"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag

Five Days To Christmas: When Nature Does the Decorating

From “Christmas Festivities” in A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings by Charles Dickens:

“Who can be insensible to the outpourings of good feeling, and the honest interchange of affectionate attachment, which abound at this season of the year? A Christmas family party! We know nothing in nature more delightful! There seems a magic in the very name of Christmas. Petty jealousies and discords are forgotten: social feelings are awakened in bosoms to which they have long been strangers; father and son, or brother and sister, who have met and passed with averted gaze, or a look of cold recognition for months before, proffer and return the cordial embrace, and bury their past animosities in their present happiness. Kindly hearts that have yearned towards each other but have been withheld by false notions of pride and self-dignity, are again united, and all is kindness and benevolence!

“Would that Christmas lasted the whole year through, and that the prejudices and passions which deform our better nature were never called into action among those to whom, at least, they should ever be strangers.”

Six Days To Christmas: Silver and Gold

From A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd:

“It was now the second week of December and all the stores in town stayed open nights, which meant that things were really getting serious. Every evening immediately after supper we would pile into the car and drive downtown for that great annual folk rite, that most ecstatic, golden, tinseled, quivering time of all kidhood: Christmas shopping. Milling crowds of blue-jowled, agate-eyed foundry workers, gray-faced refinery men, and motley hordes of open-hearth, slag-heap, Bessemer-converter, tin-mill, coke-plant, and welding-shop fugitives trudged through the wildly pulsing department stores, through floor after floor of shiny, beautiful, unattainable treasures, trailed by millions of leatherette-jacketed, high-topped, mufflered kids, each with a gnawing hunger to Get It All. Worried-looking, flush-faced mothers wearing frayed cloth coats with ratty fox-fur collars, their hands chapped and raw from years of dish-water therapy, rode herd on the surging mob, ranging far and wide into the aisles and under the counters, cuffing, slapping, dragging whiners of all sizes from department to department.

“At the far end of Toyland in Goldblatt’s, on a snowy throne framed with red-and-white candy canes under a suspended squadron of plastic angels blowing silver trumpets in a glowing golden grotto, sat the Man, the Connection: Santa Claus himself.”

From “A Christmas Carol” in A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings by Charles Dickens:

“I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round — apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that — as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore … though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

Seven Days To Christmas: Red and Green (and One Jolly Chimp)

From A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd:

“‘You’ll shoot your eye out. Merry Christmas….’

“I stuffed my tattered dreams back into my geography book and gloomily watched other, happier, carefree, singing kids who were going to get what they wanted for Christmas as Miss Bodkin distributed little green baskets filled with hard candy. Somewhere off down the hall the sixth-grade glee club was singing ‘Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie.…’

“Mechanically my jaws crunched on the concrete-hard rock candy and I stared hopelessly out of the window, past cut-out Santas and garlands of red and green chains. It was already getting dark. Night falls fast in Northern Indiana at that time of year. Snow was beginning to fall, drifting softly through the feeble yellow glow of the distant street lamps while around me unbridled merriment raged higher and higher….

“By suppertime that night I had begun to resign myself to my fate. After all, I told myself, you can always use another football, and, anyway, there will be other Christmases….

“The day before, I had gone with my father and mother to the frozen parking lot next to the Esso station where, after long and soul-searching discussion, we had picked out our tree…. Now it stood in the living room, fragrantly, toweringly, teeteringly. Already my mother had begun the trimming operations. The lights were lit, and the living room was transformed into a small, warm paradise.”

Eight Days To Christmas: Tiny Baubles

From “Deck the Halls” in Just an Ordinary Day: Stories by Shirley Jackson:

“It was eight o’clock in the evening, Christmas Eve, and Mr. and Mrs. Williams were decorating their Christmas tree. It was the first Christmas tree they had had since they were married, but this year their little girl was two years old, and Mrs. Williams had thought that it was time they started making a real Christmas for her to remember when she grew up. Mrs. Williams had bought some ornaments at the five and ten, and a lot of little toys to hang on the tree, and Mr. Williams had brought out a kitchen chair and was standing on it, hanging things on the top branches. All of the baby’s relatives and friends had sent lovely things, which Mrs. Williams intended to pile lavishly under the tree, and Mr. and Mrs. Williams had bought an enormous teddy bear, taller by a head than the baby herself, which would be the first thing she would see in the morning.

When the tree was finished, with the packages and the teddy bear underneath, Mrs. Williams stood back and looked at it, holding her breath with pleasure. ‘Bob,’ she said, ‘it looks lovely. Like a dream of Christmas.'”

Nine Days To Christmas: Four Santas, Two Gnomes, One Jester, and Some Very Skinny Reindeer

From “The Elves” in The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, translated and edited by Jack Zipes:

“A shoemaker had become so poor that he didn’t have enough leather left for a single pair of shoes. In the evening he cut out the shoes that he planned to work on the next morning. However, when he got up the next day and was about to sit down to do his work, he saw the two shoes already finished and beautifully made, standing on the table. Soon a customer paid so well that the shoemaker could purchase enough leather for two pairs of shoes, which he cut out that evening. The next morning when he once again wanted to sit down and work, they were already finished, just as the pair had been the other day. Now he was able to purchase enough leather for four pairs of shoes from the money he received from the two pairs. And so it went. Whatever he cut out in the evening was finished by morning, and soon he was a well-to-do man again.

“Now one evening right before Christmas after he had cut out many shoes and wanted to go to bed, he said to his wife: ‘We should stay up one time and see who does our work in the night.’

“So they lit a candle, hid themselves in the corner of the room behind the clothes that had been hung up there, and watched closely. At midnight two cute little naked men came and sat down at the workbench, took all the cutout pieces of the shoes, and worked so swiftly and nimbly that the shoemaker could not take his eyes off them. Indeed, they were incredibly fast, and he was amazed. They didn’t stop until they had finished the work on all the shoes….

Then they scampered away, and it wasn’t even day yet….