The Last Christmas Tree

As we sat in church this morning, our Pastor preceded his message for this weekend with a prayer for the people of Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  It seems that yesterday–Saturday, October 27, 2018–their congregation became victims of a shooting rampage that left this close-knit historic Jewish neighborhood of Squirrel Hill, along with the rest of our nation–stunned once again.  This was yet another hate crime committed by one man who after posting his vitriolic statements on social media proceeded to kill 11 and injure 6 more–members of this Jewish congregation and responding police officers.  Mass shooting and bombing events similar like this are becoming all too commonplace–It seems all aspects of Americans’ lives, have been increasingly afflicted by the spread of primitive and divisive banter that leads to domestic terrorism, hate crimes, expanding fears and segregation.  I, for one, am praying that I can add value to this world through my positive writings and examples rather than help Satan destroy God’s beautiful creations through his spread of evil.

Hence, I sought out an example of community and brotherly love and found the following 104-year-old short story that is founded upon fact, and was related to the author, Elizabeth H. Steele, by a friend, who was herself the little “Amelie” of the following story.  And, we still have time to learn about God’s love and friendliness for one another through these youngsters hearts and deeds  

The Last Christmas Tree
Author(s): Elizabeth H. Steele
Source: The American Journal of Nursing, Vol. 15, No. 3 (Dec. 1914),
pp. 201-204
Published by: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins
Stable URL:

In a little village in the backwoods region of Illinois, some forty
years ago [1874], lived a Jewish family which had come from the borders of
the Black Forest to seek a home, independence, and religious tolerance
in the New World. None other of their race and faith neighbored them
for many miles in any direction and the children of the family, con-
sisting of two sons of eight and eleven years, and a daughter, Amelie,
of thirteen, attended the day-school with the other village children and
also Sunday School at the Baptist Church. Yet the ancient family
altar was not neglected on ceremonious Fast Days or Feast Days.

The Christian Easter and the Jewish Passover each in turn presented
its symbolic mysteries to their youthful minds. The Hebrew Yom
Kippur (the Jewish New Year) and the Christmas Festival were alike
celebrated, the former with all the traditional religious rites, the latter
by the giving of presents and the attendance at the yearly Baptist
Church Christmas tree.

The village was Baptist to the core, Baptist of the “hard shell”
variety, and held yearly revival services, during which “conversions”
were made and “souls were saved,” chiefly among the younger populace,
 the older residents being already either more or less zealous adher-
ents of the faith or, in a few instances, so hardened to the consequences
of unregenerate sin that the most terrible pictures of eternal punishment and damnation on the one hand or glowing descriptions of
never-ending rewards and bliss on the other alike failed to soften
their perverted natures.

One of Amelie’s school-girl friends, a mere child of twelve summers,
had lately been ” converted” and was experiencing that rapturous state
of mind, in which an appeal to the emotional and the superstitious in
us, supplemented by our own sense of struggle within the powers of good and evil which we term “original sin,” having reduced us for a time to a condition of abasement and penitence, finally lifts us upward on wings of faith amongst the clouds and we feel ourselves, thenceforth, to be one of “the elect.”

