"The Children of Plenty have not forgotten the Children of Want. Victorians may retire tonight with the satisfaction of knowing that no child in this city will wake up to contemplate the tragedy of an empty stocking.”
Those words were printed in the Victoria Daily Colonist on Dec. 24, 1912, a century ago.
Christmas is a time for traditions. And as Ebenezer Scrooge learned in one really rough night, it is also a time to consider Christmas past, Christmas present and Christmas future. “Everything in this world grows old but Christmas,” as the Victoria Daily Times said 100 years ago.
A Times Colonist tradition is to look back, in the final editorial before Christmas, searching to gain a better sense of what has happened, and hunting for clues that might help us today. This year, we’re back to 1912.
The Colonist was filled with optimism, probably a reflection of the extraordinary economic boom felt the entire year.
“Men and women separated from their kin will be remembered in Victoria,” the newspaper said. “For them, loving hands will wreathe the walls with holly, and hang the boughs of the Christmas tree with gifts, so that those from the Old Land across the grey waters of the Atlantic from the nearer neighbour over the border, and many others, will realize the common touch of brotherhood, which on such seasons as this girdles the universe with a golden chain.”
The healthy economy meant many people were able to return to the United Kingdom for Christmas. The Colonist reported that steamer traffic across the Atlantic had been full. England too far? It was possible to get away to Vancouver on one of the Canadian Pacific steamships. Just $2.70, return.
In 1912 as now, Christmas was a time for giving and for sharing — and as a result, stores were busy.
What were the hot items at Spencer’s department store in 1912? For men, Irish linen handkerchiefs, slippers, or arm bands, garters and combination sets. For women, fancy belts, Dresden ribbons, Robespierre collars and handkerchiefs.
But the Christmas spirit was most evident in the celebrations throughout the city.
On Christmas Eve, members of the Cornishmen’s Society walked through downtown, singing a set of West Country carols. “It doubtless recalled many a midnight tramp from farm house to farm house across the moors, and the warm welcome their inhabitants had ready for them,” the Colonist said the following day.
The Empress Hotel — not yet five years old that Christmas — was brightly decorated, with garlands of fir from chandelier to roof and from roof to pillar, trimmed with scarlet bells. The hotel’s new ballroom was being readied for its first event — the New Year’s Eve ball.
Nurses and staff members roamed the hallways at Royal Jubilee Hospital and St. Joseph’s Hospital, singing carols for all to enjoy.
A free Christmas dinner was served at the Men’s Mission at 1415 Store St., which was home to 60 men. Another dinner was served to the six young women in the Refuge Home on Pembroke Street. Other special celebrations were held in the Protestant Orphanage, the Children’s Aid Home, and the Oriental Home for Children.
Even in 1912, in the midst of great plenty, there were people in need in our community. That is one thing that has not changed, and might never change.
It’s never too late to give, and to offer a helping hand to others. The need is great this year — and donations to most Christmas organizations have fallen short of goals. Again, it’s not too late to help.
Really, that’s what the Christmas spirit is all about; this year as in 1912 and every other year, the Children of Plenty must not forget the Children of Want.
© Copyright 2013