Round-Up: Holiday Nostalgia

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Part of the sharing that comes with the holiday season is that beautiful and funny thing nostalgia. Think back to when your were just a kid, back to when the holiday season was more than consumer sales and bustling about the kitchen with a turkey baster in one hand. It was a time when the air was static with the electricity of the possible – where people could be kind for no reason and only good things happened. In the realm of childhood, magic was possible.

In the spirit of the season, we’ve put together a roundup of our fondest childhood remembrances of the holiday season. And, of course, we hope that you have an absolutely wonderful holiday filled with magic, and if applicable, wonder.

And for the Muppet version of what we’ll be doing Friday at 5pm:

 

Andrea and her grandmother

ANDREA MARTUCCI, Managing Editor: One year, when I was about six and living in New Jersey, I remember going into NYC to see the Rockettes at the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. My older sister and I wore special faux-velvet dresses, which were purchased for the occasion. I was in heaven because I loved dressing up, but I seem to remember my tomboy sister being less than thrilled.

A couple years later, I asked for a Sega for Christmas. I shook every wrapped present and chanted “Sega” until I opened it to reveal that it wasn’t a Sega. I still do this sometimes on Christmas. I never got a Sega, which is probably a good thing because instead of spending my time playing video games I spent a lot of time reading. This ended up being good for my career. (But if I had gotten a Sega, maybe I’d be a video game designer today. We’ll never know what could have been.)

I seem to remember pulling out The Grinch That Stole Christmas every year. We had one of those nice hardcover versions, which is probably still around somewhere. I also loved The Wild Christmas Reindeer by Jan Brett. It has beautiful illustrations, and Teeka was my first favorite kick-ass heroine. I always associate The Velveteen Rabbit with Christmas, probably because the eponymous character was a Christmas gift to the love-em-and-leave-em little boy. I hated that boy. Getting scarlet fever is no excuse for abandoning your shabby stuffed rabbit who loves you unconditionally. Teeka would never do that to the Velveteen Rabbit. In my imagination, the Velveteen Rabbit journeyed to the North Pole and now frolics among the wild reindeer and sleeps at Teeka’s feet every night.

MARGOT LIVESEY, Fiction Editor: As a child December was a busy month for me.  I had read a story in which animals could talk on Christmas Eve so I devoted the first three weeks of the month to teaching our dog, a sweet tempered border terrier, to talk so that she’d be ready to hold forth when the day came.  She listened to me patiently and never, in my hearing, vouchsafed a word but I still like the idea that animals lapse into human language for one night a year.

Nowadays December is busy in other ways as I haunt my local bookshops trying to find the ideal gifts for all my friends, and the books I myself most want to read over the holidays.  Almost everyone gets a novel but this year I’ll also be giving Alice Munro, Tessa Hadley, and Megan Mayhew Bergman’s collections of stories.  And for myself I got a lovely copy of Robin Kirkpatrick’s translation of Dante so I hope to be better read by the new year.

ABBY TRAVIS, Editorial Assistant: Oh, sweet, sweet, delicious, family-time holidays. Although I spent the other night at Sufjan Stevens’s Christmess Sing-a-Long in Providence and thoroughly enjoyed the live version of “Christmas Unicorn” (with Sufjan acting as Captain Christmas leading us bravely through the tragic-comedic so-called Pageant of the Apocalypse, and yes, we did spin the wheel of Christmess to determine what carols we would sing along to), I do still long for the days of old when things seem, looking back, impossibly simpler. Wonder came at a cheap price, then: a few small ornaments, sledding in the backyard and seeing who could get the farthest into the woods without colliding head-on into a tree, a warm fire cracking inside with the promise of hot chocolate or cider.

Abby and her father at the “Blue Park”

One year, when I was still itty-bitty, I got a purple plastic sled for Christmas. My parents tell me I disappeared at some point during dinner, and they eventually found me sleeping in my sled in the living room. It was an amazing sled, and incredibly resilient. It’s survived over twenty years, and when my parents moved two years ago, they passed it one to one of the neighbor kids, who still has it and loves it. (Really, they don’t make sleds like they used to.) The holidays, too, aren’t quite what they used to be. Although we still come together for Christmas eve at my grandparents’ in Wanamingo, a tiny town in southern Minnesota, and then we have our own family dinner on Christmas day when the day is filled with the same movies we always watch (A Christmas Carol with Alasair Sim, White Christmas, It’s A Wonderful Life, The Muppet Christmas Carol, and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation), everything must now be packed into those two fleeting days when we’re at home together. I will always long for the days when the holiday spread across a lazy two weeks off from school, filled with nothing but reading, riding my horse, and movie-watching. The world and time seemed endless. If I close my eyes, I can still conjure the peace and calm of going out to the stable and trudging through the snowy 60-acre pasture to find my horse, just to kiss her on the nose and then maybe climb onto her furry back for a bareback ride through the snow. In those days, there was nothing to do but wander through plots and pastures and wonder at the beauty of it all.

