Hi friends! It’s Rachel again. This week we’re talking about “The House of Seven Santas” by John Kendrick Bangs.
I was just reading A Christmas Carol (the classic by Charles Dickens) to my kids. When two gentlemen visit Scrooge on Christmas Eve to collect money for the poor, one of them says, “A few of us are endeavoring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices.”
It’s true, and as a result, Want (meaning need or lack, as Dickens used it) and Abundance are common themes in Christmas stories. A poor man and wife do a kind deed and (surprise!) end up outrageously wealthy. A miser reaps the consequences of his greed at last. A poor child receives a Christmas gift that she truly appreciates. But “Seven Santas” takes a unique angle, which surprised me and has me thinking way more deeply than I expected to.
The story begins on Christmas Eve, about 100 years ago, in New York City. There is such a blizzard that the trains aren’t running, so those suburbanites who have come into the city for last minute Christmas shopping or other business are stranded. Seven of them (all men) hole up in their club. Five arrive laden with parcels that were meant for their children’s Christmas morning. Dr. Mallerby arrives with an unconscious newsboy he stumbled across, who would have died of exposure otherwise. Ricketts is empty handed because, as we are frequently reminded, he is a bachelor.
We see Abundance in the vast array of gifts the fathers have bought for their children, in the fact that they live outside the city, in that they have a place to stay in the city to take shelter from the blizzard, and also in their families.
The first Want we are confronted with is a father not being able to make it home Christmas Eve. “Taking care of himself for the night was not, under the circumstances, a very difficult proposition, for his club was not far away, so that he was not confronted with the uncomfortable prospect of sleeping on the benches of the railway station, but the idea of the little Dobbleighs not finding their treasures awaiting them on the morrow, to say nothing of the anxiety of Mrs. Dobbleigh over his non-arrival, was, to say the least, disconcerting.” Even in Want due to the difficult circumstance, we still notice his Abundance.
The focus of the story is on two other Wants: Ricketts’ bachelorhood and the newsboy’s lack of resources and parents.
When the fathers begin boasting over their kids, each insisting his are the best, Ricketts claims that if he had any children, they would be better than everyone else’s children combined. Later, the doctor feels sorry for Ricketts, musing, “How much these old bachelors lose at this season of the year!”
During the night, the five fathers, unsure of any other way to help the newsboy, each sneak into his room to deliver gifts to him that had been intended for their own children. I love this turn of events because the Abundance of the suburban children (their many gifts), which had become Want (because they would not have them Christmas morning) now became Abundance for the newsboy, who had known little but Want all his life.
The seven Santas play with the newsboy all Christmas day, and none of them more than Ricketts, until finally they receive word that the trains are running again. When they stop to decide what is to be done with the boy, Ricketts announces his decision to adopt him.
The story ends perfectly: “Two lonely hearts had come into their own in the House of the Seven Santas.”
We often seek to fulfill the Want of others out of our Abundance, an attitude that says, “I have more than enough, so let me share.” The miracle in this story is that, by combining the man’s Want of family with the boy’s Want of everything, they now both rejoice in Abundance.
I expected something more frivolous from a Christmas story with “Santa” in the title. It’s not the usual type of Christmas story I’m drawn to. I tend more towards humorous Christmas stories. My current favorite is The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I read it to my kids, and we roll with laughter! Still, I like that “Seven Santas” made me think more deeply – or maybe reading it in conjunction with A Christmas Carol did that. Regardless, I’ll be meditating on Want and Abundance this Christmas.
Let’s talk more in the comments. What do you take away from this story? What are your favorite stories to read (or movies to watch) at Christmas?
P.S.- Make sure to come by Book Club next week as we have some fun and review our favorite books of 2018!