On Christmas morning, the March girls awake to find copies of Pilgrim’s Progress tucked under their pillows. Meg suggests that they honor their mother’s gift of the books by studying them every morning, and they spend the next half hour reading. Inspired by what she read, Amy sneaks out and exchanges the small, cheap bottle of cologne she bought for Mrs. March for a large one.
The nineteenth century feminine ideals of meekness and piety are on full display in this scene. Materialistic Amy shows uncharacteristic selflessness in buying her mother a larger bottle of perfume.
Mrs. March comes home from some early morning errands, and tells the girls that the Hummels – a deeply impoverished local German family - are starving. The girls agree to give away their Christmas breakfast, and together they bring it to the Hummels, who are very grateful for the gift.
Impoverished European immigrant families were commonplace in nineteenth century America. In spite of their own poverty, the Marches decide to do the Christian thing and go without their comparatively fancy meal.
The Marches return home and breakfast on bread and milk. After Mrs. March receives her gifts, the girls spend the rest of the day making preparations for their Christmas play. They put on the play in the evening for an audience of neighborhood girls – a love story featuring a witch, a dashing male lead (played by Jo), and a longhaired maiden. After the play, the March sisters and their audience come down to the dining room where they discover a feast of ice cream, cake, fruit, and other dainties furnished by their wealthy neighbor, Mr. Laurence, who had been impressed by their generosity toward the Hummels that morning. The girls speculate that Mr. Laurence’s grandson (whom they’ve only seen from afar) put the idea in his head.
Jo’s play mirrors the romantic ideals set forth in the Gilded Age: the notion that women should be passive recipients of male attention, the notion that it’s a man’s job to pursue a woman, etc. Mr. Laurence is, in a way, acting like the Heavenly Father in this scene. A benign, distant male figure, he steps in to reward the March family for their good Christian deeds. His role in relation to the March family is not unlike that of the essayist and Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson to Alcott’s family. (Emerson would often step in to financially assist the Alcotts when Louisa’s own father was unable to.)