Alexandra and her many trees

ALEXANDRA ARTIANO, Editorial Assistant: Being the daughter of a preschool teacher, I feel that I have been exposed to an excessive amount of children’s books in my lifetime and received a lot of them for Christmas. That being said, there are only two that still stick out in my mind: Where’s Spot, and We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. As Where’s Spot is not even remotely Christmas related besides the fact that I got it for Christmas, I will spare you from explaining a creepy obsession.

Going on a Bear Hunt, for those of you who haven’t read it, is a great children’s book in which a family and their dog decide to, well, go on a bear hunt (I consider it Christmas-y because there is snow in one scene.) There is chanting, rhythm, there’s a song that goes along with it, and most of all there is a scary bear. What I always loved most about the book though was the illustration. On one of the last pages the family has finally out-run this bear, but they forget to close the front door.  I always thought that was the scariest thing in the entire world when I was little (note: I still can’t watch scary movies because it bothers me too much so my scary-spectrum is a bit off.) The book ends with the family happily in bed vowing to never go on a bear hunt again. I would definitely suggest buying this book for any family members under six years old for Christmas this year.

Alexandra in a jumpsuit.

Also, please enjoy this adorable photo of me in a jumpsuit and then at a later date holding my own mini-Christmas tree while standing in front of our Christmas tree (meta?)

AKSHAY AHUJA, Production Manager: My early childhood was spent in India, so I have no American holiday stories. When we moved to Maryland, we did get a Christmas tree for a few years, probably at my instigation. I was a pretty conformist child. I can, however, share two of my favorite Indian holidays, which fall approximately in this time of year. Diwali (or Deepavali, as my South Indian mother refers to it) happened about a month ago. A “deepa” is a lamp, and Diwali is generally celebrated with various types of fire. I remember making long rows of cotton wicks with my mother and watching them soak up the cooking oil that we poured into little brass lamps. If the wicks are made correctly, the lamps burn steadily, without too much smoke, and give off a delicious smell that I also associate with the frying of puris.

A Ravana explosion, fireworks and all!

However, none of this compares to my favorite childhood holiday, Dussehra. Diwali celebrates Rama’s return from exile (the interested should read C. Rajagopalachari’s Ramayana, still my favorite version of the great epic), but Dussehra, which takes place a few weeks before Diwali, celebrates Rama’s defeat of Ravana, the demon king who kidnapped Rama’s wife, Sita. Dussehra involves making enormous effigies of Ravana and his two sons, setting them on fire, and having an enormous party as they burn up. These effigies are truly enormous, at least in my childhood memory, and are furthermore made out of fireworks. As they burn, one after another, they send sparks and color whizzing in every direction. In Delhi, where I grew up, this was beautifully choreographed, with the most wonderful explosions saved for Ravana’s many heads.

DAVID GOLDSTEIN, Senior Reader:  So here’s a thought experiment: imagine you’re a Jew living at the time of the Maccabee revolt against the Seleucid Greeks.  We’re talking 165 B.C. or so.  One of your neighbors approaches you and informs you that when rededicating the Temple that had been occupied by the Greeks, the Jewish priests found what they thought was enough oil for one day, but the oil ended up burning for eight days.  Would you think this was neat?  Probably.  Would you tell some of your friends?  I might.  Would you consider this a miracle so transcendent that it would basically have to be the basis for a holiday your descendants would celebrate two thousand years hence?  No.  No you wouldn’t.

But that’s what we celebrate during Channukah.  As far as miracles go this is pretty thin gruel.  I was aware of this from a very young age.  I was also aware that while I was celebrating oil lasting a little longer than it should have, my gentile classmates were celebrating the Virgin Birth of their Lord and Savior who would eventually die for their sins and redeem all of humanity.  Point, gentiles.

And yet all of my friends were jealous of me.  Mostly, it was because they assumed I’d get presents on all eight nights.  I did, but my gift haul usually included something like five pairs of socks, two dress shirts and a new pair of shoes, all of which were nice, but none of which were awesome toys.  Still, I loved Chanukkah.  I loved the pretty flickering lights on the Menorah; I loved the rich, heavy scent of fried latkes.  And I loved the possibility that the present I’d receive the next night might be better than the crappy argyle socks I’d received the night before.

Like pretty much all Jewish holidays, Chanukkah commemorates something terrible happening to the Jewish people, but not so terrible that we died out completely.  Like all Jewish holidays, it honors the resilience of a beleaguered people forever struggling to maintain their traditions.  Yes, it probably seems glib to compare the resilience of a child hoping for He-Man’s Castle of Greyskull to the resilience of a people weathering yet another attempt at genocide, but both capture the idea of hope over despair, optimism over anguish.  During Passover, we say “Next year in Jerusalem.”  During Chanukkah, I’d say, “tomorrow night, a less crappy gift.”

This year I was hoping for an iPhone from my wife.  Did I get one?  Of course not.  But there’s always next year.  That’s the beauty of it.

