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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Christmas with Monte

December 13, 2012 | by

Up until the early spring of this year, I considered myself an absolute Christmas fiend. Not in the Grinch sense of breaking out the Boris Karloff accent and green grease paint and plotting how I might swipe presents, but rather trying to figure out, as early as possible, how best to immerse myself in a holiday that I loved like no other, in a typically over-the-top fashion. You know that person you read about, who bops his head along to Christmas songs on the oldies station—yes, Brenda Lee, you rock around that tree indeed!—the day after Thanksgiving, who insists on seeing Rudolph “live,” every year, because it’s just more real on TV than Blu-ray? I was that guy. Before I had occasion to become a different guy. And before I decided to spend this holiday season with M. R. James.

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Those Are Marshmallow Clouds Being Friendly

December 22, 2011 | by

My first shift at the candy store was on the first day of October, my last just before New Year’s, but when I talk about it now, what I say is, “Last Christmas, when I worked at the candy store.”

In the world of candy stores, and this candy store in particular, Christmas is a perpetual condition that just happens to spike at the end of the year. A red-and-green decorating scheme carried throughout the shop—I could not escape it, even when I retreated, as I sometimes did, to the store’s one bathroom, also tinged with red and green, just to shut out the world for a minute or two. On the sales floor, the shelves were heavy with saltwater taffy and boxes of truffles and delightfully analog toys—balsa gliders, pick-up sticks, chunky wooden puzzles. The general effect was that of being buried inside the holiday stocking of a child who’d been very, very good that year—along with the child himself, and a hoard of his less well-mannered friends and their overstressed, oblivious parents.

I took the gig shortly after finding myself laid off from the job I’d had for the last four years as an editor at a music magazine. I felt adrift and thought tending to a candy store, such a bastion of simple pleasures, might anchor me more firmly to the world, and also I thought that money might be a thing I’d might want to have again. But in my vague desperation I had forgotten about humans’ terrific knack for rendering even the most ostensibly pleasant pursuits completely soul crushing, and how that tendency increases as the winter days darken.

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Wassailing

December 22, 2011 | by

My school’s Wassail Party was held in the upper-school cafeteria, at night. For us lower-schoolers, it was thrilling. We were not usually welcome on the big kids’ campus, but after the annual candlelight service we were invited to eat miniature candy canes and Pepperidge Farm cookies in their vast, dim, low-ceilinged, linoleum-floored refectory. There was a big bowl of cold lime-sherbert punch, surrounded by elegant plumes of dry-ice smoke and a big bowl of warm, spiced apple juice—our wassail. When we were slightly older, we could join the choir that performed in the candlelight service. “Wassail, wassail, all over the town,” we sang, “Our bread it is white, and our ale it is brown!” It felt quietly subversive even to sing the word ale, since we were, in our red jumpers and green neck ribbons, as wholesome as the gingerbread and apple juice served after the concert.

Wassail means “be thou hale,” and it’s what English farmers traditionally consumed to drink to the health of their apple trees on Christmas Eve or Twelfth Night Eve. The rite itself was also called wassailing and generally called for a bowl of hard cider or apple-spiked ale to be paraded about the orchard. The spirits of the trees were toasted; scraps of booze-soaked toasted bread were tossed into the branches; roots were given a dram. Read More »

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Paul Murray on “That’s My Bike!”

December 21, 2011 | by

 

Paul Murray. Photograph by Cormac Scully.

Paul Murray, author of Skippy Dies and An Evening of Long Goodbyes, wrote “That’s My Bike!,” a short story published in the Winter issue of The Paris Review. The story opens with a group of friends gathered at a none-too-salubrious pub in Dublin’s Northside on Christmas Eve. Murray spoke to me from his office at the Oscar Wilde Center for writing at Trinity College in Dublin, where he is a writing fellow.

The last time I was in Dublin for Christmas was in 2007, right before the crash. The Christmas displays along Grafton Street and in all the shopping areas were absolutely ghastly. Everything had blinking lights and moving parts. Is this still the case?

There’s this shop called Brown Thomas, which is the oldest department store in Dublin and it’s very swanky and expensive. Historically, when it used to be called Switzer’s, they had these famous windows with Santa Claus and mice making ballet shoes and so forth, and it was all mechanized, and the kids would go into Dublin and look at the windows. That was something your parents would bring you to do. Then, when the boom came, they stopped having child-oriented windows and started having these really nasty Helmut Lang soft-cyber-porn-type windows with a bunch of emaciated blue mannequins wearing just a giant watch and staring bleakly out of the windows. Everything was about excess and consumption. The idea that children had any part of Christmas was shunted to one side because the store just wanted to get the adults in there to spend money.

And would the adults make pilgrimages to gaze at the watches?

They wouldn’t even stop at the windows, they would just pile into the store. I remember being in there and hearing a couple next to me saying, “I just don’t know what to get her.” And the woman said, “Pearls, you can’t really go wrong with pearls.” And I remember thinking, “Who are you people?” It was beyond parody. And these were people who worked in normal sorts of jobs. Read More »

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Other People’s Churches

October 13, 2011 | by

Photograph by Nick Viola.

“Close your eyes,” the man told us, and we did. “If you died today, do you know for sure if you would go to heaven? If you don’t, raise your hand.” When my hand curled slowly into the air, two strangers rushed over to me, kneeling one on either side of my metal folding chair, as if I’d just been struck down on a busy street. They greeted me in warm, soft tones. One opened a small leather-bound book and ran her fingers along the close-set type, then inclined the page towards me. She underlined a passage with her fingernail and commanded me to read it.

For if you tell others with your own mouth that Jesus Christ is your Lord, and believe in your own heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in his heart that a man becomes right with God; and with his mouth he tells others of his faith, confirming his salvation.

At my feet, the two strangers blinked up at me expectantly. “I think I misunderstood the question,” I lied, because I hadn’t. Read More »

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A Week in Culture: Gemma Sieff, Editor, Part 2

January 6, 2011 | by

This is the second installment of Sieff’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.

DAY FOUR

11:00 A.M. This copy of Innocence comes from Adam’s Books, a used bookstore on Bergen Street in Brooklyn that has since closed. The volume was, in a previous incarnation, a gift and carries an inscription:

DINA—

I hope you enjoy this gift. But I must tell you now, while everyone’s watching, that I have a gift to give you when we are alone that will lead to something even grander and more sublime than this novel, or any work of art for that matter. I am thinking of touching you now, watching you while you read this inscription.
Your hulking, sometimes brilliant and temperamental, boyfriend. You are my only baby.

I love you

Paul

X-mas 1992

By the way—this title is appropriate given the theme of the fall in our relationship.

This couple actually seems kind of sweet. One wonders why she chucked the book—but it doesn’t mean they didn’t get married. She could have been having an Archer moment. “The message inside the envelope … ran as follows: ‘Parents consent wedding Tuesday after Easter at twelve Grace Church eight bridesmaids please see Rector so happy love May.’ Archer crumpled up the yellow sheet as if the gesture could annihilate the news it contained.” Yet there he is on his wedding day with the old ladies in their “faded sables and yellowing ermines,” observing every ritual and “formality … which made of a nineteenth-century New York wedding a rite that seemed to belong to the dawn of history.”

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