I recommend you read the William Burroughs short story The Junky’s Christmas
There’s nothing like a visit from our esteemed editor armed with a dark, black deadline to get the adrenaline flowing and the dust flying off the keyboard. When I say visit, I of course mean that he spotted me through the window of the pub and popped his head round the door to apologise for his lack of pecuniary nous and to inform me that he wanted something “Christmassy” for the final edition of 2021.
It’s difficult to turn the man down when he approaches you with his saccharinely cute dog (the cheque is in the post – Ed) which I’m sure he purloined from the set of Cute Dogs 2, the sequel to Cute Dogs in which small pups take over the world after rendering the human race incapable of the simplest of tasks by widening their hugely wide puppy eyes even further and whimpering softly.
Anyway, it’s not easy to think of something “Christmassy” to write especially when you’re the type of person for whom Christmas brings back mind-jangling nightmares of office nights out with amateur drinkers who invariably end up either crying into their second gin about the mean bastard who does the photocopying and doesn’t pay any attention to them, or trying to land one on the bosses’ chin because he’s always paying too much attention to them.
On reflection though, I suppose there are one or two traditions that I have kept up at this time of year, which may be worth passing on. So here goes.
Watching It’s A Wonderful Life. If you haven’t seen Frank Capra’s masterpiece, you’re dead to me. And if you’re one of those people who think that the film is nothing but a cloying, all-American morality tale, then you’re doubly dead to me. (Is that a thing? – Ed)
Watching the film’s hero, George Bailey, played by a divine James Stewart’s descent from all-round good guy to a desperate suicide just waiting to happen will make you feel as though you’ve got a Christmas bauble stuck in your throat.
And you have to watch it at Christmas. Why? You just do. Get it lined up at night on Christmas Eve, open a bottle of something good and prepare to have all your Christmas Eve’s planned from here on in, trust me.
At the other end of the spectrum, I’d urge you to read William S. Burroughs’ short story The Junky’s Christmas, which appears in Interzone, a collection of short stories from 1989 and tells the story of a sick and desperate heroin addict called Danny who is on the hunt for a fix on Christmas Day in a bone-chillingly cold New York.
In his quest for a self-medicated comfort blanket, Danny searches for something, anything, that he can steal and then sell on to get the money for the drugs which will soak the pain out of his body at least until Boxing day.
On route, he finds a suitcase with two severed legs in it, meets a murderous car owner, an unsympathetic spiv, an alcoholic doctor and a young man suffering from kidney stones.
Danny is no divine James Stewart, but he unwittingly stumbles upon a blissful redemption, which, if you’re anything like me, will have that bauble returning to your throat. There’s also a brilliant Claymation film of the story produced by Francis Ford Coppola and narrated by Burroughs himself that can be found on YouTube.
Another written work that I always dust down and dive into at this time of year is A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas. Thomas’s piece of prose was originally written for radio, and there are numerous recordings of the man himself reading it, and while there is no doubt that the readings conjure up the characters and the world that Thomas inhabited as a child. For me, the words on the page are far more evocative.
I defy anyone to read the lines about the ‘rim of the ice-edged, fish-freezing waves’ and not shiver. It’s a monumental love letter to the innocence of childhood and the excitement of Christmas and it catches me every time.
I’m sure that everyone will have their own festive traditions, but whatever it is you do at this time of year, have a ball, and keep your close ones even closer.
As all the pieces above remind us, we’re here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.