A Tale of Different Christmases

From Maureen Dowd at The New York Times:

When consumerism curdles, it’s tempting to become an emotional Marxist about Christmas.

Not Karl. Groucho.

“Now the melancholy days have come,” Groucho Marx wrote to pal and fellow comic Fred Allen on Dec. 23, 1953. “The department stores call it Christmas. Other than for children and elderly shut-ins, the thing has developed to such ridiculous proportions — well, I won’t go into it. This is not an original nor novel observation, and I am sure everyone in my position has similar emotions. Some of the recipients are so ungrateful.

“For example, yesterday I gave the man who cleans my swimming pool $5. This morning I found two dead fish floating in the drink. Last year I gave the mailman $5. I heard later he took the five bucks, bought two quarts of rotgut and went on a three-week bender. I didn’t get any mail from Dec. 24th to Jan. 15th. ... For Christmas, I bought the cook a cookbook. She promptly fried it, and we had it for dinner last night. It was the first decent meal we had in three weeks. From now on I am going to buy all my food at the bookstore.”

I found Groucho’s grouchy letter in Caroline Kennedy’s “A Family Christmas,” a selection of songs, poetry, prose, letters and a list of the questions most frequently asked of Macy’s Santa.

("Q: Are you lactose intolerant?

A: No, Santa likes all kinds of milk, except buttermilk, although he will use buttermilk in cakes and pancakes.”)

The book includes the solemn and sardonic, including this verse from Calvin Trillin, yearning to escape the shopping zoo and endless loop of Der Bingle crooning and “Jingle Bells” jingling:

“I’d like to spend next Christmas in Qatar. Or someplace else that Santa won’t find handy. Qatar will do, although, Lord knows, it’s sandy.”

As a little girl, Caroline had the advantage of being able to ask the bloodhounds on the White House switchboard to get Santa on the line.

“The fact that he had the same soft Southern accent common to many White House workers of the day escaped me completely,” she writes dryly.

She includes a letter her father, as president, sent to Michelle Rochon, a little girl in Michigan.

“I was glad to get your letter about trying to stop the Russians from bombing the North Pole and risking the life of Santa Claus,” J.F.K. wrote, noting that he shared her concern with Soviet atmospheric testing. “You must not worry about Santa Claus. I talked with him yesterday, and he is fine.”

Ms. Kennedy writes that she continues the literary tradition of her mother. Jackie wrote Christmas poems for her mother, and Caroline and John wrote poems for Jackie.

As I read her book, it struck me that everyone must have a holiday tale they could write up and paste into the back of “A Family Christmas.”

Mine would be about Trigger.

When I was little, I got one of those wooden horses that bounced on springs for Christmas. I loved him and rode him every day.

One morning, I came down to the porch and the horse was gone. My mom explained that a poor woman and her son had walked by, and the little boy had stopped and stared longingly at the horse.

My mom’s world was turned upside down when she lost the father she adored at 12, so she had a soft spot for children who hurt. On a police widow’s pension, she was always mailing a few dollars off to St. Jude’s or to children she had read about who were hungry or needed an operation.

When she told me that she had given my horse to another child — a stranger — I was crushed. Whenever we fought for the next 16 years, I reminded her of her perfidy.

On my 21st birthday, I came home to find a bouncing horse with a handwritten sign in its mouth. “Hi. I’m back!” It was signed: “Trigger.”

I brought the horse of a different era to live with me, as a rebuke about how long it took me to appreciate one of my mom’s favorite sayings: “Don’t cry over things that can’t cry over you.”

Her lesson was lovely: that materialism and narcissism can only smother life — and Christmas — if you let them.

In a piece reprinted in the Kennedy anthology, Henry van Dyke writes: “Are you willing ... to own, that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life; to close your book of complaints against the management of the universe and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness ... to make a grave for your ugly thoughts and a garden for your kindly feelings ...? Then you can keep Christmas.”

I have many warm memories of Christmas, though my favorite is the year Teddy came into my life. He was about 3 feet and change, though at the time he seemed to me 6 feet tall. He came in a huge box, way too big to fit under the tree. When my parents opened the box, he tumbled out and I was in love. Though he eventually retired to a dank corner of the basement, most of his stuffing gone, I couldn't quite make myself get rid of him. Finally, long after graduating from college and on the verge of moving into my own apartment, I conceded it was time to let Teddy go. To my parent's credit, he was still at the house, smaller than I remembered and patiently waiting for me to say goodbye.

Any one have a favorite holiday memory to add to the mix?


Turn On Your Heart Light

In New York, I see a lot of little dogs. Generally, I'm not a fan. I'm more of a solid, huggable, big dog kind of a girl.

However, I did get to know, and adore, a wee white Chihuahua named Cracker who lived with my friend Sindy (yes, the name is deliberate, Sin has a fantastic sense of humor). Cracker is no longer with us, but it makes me smile to remember her little teeny tail wagging so enthusiastically whenever I visited. The holidays are more difficult when you miss someone you love.

This little guy is no replacement, but he does tickle the funny bone and light up a room at the same time. Just like Cracker.

Merry Christmas, Sin.


Hang In There!

You think you're having a bad day? This guy is just hanging on by a tail...

A great gift, under $30, and handmade on a small organic farm in West Virginia. Plus, he's waaaaaaaaay cuter than the real thing. Shop handmade this holiday season.


Sister Love

"Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart." — Kahlil Gibran


Canada in New York

Remember when it was more affordable for Americans to travel north? The world has changed my friends. We now live in an era where the Canadians are creating ice ponds in our backyard, and we're thanking them for it.

Truth be told, most New Yorkers expect the world to come to them anyway -- so entitled we are! -- so why not ski in midtown? It's "Alberta Week" at Bryant Park and the folks at the Canadian Tourism Board have created an apres-ski lodge featuring spa treatments, board games and hot cocoa.

You have 'til Thursday to fill your mug with melted marshmallows while having your feet rubbed. After that, blame Canada.

Going Home

Through January 6th, the Whitney is exhibiting seventeen panels from Jacob Lawrence’s famed sixty-panel Migration Series, portraying the flight of more than six million African Americans from the racism and poverty in the rural South to the promise of industrial cities of the North. Originally scheduled for the Studio Museum in Harlem, the future of the exhibition was uncertain when water damage was discovered in the galleries. Luckily, the Whitney was able to step in and now you can view these energetic and colorful panels before they embark on a national tour.


Dust of Snow

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

-- Robert Frost


A Delightful Intro to December

What a marvelous time we had at my dear Aunt Deb's tea party in honor of Persuede. I woke to a classic New York snow scene and thought, well, extra Prosecco and Pomegrante cocktails for me...but as it turned out, almost everyone came! And good thing too, because Aunt Deb put out quite a spread:

Oh so savory -- and homemade! -- gravlax, delicious little nutty cookies with pecans and almonds, truffle honey from Italy, dangerously good banana-oatmeal-chocolate biscotti, rich chocolate ganache cupcakes with little edible pearls, incredible cheeses and dips...yum yum.

I wore my new favorite piece:

Isn't she gorgeous? The tiger brownlip shell is gilded with a splash of gold and strung on a chestnut-colored suede cord knotted with dark chocolate-colored wood beads. With all the requests I got today, I'm hoping to have a few available before Christmas. In the meantime, to whet your holiday shopping appetite, persuede.etsy.com is featuring a number of new lovelies.

A good hostess knows that what makes a party is the people. A big thank you to everyone who braved the weather to come to the debut of Persuede. I'm bowled over by the support and wish everyone to wear their pretty, sparkly designs in good health.

Go gorgeous!