As a child I remember feeling overwhelmed with love at this time of year, and that is the feeling I wish to capture in my gift giving. It was never the cost of a gift that was important, it was the apparent effort in creating the simplest indulgences: my Mom reading me the Christmas chapter of “Little Women” on a work night as I snuggled under the covers in my featherbed. Alcott’s story captures the powerful touch of simple gifts we receive and give throughout the year.
In her late 20s, while volunteering as a Civil War nurse, Alcott was treated for typhoid pneumonia with a mercury-based medicine. She suffered from mercury poisoning and her health was never restored.
In “Little Women” Alcott shares her memories of a childhood stressed by financial poverty but blessed with love. Louisa based the four March girls — Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy — on herself and her sisters and set them in New England during the Civil War. The story begins at Christmas time, with the girls lamenting the absence of their father — off aiding the war effort — and their trying financial circumstances.
Though they miss their father, the girls spend more time discussing their presents, for these are the desires they know how to fulfill. Knowing they will not receive many presents, the girls consider spending their small savings on gifts for themselves. But, after reflecting on their loving, supportive and charitable mother, they decide instead to buy her tokens of their love: slippers, a handkerchief, cologne, a rose and gloves. Even in reaching their decision to honor their mother with these gifts, the girls’ spirits rise.
On Christmas morning, Mrs. March leaves a small book under each girl’s pillow. When the girls gather together to thank their “Marmee,” she tells them sadly about a neighboring family with hungry children, no wood for a fire and no food for breakfast.
Stirred by this, the girls gather their bountiful breakfast and travel with their mother to deliver the food and bring some cheer to their neighbors in need. Rewarded by the flood of exultation that such giving imparts, the March girls’ spirits truly soared. Alcott’s heroines learn many lessons in giving. While never perfect, they strive to be good.
childhood , family , stress