- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 18 Dec 1947, p. 171-178
- Moore, H. Napier, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- How to go about the business of making a Christmas speech. A light-hearted and amusing, anecdotal look at Christmas and the spirit of Christmas.
- Date of Original
- 18 Dec 1947
- Language of Item
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- Full Text
- HOW TO MAKE A CHRISTMAS SPEECH
AN ADDRESS BY H. NAPIER MOORE
Chairman: The President, Tracy E. Lloyd
Thursday, December 18th, 1947
REVEREND SIRS--HONOURED GUESTS--and particularly OUR LADIES--and MEMBERS OF THE EMPIRE CLUB
I know you are all delighted that our Club is favoured today by having as its Guest and Speaker one of Canada's best known Journalists-MR. NAPIER MOORE. Mr. Moore is Editorial Director of The MacLean-Hunter Publishing Company, Limited, who publish 36 magazines, trade, industrial and financial publications-even I understand when there is a strike and for 20 years was Editor of MacLean's Magazine and has been Editorial Director of 'Chatelaine' since its establishment.
Our Guest of Honour has had a wide, colorful and varied newspaper experience and was City Editor of The Montreal Mail and for ten years was with the editorial staff of The Montreal Star-five of them as Resident New York Correspondent of that paper. Our Guest was also North American Correspondent of The Australian Press Association and New York Correspondent of The London Daily Express. In the editorial interest of MacLean-Hunter publications, our Guest has travelled widely and continually and has an intimate knowledge of all 'anada. During the War and since the War he has also criss-crossed The United States making our Dominion more widely known over there.
Your Chairman thinks he has heard quite a number of brilliant addresses by outstanding speakers but one iii particular stands out in my memory on the occasion of a dinner given to Mr. R. L. Kellock, K.C., on his elevation to The Bench, when Our Guest of Honour proposed a toast to The Bench, which was responded to by Chief Justice Robertson. This was a formal occasion and was an outstanding and eloquent toast.
Now, on the other hand, Our Guest, if the occasion arises, can be extremely humorous.
I am not sure today exactly what the title Our Guest has chosen may imply but we are looking forward, with a great deal of interest to whatever he cares to say to The Empire Club and its Guests on this Christmas occasion.
Mr. Moore:--His subject,"HOW TO MAKE A CHRISTMAS SPEECH"
Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen: My presence before you this afternoon clearly indicates that people are invited to make Christmas speeches, and it further demonstrates that almost anybody can be invited to make a Christmas speech. It may be that you here may be invited to make a Christmas speech and I thought that my good deed for this festive season might be telling you how to go about the business of making a Christmas speech.
In the first place it is an extremely difficult subject. There is so little new that one can say about Christmas. But, getting into any subject, first of all one must arrest the attention of the audience. Usually that is accomplished by the telling of a story. So the first point is what story do you tell? In order to be sure, because one should never tell a story in a speech that has not some application to those participating in an event, the thing to do is to telephone to the Secretary and say, "Who else is on the programme?" Then they tell you perhaps that at this Christmas function there will be singers. There will be a tenor soloist.
Now, there is your chance. That immediately leads to the story of a very distinguished Welsh tenor who in his declining years wasn't much use on the concert platform so he took to singing in church cantatas and oratorios, and he sung all over the United Kingdom in these things and he got a little bored by the performance and sought a little variety.
There was one number that he used to do with enormous success. I am no musician'and you must forgive me, but just to give an idea, he used to sing out in "Lo, and God said, Fly Away". (That is not bad at that.) He thought a little variety might be interjected if he got some other singer to sit up in the top gallery and come in as an echo, so when he sang "And the Lord said, Fly away", there would come softly, "Fly away".
He did this. It was enormously successful but he had occasion to fill an engagement in Edinburgh and he thought he would get there the day before and make his arrangements for the echo. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to make it so he telegraphed to the local choir leader, explaining what he wanted and asking him if he could find a good tenor who would play the part of the echo. The choir master wired back that he had got the very fellow for the job. He need not worry--everything was going to be all right. He arrived just in time for the concert and appearing on the stage he gazed about for anyone who might look like an echo. He couldn't find anybody who looked that way and with some hesitation he finally approached his big moment. He let himself go. He sang "And the Lord said, Fly away", and away back from the gallery came "Flee awa".
Well you see now that you have got the audience interested you have to get some tie-in with what has gone before. So that is where I can say modestly that I am a very poor echo of what we have already heard on this programme.
Now by this time if there is any interest at all you ought to be able to make some reference to the background of the subject. Now, the way you get background is simply to go to the encyclopedia or other works of reference and hunt it up. You will find it under "Chr" in the encyclopedia. You find for background the information that Christmas as a festival was not among the early festivals of the Christian Church. In fact, the idea of any festival celebrating the birth of Christ was not accepted until around the fifth century. There was continuing disagreement on the part of the scholars as to the date on which it should be celebrated. Some held out for January 6th, some for March 25th and others for December 25th.
Another interesting fact you find is that long before the conversion to Christianity the ancient Britons and the Angli celebrated the 25th of December as the opening of the new year and on the eve of that clay by a night-long vigil they celebrated what in the ancient tongue they called Modranecht,--in other words, "Mother's Night".
Then we discover if we go into it far enough that some of the customs associated with our modern celebration today go back quite a long way. In the days of the Druids and thereabouts it was the custom of men when they chanced to meet under the mistletoe--entwined boughs of an oak to embrace each other, thus demonstrating that they carried no weapons. It was a gesture of good will and peace, and in some mysterious way from that sprang the custom of kissing a girl who happens to be found standing under the mistletoe. No one is very sure as to the steps by which this custom progressed. All the male members of the audience I am sure will agree it wasn't a bad idea.
