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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

The Best Christmas Card Ever

December 25, 2013 | by

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At the Paris Review offices, several of us were lucky enough to receive, in recent days, a mailing from a friend and contributor to these pages. It was a plain cream Christmas card on which was printed,

“‘Merry Christmas!’ the man threatened.” —William Gaddis

We all agreed it was quite the best Christmas card we had ever seen.

The quote comes from Gaddis’s first novel, 1955’s The Recognitions, which, like the rest of his work, is noted for being challenging. (In his Art of Fiction interview, Gaddis objects to this characterization, preferring to think of the labor involved as “a collaboration between the reader and what is on the pages.”) 

And while he may not seem the most festive of authors, Gaddis might have approved: in a letter he sent his mother from Harvard in 1943, young “Bill” writes,

Have got Christmas cards—fifty—do you know where that plate I had for engraving is? It must be perhaps in my desk or somewhere—I’d like to have them done and mailed from here if possible—would appreciate it if you should run across to send it up—

Merry Christmas, Bill!

 

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The Carolers

December 20, 2013 | by

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Several years ago, my mother announced she was through with Christmas trees. She and my father were tired of buying the thing, lugging it home, and decorating and taking it down. There would be no more tree unless we, their four grown children, put it up ourselves. That year my siblings and I drove to the Quincy Artery Garden Center, ten miles outside Boston, and dragged an eight-footer home. It was like wrangling an alligator; the sharp needles dug into our hands and the peak scraped against the living room ceiling, leaving a long gray trail across the “Cotton Balls” ultra-white paint my father had applied mere months before. That was the last yuletide tree at my parents’ house.

Each year I’ve urged my older brother to revive this tradition; naturally, the job falls to him, since, in the Vietnamese custom, he lives with our parents in their house along with his wife and children. The rest of us have moved out. But his two jobs sometimes don’t afford him time to sleep or eat, let alone embellish a tree. My sister has her own family’s tree to tend to now, and I don’t expect my younger brother, the baby of the family, to take action. I am the biggest tree enthusiast, but my returns home from New York City are always too late. My mother firmly believes in getting maximum use out of any purchase; our pine usually went up right after Thanksgiving and lasted into late February through the Asian Lunar New Year.

As a child I always thought our tree was special. My cousin’s tree, carried up from the basement each year by my uncle, looked creepy to me, the flame-retardant branches screwed into a skinny wooden pole painted green. My family kept fresh spruces that filled our living room with a peppercorn smell. The ornaments, whose individual histories and significances we’d forgotten or simply didn’t know, seemed to have come from a Goodwill bin. Most had been passed along to us by my parents’ housekeeping clients, people they cleaned for in the wealthier neighboring towns. I remember a baked clay piece shaped like a Christmas tree, looped through with green ribbon and painted in cursive across the base: Merry X-mas, Kilborns! There was also a glazed ceramic baseball player in a striped jersey holding a bat over his shoulder that read BENJAMIN; each year, we celebrated the athletic talents of some little-league slugger we’d never met. The glue on some pieces had yellowed and cracked, and various parts had fallen off—the bow on a ceramic wreath, the plastic googly eyes of a square snowman fashioned out of Popsicle sticks. Instead of the usual star, we had an angel whose rubber head was constantly rolling off. To get her onto the tree, you had to stick the top branch up her velvety skirt.

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Silver Belles

December 19, 2013 | by

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When you think about it, there are not many Christmas-movie heroines. But then, nobody ever put Barbara Stanwyck in a corner—and with Christmas in Connecticut’s Elizabeth Lane, she gave us a character who was tough, smart, and irrepressibly modern. Christmas in Connecticut is not a great movie. I thought I loved it until a few days ago, when I forced a friend to sit through it with me and realized I only really liked the first twenty minutes before it gets farcical, and not the parts on the boat or the hospital, and that I absolutely loathe the smarmy love interest, played by the fatuous Dennis Morgan, and any scene involving his smirking face. Nevertheless, this is my Christmas movie recommendation.

For those who have not seen it, here is the premise: Elizabeth Lane is a 1945 Martha Stewart type, a domestic goddess who writes a regular column in a popular women’s magazine about her idyllic life with her husband and baby on a Connecticut farm. But Elizabeth is a fraud: in fact she’s a tough-minded career woman living in a tiny Manhattan apartment with the proverbial oven full of shoes and a restaurateur downstairs neighbor (the ubiquitous S. Z. Sakall) who provides her recipes. One day her publisher (Sydney Greenstreet) decides it would be a swell PR move if Elizabeth were to host a war hero at the farm, and invites himself along for Christmas. Needless to say, hijinks, subterfuge, romance, and a series of different borrowed babies ensue. There’s also a stuffy fiancé who’s obviously not long for this world and a tiresome subplot involving the sailor and a nurse.

All that aside, Elizabeth is a nifty character. Barbara Stanwyck was incapable of playing anything but smart and sexy, and even when Elizabeth is at her most clueless—and she's placed in all kinds of humiliating situations—she’s never ditzy; you just get the impression she has better things to do with her time than make flapjacks. While one would rather not invoke Sex and the City, it cannot be denied: the character is a proto-Bradshaw, except the stakes are higher and the cynicism is naked rather than dressed in designer cupcakes.

We tend to think of the crafts revival as a nostalgic response to the chaos of modern life; clearly, we’ve been idealizing the domestic for a long time. Christmas in Connecticut juxtaposes the “ideal” woman with the pragmatic, wartime reality, and in the end the latter is far more attractive. Casting Stanwyck—the ultimate noir femme fatale—in such a role was counterintuitive, but it’s what gives the movie its pizzazz: you don’t really want her to change, let alone end up with either of the dud suitors with whom she is presented. Yes, the uptight architect is clearly not for her and would try to clip her wings. But at least he knows who she is; the awful war hero has fallen in love with the ideal, and you’re not left feeling good about the situation.

But for all its silliness, the film was saying something real (advertently or otherwise) about changing roles, domesticity, and the dynamic of men and women. It’s a story that, in the right hands, could be reanimated for the Etsy generation in a thoughtful and intelligent way. Unfortunately, in 1992, it was remade starring Dyan Cannon, Kris Kristofferson, and Tony Curtis. It was directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

 

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The Ghost of Christmas Past

December 9, 2013 | by

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This Saturday marks the fourth iteration of what is becoming a beloved holiday tradition: the marathon reading of A Christmas Carol at the Housing Works Bookstore. From one to four P.M., a series of readers—including Jami Attenberg, Saeed Jones, Téa Obreht, and our very own Lorin Stein—will read aloud the classic tale of Christmas redemption. Caroling starts at noon!

 

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Holiday … Cheer?

December 20, 2012 | by

Earlier today, Edward McPherson wrote about his hometown for the Daily. In keeping with that post, enjoy the following clip from Dallas, which, as the poster informs us, is the only time Christmas was ever mentioned in the series.

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“Make Time, Not Love”

December 20, 2012 | by

Jason Novak works at a grocery store in Berkeley, California, and changes diapers in his spare time.

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