THE FIRST GROUNDHOG DAY WAS CHRISTMAS
The film Groundhog Day was a massive hit in 1993. Bill Murray's performance drew raves, but so did the premise, the comic, tragic, and deeply philosophical idea of a man forced to live one day of his life over and over again until he learned proper humanity. Leon Arden summarized the reaction, remembering, "When all the reviews came through and all of them said how wonderful the idea was. ... Many said the idea was 'genius'." Arden had the best possible reason for praising the concept. He was suing Columbia Pictures, screenwriters Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis, and producer Trevor Albert for plagiarizing his idea. But it wasn't his. He wasn't even the only one considering a suit. The idea is a great one, but none of them originated it. Wishing to relive a great day - or the converse, hoping never to have to relive a bad one - seems to be a primal human emotion. Before Groundhog Day appeared, at least half a dozen other writers wielded the premise in wildly different plots, yet seemed forced by inexorable fate to incorporate similar details and elements, as if pulling them from a Jungian shared unconscious. I have the privilege of pulling them all together for the first time and presenting you with the full text of what appears to be the ur-story, the first Groundhog Day, "Christmas Every Day," from the far-off time of 1892.
Let's start with Leon Arden. Born in 1930, he roamed Europe as a free-lance photographer after graduating from Columbia. He wanted to write as well and in 1957 he published his first novel, The Savage Place, about ... the life and loves of a free-lance photographer in Europe. It sold well, especially in paperback. A few years later he followed it with Seesaw Sunday, a novel about ... the life and loves of a photographer in the U.S. America was the subject publishers wanted, so despite living and writing in Paris his third novel was about the turbulent youth movement in Nixonian America. Keeping to that slow schedule, though a number of short stories appeared in between novels, Arden finally brought out a fourth novel in 1981, One Fine Day.
At 7:30 AM on Monday, April 14, Robinson Blake gets awakened by a self-made recording attached to his alarm clock prodding him loudly to "Wake up you lazy bastard." Rob's life is not going fine. He goes to his nowhere job as a researcher where it gets worse since he had to confront his secretary and girlfriend, Millie. He suddenly fell out of love with her on Friday and that's all too obvious to her. Whom he really loves is Philippa, the sexy wife of his boss, whose constant presence in the office now torments him. He goes through a lengthily-detailed and utterly miserable day and goes to bed. End of Chapter 1. He wakes up the next morning, which is again 7:30 AM on Monday, April 14, though he doesn't realize it at first. He stumbles through the day amazed that no one else remembers the previous day's events. End of Chapter 2. He wakes up the next morning, which is again 7:30 AM on Monday April 14. The reality of the repetition is soon obvious to him. The rest of the book logically extrapolates from Rob's dilemma as he copes with his insane situation. He sees a fortune teller. Incompetent witches get involved. Both comic and tragic, the novel follows Rob's increasingly desperate attempts to change the world, change himself, pursue Philippa, and coddle Millie, only to face the horrifying realization that nothing he does can matter.
An English class would have a fun, not to mention lengthy, session listing similarities between this plot and that of Groundhog Day. Murray's character is also in a nowhere job. He also gets awakened every morning by his alarm radio, though his is blaring Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe." He stumbles through the first day, just as Rob does (JARD ). He eventually destroys the alarm out of frustration, JARD. He tries to convince others by prognosticating things before they happen, JARD. He uses his memories of repeated days to learn all about the woman he cares for, JARD. He goes to a psychiatrist in a vain hope that he merely might be crazy, JARD. He learns that even death resets itself, JARD.
In the end, both men get the woman they want, though the ending of One Fine Day is an unholy mess. The movie is a better treatment of the plot, because showing the repetitions is faster and smoother than having to write them out each time, but that's a function of the medium more than an intrinsic difference. Arden, in fact, had sold the movie rights to Disney, giving him hope of making piles of money from another lucrative paperback reprint or at the very least of getting a huge boost for his next book. Before that could happen Columbia released Groundhog Day. So Arden sued, asking a whopping $15,000,000.
The judge took the case, Arden v. Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc., very seriously. He summarized both works at great length, and went through a long history of copyright cases. He found that the ideas at the core of the book and movie are the same. But that's not enough.
It is well settled that copyright law only protects plaintiff's particular expression of his ideas, not the ideas themselves. 17 U.S.C. § 102(b) ("In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea ... [or] concept ... regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.")
