12.24.09

A Mark Twain Christmas Story

For those looking for a bellyful of laughs, two humorous pieces in the yuletide spirit. Mark Twain writes a letter as Santa and Roy Blount Jr. comes up with some new ways of describing the holiday.

Susie’s Letter from Santa
By Mark Twain

Palace of St. Nicholas
In the Moon
Christmas Morning

MY DEAR SUSIE CLEMENS:

I have received and read all the letters which you and your little sister have written me by the hand of your mother and your nurses; I have also read those which you little people have written me with your own hands—for although you did not use any characters that are in grown people’s alphabet, you used the characters that all children in all lands on earth and in the twinkling stars use; and as all my subjects in the moon are children and use no characters but that, you will easily understand that I can read your and your baby sister’s jagged and fantastic marks without trouble at all. But I had trouble with those letters which you dictated through your mother and the nurses, for I am a foreigner and cannot read English writing well. You will find that I made no mistakes about the things which you and the baby ordered in your own letters—I went down your chimney at midnight when you were asleep and delivered them all myself—and kissed both of you, too, because you are good children, well-trained, nice-mannered, and about the most obedient little people I ever saw. But in the letter which you dictated there are some words that I could not make out for certain, and one or two small orders which I could not fill because we ran out of stock. Our last lot of Kitchen-furniture for dolls has just gone to a poor little child in the North Star away up in the cold country about the Big Dipper. Your mama can show you that star and you will say: “Little Snow Flake” (for that is the child’s name) “I’m glad you got that furniture, for you need it more than I.” That is, you must write that, with your own hand, and Snow Flake will write you an answer. If you only spoke it she wouldn’t hear you. Make your letter light and thin, for the distance is great and the postage heavy.

There was a word or two in your mama’s letter which I couldn’t be certain of. I took it to be “a trunk full of doll’s clothes.” Is that it? I will call at your kitchen door just about nine o’clock this morning to inquire. But I must not see anybody and I must not speak to anybody but you. When the kitchen doorbell rings George must be blindfolded and sent to open the door. Then he must go back to the dining-room or the china closet and take the cook with him. You must tell George that he must walk on tiptoe and not speak—otherwise he will die someday. Then you must go up to the nursery and stand on a chair or the nurse’s bed and put your ear to the speaking tube that leads down to the kitchen and when I whistle through it you must speak in the tube and say, “Welcome, Santa Claus!” Then I will ask whether it was a trunk you ordered or not. If you say it was, I shall ask you what color you want the trunk to be. Your mama will help you to name a nice color and then you must tell me every single thing in detail which you may want the trunk to contain. Then when I say “Good-bye and a Merry Christmas to my little Susie Clemens,” you must say “Good-bye, good old Santa Claus, I thank you very much and please tell Snow Flake I will look at her star tonight and she must look down here—I will be right in the West bay-window; and every fine night I will look at her star and say, ‘I know somebody up there and like her, too.’” Then you must go down into the library and make George close all the doors that open into the main hall, and everybody must keep still for a little while. I will go to the moon and get those things and in a few minutes I will come down the chimney that belongs to the fireplace that is in the hall—if it is a trunk you want—because I couldn’t get such a thing as a trunk down the nursery chimney, you know.

People may talk if they want, until they hear my footsteps in the hall. Then you tell them to keep quiet a little while till I go back up the chimney. Maybe you will not hear my footsteps at all—so you may go now and then and peep through the dining-room doors, and by and by you will see that thing which you want, right under the piano in the drawing room—for I shall put it there. If I should leave any snow in the hall, you must tell George to sweep it into the fireplace, for I haven’t time to do such things. George must not use a broom, but a rag—else he will die someday. You must watch George and not let him run into danger. If my boot should leave a stain on the marble, George must not holystone it away. Leave it there always in memory of my visit; and whenever you look at it or show it to anybody you must let it remind you to be a good little girl. Whenever you are naughty and somebody points to that mark which your good old Santa Claus’s boot made on the marble, what will you say, little Sweetheart?

