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So many people from England, and from Germany, and from France have come to our country to live, of course, we too have learned about Christmas trees. And that is why you and so many other little girls and boys have such pretty trees on Christmas eve.
THE ORIGIN OF THE EASTER BUNNY
Childish voices are asking why the rabbit is seen with the eggs and the chickens that fill the shop windows and show-cases at Easter.
The legend that established the hare as a symbol of the Eastertide is not generally known. It is of German origin and runs as follows:
Many years ago, during a cruel war, the d.u.c.h.ess of Lindenburg with her two children and an old servant fled for safety to a little obscure village in the mountains. She found the people very poor, and one thing that surprised her much was that they used no eggs. She learned that they had never seen or heard of hens, and so when the old servant went to get tidings of his master and of the war he brought back with him some of these birds.
The simple village folk were greatly interested in the strange fowl, and when they saw the tiny yellow chickens breaking their way out of the eggs they were full of delight. But the d.u.c.h.ess was saddened by the thought that Easter was drawing near and that she had no gifts for the little mountain children. Then an idea came to her. The spring was beginning to colour the earth with leaves and flowers, and she made bright dyes out of herbs and roots and coloured the eggs. Then the children were invited to visit the d.u.c.h.ess, and she told them stories of the glad Easter day, and afterwards bade each make a nest of moss among the bushes. When they had all enjoyed the little feast provided in their honour, they went back to the woods to look at their nests. Lo! in each were five coloured eggs.
"What a good hen it must have been to lay such beautiful eggs," said one child.
"It could not have been a hen," said another. "The eggs that the hens lay are white. It must have been the rabbit that jumped out of the tree when I made my nest."
And all the children agreed that it was the rabbit, and to this day the mystic Bunny is supposed to bring eggs and gifts at Easter to the little children of the "fatherland" who have been loving and kind during the year.
THE STORY OF ST. VALENTINE
Once upon a time, there lived in a monastery across the sea a humble monk called Valentine. Every brother save himself seemed to have some special gift.
Now there was Brother Angelo, who was an artist, and painted such wonderful Madonnas that it seemed as if the holy mother must step down from the frame and bless her children.
Brother Vittorio had a wonderful voice, and on saints' days the monastery chapel would be crowded with visitors, who came from far and near just to listen to that wonderful voice as it soared up among the dim old arches.
Brother Anselmo was a doctor, and knew the virtues of all roots, herbs, and drugs, and was kept very busy going about among the sick, followed by their tearful, grateful blessing.
Brother Johannes was skilled in illuminating, and Valentine often watched the page grow under his clever hand. How beautiful would then be the gospel story in brightly-coloured letters, with dainty flowers, bright-winged b.u.t.terflies, and downy, nestling birds about the borders!
Brother Paul was a great teacher in the monastery school, and even learned scholars came to consult him. Friar John ruled the affairs of the little monastery world with wisdom and prudence. Indeed, out of the whole number only Valentine seemed without special talent.
The poor man felt it keenly. He longed to do some great thing. "Why did not the good G.o.d give me a voice like Vittorio or a skilled hand like Angelo?" he would often inquire of himself bitterly. One day as he sat sadly musing on these things, a voice within him said clearly and earnestly: "Do the little things, Valentine; there the blessing lies."
"What are the little things?" asked Valentine, much perplexed. But no answer came to this question. Like every one else, Valentine had to find his work himself.
He had a little plot where he loved to work, and the other monks said that Valentine's pinks, lilies, and violets were larger and brighter than any raised in the whole monastery garden.
He used to gather bunches of his flowers and drop them into the chubby hands of children as they trotted to school under the gray monastery walls. Many a happy village bride wore his roses on her way to the altar. Scarcely a coffin was taken to the cemetery but Valentine's lilies or violets filled the silent hands.
He got to know the birthday of every child in the village, and was fond of hanging on the cottage door some little gift his loving hands had made. He could mend a child's broken windmill and carve quaint faces from walnut sh.e.l.ls. He made beautiful crosses of silvery gray lichens, and pressed mosses and rosy weeds from the seash.o.r.e. The same tender hands were ready to pick up a fallen baby, or carry the water bucket for some weary mother.
Everybody learned to love the good Brother Valentine. The children clung to his long, gray skirts, and the babies crept out on the streets to receive his pat on their shining hair. Even the cats and dogs rubbed against him, and the little birds fluttered near him unafraid.
St. Valentine grew old, loving and beloved, never dreaming that he had found his great thing. When the simple monk died the whole countryside mourned, and hundreds came to look for the last time on the quiet face in the rude coffin.
A great duke walked bare-headed after that coffin, and one of the most noted brothers of the church spoke the last words of blessing to the weeping people.