What about all the similar incidents in the two works? Copyright law has an answer for that as well.
Scenes a faire are those elements of a work "that necessarily result from the choice of a setting or situation," Walker, 784 F.2d at 50, or "'sequences of events which necessarily follow from a common theme.'"
In the end, the judge ruled he had no choice but to dismiss the lawsuit, however sympathetic he might be.
In reading Mr. Arden's affidavit in opposition to the summary judgment motion, I can appreciate his frustration at seeing his idea of a man trapped in a repeating day used, without his consent, in a movie that has grossed more than $70 million, not one cent of which he has received. Again, however, ideas are not copyrightable, and the law has sought to strike a balance between protecting original works and promoting further creativity, a balance that has resulted in—even assuming defendants did copy Mr. Arden's idea—a creative, entertaining work that is substantially different from his expression of his idea.
Arden's career never recovered from this blow, although he continues to write till this day.
It's not mentioned anywhere in the court's opinion, but both Columbia and Arden should have known that neither of them was the originator of the idea. Anyone and everyone in Hollywood should have known. Hollywood may be a small town divided by castes but the one thing uniting the filmmaking community has always been the shared experience of voting for the Academy Awards. All they had to do was look at the Oscar nominees for Best Live Action Short Film for 1990. There were only four, not too hard to get through. One was 12:01 PM, written and directed by Jonathan Heap.
It features Myron Castleman, a man stuck in a nowhere job, who finds himself on a pedestrian island halfway across a street at 12:01 PM and proceeds to live out the next hour over and over again. Oh, the irony.
Click to watch the full movie.
The film, first shown as part of Showtime's 30-Minute Movie anthology series, was based on a short story, "12:01 P. M.," by Richard A. Lupoff, published in the December 1973 Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (F&SF). Heap and Lupoff noticed Groundhog Day's similarities as soon as it appeared. Lupoff later wrote that:
Jonathan Heap and I were outraged and tried very hard to go after the rascals who had robbed us, but alas, the Hollywood establishment closed ranks. We were no Art Buchwald. After half a year of lawyers' conferences and emotional stress, we agreed to put the matter behind us and get on with our lives. [Humorist Art Buchwald had in 1990 successfully sued Paramount Pictures for using without payment or credit a movie treatment he had written.]
Lupoff felt the same kick Arden did, because he knew that his work would get a second filming from a cable movie produced by Heap. Titled 12:01, the movie debuted in July 1993. This longer adaptation had the hero repeating a full day of his life rather than a mere hour, but the idea and scenes a faire are recognizable. There's a girl, see, and she ignores the hero, but with each repetition he gets a bit more knowledge with which to woo her. In a further burst of irony, most of the articles talking about the film ahead of its release were compelled to say that it sounded like a cheesy rip-off of the huge Murray hit, although Jonathan Silverman did a heroic amount of publicity appearances dutifully reminding every newspaper writer that it was a work with a long history of its own and a different tone. It disappeared. Silverman had every incentive to talk up this movie. Just four days later his giant bomb, Weekend at Bernie's II, stunk up movie theaters from coast to coast. His career hit a crater.
Lupoff's story "12:01 P. M." explains away the time loop quasi-scientifically as a bounce caused by our universe colliding with an antimatter universe, although this is clearly magic expressed as science. His ending, copied by the short film, is a dark one. Castleman is stuck in the loop forever. Not even suicide can save him.
Ironically, Lupoff was and is noted as a historian of comics, pulps, and f&sf, although earlier similar stories were harder to research a quarter century ago. His f&sf career hit a bump, although he did release a collection of his short fiction in 1996, titled Before ... 12:01 ... and After. He had had a promising start in the five years before 1973, publishing two novels and a Nebula-nominated short novel that appeared in the landmark anthology Again Dangerous Visions. Some authors get the breaks; others don't. Somehow that well-regarded short novel was never reprinted. After a second (or third) career as a mystery novelist, he started writing occasional f&sf stories again. Among those are two sequels to "12:01 P. M." "12:02 P. M." ran in the January-February 2011 F&SF, followed by "12:03 P. M." in the September-October 2012 F&SF. These continue the story of the unkillable Myron, adding some twists that had become more common in the f&sf vocabulary, like alternate timelines and chaos theory.
