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TUESDAY TAKEOVER: A Vintage Voice from a Christmas Past: Excerpts from “The Joyful Life” by Margaret E. Sangster

November 27, 2018

 

Kathryn Ross, writer, speaker, and dramatist, ignites a love of literature and learning, equipping young and old to develop a Family Literacy Lifestyle—reading together, learning together, loving together. She challenges families to deepen their literacy skills and grow into the greater things God has purposed for them, producing readers and thinkers who can engage the world from a biblical worldview. She’s taught in Christian and homeschool circles using Principle Approach® methodologies. Miss Kathy owns Pageant Wagon Publishing, producing books for home, church, and school, with publishing services for tooling writers to meet ministry objectives. She podcasts and blogs at www.PageantWagonPublishing.com

 

 

A Vintage Voice from a Christmas Past:

Excerpts from “The Joyful Life” by Margaret E. Sangster

By Kathryn Ross

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I stash books in every corner of my home. There’s not a single wall in my house where you won’t see at least one vintage book artfully displayed. I rescue old volumes in cloth covers with pre-1940s copyrights. When I’m thrifting or browsing for treasures in antique shops, my eyes are alert to catch a gold embossed hardcover spine by a classic author. My mantle is a showplace for early volumes of Dickens, Tennyson, and Van Dyke—notable names among a host of lesser knowns, but no less worthy wordsmiths in their day.

 

Vintage books are my favorite reads and go-to props for decorating year-round. So, when I was at a recent Christian Homeschool Association of Pennsylvania’s vast two-day convention, I just had to peruse the stacks of a fellow vendor specializing in “living books” for literature studies and research purposes. Books old and new graced the display—but one volume in particular immediately captured my attention. 

 

 

The gold embossed spine and faded portrait of a gentle woman’s face arrested me. When I opened the well-preserved hardcover and reviewed the table of contents, I knew this would be joining my collection on my bookshelf after spending some time on my reading table.

 

Within a week, I was ready to open up the world of 19th century American poet, author, and editor, Margaret Elizabeth Sangster. She explored family and faith themes with thoughtful devotional reflections, hymns, and sacred texts.

 

Born in 1838, she lived in New York and New Jersey, growing up in a Christian home. Honing her writing skills in her youth, she delayed her publishing aspirations throughout her thirteen-year marriage to George Sangster, until his death in 1871. A widow in her mid-thirties, she chose not to remarry, and pursued a career as writer/editor with a number of popular publications for women and Christian readers including Hearth and Home and Harper’s Bazaar. She was a contributing writer to Ladies’ Home Journal, The Christian Herald, and dispensed wisdom in a regular column of the Woman’s Home Companion. In addition, she published several volumes of children’s stories, poetry, and inspirational collections for women—including The Joyful Life, published in 1903 by the American Tract Society—my new treasure for devotional reading.

I brewed my morning cup of tea and settled into my cozy recliner with Mrs. Sangster’s 19th century words soaking into my heart and mind. Her gentle compassion and compelling wisdom in applying biblical principles to everyday life read fresh and relevant to my life as a Christian woman a century after she penned the words. 

 

This month, as we prepare for Christmas, consider these excerpts from a chapter called, Christmas Holly, with Mrs. Sangster’s thoughts for marking the day in your home, with your family, and the community at large. Authored over a century ago. She writes eloquently on five specific topics:

 

  1. On the Glory of the Season

  2. On Children and Christmas

  3. On Christmas Ornamentations

  4. On Christmas Presents 

  5. On the True Meaning of Christmas

 

But first, here’s her personal foreword to welcome you to her world in The Joyful Life:

 

 

Each chapter of this book is a simple and friendly talk on some theme of homely interest, and the author’s aim has been to suggest something helpful in each as to life and conduct. We are all wayfarers, and our manners on the road have much to do with our happiness and usefulness. As a rule the pilgrim who walks lightly encumbered with luggage is least weary at the end of the day, and therefore the aim has been to inculcate care for the realities and to let the superfluities go. Most of the impedimenta with which we weight ourselves here will be forgotten when we cross the river and enter the Father’s house. Some things we shall carry over—our love to Christ and to each other, our share of the peace that passeth understanding, our desire to do his will and to bear his image—for it is written that in the Jerusalem that is above, “His servants shall serve him.”

 

It is the writer’s hope that every word she sends forth may find a lodgment in some sympathetic heart, and that each reader may be her friend. As friends together we may talk of the common experiences which, when love touches them, wear hues of immortality.

Margaret E. Sangster

The Joyful Life

© 1903, American Tract Society

 

 

On the Glory of the Season

 

 

With December comes the beautiful consummation of the year. Behind us lie Autumn with her varied splendor of coloring and her rich fruitage, Summer with her pomp of bloom and wealth of golden grain, Spring with her sweetness of blossom and tender atmosphere of hope and love. Before us as December’s doors swing wide are days of cold and storm, frost, snow, sleet, wild winds by sea and shore, but there also stretches invitingly a procession of happy mornings and evenings at home, and best of all, December brings us Christmas. 

