In 1975, The New Yorker revealed a brief story, by Vladimir Nabokov, merely titled “Christmas.” Although the story’s title could have been reasonably commonplace, its topic was something however. Nabokov’s story offers with the ways in which reminiscence, loss, and rebirth typically encircle each other. While wanting by means of his late son’s belongings on Christmas Eve, the story’s protagonist comes throughout a journal and makes a startling discovery. “The open notebook shone radiantly on the table; next to it the light went through the muslin of the butterfly net, and glistened on a corner of the open tin,” the novelist writes. “Sleptsov pressed his eyes shut, and had a fleeting sensation that earthly life lay before him, totally bared and comprehensible.” What begins as a narrative of mourning shifts because it unfolds—reworking, like a chrysalis, right into a story about the unexpected marvels that may happen when household and hope convene after a protracted separation.
During this second pandemic yr, many people have skilled prolonged separations from our family members, whereas others have been lucky sufficient to have the ability to come collectively extra continuously. This week, in honor of the season (and whilst we face new uncertainties), we’re bringing you a collection of items about Christmas and the vacation spirit. In “The Burden of the Feast,” Bobbie Ann Mason recollects the celebratory vacation meals that her mom would assemble at their household farm in Kentucky. In “Christmas Is a Sad Season for the Poor,” by John Cheever, an elevator operator enjoys seasonal generosity whereas additionally experiencing some unanticipated penalties. (“House after house put into the shine of the street lights a wall of black windows. Millions and millions were sleeping, and this general loss of consciousness generated an impression of abandonment, as if this were the fall of the city, the end of time.”) In “Year’s End,” by Jhumpa Lahiri, a university scholar faces challenges when he visits his household in New England over the holidays. In “Christmas Story,” Joseph Mitchell recollects a shocking encounter, when he was a youthful reporter, with an uncommon couple who had beforehand resided in a collapse Central Park. In “A New Package of Energy,” E. B. White reminisces about the small on a regular basis miracles of the vacation season, which might materialize even throughout instances of nice instability. In “A Visit from Saint Nicholas (in the Ernest Hemingway Manner),” James Thurber parodies the basic vacation verse by Clement Clarke Moore. (“The moon shone on the snow. The moon gave the lustre of mid-day to objects in the snow. There was a miniature sleigh in the snow, and eight tiny reindeer. A little man was driving them.”) Finally, in “My Ex-Husband and the Fish Dinner,” Joan Acocella playfully recounts the unconventional vacation repasts that her ex would painstakingly put together. “My husband decided to Italianize our Christmas,” she writes. “The people in his grandparents’ generation had followed the old-country custom of eating their feast not on December 25th, but the night before. And it wasn’t turkey; it was a nine-course fish dinner.” After opening your entire presents, we hope that you just’ll spend a while with these basic items from our archive. From all of us right here at The New Yorker: blissful holidays.
—Erin Overbey, archive editor