The mention of chaos theory may mean that Lupoff, without outright saying so, saw the major snag in all the repeating day scenarios. Either time repeats itself perfectly - in which case someone outside the time stream can't change anybody else's actions - or else the laws of chance creep in. You may have gotten up this morning and treated it like any other day. But you proceeded to make thousands of choices you wouldn't necessarily repeat if you were to start the day over. You might have woken up at a slightly different time, had a different breakfast, left the house at a different time, taken a different route, decided to return or not return a call, left at a different time, made it through an intersection a moment earlier or a moment later so that you would or wouldn't have had that accident, which would have changed the days for hundreds of others. In short, living a day a second time wouldn't mean that you could predict what was going to happen during that day, a critical part of every one of these plots. We don't know how time works, true; we do know that it never behaves in this exactly repeating manner. These stories, no matter how much scientific wordage they incorporate, are impossible in a basic way. Magic, moving the narrative outside science and logic, is the only way to get the story to work.
Or is it? One, and only one, writer found an out. Consider this story opener. "On the morning of June 15, Guy Burckhardt woke up screaming out of a dream." So he thinks. Guy is the ultimate dehumanized Everyman, a guy stuck in a nowhere job. Worse, so is everyone else. Since the writer is Frederik Pohl and the venue is the January 1955 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction, the story is not about life and loves and time well spent: it's an attack on advertising. Pohl would become the face of SF social satire in the 1950s, penning a series of screeds in fiction form against advertising, consumerism, propaganda, and forced conformity. What could illustrate that better than reliving the same day over and over being bombarded with commercials?
Although the story suffers from its one-note heavy-handedness, Pohl, one of the giants of the f&sf field, stands above all the others who have used this theme: he provides a rationale for the repetition that is not inexplicable magic, merely highly-advanced futuristic technology. Guy's dream is not a dream; it is a literal memory of his death. He and everyone in his small city had been killed when the chemical plant he worked for exploded. In his future, minds, memories, and personalities were recordable and implantable. Advertising concerns recreated his city and all its inhabitants in the form of extremely lifelike robots. Each morning they wake from death with the previous day's memories wiped to better determine their responses to varied forms of advertising pitches, from the hardest of hard sells to the subtlest faux word of mouth. The day doesn't have to repeat exactly; in fact, it's designed not to do so. Either way, Guy's awareness is merely a technological glitch. Any awareness of what They are doing to Us is.
F&SF, at the top of its field in 1973, was a very young magazine, in fact only on its third issue, in the Summer of 1950. (For a look at the early history of F&SF, especially the first two issues, see my Tribute to F&SF.) Only one story in it is recognizable today, Richard Matheson's classic "Born of Man and Woman," and that was his first professional sale. You'd have to go to the source for most of the other stories: they've never been reprinted in any anthology. One of them was the first fantasy story by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, titled "Friday, the Nineteenth." In it, the husband of one suburban couple (nowhere job, check) makes plans with the wife of another couple to meet for a tryst on Saturday. When the next morning appears ... it is again Friday, the nineteenth. They meet on Friday again and again until they are sick to death of each other. "I wish this day would never end, Molly said. And it never had." The cycle doesn't break until death does interfere.
Holding, at 61, was near the end of a long career writing romance and mystery novels. Her 1946 book, The Innocent Mrs. Duff, is emotionally similar to this story, a tale of a suburban marriage gone sour, of a husband who also "was sick of this little house, of the smug suburban street and the people who lived on it." She took this identical tangle and found a superb idea to move it in an unexpected direction, fantasy, as no rationale is ever given for the time slip. The reader might think of it as a parable of punishment from the gods. The story got a passing shot at fame when it was adapted for NBC's supernatural anthology show, Lights Out. "Friday, the Nineteenth" ran on Monday the Nineteenth of November 1951.
As far as I can tell, I'm the first person to put this story together with the Groundhog Day plot. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction added it and a few other stories mentioned here to their Time Loop article at my suggestion. Each is mentioned individually on Michael Main's astoundingly comprehensive Big List of Time Travel Adventures site.