We find further as we read that it was King Arthur of the Knights of the Round Table who really introduced Christmas as we know it into Britain and we are staggered to find that in the year 1744 by Act of Parliament, Christmas was banned by the Puritans of that time. That
Act was repealed by Charles II, but so far as the Scots were concerned they stuck to it and even to this day they have some hesitation about celebrating Christmas.
Research further tells us that the custom of illuminating a Christmas tree with electric lights, or, as it used to be, candles, sprang from the legend that the first Christmas tree miraculously burst into light.
Another miracle, I am told this morning by one of my newspaper friends, is that for the first time since it was built they have a Christmas tree at Osgoode Hall.
We find further that St. Nicholas, whose name became corrupted to Santa Claus, was really a Bishop of Myra, in Asia Minor, around 300 A.D., that it was his wont to give gifts to children at certain times of the year and that also he was the patron saint, not only of children and of virgins but of sea-faring men and, I regret to say, of thieves.
Then we discover that outside of Teutonic countries no one celebrates Christmas by the giving of presents and that in Holland, instead of the stocking, the child's wooden sabot is used for the Christmas presents.
Then having got all this interesting information, you decide that it has no bearing upon the point and that you won't use it in your exposition.
So we move from the background to the foreground and we are confronted by some disturbing elements about modern Christmas. I suppose most of you who read the New Yorker must have seen an item it quoted a week or two ago. It called attention to an advertisement published by a firm in Wisconsin, entitled "Yule Messages For Pets", and it gives a selection. One of them is: "Wishing you a Bow-Wow-Wow of a Holiday Season and a Bow-Wow-Wow of a New Year". And the other one is worse. It says: "Hoping you have a Bow-Wow-Wow of a Yule Season and a Pur-r-r-r-fect New Year."
Now, this gradually gets us headed toward the main point which is that there ought to be concern about the extent to which Materialism has crept into what is really a sacred celebration-the extravagances of giving, not so much of parent to child but of adult to adult, not only the keeping up with but the excelling of the Joneses--is a matter, or should be a matter, for consideration on the part of everyone here today. It is a far cry from the time when an orange in the toe of a stocking meant Christmas to a boy or girl, to this clay when a parcel is delivered containing apparatus for the splitting of an atom in a mild way.
So we come closer to the main point which is the original idea of Christmas. Perhaps I can tell it this way. Just at the time of the First Great War, in Vancouver, I knew an old newspaper man. His name was J. Francis Birchall, and his pen name was Felix Penn. He was a Grubby old fellow with a long tangled beard. He never wore shoes. He trotted along in all weathers in carpet slippers. He gave all his money away. On Christmas Eve he used to sally forth and I went with him on one Christmas. He would make a tour of all the cafes in down-town Vancouver and get stale bread and stale cakes and take them out to a place where he lived in Collingwood which was then rather a poor suburb of Vancouver. He had quite a large room which he rented. In an ordinary bucket with holes knocked in it he would light a fire with coal he picked up and put in his pocket running around the railway tracks. He would make a big pot of tea or, if he could get it, coffee. At that time there was a depression, a very severe depression. There was no relief, no agencies of welfare. People grubbed along as best they could. He would go out in the highways and the byways and bring in the dregs of the earth, the bums, characters of all kinds, and he would give them tea and broken cakes and bread, and warm them around the bucket. Then he would sit and read to them Dickens' "Christmas Carol". There was more Christmas in the heart of Felix Penn than you would find in most places.
It isn't difficult to convince children of the simplicity of Christmas. But there are troubles. A very great friend of mine, very prominent in this province, and his wife have two children, one a boy of about seven, and one a girl of about four, and to their utter horror everything crashed on them this past week. They had always made quite a ceremony of Christmas. They used to put a bottle of beer and a cheese sandwich for Santa Claus before the children went to bed.
But some time ago the boy discovered the truth about the myth and in spite of the frantic efforts of his parents to stop him, last week he broke the news to the young daughter that Santa Claus was, like Satan, your father. The mother stood there in horror. She told me she froze in horror as she saw this incredulous look come over her daughter's face and suddenly the daughter turned to her and drew herself up full height and with eyes blazing with indignation said, "You drank the beer."
But with occasional exceptions of that kind it is easier for children than it is for adults to get the real feel of Christmas.
The true spirit I think you will find in every parcel of food that goes from this country across to Britain. And I wondered sitting here today and looking out at this audience why this Empire Club, the only Club that has the word "Empire" in its title, why that Club should not as a Club be organizing an endless chain of parcels for Britain that would make every clay Christmas.
So far as mankind and the world community are concerned I think we are coming to the realization that the idea which came into the world with the first Christmas is the only idea by which a tolerable life can be maintained in this world. All the practical plans for the rebuilding of the world, all the projects that offer any hope whatever, are based entirely on the idea that Christmas signifies. The original idea of Christmas was not the action of competing in extravagance. The idea of Christmas was sharing, sharing not only in the tangibles, but in the intangibles.
So we are at the point--and who are we going to quote? I can do no better than to quote Dickens, who had more of the feeling of the real Christmas idea than, to my way of thinking, any other human. You find it in one of the lesser known passages from the Christmas Stories, from Dickens' description of a Christmas tree, and behind it you feel the almost presence of Him after whom Christmas was named.
These are the words: "The tree is decorated with bright merriment, song and dance and cheerfulness. And they are welcome. Innocent and welcome be they ever held beneath the branches of the Christmas tree which casts no gloomy shadow. I hear a whisper through the leaves: This in commemoration of the law of love and kindness and compassion. This, in remembrance of me."