 

Christmas, the world’s great festival, gathering to itself, as the months and years go by, the sacred associations which cluster forever around the incarnation, is our gladdest anniversary, because we keep it as Christ’s birthday. It does not matter in the least whether December twenty-fifth is, or is not, the precise day on which Mary first held her baby in her arms, while shepherds and wise men worshipped him. On some day in the long history of this earth, the fullness of time came, and God sent into it his only begotten Son, on a mission of redemption. By common consent this day we keep as Christmas has been selected as that anniversary, and all nations are joining in the acclaim which arises in its hallowed dawning to praise Immanuel’s name.

 

 

 

On Children and Christmas

 

Jesus in the Yule-tide days is once more among us as a child. No mere mortal child so pure, so docile, so wonderful as he, yet in very deed a child, subject to his parents, and living beside his fair young mother in her little home in Nazareth. Looking at him, as the Child in the midst of us, we are led to look more carefully and with gentler thoughtfulness at our own children and at the hosts of children outside our own households. 

 

When we load the Christmas tree with pretty gifts for John and Jean, and induce them for weeks beforehand to tell us what they want and what they hope to receive, entirely overlooking their part in Christmas giving, we do them a wrong. A one-sided Christmas cannot be joyful, even to a little child. The true Christmas spirit fosters self-denial and bestowal, and the child who makes no small or large sacrifice, that he may send a present to someone outside, or give something to his mother or sister, loses a precious opportunity and is in peril of being morally dwarfed. 

 

Every little one in a home replete with comfort should early learn that he or she can help to brighten the lot of a child who is less well off, of a child whose little feet are treading stormy pathways. The Sunday-school that foregoes its own annual treat, in order that it may provide one for a school elsewhere, will, on the whole, have a more delightful and satisfactory Christmas than the one which simply absorbs all that the fathers and mothers of the church, and its short-sighted teaches will give it.

 

On Christmas Ornamentations

 

Ages ago it was written of the good man, “His leaf also shall not wither, and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” In the deep dark green of Christmas wreaths and the spicy scent of Christmas garlands, there is the renewal in our minds of this assurance of the ultimate success and prosperity of the man who lives to do God’s will. True, to such an one there may come ups and downs, and many strange reverses and vicissitudes. The cedar of Lebanon was not raised in a hothouse. The tree that is strong and tough and fair and full of fadeless leaves on sturdy boughs was nurtured under the stars and sun, rocked by the tempest, powdered by the snow, and tried by the fierceness of the north wind. But as nothing can permanently hurt “the tree God plants,” so, if we love God, nothing can harm us, but all things shall work together for our good. 

 

On Christmas Presents

 

Choosing our Christmas presents is one of the most exciting and on the whole delightsome occupations of the year . . . Both men and women, if they enlist in the campaign of Christmas giving should select their offerings with discretion, judgement and adaptation to the tastes and needs of the one whom they desire to please. 

 

On the True Meaning of Christmas

 

A merry, merry Christmas

To all who tread today

The age long road to Bethlehem

Where once our Saviour lay—

A little child in swaddling clothes

While cattle near him lowed;

And in the sky above his head

The Star of centuries glowed.

 

A merry, merry Christmas

To every weary heart

That brings its load of care to One

Who in our grief has part;

A merry Christmas to the soul

That lowly bows to him,

Before whose face the seraphim

Grow in their whiteness dim.

 

A merry Christmas unto all

Who open wide the door,

That Jesus Christ may enter in

And dwell forever more.

Exalted be his wondrous name,

And glory be his own’

Who conquered sin and death for us,

And sits upon the throne. 

 

A merry, merry Christmas

To every little child,

Who clasps the hand of Jesus,

And loves the undefiled,

And may the light of Christmas

From heaven’s fair palace stream

And all the year be brighter in

Its radiant living gleam.

 

“Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given” and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” Dear friends, may the next Christmas bring you and me into closer and sweeter relationship than ever before to Christ our Lord.

 

 

I’ve shared just excerpts from the Christmas Holly chapter in The Joyful Life by Margaret E. Sangster in this article. To enjoy the full chapter, dramatized in my 2016 Christmas message PODCAST, visit www.thewritersreverie.com/vintage-christmas-holly. Gather the family around with a cozy cuppa chocolate and an interactive Family Literacy moment. Take the time to discuss some of the thoughts expressed by Mrs. Sangster. How different are her musings about celebrating Christmas from how we celebrate it today? How are you challenged to revisit the heart of Christmas with your family by her thoughtful reflections? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

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