Malcolm Jameson was nearly 50 when he started writing f&sf, becoming one of the first writers discovered by legendary editor John W. Campbell when he took over Astounding Science Fiction magazine. When Campbell started a sister magazine for fantasy, Unknown, Jameson churned out stories in that genre, too. He piled up dozens in all the f&sf magazines from 1938 to 1945 before dying of throat cancer. He didn't live long enough to see a short novel of his be republished hurriedly at the end of 1945 under the title Atomic Bomb, probably the first of the zillions of post-war atomic power novels. "Malcolm KNEW atomic power was coming," read the back cover.
Jameson knew equally well that the time loop story was coming. How else to explain the opening sentence of "Doubled and Redoubled," which ran in the February 1941 issue of Unknown?
The very first thing that startled Jimmy Childers that extraordinary, repetitive June day was the alarm clock going off.
Scenes a faire! One slight difference immediately intrudes. True, Childers had been a guy in a nowhere job, "a poor wage slave, a clerk," but on that extraordinary June 14th he'd gotten a promotion to head of the department. June 14th in toto was "The perfect day! The kind that happens only in fiction, or the third act of plays, where every problem is solved and every dream comes true at once." He sells a story, wins at the race track, and saves a woman's life as well. Much as he looks forward to the aftermath of all that wonder, he somehow has to go through the day over and over again. He sees a psychiatrist and a fortune teller. Finally, a working necromancer figures out that an incompetent witch had done a poor job of granting him three wishes, including the one to "live [the day] over again."
Jameson, with his short career and lack of true book-length novels, soon became a victim of invisibility. "Doubled and Redoubled" saw only one reprint, in a 1960s paperback anthology of unknown stories from Unknown. It's improbable that Leon Arden ever saw it, for all the similarities that can be teased out from the pages of the two works.
Jameson appears to be the first author to use the device in an f&sf context. He might have heard the time loop used, though, at least if he had been listening to The Shadow radio program on January 1, 1939.
Street & Smith Publishers (S&S) had been in business since 1855; their dime novels brought Buffalo Bill and Nick Carter to millions of American homes. When the public turned from cheap paperback books - that's what dime novels were, two generations before Pocket Books - to pulp magazines, S&S hurried to dominate there. One of their earliest pulps was the weekly Detective Story Magazine, whose first issue appeared October 5, 1915. Almost a thousand issues later it was still going strong, but the firm wanted to take advantage of the new radio medium to boost its sales even further. On July 31, 1930, they started a show called The Detective Story Hour, with a spookily anonymous announcer/narrator simply called The Shadow. The character instantly became the focus of attention. Pulps had been started for flimsier reasons. S&S turned to an unknown writer, Walter Gibson, to create a rounded persona for Kent Allard, aka The Shadow. (Yes, Kent Allard. It was the radio show that turned him into Lamont Cranston.) The Shadow became one of the rare pulps to thrive in the Depression, soon appearing twice every month. Stories were credited to the house name of Maxwell Grant, on the assumption that no single human could write two novels a month for years at a time. Wrong. Gibson proved to be as supernatural as his character, writing 283 Shadow novels over the years, more than 15,000,000 words. Oddly, the radio writers who had spawned the character couldn't match that success. The character bounced around several series until 22-year-old wunderkind Orson Welles began voicing him for the 1937-38 season. He went on to more famous roles, with Bill Johnstone replacing for the 1938-1939 season, mainly because he could perfectly imitate Welles' eerie laugh. Edward Hale Bierstadt is known to be the scriptwriter who introduced this more successful version of the man who had the power to cloud men's minds, but the show had numerous writers over time. The name of the writer who came up with the idea for "The Man Who Murdered Time" is lost to history.
Click to listen to the full broadcast.
We meet Lamont Cranston at 4:00 PM on New Year's Eve, appropriate for a show broadcast on New Year's Day. A friend, Hughes, tells him about a dying cousin, a scientist named Willard, who claims to have invented a time machine. Dr. Willard has indeed. "My machine bends the straight track of time, curves it, curves it, so that the time track forms a perfect circle!" he cackles. A drugged drink leaves Hughes paralyzed and helpless in Willard's clutches. He always hated him because their rich uncle chose Hughes as his favorite. Willard will now get his revenge. He had spent the day living large, smoking expensive cigars, eating the finest foods, spending borrowed money he'll never pay back to make the day wonderful to live through again. To top it off, he'll spend the last hour before midnight painfully killing Hughes, over and over again throughout eternity, before his machine sets time back to the beginning of that fateful day.
