Recently, I had occasion to read or re-read some of my favorite Christmas lit and thought a few teasers might put fellow readers in the holiday mood (and perhaps motivate a few to read the full versions, which I recommend):
From A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas by Charles Dickens (1843)
Stave One, Marley’s Ghost:
(Jacob Marley speaking to Scrooge)
“At this time of the rolling year, I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode? Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me?”
Stave Two, The First of the Three Spirits
(While watching the holiday party thrown by Mr. Fezziwig when Scrooge was an apprentice there)
During the whole of this time, Scrooge had acted like a man out of his wits. His heart and soul were in the scene and with his former self. He corroborated everything, remembered everything, enjoyed everything, and underwent the strangest agitation. …
“A small matter,” said the Ghost, “to make these silly folks so full of gratitude.”
“Small!” echoed Scrooge.
The Spirit signed to him to listen to the two apprentices who were pouring out their hearts in praise of Fezziwig, and said, “Why, is it not? He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money — three or four, perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves this praise?”
“It isn’t that,” said Scrooge, heated by the remark and speaking unconsciously like his former, not his latter, self. “It isn’t that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy — to make our service light or burdensome, a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ’em up — what then? The happiness he gives is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”
He felt the Spirit’s glance and stopped.
“What is the matter?” asked the Ghost.
“Nothing particular,” said Scrooge.
“Something, I think?” the Ghost insisted.
“No,” said Scrooge, “no. I should like to be able to say a word or two to my clerk just now. That’s all.”
From “Duel in the Snow, or Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid,” Chapter 2 from In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepherd (1966). (This was the first of several chapters appearing in Playboy magazine from 1964-66):
I remember clearly, itchingly, nervously, maddeningly the first time I laid eyes on it, pictured in a three-color, smeared illustration in a full-page back cover ad in Open Road For Boys, a publication which, at the time, had an iron grip on my aesthetic sensibilities, and the dime that I had to scratch up every month to stay with it. It was actually an early Playboy. It sold dreams, fantasies, incredible adventures, and a way of life. Its center foldouts consisted of gigantic Kodiak bears charging out of the page at the reader, to be gunned down in single hand-to-hand combat by the 11-year-old Killers armed only with hunting knife and fantastic bravery.
Its Christmas issue weighed over 7 pounds, its pages crammed with the effluvia of the Good Life of male Juvenalia, until the senses reeled and Avariciousness, the growing desire to own Everything, was almost unbearable. …
Early in the fall, the ad first appeared. It was a magnificent thing of balanced copy and pictures, superb artwork, and subtly contrived catch phrases. I was among the very first hooked, I freely admit it.
“BOYS! At last YOU can own an OFFICIAL RED RYDER carbine action, 200-shot RANGE MODEL AIR RIFLE!”
In my warm bed in the cold still air I could hear the falling snow brushing softly against the dark window. Next to me in the blackness lay my oiled, blue-steel beauty, the greatest Christmas gift I had ever received. Gradually I drifted off to sleep — pranging ducks on the wing and getting off spectacular hip-shots as I dissolved into nothingness.
From “A Christmas Memory” by Truman Capote (1956):
It’s always the same: a morning arrives in November, and my friend, as though officially inaugurating the Christmas time of year that exhilarates her imagination and fuels the blaze of her heart, announces: “It’s fruitcake weather! Fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat.”
In four days our work is done. Thirty-one cakes, dampened with whiskey, bask on window sills and shelves.
Who are they for?
Friends. Not necessarily neighbor friends: indeed, the larger share is intended for persons we’ve met maybe once, perhaps not at all. People who’ve struck our fancy. Like President Roosevelt. Like the Reverend and Mrs. J.C. Lucey, Baptist missionaries to Borneo who lectured here last winter. Or the little knife grinder who comes through town twice a year. Or Abner Packer, the driver of the six o’clock bus from Mobile, who exchanges waves with us every day as he passes in a dust-cloud whoosh. Or the young Wistons, a California couple whose car one afternoon broke down outside the house and who spent a pleasant hour chatting with us on the porch (young Mr. Wiston snapped our picture, the only one we’ve ever had taken). Is it because my friend is shy with everyone except strangers that these strangers, and merest acquaintances, seem to us our truest friends? I think yes.
The wind is blowing, and nothing will do till we’ve run to a pasture below the house where Queenie has scooted to bury her bone (and where, a winter hence, Queenie will be buried, too). There, plunging through the healthy waist-high grass, we unreel our kites, feel them twitching at the string like sky fish as they swim into the wind. Satisfied, sun-warmed, we sprawl in the grass and peel Satsumas and watch our kites cavort. Soon I forget the socks and hand-me-down sweater. I’m as happy as if we’d already won the $50,000 Grand Prize in that coffee-naming contest. …
“You know what I’ve always thought?” she asks in a tone of discovery, and not smiling at me but a point beyond. “I’ve always thought a body would have to be sick and dying before they saw the Lord. And I imagined that when He came, it would be like looking at the Baptist window: pretty as colored glass with the sun pouring through, such a shine you don’t know it’s getting dark. And it’s been a comfort: to think of that shine taking away all the spooky feeling. But I’ll wager it never happens. I’ll wager at the very end, a body realizes the Lord has already shown Himself. That things as they are” — her hand circles in a gesture that gathers clouds and kites and grass and Queenie pawing earth over her bone — “just what they’ve always seen, was seeing Him. As for me, I could leave the world with today in my eyes.”
This is our last Christmas together.