside the office three small gamins were engaged in pelting an equally small girl with snowballs; suddenly they stopped.

“Say, Jenny,” cried one of the sterner sex; “try de ole man on de Santa Claus racket!” and they hid in the darkness of a doorway.

The little girl crept to the door, tried the knob and entered. Oh, how warm it was. I merely introduce the last phrase to convince people that this is a genuine Christmas story. A slight cough roused the capitalist, and, looking up, he saw a red, pinched little face gazing wistfully at him. (The redness of the face was due to the application of snow in the hands of the small boy.).

“Well?” (the millionaire was impatient, as three cents were unaccounted for on the balance sheet).

“Please sir,” and the little voice grew plaintive in its question, “are you Santa Claus?”

“Bah!” said Scrooge (I mean John Smith); “humbug!”

“Please, sir,” and the little questioner grew earnest, “won’t yer gimme a quarter?”

The bearded capitalist arose. “Get!” he shouted, and pointed to the doorway.

Obedient to the command, the little figure got – outside the door, and, regaining her companions the tale was told, and they got—what?

Fifteen minutes later the three cents had been found, the safe door closed, and the merchant, well wrapped in his ulster, stepped outside the door.

Whizz-whizz-bang-bang—four snowballs flew with unerring aim at the face and high hat of Mr. John Smith.

“Get!” cried four voices; and the snow covered, angry capitalist picked up his hat and got as fast as his legs could carry him.

This, dear reader, is a realistic Christmas story, a Christmas of today, of the year eighteen hundred and eighty-seven.

Father of 7, Grandfather of 7, husband of 1. Freelance writer, Major League baseball geek, aspiring Family Historian.

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