Good-bye for a few minutes, till I come down to the world and ring the kitchen door-bell.

Your loving
SANTA CLAUS

Whom people sometimes call the Man in the Moon

Xmas Words
By Roy Blount Jr.

It is at this special time of the year, and especially of this extra-special year in particular, that we realize how urgent is our need to foster love and faith and brotherhood and—at any rate faith, and by that I mean consumer confidence. When Americans, of all people, are afflicted with what the singer-songwriter Roger Miller called “shellout falter”—a reluctance to spend—then the whole world is liable, as Mr. Miller put it so well in his song “Dang Me,” to “lack fourteen dollars having twenty-seven cents.”

Are we going to let it be said that all we had this Christmas to cheer was cheer itself? No! Let’s put the holly back in shopaholic, let’s getjingle-bullish. We owe it to ourselves, to the world, and to future generations. The more presents we spring for now, the lighter the tax burden is going to be down the line.

You notice how much more merrily that last sentence bounced along because I chose spring to express spending, instead of, say, plunge; and lighter instead of, say, less staggering. Words are important. So let’s say “bah, humbug” to b-words like bailout and bankrupt. Let’s digress from anything ending in -ession. Let’s entertain some new, upbeat holiday words.

Why not wake up tomorrow morning feeling consumptious? Rhymes with scrumptious, and approaches sumptuous. When we’re consumptious we’ve got that fire in the belly that’s burning a hole in our pocket. We’re going to be pumping bucks today, we’re going to open our hearts to goods and services, we’re going to take it upon ourselves to help America, and consequently the world, reconomize. In so doing, we can personalize what is just about the only appealing phrase regarding the economy that has emerged this year: each of us can be his or her own stimulus package.

The season of giving is upon us. Need that sound like such a threat? Let’s see if we can spruce up that venerable old word generous, which can be so cringe-inducing when we hear it spoken over the phone by a stranger calling in the interest of a charity. “I hope you will be as generous this year as last” puts us on the spot, so let’s spread generous out. I don’t think we want to go to heterogenerous, because people might think we’re talking about sex, and there will be plenty of time for that after we get our mercantile heat back on. (For this reason, even businesses whose appeal is essentially spicy should resist, for now, the temptation to send their customers illicitations.) But autogenerous, as in autobiographical, might remind us that giving unto others is also giving unto ourselves, especially if others give back unto us and therefore unto themselves, and we buy our presents at their store and vice-versa. Does auto- strike an ominous note? Let me just say that if each of us becomes a cargiver this Christmas, there will be a lot more shining faces this New Year’s in Detroit. And Japan.

Let us not shrink from taking a look at the word Christmas. It’s a fine old word and I for one would be loath to suggest that it has lost its edge entirely. But it doesn’t exactly sing. The only thing it rhymes with is isthmus, and that but loosely. How do you like the sound of Jingle Day? Says bells and sunshine, says catchy marketing, says plenty of change. The rhymes sell themselves: mingle, tingle, Kringle, Pringles, bling’ll, and hey, sleigh, pray, pay, hooray. We might even go a little more on-the-nose: Ka-chingleday.

And incidentally, when you take your tree down and put your ornaments away for next year (yes, of course there will be a next year, don’t even ask such a question), do you know the best way to protect those ornaments? By wrapping them in newspaper. Several sheets per ornament. Maybe a whole newspaper section per ornament. And magazines and books are good to put between wrapped ornaments for further protection. Not to knock the tissue-paper industry, but what has it ever done for, say, people who support themselves and their families (not to mention the Jingle Day puppies their families have been promised) by thinking up words?

Reprinted with permission from The Dreaded Feast: Writers on Enduring the Holidays by Michele Clark and Taylor Plimpton; published by Abrams Image copyright 2009.

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