Just as Cranston holds Margot Lane in his arms waiting for the twelfth chime of the clock at midnight, they are transported back to the previous evening. The fabulous control over his will that allows him to become invisible to other men is stronger even than the time stream. The Shadow is immune and so is Margot, as long as they touch. He remembers the talk about a time machine and vows to find the scientist. "Perhaps The Shadow will be able to bring time back to normal. Bring the new year to a world doomed to live a day that never ends."
All the later victims of the time loop want the day to end, certainly, but for themselves. Margot, played by future multiple Academy Award nominee and TV witch Agnes Moorehead, cares about the others affected. They encounter a bum, begging for a dime for a cup of coffee. Margot is appalled. "He doesn't know... He doesn't know he's doomed to shiver and freeze and starve like that forever. And millions like him. Millions like him shivering all over the world tonight." Buried deep in this episode is a stronger message about the precarious state of the world, poised between Depression and War, than even Welles' "War of the Worlds" broadcast from the previous Halloween. A scientific rationale and a social conscience. Top-rank work by anonymous.
There's no real mystery where such an idea come from. Most people have wished that a special day might be repeated. The oddity would be that it took until 1939 for someone to set it down on paper. A special day. A birthday, perhaps. Or Christmas.
Who's had that idea? Everybody, in the modern television age of children's programming at least. In Elmo Saves Christmas, a 1996 Sesame Street special, Elmo pulls a stuck Santa out of a chimney. Santa grants him three wishes, one of which is to have Christmas every day. Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas, a direct-to-video 1999 Disney product, has Donald's nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie make the same wish. The last episode of the first season of The Fairly OddParents, broadcast December 12, 2001, is titled Christmas Everyday!
And then there's Christmas Every Day, first run in December 1996 as a television movie, and remade in 2006 as Christmas Do-Over. It can't be accused of copying Elmo Saves Christmas even though it appeared three months later. The credits are important; they show that the movie is based on a story of that name written by William Dean Howells. In 1892.
Largely forgotten today, except for a few schools teaching his realist novel The Rise of Silas Lapham, Howells was the biggest of big names in the 19th Century, easily as famed as Mark Twain. Nicknamed "The Dean of American Letters" - and not just as a pun - he was omnipresent in the world of literature. He wrote "thirty-six novels, five books of autobiography, nine volumes of criticism, six books of poetry, thirteen books of travel, thirteen volumes of sketches and stories, many plays and hundreds of articles," counted Richard Armour. His publisher, Harper and Brothers, gave him $10,000 solely for the magazine rights to his works in 1885, probably equivalent to $1,000,000 today. As sort of a sideline he spent a full decade as editor of one of the country's most prestigious magazines, The Atlantic Monthly.
At the peak of his powers, in 1892, he published a short volume titled Christmas Every Day and Other Stories Told for Children, a slim book of five collected stories.
"Christmas Every Day" is an overt morality tale, but told with light comedy instead of the usual Victorian heavy-handedness. A little girl writes to the old Christmas Fairy to ask for a wish. She gets it. Christmas would occur every day for a year. It starts out wonderfully, but soon - just as in all those modern Christmas morality movies - it grows old.
Well, the next day, it was just the same thing over again, but everybody getting crosser; and at the end of a week's time so many people had lost their tempers that you could pick up lost tempers anywhere; they perfectly strewed the ground. Even when people tried to recover their tempers they usually got somebody else's, and it made the most dreadful mix.
That one line may have launched the careers of humorists Stephen Leacock and Robert Benchley.
1892 was only 47 years before "The Man Who Murdered Time," as close as Dr. Seuss's The Lorax is to 2016. Howells hadn't been forgotten then. A writer looking for plots for The Shadow might have pulled the old switcheroo - turn a sunny story upside down to make it the source of horror. Christmas, New Year's Eve, Groundhog Day. A holiday always creates a solid peg on which to hang a tale. We'll never know.
"Christmas Every Day" is reprinted in full below.
christmas every day
The little girl came into her papa's study, as she always did Saturday morning before breakfast, and asked for a story. He tried to beg off that morning, for he was very busy, but she would not let him. So he began:
“Well, once there was a little pig—”
She put her hand over his mouth and stopped him at the word. She said she had heard little pig-stories till she was perfectly sick of them.
“Well, what kind of story shall I tell, then?”
