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Christmas In The Dark

From: Out Of The Dark
Creator: Helen Keller (author)
Date: 1920
Publisher: Doubleday, Page & Company, New York
Source: Available at selected libraries

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*The Ladies' Home Journal, December, 1906


When I was a little girl I spent the Christmas holidays one year at the Perkins Institution for the Blind. Some of the children, whose homes were far away, or who had no homes, had remained at the school. I have never known a merrier Christmas than that.


I hear some one ask: "What pleasure can Christmas hold for children who cannot see their gifts or the sparkling tree or the ruddy smile of Santa Claus? "The question would be answered if you had seen that Christmas of the blind children. The only real blind person at Christmas-time is he who has not Christmas in his heart. We sightless children had the best of eyes that day in our hearts and in our finger-tips. We were glad from the child's necessity of being happy. The blind who have outgrown the child's perpetual joy can be children again on Christmas Day and celebrate in the midst of them who pipe and dance and sing a new song!


For ten days before the holiday I was never still a single moment. I would be one of the party that went Christmasing. I laid my hands on everything that offered itself in the shops, and insisted on buying whatever I touched, until my teacher's eyes could not follow my fingers. How she ever kept me within the bounds of the fitness of things, maintained the scale of values, and overtook the caprices of my fancy, is matter of amazement. To the prettiest doll I would adhere a moment, then discover a still prettier one, and by decision the more perplex her and myself. At last the presents were selected and brought home.


Next, a great Christmas tree, a cedar which towered above my head, was brought to the house where the children lived and planted in the middle of the parlour. Preparation kept'. us busy for a week. I helped to hang wreaths of holly in the windows and over pictures, and had my share in trimming the tree. I ascended and descended continually on the ladder to tie on little balls, apples, oranges, cornucopias, strings of popcorn and festoons of tinsel. Then we attached the little tapers which should set the tree aglow. Last came the gifts. As we placed one and then another, it became more and more difficult for my fingersto thread their way in and out between the candles, the dangling balls, and the swinging loops of corn and tinsel, to find a secure position for the gifts. It seemed as if the green, sweet-scented branches must break with the burden of love-offerings heaped upon them, and soon the higher branches did begin to bend alarmingly with each heavier bundle, "like the cliff-swallow's nest, most like to fall when fullest."


One of the last gifts I hung in the midst of the thick branches was a most unseasonable and incongruous exotic -- a toy cocoanut palm with a monkey, which had movable limbs, and which at the pressure of a spring would run up and slide down with a tiny cocoanut upon his head. Behold the miracle of toyland, a palm grafted upon a cedar! What matters botany? When a little girl wants anything to happen at Christmas, it happens and she is content.


Finally the tree was trimmed. Stars and crescents sparkled from branch to branch beneath my fingers, and farther up a large silver moon jostled the sun and stars. At the very top an angel with spread wings looked down on this wondrous, twinkling world -- the child's Christmas world complete! But I think the stupendous view must have made him a little dizzy, for he kept turning slantwise and crosswise and anywise but the way a Christmas angel should float over a Christmas tree.


My teacher and the motherly lady who was matron in that house were children themselves; it really seemed as if there could not be a grave, experienced grown-up in the world. We admonished each other not to let fall a whisper of the mysteries that awaited the blind children, and for once I kept the whole matter at a higher value than a state secret.


On Christmas Eve I went to bed early, only to hop up many times to rearrange some package, to which I remembered I had not given the finishing touches, and to use all my powers of persuasion with the unruly angel whom I invariably found in a reprehensible position.


Long before any one else was downstairs on Christmas morning, I took my last touch-look at the tree, and lo! the angel was correctly balanced, looking down in serene poise on the brilliant world below him. I suspected that Santa Claus had passed that way, and that under his discipline the angel, probably only a demi-angel, had been released from his sublunary infirmities. I turned to go, quite satisfied, when I discovered that Sadie's doll had shut her eyes on all the splendour that shone about her! "This will never do," I said -- "sleeping at this time!" I poked her vigorously, until she winked, and finally, to show she was really awake, kicked Jupiter in the side, which disturbed the starry universe. But I had the planets in their orbits again before it was time for them to shine on the children.

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