Opinion

Island holidays: a trip back to the past

We always enjoy a lazy hour or two spent perusing the Review’s archives, and the chance to share a few lines from past editions with readers. A recent jaunt turned up this column from Frances Olin Gowen, whose droll commentaries we have offered on this page several times of late. Enjoy, with the compliments of the season:

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“This week I cannot escape saying something about Christmas. It hardly seems worthwhile; everything that could possibly be said about Christmas had been said thousands of times over – and who will have time to read what I say anyway?

“What I would really like to write is MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL in big red letters, and then let both my readers and my overworked self go back to wrapping packages. Whatever follows will simply be stretching this theme by several hundred words, so anybody who is in a hurry can stop here and save his eyes for more pressing tasks.

“It has always been a family joke to remind me in midsummer that there are only five or six months left till Christmas, information I receive with a protesting groan. Yet despite it all, I like Christmas; the nearer it comes, the more I look forward to it; if only it wouldn’t bring January’s day of reckoning in its train.

“This year, I am preparing for the irreducible minimum of 18 people at our Christmas Eve dinner. I wouldn’t have one less than this total. Every person on my list is necessary to make our celebration complete, and I only wish it could be 19 and that we could welcome the son, now on duty off the coast of Japan, who will be spending Christmas away with his family.

“But the staff work essential for a celebration of this size is in a class with the plans for the landings on the Normandy beaches. In the kitchen department, I could use one of those fabulous individuals – probably Chief Steward – who provisions the Queen Elizabeth for a trans-Atlantic voyage.

“I suppose we must admit that almost everything over which we work ourselves into such a froth at Christmas time is foolish, the hours of pushing one’s way through the crowds in the stores, of addressing cards and inscribing them, the bookwork incidental to checking all the cards that come in and of making sure each has been answered, the painstaking efforts to make every package glamorous with satin bows and sprigs of holly, only to see all this artistry torn apart until the living room floor is heaped with a mountain of discarded paper.

“No, it doesn’t make sense, yet that is the beautiful thing about Christmas: we all share the joy of being foolish and of wrapping foolishness in bright tinsel and gay colors. Russia sounds like a place where everybody is compelled by government regulations to be sensible; it must be deadly dull. Christmas, after all, is a time when it seems absolutely right to be extravagant, to let ourselves go in a wish-world of dreams. January comes soon enough.

“I am tired of mechanical carols, I am tired of shopping suggestions for HIM and HER and THEM, but I wouldn’t have Christmas other than it is. So I hope that I and all my readers will enjoy our dreams – and that we may even enjoy having some of them come true.”

Frances Olin Gowen, The FOG Horn,

Bainbridge Review, Dec. 22, 1955

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