Mimi on her first ever bicycle

MIMI COOK, Marketing Assistant: One of my favorite holiday books growing up was The Polar Express.  I was carried away by the fantastical train journey to the North Pole and Christopher Van Allsburg’s gorgeous illustrations.  Another of my favorite books was Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins (although my family does not celebrate Hanukkah, my parents believe in appreciating all winter holidays).  Eric Kimmel’s retelling of the classic Jewish folktale is perfectly complimented by Trina Schart Hyman’s whimsical and spooky illustrations.  I later discovered Susan Cooper’s classic young adult novel The Dark Is Rising, which is still one of my favorite winter narratives.  Combining Arthurian myth, British Christmas/Solstice tradition, and a hefty dose of mystery, the book is terrifying and sophisticated enough to captivate teens and intrigue adults.  It’s a thrilling read, perfect to curl up with by the fire on a dark winter evening.

Sarah, circa 1970, with Santa. “I know,” she says. “Cindy Brady was jealous of my coat and hat!”

SARAH BANSE, Senior Reader: My grandmother always said it wasn’t Christmas–which meant we didn’t have to worry about it–no shopping, wrapping or cooking until Santa rode down the hill on his Norelco Shaver.  Unfortunately, that classic marker no longer exists and we are bombarded with Christmas pressure as soon as the Halloween candy is put away. My Gram would be appalled.

For me, the Grinch will always be in and the Elf Upon the Shelf will always be out.  Give me Cindy Lou Who, not more than two and Max the dog over a creepy imp who reports back to Santa. My kids will have nothing to do with elf.  They’ve deemed the imp a snitch and advocated that no one needs a direct line to the naughty list.  Also, I want old school Grinch when I watch it on television. No Jim Carey, yes Da-who-Dor-reh.

Also, I want classic Christmas shows, the originals not the spin offs that Rankin and Bass ran with after the success of Rudolph and Frosty the Snow Man.  So, no Rudolph and the Baby New Year but always yes to the Heat Meiser.

I’ll always watch It’s a Wonderful Life, I love Zuzu’s petals and yes, I cried at Elf the other night—gets me every time when NYC sings and gets the Christmas spirit and Ed Asner and Will Farrell fly over the roof tops.

ELLEN DUFFER, Intern: This is how I spend every holiday season, every year, for my entire life:

1.) read The Polar Express no less than twenty-five times; watch the corresponding film thrice; get confused about the difference between Tom Hanks and Nicholas Cage
2.) cry while watching The Year Without a Santa Claus; ponder the significance of the potential for lost Christmas presents in the midst of various economic crises; cry; get the Heat Miser song stuck in head until well after New Year’s Eve
3.) read Eloise at Christmastime; buy a turtle; order room service from mom

In addition, I always endure my mom’s giggle-filled recounting of various passages from David Sedaris’ SantaLand Diaries.

Jordan and her lovely, lovely rocket ship, newly acquired.

JORDAN STILLMAN, Intern: Every year for Christmas Eve we go to my grandmother’s house. We sit around in her dining room and eat lasagna. I don’t know how or why this started but that’s what we always did and continue to do. On Christmas Day we’d do the usual turkey and ham at my mother’s house but Christmas Eve always felt distinct and separately special. Everything was dark and felt magic and possible. My favorite eves were the ones where the moon was big and bright and my brother could paste our faces to the car window on the drive home and look across the sky for traces of Santa’s sleigh. We’d pass the time between scouring and playing the highly competitive game ‘lights’ where you attempted to yell lights every time you saw Christmas lights. The first one to yell lights got a point for that house. I’m sure, by the end of the ride our parents never wanted to hear the word lights ever again. At night, if there was time, we would watch A Muppet Christmas Carol before bed. It never feels like the holidays if I haven’t seen Muppets singing in Dickensian costume.

I remember there was this one edition of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas that I associate with my grandmother’s house. There is something that I’ve always loved about the meter of that poem. The book was a big one that illustrated each line. It was the kind that was over-sized and had gold-leafed pages. The illustration style was the kind that were definitely popular in the sixties or seventies. I loved flipping through the pages of that book, especially with reading it aloud. I liked to hear the story come alive. I still like to hear it, whenever possible.

 

If you’re still scrambling for neat holiday literature check out some of these Christmas classics below, for young and old alike:

  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens: Delve into this tale of the stingy Ebenezer Scrooge and his experience with the three ghosts of Christmas in this beloved holiday classic.
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss: Whether you are a youngin’ or a little bit older Dr. Seuss’s delightful Christmas story is always appropriate in the holiday season. Read of all those Whos in Whoville and see what happens with that Grinch’s heart, two sizes too small.
  • “The Gift of the Magi” by Henry O.: This noted short story is about a young, married couple attempting to buy secret Christmas gifts with very little money. It’s a sentimental tale with a well-known twist ending often said to have a moral about gift-giving. If you haven’t read it you should check it out.
  • Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien: A less observed work of Tolkien in which the children of Tolkien wrote to Father Christmas and actually got a reply which resulted in this collection.