Christmas vs. Fourth of July (Book, 1908)

I wish I were about to tell you about an obscure mystic war between the forces of winter and summer, but instead this is a little message book about injured children and giving to the poor.

The intended message from author Asenath Carver Coolidge seems to be that both holidays should be less about buying things, but that the Fourth of July especially shouldn’t be about buying fireworks.

This book appears to be a Christmas tie-in for the author’s pet issue: preventing injuries from fireworks and firearms. She wrote multiple books on the subject.

While the Fourth of July is still a common time for injuries today, regulation has brought the numbers down from the time that Coolidge was writing. Time Magazine reports that at the height, according to the book Fireworks, Picnics, and Flags: The Story of the Fourth of July Symbols, “Over the course of five consecutive Fourths, from 1903 to 1907, 1,153 people were killed and 21,520 more were injured.”

But let’s run through the book.

We open on siblings Jerry and Debby discussing the merits of Christmas presents. Debby declares that she’s old enough to care more about giving than getting, but Jerry will have none of that. In fact, Jerry’s more than a bit of a brat, not even sorry that his misuse of firecrackers caused a woman to fall off a horse and break her arm on the Fourth of July a few years earlier.

The perspective shifts to their eavesdropping Uncle Nathan, who reflects on Jerry’s unrepentance and gives internal voice to (Coolidge’s) belief that encouraging children to have explosives or guns to “celebrate” Independence Day is not only destructive, but un-Christian.

Then the plot meanders on, and we find out that Nathan had courted the injured woman’s daughter during her recovery, but he had driven her off with fine gifts. (She was Quaker and it’s implied she found extravagant gifts insulting.)

Most of the rest of the (very short) book follows Nathan helping Debby to pick out Christmas gifts for others: first the poor children in the city, then a collection of ill and dying people in a tenement known to Debby’s teacher. This group includes another Fourth of July victim - a little boy disfigured and blinded by a toy pistol.

Debby’s mountain of purchases arouses her brother’s jealousy, but his parents punish him for his uncaring remarks. Uncle Nathan writes to a surgeon acquaintance who in due course agrees to help the blinded boy. The narrative does some moralizing through Nathan about society’s contradictory messages of love and warfare.

Nathan then discovers that the young Quaker woman he had loved is in the tenement with some sort of nervous condition. He pays money and effort to keep the building quiet for her recovery, and the two are reconciled.

They have a discussion that I found hard to follow about pacifism, war, money, capitalism, and other things, and that’s the end.

It’s not badly written, if overwrought in description and overblown in feeling. There are even bits that are clever or amusing. Overall, though, it’s just a historical footnote, only interesting for it’s connection to the movement toward more peaceful Independence Day celebrations.

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