I was half way down a bottle – sorry; er, glass of port the other day, when it occurred to me that nothing sells like an Irish writer’s horrible Christmas. The bleaker the better. These are not “but we were happy” stories; these are stories where nobody is safe. Endings are sour. And nostalgia exists merely to be rammed down the throat of the youth of today, who will never how good they have it.
So here are my 5 Most Miserable Literary Irish Christmasses Of All Time, in descending order of dismay. Please raise your glass, and stifle the world’s smallest digital orchestras, for Seasonal Suffering, for Negative Noël, for December Distress…
5. George Bernard Shaw’s take on the season
To kick us off, we have a quote from the mighty G.B. Shaw regarding Christmas, as cheerless as any tale, although it goes to show that attitudes haven’t changed either since the 1800s. In the grand tradition of tradition, I find this to be a comfort.
“I am sorry to have to introduce the subject of Christmas. It is an indecent subject; a cruel, gluttonous subject; a drunken, disorderly subject; a wasteful, disastrous subject; a wicked, cadging, lying, filthy, blasphemous and demoralising subject. Christmas is forced on a reluctant and disgusted nation by the shopkeepers and the press: on its own merits it would wither and shrivel in the fiery breath of universal hatred; and anyone who looked back to it would be turned into a pillar of greasy sausages.”
Misery Rating: 1 Sob Too witty to be truly depressing.
4. Shane McGowan/The Pogues – Fairytale of New York
Anyone who can make a love song out of a slagging match between an alcoholic and a drug addict, homeless and hopeless on the streets of New York at Christmas-time, and make it the UK and Ireland’s favourite ever festive ditty, should be the undisputed King of Misery. However, “You cheap lousy faggot” somehow become an endearment in this song’s wake. Occupational hazard.
Misery Rating: 2 Sobs Far too many people smile when they hear the song, which kind of disqualifies it from true greatness. Sorry Shane.
3. Peig Sayers – Peig
Oh, Peig. Peig, Peig, Peig. A nation of ex-scholars doesn’t know whether to salute you, or groan at the very mention of your name. Suffice to say that only Peig could make the story of her first Christmas far from home into a lilting tale of depravity so great, that the sight of a mere 2 candles (a blue one and a red one) in a kitchen on Christmas Eve could bring tears to her eyes, with the hitherto unwitnessed beauty of it all, and the thoughts of her poor blind mother alone with only the wind and the odd blade of scrubby grass and a big stick for company.
The Lord save us. 2 candles. How in the name of God did they go to the toilet in the middle of the night in Kerry at all, if 2 candles were unheard of? Although I suppose that wasn’t an issue for her poor mother.
Misery Rating: 3 Sobs Peig ended up dying shortly before Christmas, on the 8th of December (coincidentally, the day when country people do the shopping). Perhaps even she couldn’t bear another narrative.
2. James Joyce – The Dead
What do we do at Christmas and New Year, but look back? And yet this story, of a failing man confronted with the meanness of his own existence at the end of the season, is such an almighty dragging weight on your insides, that when you throw the nostalgia-amplifier that is Christmas-time into the mix, you just want to go for a walk in a graveyard, and carve your own name somewhere in readiness with a hat-pin, and keen.
Misery Rating: 3 Sobs Most people hate the first week in January anyway.
1. Frank McCourt – Angela’s Ashes
This family is so poor, POOR I tell you, that the prospect of a boiled sheep’s head threatens to make the jolliest Christmas ever. But, I hear you say, we are supposed to be talking about the miserable Christmas! Well, fear not. Disgraceful drunkard daddy Malachy Senior arrives a day late, toothless, badly beaten, and without a farthing for the family; and, shortly after sucking on only the sheep’s eyes, he goes back to England, never to return, leaving his wife and children in penury and well, let’s face it, shite.
Misery Rating: 4 Sobs Only lacking an ailing child for maximum impact.
That’s it for calamitous Christmasses, folks. Unless I missed some, in which case, please enlighten the rest of us in the comments.
And now for the sentiment.
I hope these tales of woe ensure – just like an English soap opera – that you and your families have a Christmas so superior in comparison, you think you’re in a Disney movie. Merry Christmas all 🙂
Reblogged this on Tara Sparling writes and commented:
I’ve never reblogged an old post before, but this one went out on December 19th last year, when precisely 2 people were still reading blogs, and precisely everyone was already sick of Christmas.
This year however, I’d like to reach out to some newer readers, with my Ode to the Misery of an Irish Christmas (while I continue bashing away at my 50,000 word target for NaNoWriMo). Enjoy it at your own peril.
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It is a lovely post worth repeating. You might even make it a yearly tradition. Until this post, I had forgotten Angela’s Ashes, and it was not much missed. Christmas in the US is a terrible time of commercialism and competition, not in the correct spirit at all. I eschew the whole shebang and go to the charity breakfast we put on in my church as the appropriate activity of the day. The pancakes, eggs and waffles are lovely, and at least I know I will get one warm meal that day. I am an unredeemed Scrooge as far as this holiday is concerned. It is the day that holiday was made for–holy day–and look what we have made of the day and the word.
I wish you well at NaNoWriMo. I did both Camps earlier this year, and didn’t really want to spend another month in their clutches this fall.
We’re the same here in Ireland. I don’t think there’s a country in the world who can escape the relentless commercialism now if they have any international retailers on their streets. Even still, one major UK department store chain, Debenhams, went too far this year by putting up their decorations and merchandising windows in Dublin before even Hallowe’en. I was disgusted. As a result, I simply decided to not set foot in that shop for the rest of 2014. Possibly next year too.
Your charity breakfast sounds gorgeous. MUCH better than a boiled sheep’s head.
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And to think, in 2009 I survived being on that benighted island from the 10th to the 24th of December. No wonder the ticket was so cheap. While I was there, it snowed on my birthday (the first time in twenty years, the landlord said), and the whole country shut down for a quarter-inch’s accumulation. How ever did I manage to escape? It was touch-and-go, then, too: I just missed being on the same flight back to the States as the one that was taken by the Underpants Bomber. Indeed, it was a harrowing holiday that took its toll: When I put the first four chapters of my novel through the text analyzer at http://iwl.me/ it said that half of the time, I write like James Joyce.
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Well Christine, there’s nother better than a harrowing holiday on this island, but seeing as you managed to combine it with Christmas, I think you earn an extra 94,509 points for that. In fact, if you’d only managed to lose the shirt off your back in the process (possibly by making a terrible decision which resulted in your own downfall and neverending bad luck for those in the immediate vicinity), I believe you could have got ALL the points. Better luck next time, but congratulations on the Joycean perk 😉
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A good stabilising read.
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Yep, I thought I’d better step in, just in case anyone was thinking about getting happy…