Jennie was a fair slender girl, whose narrow chest and stooped figure
(suggestive of a certain physical predisposition) contrasted strongly
with Amelie’s dark ruddy skin and robust health. Not over-strong
and subject for two winters past, to a hacking cough, Jennie, with her
religious ecstasies and sudden bursts of psalm-singing and prayer had
seemed to Amelie to be following the natural development of her temperament and the happy smile and flushed cheek deceived with an
appearance of health. Then came a severe winter which almost finished the poor lungs, so that the inadequate remnant of those organs of which spring found her possessed, barely sufficed to pilot her through a balmy summer in the pine region; and the little strength gained by frequent outings during the warm months, left her at the first touch of chill airs. November found her indoors, mostly confined to bed. When the December snows lay on the ground, Jennie’s young life was ebbing fast with the ebbing year.  One strong desire dwelt with her by day and haunted her dreams by night, the wish to see once more the beautiful Christmas tree that always graced the Baptist Sunday School Festival on the eve before Christmas, with its candles, tinsel paper ornaments, colored bags of candy, and all the bright toys and gew-gaws that so delighted the youthful village heart.  But as the weeks went by and Christmas Day drew nearer, it was plainly to be seen that Jennie would never go outdoors again. The truth dawned on Amelie at last when on her way to school through the crisp morning air, she heard the tone of sympathy as a kindly neighbor inquired how Jennie had passed the night and saw the gravely-shaken head and heard the muttered “Poor lamb! her earthly troubles do be near an end!”  So, as she realized that the unnaturally bright eye, hectic cheek, and wasted frame meant the early breaking of their friendship, Amelie pondered long and earnestly on some means by which she might gratify Jennie’s oft-repeated wish to see a Christmas tree once more.

Two days before Christmas, she took her brother Ike into her confidence and harnessing themselves to an old bob-sleigh borrowed from a neighbor, the two children set off down the village street in the direction of a fir swamp. Here, in turn, they wielded the ax they had brought with them and felled and bound with ropes to the sleigh a shapely young fir tree; then back to the village, they trudged hauling their load after them, with bright, healthy cheeks and sparkling eyes.

It partook of the nature of an adventure, for, lest their secret should
leak out prematurely, they returned by a back route and smuggled their
prize into the woodshed, where they judged it would be safe from the villagers’ observation.

Here, with an old soap-box as a base, they nailed the tree firmly
upright and clapped their hands with glee to see how imposing it looked
already. Two days were spent in trimming it with such bits of broken
candle and tinsel stars and odds and ends saved from former Christmas
trees as they could get together. Half a dozen real candles they did
get with some hoarded pennies. On Christmas Eve the tree was conveyed to Jennie’s house where, with the help of her mother, it was set up in the “best room,” into which the sick girl was then carried; and all the splendid candles being lighted, they sparkled amid the green boughs like so many stars.

Jennie clasped her hands in rapture and gazed and gazed at the
resplendent vision with her soul in her eyes. Then putting her thin
arms about the neck of her friend, she burst into tears of mingled joy
and gratitude.

But the evening was a happy one, with carols sung by childish voices
and much youthful merriment over the untying of certain mysterious
packages which were fastened to the green boughs. When it was over
and the candles all safely burned out, Jennie begged that the curtains
be left undrawn, so that the moonlight might shine in and still make
a glory of the Tree, her Christmas Tree, the last wish of her life fulfilled.
So gazing, with a happy smile on her wan face, she, at last, fell asleep
and dreamed that the Christ-Child had come again to earth and was
leading her gently by the hand, her cough all gone and the cruel pain in
her side and the road by which they went was bordered by great fir trees, all ablaze with Christmas candles.

For a few days after this, the sick girl seemed to gain in strength,
but it was only the flickering of the candle of life about to die down in
its socket. Late one afternoon in Christmas week, Amelie was hastily
summoned to the bedside of her dying friend.  Jennie had just taken the last communion and the Baptist minister was still praying in a loud voice. As the little Jewish maiden entered the room, with an awe-stricken face, he mingled her name with the petition he was offering for the family of the dying girl, praying that “this lamb of the flock of Israel” might be brought into “the true fold.”

Amelie neither realized nor resented the inference for the room seemed
filled with a solemn presence and her gaze was on the face of her little
playmate, already overshadowed by the wings of the Angel of Death.
Jennie lay back on her pillows, exhausted, breathing rapidly with
half-closed eyes, but as Amelie stood beside her, holding one nerveless
hand in her own, with strange and sudden strength, Jennie sat up in
bed and with clasped hands, groping upward, cried. “0, Glory! I
see the New Jerusalem.”

With that one ecstatic look, her eyes dimmed and closed and she
sank back into the arms of her little Jewish friend.

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