For Christmas in 1897, Paul Laurence Dunbar in Washington, D. C., received a present from his fiancée Alice Ruth Moore in Brooklyn, as well as other gifts from his friends and family.
And how shall I thank you for my gift? I was so pleased with it. But what use shall I make of it? I had thought to keep tally in it of the kisses I shall rob you of when you are wholly mine to have and hold. My own day was quietly pleasant. I received few presents besides yours, some handkerchiefs from mother, a photograph from a friend (Dr. Tobey), a book from dear Sallie B. and another from Ella Smith who is also at home with her family.
Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Ruth Moore, December 27, 1897. Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 5).
Paul and Alice had been engaged for about ten months, but were too poor to get married. They were both in debt, so it was difficult for them to afford presents. Alice gave Paul specific instructions about what she wanted for Christmas (to recover her watch from a pawn shop), but it seemed unlikely he could help.
What do I want for Xmas? I don't want but one thing and I daren't ask you for that because I know you can't give it to me. It's my watch! It's been gone from me nearly a year and it seems I can never get it back. I think I would appreciate it more than anything on earth if I could have it in my hand. I was so hard up I let it go for $25.00 -- and haven't scraped that amount together since. But I know that's too expensive a present to ask for you -- though I'd be the happiest girl alive if I had it tomorrow.
Alice Ruth Moore to Paul Laurence Dunbar, December 18, 1897. Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 1).
About the watch -- now dearie, you've got me in a hole, and are fixing to upset my plans. It will mean not only the denial of Christmas to my mother and myself, but the evasion of an obligation. I have been paying out lately every cent that I made and I had planned so as to leave myself just so much for Christmas expenses. But I do want you to have the trinket so much. If it meant only my self-denial, I should make the sacrifice gladly and send you the money; but it concerns more than me. However, I shall make a strong effort to arrange so that you may get your watch -- for which I shall expect a bear-hug and a long kiss when I see you again.
Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Ruth Moore, December 21, 1897. Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 5).
I look forward to Christmas day without enthusiasm. I shall go nowhere save to a guest dinner with some friends. Oh by the way, I should like to have your written opinion of the expediency of a young man of questionable strength drinking eggnog with his mother on Christmas night in the seclusion of his home. Your opinion will be of value and of weight. I am sending you [a] money-order for 25.00. I am sorry that I cannot send you some other present, but the dispatching of a check for $50 by this same mail leaves me broke. I hope that you will have a merry Christmas in Boston, and I envy your family the joy of seeing your dear face.
Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Ruth Moore, December 22, 1897. Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 5).
Paul spent Christmas with his mother Matilda in their home in Washington, and Alice left Brooklyn to visit her family in Massachusetts. However, while she was on the ferry from New York City to Boston late on Christmas Eve, the boat's engine exploded.
We sprang up out of our beds, dressed, rushed on deck. It was bitter cold, the decks one mass of ice, everyone shivering and scared to death. The boat was loaded heavily and things for a while were pretty gloomy and dubious. We said our prayers, inspected the life preservers, looked at the icy masses in the water and waited while the boat looked dismally for aid. Freight boats came up and then we were from eleven at night until eight next morning being towed. Oh, but it was exciting, thrilling, scaresome, and above all, cold, piercingly cold and inconvenient. I was almost dead from fatigue and nervousness. It was one o'clock Christmas day before I got home. The folks here were wild with nervousness, as all sorts of rumors of shipwreck were abroad. I promptly cried and sobbed when I did get home. But Christmas after all was pleasant. I got the watch, and I do believe it was the happiest moment of my life when I saw it again. I kissed it and cried over it like a child. I received many pretty presents, but I appreciated that one best of all.
Alice Ruth Moore to Paul Laurence Dunbar, December 27, 1897. Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).