“About Christmas. It's getting to be the season. It's past Thanksgiving already."
“It seems to me,” her papa argued, “that I've told as often about Christmas as I have about little pigs.”
“No difference! Christmas is more interesting.”
“Well!” Her papa roused himself from his writing by a great effort. “Well, then, I'll tell you about the little girl that wanted it Christmas every day in the year. How would you like that?”
“First-rate!” said the little girl; and she nestled into comfortable shape in his lap, ready for listening.
“Very well, then, this little pig—Oh, what are you pounding me for?”
“Because you said little pig instead of little girl.”
“I should like to know what's the difference between a little pig and a little girl that wanted it
Christmas every day!”
“Papa,” said the little girl, warningly, “if you don't go on, I'll give it to you!” And at this her papa darted off like lightning, and began to tell the story as fast as he could.
Well, once there was a little girl who liked Christmas so much that she wanted it to be Christmas every day in the year; and as soon as Thanksgiving was over she began to send postal-cards to the old Christmas Fairy to ask if she mightn't have it. But the old fairy never answered any of the postals; and after a while the little girl found out that the Fairy was pretty particular, and wouldn't notice anything but letters—not even correspondence cards in envelopes; but real letters on sheets of paper, and sealed outside with a monogram—or your initial, anyway. So, then, she began to send her letters; and in about three weeks—or just the day before Christmas, it was—she got a letter from the Fairy, saying she might have it Christmas every day for a year, and then they would see about having it longer.
The little girl was a good deal excited already, preparing for the old-fashioned, once-a-year Christmas that was coming the next day, and perhaps the Fairy's promise didn't make such an impression on her as it would have made at some other time. She just resolved to keep it to herself, and surprise everybody with it as it kept coming true; and then it slipped out of her mind altogether.
She had a splendid Christmas. She went to bed early, so as to let Santa Claus have a chance at the stockings, and in the morning she was up the first of anybody and went and felt them, and found hers all lumpy with packages of candy, and oranges and grapes, and pocket-books and rubber balls, and all kinds of small presents, and her big brother's with nothing but the tongs in them, and her young lady sister's with a new silk umbrella, and her papa's and mamma's with potatoes and pieces of coal wrapped up in tissue-paper, just as they always had every Christmas. Then she waited around till the rest of the family were up, and she was the first to burst into the library, when the doors were opened, and look at the large presents laid out on the library-table—books, and portfolios, and boxes of stationery, and breastpins, and dolls, and little stoves, and dozens of handkerchiefs, and ink-stands, and skates, and snow-shovels, and photograph-frames, and little easels, and boxes of water-colors, and Turkish paste, and nougat, and candied cherries, and dolls' houses, and waterproofs—and the big Christmas-tree, lighted and standing in a waste-basket in the middle.
She had a splendid Christmas all day. She ate so much candy that she did not want any breakfast; and the whole forenoon the presents kept pouring in that the expressman had not had time to deliver the night before; and she went round giving the presents she had got for other people, and came home and ate turkey and cranberry for dinner, and plum-pudding and nuts and raisins and oranges and more candy, and then went out and coasted, and came in with a stomach-ache, crying; and her papa said he would see if his house was turned into that sort of fool's paradise another year; and they had a light supper, and pretty early everybody went to bed cross.
Here the little girl pounded her papa in the back, again.
“Well, what now? Did I say pigs?”
“You made them act like pigs.”
“Well, didn't they?”
“No matter; you oughtn't to put it into a story.”
“Very well, then, I'll take it all out.”
Her father went on:
The little girl slept very heavily, and she slept very late, but she was wakened at last by the other children dancing round her bed with their stockings full of presents in their hands.
“What is it?” said the little girl, and she rubbed her eyes and tried to rise up in bed.
“Christmas! Christmas! Christmas!” they all shouted, and waved their stockings.
“Nonsense! It was Christmas yesterday.”
Her brothers and sisters just laughed. “We don't know about that. It's Christmas to-day, anyway. You come into the library and see.”
Then all at once it flashed on the little girl that the Fairy was keeping her promise, and her year of Christmases was beginning. She was dreadfully sleepy, but she sprang up like a lark—a lark that had overeaten itself and gone to bed cross—and darted into the library. There it was again! Books, and portfolios, and boxes of stationery, and breastpins—
“You needn't go over it all, papa; I guess I can remember just what was there,” said the little girl.
