“The Christmas Banquet,” a tale from Nathaniel Hawthorne (from Mosses from an Old Manse):
“I HAVE HERE attempted,” said Roderick, unfolding a few sheets of manuscript, as he sat with Rosina and the sculptor in the summer-house–“I have attempted to seize hold of a personage who glides past me, occasionally, in my walk through life. My former sad experience, as you know, has gifted me with some degree of insight into the gloomy mysteries of the human heart, through which I have wandered like one astray in a dark cavern, with his torch fast flickering to extinction. But this man–this class of men–is a hopeless puzzle.”
“Well, but propound him,” said the sculptor. “Let us have an idea of him, to begin with.”
“Why, indeed,” replied Roderick, “he is such a being as I could conceive you to carve out of marble, and some yet unrealized perfection of human science to endow with an exquisite mockery of intellect; but still there lacks the last inestimable touch of a divine Creator. He looks like a man, and, perchance, like a better specimen of man than you ordinarily meet. You might esteem him wise–he is capable of cultivation and refinement, and has at least an external conscience–but the demands that spirit makes upon spirit, are precisely those to which he cannot respond. When, at last, you come close to him, you find him chill and unsubstantial–a mere vapor.”
From Thomas Firminger Thiselton-Dyer’s Folk-lore of Shakespeare:
Christmas. Among the observances associated with this season, to which Shakespeare alludes, we may mention the Christmas Carol, a reference to which is probably made in “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (ii. 1), by Titania: “No night is now with hymn or carol blest.”
Hamlet (ii. 2) quotes two lines from a popular ballad, entitled the “Song of Jephthah’s Daughter,” and adds: “The first row of the pious chanson will show you more.”
In days gone by, the custom of carol-singing was most popular, and Warton, in his “History of English Poetry,” notices a license granted in 1562 to John Tysdale for printing “Certayne goodly carowles to be songe to the glory of God;” and again “Crestenmas Carowles auctorisshed by my lord of London.”
In the “Taming of the Shrew” (Ind., sc. 2) Sly asks whether “a comonty is not a Christmas gambold.” Formerly the sports and merry-makings at this season were on a most extensive scale, being presided over by the Lord of Misrule. Again, in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (v. 2), Biron speaks of “a Christmas comedy.”
As we have noticed, too, in our chapter on Plants, a gilt nutmeg was formerly a common gift at Christmas, and on other festive occasions, to which an allusion is probably made in the same scene. Formerly, at this season, the head of the house assembled his family around a bowl of spiced ale, from which he drank their healths, then passed it to the rest, that they might drink too. The word that passed among them was the ancient Saxon phrase wass hael , i. e., to your health. Hence this came to be recognized as the wassail or wassel bowl; and was the accompaniment to festivity of every kind throughout the year. Thus Hamlet (i. 4) says: “The king doth wake to-night, and takes his rouse, Keeps wassail.” And in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (v. 2), Biron speaks of: “wakes and wassails, meetings, markets, fairs.” In “Macbeth” (i. 7), it is used by Lady Macbeth in the sense of intemperance, who, speaking of Duncan’s two chamberlains, says: “Will I with wine and wassail so convince, That memory, the warder of the brain, Shall be a fume, and the receipt of reason A limbeck only.” In “Antony and Cleopatra” (i. 4), Cæsar advises Antony to live more temperately, and to leave his “lascivious wassails.” In the same way, a “wassail candle” denoted a large candle lighted up at a festival, a reference to which occurs in “2 Henry IV.” (i. 2): “Chief-Justice. You are as a candle, the better part burnt out. Falstaff. A wassail candle, my lord; all tallow.”
A custom which formerly prevailed at Christmas, and has not yet died out, was for mummers to go from house to house, attired in grotesque attire, performing all kinds of odd antics. Their performances, however, were not confined to this season. Thus, in “Coriolanus” (ii. 1) Menenius speaks of making “faces like mummers.”
Hopefully everyone is happy and with loved ones and friends during these holidays–and what better way to show love and fellowship than sharing a draught of delicious eggnog (alternately, the sad and solitary can drown their lonely sorrows in this high-alcohol, high-calorie treat). This is an old recipe; I remember my cousin and I stealing sips of this nog during my grandparents’ Christmas parties.
You will need:
A bottle of fine bourbon
A bottle of fine rum
A liqueur of your choice (this is optional; coffee, cream, or amaretto all add a nice touch)
A gallon of vanilla ice cream (substitute frozen yoghurt if you’re concerned about calories)
A carton of store-bought eggnog (alternately, you can make your own eggnog from eggs, milk, and sugar, although it’s a genuine pain in the ass and no one will ever know the difference, unless you go around pointing it out to them, which will make you look like an asshole, and you don’t want to look like an asshole, do you?)
Nutmeg, cinnamon, mace, clove (Use whole spices! Any of your favorite holiday spices will do, but I consider these four essential)
To make a one gallon pitcher of eggnog:
Put about 6 cups of ice cream in the pitcher.
Add some cinnamon sticks and cloves; grate some nutmeg and mace into the pitcher.
Add 4 cups of the store-bought eggnog; stir mixture.
Add about 3 and 1/2 cups of bourbon, 1 1/2 cups of rum, and liqueur (about 1/2 a cup will do) to taste; add more spices.
Stir vigorously; cover and allow to set in the freezer for at least 12 hours before serving. Stir vigorously before serving.
To make your guests happy, I suggest serving the nog with both liquor and ice cream at hand; this way those inclined may add either as their taste dictates. (Note for heavy drinkers: if your intention is to get smashed, stop drinking the eggnog after two cups and begin drinking the bourbon straight! The high levels of cream and sugar in this nog will guarantee a hangover–don’t overdo it!).
Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Fir-Tree,” a depressing story about a Christmas tree—
Far down in the forest, where the warm sun and the fresh air made a sweet resting-place, grew a pretty little fir-tree; and yet it was not happy, it wished so much to be tall like its companions— the pines and firs which grew around it. The sun shone, and the soft air fluttered its leaves, and the little peasant children passed by, prattling merrily, but the fir-tree heeded them not. Sometimes the children would bring a large basket of raspberries or strawberries, wreathed on a straw, and seat themselves near the fir-tree, and say, “Is it not a pretty little tree?” which made it feel more unhappy than before. And yet all this while the tree grew a notch or joint taller every year; for by the number of joints in the stem of a fir-tree we can discover its age. Still, as it grew, it complained, “Oh! how I wish I were as tall as the other trees, then I would spread out my branches on every side, and my top would over-look the wide world. I should have the birds building their nests on my boughs, and when the wind blew, I should bow with stately dignity like my tall companions.” The tree was so discontented, that it took no pleasure in the warm sunshine, the birds, or the rosy clouds that floated over it morning and evening. Sometimes, in winter, when the snow lay white and glittering on the ground, a hare would come springing along, and jump right over the little tree; and then how mortified it would feel! Two winters passed, and when the third arrived, the tree had grown so tall that the hare was obliged to run round it. Yet it remained unsatisfied, and would exclaim, “Oh, if I could but keep on growing tall and old! There is nothing else worth caring for in the world!” In the autumn, as usual, the wood-cutters came and cut down several of the tallest trees, and the young fir-tree, which was now grown to its full height, shuddered as the noble trees fell to the earth with a crash. After the branches were lopped off, the trunks looked so slender and bare, that they could scarcely be recognized. Then they were placed upon wagons, and drawn by horses out of the forest. “Where were they going? What would become of them?” The young fir-tree wished very much to know; so in the spring, when the swallows and the storks came, it asked, “Do you know where those trees were taken? Did you meet them?”