James Lipton

James Lipton shares his thoughts on the holidays.

on Dec 11, 2007

In my novel Mirrors, I seized the opportunity to express my feelings through the character of a young woman: "You know what I like best about Christmas? It's so -- whimsical: normally sane people dragging messy, living trees into neat, dead rooms and using embarrassing words like joy and merry; choirs singing in banks, trumpets braying on street corners; janitors and bartenders hanging tinsel -- everything you'd be fired, arrested, ostracized or committed for, any other time of the year." Her words, my sentiments, formulated in adulthood, but formed in childhood, trudging home on white snow under a black sky from a Fisher Theatre matinee, enchanted by the movie and the Christmas lights on Grand Boulevard and Wood-ward Avenue -- and by the conviction that suddenly this had become a joyful place and time: Christmas was around the corner ... inevitable!

Christmas comes up again in Inside Inside, a few pages later:

On Christmas morning, I arrived at the fireplace before dawn to open the presents and counted them meticulously: ten toy soldiers in a box equaled ten gifts, and a pair of socks two. By this means, I could measure the world's affection for me and, when the sun rose, could flaunt my bounty before the other kids in the neighborhood, who, I now suspect, applied exactly the same numeric formula to theirs.

I rely on my mother's recollection for an account that sums up that time in our lives. On a frigid night early in December, several of Mother's sisters and cousins were coming over to discuss the imminent holiday. Years later, Mother told me that she stoked the furnace with what, she discovered to her horror, were the last few lumps of coal in the basement. There was no more and at that moment no money for more -- and the burly Michigan winter was just beginning to flex its biceps. And here came the family to plan Christmas. In Mother's account, as the evening began, she listened distractedly, absorbed by the thought of the last embers dying in the furnace below, with her child lying asleep above, and no more coal or heat until ... when? And no one to lean on, since the rest of the family was as afflicted as she. All, that is, except one.