Well, and there was the Christmas-tree blazing away, and the family picking out their presents, but looking pretty sleepy, and her father perfectly puzzled, and her mother ready to cry. “I'm sure I don't see how I'm to dispose of all these things,” said her mother, and her father said it seemed to him they had had something just like it the day before, but he supposed he must have dreamed it. This struck the little girl as the best kind of a joke; and so she ate so much candy she didn't want any breakfast, and went round carrying presents, and had turkey and cranberry for dinner, and then went out and coasted, and came in with a—
“Well, what now?”
“What did you promise, you forgetful thing?”
“Oh! oh yes!”
Well, the next day, it was just the same thing over again, but everybody getting crosser; and at the end of a week's time so many people had lost their tempers that you could pick up lost tempers anywhere; they perfectly strewed the ground. Even when people tried to recover their tempers they usually got somebody else's, and it made the most dreadful mix.
The little girl began to get frightened, keeping the secret all to herself; she wanted to tell her mother, but she didn't dare to; and she was ashamed to ask the Fairy to take back her gift, it seemed ungrateful and ill-bred, and she thought she would try to stand it, but she hardly knew how she could, for a whole year. So it went on and on, and it was Christmas on St. Valentine's Day and Washington's Birthday, just the same as any day, and it didn't skip even the First of April, though everything was counterfeit that day, and that was some little relief.
After a while coal and potatoes began to be awfully scarce, so many had been wrapped up in tissue-paper to fool papas and mammas with. Turkeys got to be about a thousand dollars apiece—
“You're beginning to fib.”
“Well, two thousand, then.”
And they got to passing off almost anything for turkeys—half-grown humming-birds, and even rocs out of the Arabian Nights—the real turkeys were so scarce. And cranberries—well, they asked a diamond apiece for cranberries. All the woods and orchards were cut down for Christmas-trees, and where the woods and orchards used to be it looked just like a stubble-field, with the stumps. After a while they had to make Christmas-trees out of rags, and stuff them with bran, like old-fashioned dolls; but there were plenty of rags, because people got so poor, buying presents for one another, that they couldn't get any new clothes, and they just wore their old ones to tatters. They got so poor that everybody had to go to the poor-house, except the confectioners, and the fancy-store keepers, and the picture-book sellers, and the expressmen; and they all got so rich and proud that they would hardly wait upon a person when he came to buy. It was perfectly shameful!
Well, after it had gone on about three or four months, the little girl, whenever she came into the room in the morning and saw those great ugly, lumpy stockings dangling at the fire-place, and the disgusting presents around everywhere, used to just sit down and burst out crying. In six months she was perfectly exhausted; she couldn't even cry any more; she just lay on the lounge and rolled her eyes and panted. About the beginning of October she took to sitting down on dolls wherever she found them—French dolls, or any kind—she hated the sight of them so; and by Thanksgiving she was crazy, and just slammed her presents across the room.
By that time people didn't carry presents around nicely any more. They flung them over the fence, or through the window, or anything; and, instead of running their tongues out and taking great pains to write “For dear Papa,” or “Mamma,” or “Brother,” or “Sister,” or “Susie,” or “Sammie,” or “Billie,” or “Bobbie,” or “Jimmie,” or “Jennie,” or whoever it was, and troubling to get the spelling right, and then signing their names, and “Xmas, 18—,” they used to write in the gift-books, “Take it, you horrid old thing!” and then go and bang it against the front door. Nearly everybody had built barns to hold their presents, but pretty soon the barns overflowed, and then they used to let them lie out in the rain, or anywhere. Sometimes the police used to come and tell them to shovel their presents off the sidewalk, or they would arrest them.
“I thought you said everybody had gone to the poor-house,” interrupted the little girl.
“They did go, at first,” said her papa; “but after a while the poor-houses got so full that they had to send the people back to their own houses. They tried to cry, when they got back, but they couldn't make the least sound.”
“Why couldn't they?”
“Because they had lost their voices, saying ‘Merry Christmas’ so much. Did I tell you how it was on the Fourth of July?”
“No; how was it?” And the little girl nestled closer, in expectation of something uncommon.
