Fitch Waterman Taylor was an American minister who was appointed chaplain of the US Navy. In that role he travelled around the world, and his travel journal was published as A Voyage Around the World in 1847. In the first volume, he related his feelings about spending Christmas on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. His thoughts inevitably turned to Christmas back home…
There are periods in time, that come upon us on their annual occurrence, with an irresistible power of association. And they are happy or grievous, as our experience may have been, as those periods have rolled round, on their yearly returns. To-day is Christmas. And how immediately is the inquiry raised, “Where was I last Christmas? And whom was I with?” And how much there is in the answers, as the mind runs over the objects and their associations, which are recalled in connection with that day! To me, as I go back to the Christmas day, one year from this, all things come back with a freshness, as if I were again standing amid those scenes, so far over the sea, and among friends rendered yet more dear, by the distance which intervenes and the time we have measured since we parted. I remember the clear day that sent forth its beams from a clear sun, but with little warmth in his rays. I remember the church wreathed and festooned, and inly embowered with evergreens; and the pulpit where I stood, and the fixed eyes of the people as they listened to the word of God, and the altar around which they gathered. And I remember the young and endeared sister, so lately attired in her dress of deep mourning, and like a dove whose companion had been smitten from her side by an arrow, seemed an object of lonely loveliness, amid a congregation of lighter robes and lighter hearts. And beside her sat a man of years, who had but a few days before put his lip upon the cold and marble brow of the child he cherished and loved as but few fathers love, ere that child was borne to her cold grave, to come no more, at the Christmas gathering, around the family table, and to mingle in the family’s domestic circle. And I remember the letter, which, on that day and at that place, was handed me, which invited me to visit scenes in other nations, and which determined me to start on the course that has brought me to spend this Christmas day nearly half way around the world from the spot where I then was standing, and from the friends with whom I then communed.
And to-day, instead of that neat temple, so tastefully festooned and decorated in evergreens, on the joyous birthday of the Redeemer of the world, and in a clime where the December gale bears on its wing a freezing and bracing air, and the snow-storm spreads the wide folds of its gorgeous ermine mantle over mountain and meadow, forest and fern, and the ice bridges span the rivers in their flow, I now look abroad from an ocean-temple, floating in the warm seas of a torrid clime. And before me lies one of nature’s sublimest, loveliest evergreen mountains, curving its beautiful outline of embowering trees on an horizon that smiles blandly and serene, as the warmer than the summer gale sweeps along the thick foliage of the green mountain-side of the pepper Isle. And to-day, our still ship slumbers on the smooth bosom of the lovely bay, over which our guns yesterday were throwing their intonations of displeasure and rebuke, into the ears of the abettors and protectors of the robber and the murderer. But, while the thunders of those guns have ceased, the eternal roar of the surf sleeps not, as the undulating wave breaks, in its perpetual rim of cascading foam, along the extended beach of gold. I have always loved this roar of ocean-wave this loud murmur of the sea-surge, breaking on the golden beach. It ever reminds me of the voice of Niagara, in her perpetual worship of the Eternal. And though the voice of man were lost, were he to join in the loud chant, yet the one emotion that swells the bosom of the worshipper, as he stands upon the sea-shore, is sublimer far than the loudest roar of mighty waters. But, ye friends, who to-day are more than ten thousand miles away, in the happy land of the west, “a merry, happy Christmas to ye all.” And O, that I could hear your response, and greet you for one hour on this hallowed day, at your festive and happy board. I know that your thoughts this day are often with me, and that for me your prayers, in kindness, as certainly ascend. And I — but may God bless ye all.
From 1st to 24th December there will be a “Christmas History” article on Windows into History every day, exploring how people spent Christmas in the past through first-hand accounts in forgotten books. Please come back tomorrow for the next article!
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