Christmas Past

James Lipton shares his thoughts on the holidays.


Time for another blog ... and by happy coincidence, here comes Christmas. About which, more in a moment.

First, as always, I want to acknowledge and thank those of you who have gone to the time and trouble to read my musings -- and respond.

Thanks, Debbie and the several Marys. Glad you liked the Geico commercial, Judith. It's astonishing how many people have seen it, and commented on it. I'm very glad you like my book, Gina. Maybe we'll meet in Nantucket.

Now to the subject of Christmas, which is, hands down, my favorite day of the year. It has been since I was a kid. As I write in Inside Inside: 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. The conversation burbled on, as unattended by Mother as the starving furnace, until her cousin Vera, whose husband was conspicuously, and uniquely, prospering, and who was known to put on occasional airs, said, "Listen, what's the point of going out and getting each other presents we don't want or need? Forget surprises. Why not just tell each other what we'd like?"

The idea passed instant muster, prompting Vera to continue. "Okay. For me, all I need is a sterling silver grape scissors."

Something snapped in Mother, and haunted by the specter of the dying furnace, the empty coal bin, and me stiffening upstairs, she began to laugh. And, as Mother recounted it, the harder she tried to block the dual, dueling concepts of Vera's grape scissors and the impending Ice Age on Hague Avenue, the more uncontrollably she laughed. The startled family sprang to her rescue as she rolled convulsively off the chair and thrashed on the floor, engulfed by a flood of laughter and tears.

It was years before Mother, a proud and independent spirit, confessed to Vera and the others who had been there on that dark, distant December night that it was Vera's sterling silver grape scissors that had threatened her sanity, and very nearly her life -- and provided her with the therapeutic, cleansing laughter that helped her weather that winter and several more that would be no better climatically or financially. And it was many years later, when Mother lived near me in New York under substantially improved circumstances, that she opened a gift from Detroit on Christmas morning and passed it to me with a wordless, eloquent smile. It was, of course, a sterling silver grape scissors from Vera.

Thanks for allowing me to share these memories. May you all receive the most precious of Christmas gifts, which is, of course, love, given and received.

You May Also Like...

Recommended by Zergnet