After his death, it was remembered how sweet had been his little gifts, and the villagers said: "Let us, too, give gifts to our friends on the good Valentine's birthday." So ever since has the pretty custom been carried out, and on St. Valentine's day we send our friends little tokens of remembrance to say we love them.
THE FIRST THANKSGIVING
It is nearly three hundred years since the first Thanksgiving Day. Though we have even more to be grateful for, I think that there are not many of us who feel quite so thankful as the little handful of people who set apart the first Thanksgiving Day.
There were not very many of them, just one little village in a big forest land, and by the edge of a great ocean. Here, on the map, is where they lived. It is on the north-eastern sh.o.r.es of the United States and is called Plymouth. The people I am telling you about gave it that name when they came to it, nearly two years before they had their first Thanksgiving Day. It was the name of the last town they had seen in England. Here, on the map, is the English Plymouth, and you see what a long trip they had in their little vessel, called the _Mayflower_, to their new home.
You still wonder why they travelled so far to make new homes for themselves. It was because they wanted to worship G.o.d in their own way that they left England. They were not afraid of the long voyage and all its hardships; for they felt sure they were doing as G.o.d wished them to do. They arrived safely, too, and built their little village by the sea--the new Plymouth. One of the first buildings they put up was a little log church.
The first year was very hard for everybody. The winter was colder than any they had ever known in England, and their houses were small and poorly built. They could not get any letters or news from their friends in England for many months. Food was not scarce, for there was always plenty of game and fish. But it was such a change from their old way of living that many people became ill, and in the spring there were many graves. But the worst thing about the new land was the Indians. These English people were afraid of them--and with good reason, too, for they were very fierce and sometimes very cruel. They tried not to let the Indians know how few they were, and even planted grain about the graves in the churchyard so that the Indians could not count how many had died.
But one of the Indian Chiefs was friendly to the English and kept the other tribes from making war on them, and the second summer they had a great harvest and everything was more comfortable. It was in that autumn, just after the grain was gathered, that the minister spoke to them one Sunday about having a Thanksgiving day. "It seemeth right," he said, "G.o.d hath granted us peace and plenty. He has blessed us with a dwelling-place of peace. He has held back the savage red man from bringing harm to us. Therefore let us appoint a day of Thanksgiving."
After that all the people, even the boys and girls, were busy getting ready. The men took their guns and fishing-rods and went into the forest, and brought home fowl, fish, and deer, and perhaps bear meat as well. The boys and girls gathered wild plums, and grapes, and corn, and brought in pumpkins from the gardens; and the women made pies, puddings, cakes, and bread, and baked the meat and corn. They had great piles of cakes, and rows and rows of pies, and loaves of bread and platters of meat, for they all expected company. You could not guess, I am sure, who was coming! They had sent word to the Indians near to come and spend Thanksgiving Day with them.
Do you suppose they came? Indeed they did. They came before breakfast and stayed until long after supper, and had a good time, and tasted everything the white women had cooked, and nodded their heads and said, "How" a great many times, to say it was good. Some of the little girls and boys were half afraid of them, but they need not have been; for that day the Indians felt very kindly toward the English.
Ask pupils to mention things for which they are thankful.
LETTER FROM MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS, TO QUEEN ELIZABETH
Believe, Madame (and the doctors whom you sent to me this last summer can have formed an opinion), that I am not likely long to be in a condition which can justify jealousy or distrust. And this notwithstanding, exact from me such a.s.surances, and just and reasonable conditions as you wish. Superior force is always on your side to make me keep them, even though for any reason whatever I should wish to break them. You have had from observation enough experience of my bare promises, sometimes even to my own damage, as I showed you on this subject two years ago. Remember, if you please, what I then wrote you, and that in no way could you so much win over my heart to yourself as by kindness, although you have confined forever my poor body to languish between four walls; those of my rank and disposition not permitting themselves to be gained over or forced by any amount of harshness.
In conclusion, I have to request two things especially; the one that as I am about to leave this world I may have by me for my consolation some honourable churchman, in order that I may daily examine the road that I have to traverse and be instructed how to complete it according to my religion, in which I am firmly resolved to live and die. This is a last duty which cannot be denied to the most wretched and miserable person alive; it is a liberty which you give to all foreign amba.s.sadors, just as all other Catholic kings allow yours the practice of their religion.
And as for myself, have I ever forced my own subjects to do anything against their religion even when I had all power and authority over them? And you cannot justly bring it to pa.s.s that I should be in this extremity deprived of such a privilege. What advantage can accrue to you from denying me this? I hope that G.o.d will forgive me if, oppressed by you in this wise, I do not cease from paying Him that duty which in my heart will be permitted. But you will give a very ill example to other princes of Christendom of employing towards their subjects and relatives, the same harshness which you mete out to me, a sovereign queen and your nearest relative, as I am and shall be in spite of my enemies so long as I live.