Holiday Stories from the Archive

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

Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor

“Christmas is a sad season. The phrase came to Charlie an instant after the alarm clock had waked him, and named for him an amorphous depression that had troubled him all the previous evening.”

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Close-up of moth collection


“The night was smoke-blue and moonlit; thin clouds were scattered about the sky but did not touch the delicate, icy moon. The trees, masses of gray frost, cast dark shadows on the drifts, which scintillated here and there with metallic sparks.”

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An illustration of an aproned figure and a table of whole-roasted fish with wine

My Ex-Husband and the Fish Dinner

“My in-laws, by way of assimilating, had switched over to turkey. This now seemed to my husband a hideous betrayal. We were going back to the old way, he declared.”

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Stone bridge over a pond in front of brightly-lit buildings

Christmas Story

A story of religion in human dignity restored.

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Illustration of a path through rolling fields with a small, bare tree in the center

The Burden of the Feast

“When I was growing up on our fifty-three-acre dairy farm, we were obsessed with food. Food was the center of our lives. Everything we did, every day, revolved around it. We planted it, grew it, harvested it, peeled it, cooked it, served it, consumed it.”

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A photograph of a household's illuminated Christmas tree

A Visit from Saint Nicholas (In the Ernest Hemingway Manner)

“It was the night before Christmas. The house was very quiet. No creatures were stirring in the house. There weren’t even any mice stirring.”

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A Christmas tree, and a kitchen in wintertime

Year’s End

“I knew then that it was true, that there was another person inside the house, a person who made it possible for my father, without hesitating, to say ‘we’ instead of ‘I.’ ”

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City Christmas decorations in black and white

A New Package of Energy

“To perceive Christmas through its wrapping becomes more difficult with every year.”

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