Well, the night before, the boys stayed up to celebrate, as they always do, and fell asleep before twelve o'clock, as usual, expecting to be wakened by the bells and cannon. But it was nearly eight o'clock before the first boy in the United States woke up, and then he found out what the trouble was. As soon as he could get his clothes on he ran out of the house and smashed a big cannon-torpedo down on the pavement; but it didn't make any more noise than a damp wad of paper; and after he tried about twenty or thirty more, he began to pick them up and look at them. Every single torpedo was a big raisin! Then he just streaked it up-stairs, and examined his fire-crackers and toy-pistol and two-dollar collection of fireworks, and found that they were nothing but sugar and candy painted up to look like fireworks! Before ten o'clock every boy in the United States found out that his Fourth of July things had turned into Christmas things; and then they just sat down and cried—they were so mad. There are about twenty million boys in the United States, and so you can imagine what a noise they made. Some men got together before night, with a little powder that hadn't turned into purple sugar yet, and they said they would fire off one cannon, anyway. But the cannon burst into a thousand pieces, for it was nothing but rock-candy, and some of the men nearly got killed. The Fourth of July orations all turned into Christmas carols, and when anybody tried to read the Declaration, instead of saying, “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary,” he was sure to sing, “God rest you, merry gentlemen.” It was perfectly awful.
The little girl drew a deep sigh of satisfaction.
“And how was it at Thanksgiving?”
Her papa hesitated. “Well, I'm almost afraid to tell you. I'm afraid you'll think it's wicked.”
“Well, tell, anyway,” said the little girl.
Well, before it came Thanksgiving it had leaked out who had caused all these Christmases. The little girl had suffered so much that she had talked about it in her sleep; and after that hardly anybody would play with her. People just perfectly despised her, because if it had not been for her greediness it wouldn't have happened; and now, when it came Thanksgiving, and she wanted them to go to church, and have squash-pie and turkey, and show their gratitude, they said that all the turkeys had been eaten up for her old Christmas dinners, and if she would stop the Christmases, they would see about the gratitude. Wasn't it dreadful? And the very next day the little girl began to send letters to the Christmas Fairy, and then telegrams, to stop it. But it didn't do any good; and then she got to calling at the Fairy's house, but the girl that came to the door always said, “Not at home,” or “Engaged,” or “At dinner,” or something like that; and so it went on till it came to the old once-a-year Christmas Eve. The little girl fell asleep, and when she woke up in the morning—
“She found it was all nothing but a dream,” suggested the little girl.
“No, indeed!” said her papa. “It was all every bit true!”
“Well, what did she find out, then?”
“Why, that it wasn't Christmas at last, and wasn't ever going to be, any more. Now it's time for breakfast.”
The little girl held her papa fast around the neck.
“You sha'n't go if you're going to leave it so!”
“How do you want it left?”
“Christmas once a year.”
“All right,” said her papa; and he went on again.
Well, there was the greatest rejoicing all over the country, and it extended clear up into Canada. The people met together everywhere, and kissed and cried for joy. The city carts went around and gathered up all the candy and raisins and nuts, and dumped them into the river; and it made the fish perfectly sick; and the whole United States, as far out as Alaska, was one blaze of bonfires, where the children were burning up their gift-books and presents of all kinds. They had the greatest time!
The little girl went to thank the old Fairy because she had stopped its being Christmas, and she said she hoped she would keep her promise and see that Christmas never, never came again. Then the Fairy frowned, and asked her if she was sure she knew what she meant; and the little girl asked her, Why not? and the old Fairy said that now she was behaving just as greedily as ever, and she'd better look out. This made the little girl think it all over carefully again, and she said she would be willing to have it Christmas about once in a thousand years; and then she said a hundred, and then she said ten, and at last she got down to one. Then the Fairy said that was the good old way that had pleased people ever since Christmas began, and she was agreed. Then the little girl said, “What're your shoes made of?” And the Fairy said, “Leather.” And the little girl said, “Bargain's done forever,” and skipped off, and hippity-hopped the whole way home, she was so glad.
“How will that do?” asked the papa.
“First-rate!” said the little girl; but she hated to have the story stop, and was rather sober.
However, her mamma put her head in at the door, and asked her papa:
“Are you never coming to breakfast? What have you been telling that child?”
“Oh, just a moral tale.”
The little girl caught him around the neck again.
“We know! Don't you tell what, papa! Don't you tell what!”