He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, the he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!
And so, I have come to the end of my journey with Charles Dickens and A Christmas Carol
. For 365 days, I have lived with the lessons of the book, walked in the footsteps of Ebenezer Scrooge. I do believe I am a better person for this little exercise. Even at my lowest points of the past year, Dickens reminded me to think of the Tiny Tims of the world. I have a good life.
Merry Christmas to all the disciples of Saint Marty
. I hope your holiday is filled with countless blessings. Remember, even if things seems dark right now, there is always a Light to turn to. Keep your eyes on that Promise of Hope.
Saint Marty now offers you his annual Christmas essay. God Bless You All, Every One!
A Gloop Christmas
I never liked Charlie Bucket when I was a kid. He was too skinny. Too desperate. The illustrations of him in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were in black-and-white and reminded me of the Great Depression stories my dad used to share at the dinner table. My siblings and I would be turning up our noses at some dish my mother had prepared (usually involving liver or cabbage), and my father would launch into some tale of poverty, saying, “When I was a kid…” And I would picture him as Charlie Bucket on a street corner, begging for a nickel to purchase a magical chocolate bar wrapped in gold foil. As my father spoke, guilt settled on me like a hard snow. It almost made me want to consume the sauerkraut or haggis on my dinner plate. Almost.
Thankfully, I never had to experience the kind of deprivation my father or Charlie Bucket had to endure. My idea of deprivation was having to eat Rice Krispies instead of Lucky Charms for breakfast. When I read Roald Dahl’s book, I identified much more closely with another Golden Ticket winner: Augustus Gloop. Gloop was the ultimate candy hedonist, eating anything and everything that contained or was coated in chocolate. The illustrations of Augustus were a little off-putting. He resembled Jabba the Hut Jr. No neck. Folds of skin rippling off him like tsunamis after an earthquake. However, I knew that, if I were let loose in the chocolate room of Willy Wonka’s factory, I would be on my hands and knees at the river, right next to Augustus, lapping up the liquid chocolate like a thirsty bison.
Writer Steve Almond coined a term for people like Augustus Gloop and me. We are candyfreaks. As kids, candyfreaks categorize and hoard candy. For example, at Halloween time, I had several tiers for my confectionary booty. In the top tier were all chocolate products—Milky Way and Twix and Hershey and M&Ms. In the next tier fell chocolate products that tried to sneak in healthy ingredients—things like Chunky bars with their raisins and Snickers with their peanuts. Anything chocolate that left an aftertaste not derived from the cocoa bean ended up in this category. Tier three consisted of gummy and taffy products. JuJu Fruits and Swedish Fish and Gummi bears and Laffy Taffy. This ilk of candy stuck to my teeth and wreaked havoc with dental work. The bottom tier was filled with the most loathsome treats—Smarties or jawbreakers or Lemonheads. Hard candies requiring patience and persistence and a great deal of mouth work. I have always been a chewer, not a sucker.
Steve Almond identifies Halloween as the High Holy Day of the candyfreak year. I disagree with him. While I’m not against the spoils of All Hallow’s Eve, there’s a certain aspect of quality control that has always bothered my Gloop nature. People are not picky about trick-or-treat candy. Over the years, the chocolate bars have gotten smaller and the Sweet Tarts more prolific. By the second week of November, Halloween candy stashes start emitting a sugary vapor that almost makes me want to throw out the remaining Tootsie Rolls and Jolly Ranchers. Almost.
With all due respect to Mr. Almond, I would like to make a case for Christmas as the pinnacle of the candyfreak/Gloop holidays. While an argument could be made for Easter (with its chocolate bunnies and Cadbury Cream Eggs), I can’t go along with this line of thought for one simple reason: Peeps. Any holiday that has as its centerpiece a sugar-coated marshmallow that tastes like crude oil should be automatically disqualified from consideration. Valentine’s Day is ineligible because it is the equivalent of a middle school dance. The “popular” kids are out on the gym floor, swaying to a Journey song and exchanging cardboard hearts stuffed with chocolate creams, while the wallflowers are left in the bleachers, drooling and hungry and unsatisfied. Thus, by default, Christmas wins.
At the beginning of Frosty the Snowman, Jimmy Durante explains the difference between a regular first snow and a Christmas first snow. There’s something special, even magical, about Christmas snow, Durante explains. The same can be said about Christmas sweets. They hold a certain power that Halloween or Easter sweets do not. When a plate of homemade Christmas cookies is placed in front of me, I find myself impelled to try confections I wouldn’t give a second look any other time of year. I have even been known to nibble on snowballs, which are cookies rolled in powdered sugar and coconut. Steve Almond correctly describes the experience of eating coconut as akin to chewing on cuticles. Coconut should be banished from all chocolate and baked goods. Mr. Almond and I agree on this point. During the yuletide season, however, even my aversion to this ingredient takes a holiday. Everything tastes good at Christmas.
And everybody has a signature Christmas creation. My Grandma Hainley had a chocolate chip cookie recipe she took to her grave. My sister, Sally, makes pizzelles, an Italian waffle cookie that is so delicate and light I can eat two dozen of them in one sitting and still have room for a ham sandwich and a mug of hot cocoa. One of the reasons I married my wife was her Christmas buckeye. I’m not generally a huge fan of peanut butter, but my wife’s buckeyes are the Gloop equivalent of crystal meth. I have been known to sneak out of bed in the middle of the night to get my buckeye fix. I even get a little panicky when my daughter puts a buckeye with Santa’s plate of cookies on Christmas Eve. I’ve lied to her, saying, “Santa has a severe nut allergy, sweetheart. We don’t want the big guy going into anaphylactic shock in the middle of our living room.”
My specialty is brickle. It’s a candy of my own creation. Part milk chocolate almond bark, part Planters Dry Roasted Peanuts, part Heath toffee, part crispy rice, it has been known to cause riots at family gatherings. I have been asked for my recipe on more than one occasion. However, the recipe seeker stares at me like I’m a member of the Manson family when I describe my brickle-making process. “The almond bark and paraffin should pour like brown silk,” I say, “and, when you mix it with the other ingredients, it should sound like wet cement.” I can’t provide exact measurements. I work by instinct, the way Grandma Moses worked in oils or my best friend in college worked in marijuana. It’s all about brush strokes or soil humidity. No one has been able to duplicate my brickle, despite my attempts to pass on my secrets to several apprentice Oompa Loompas.
Of course, Gloop Christmas is not limited to homemade creations. There are several products that start appearing soon after Halloween that, for me, mark the official beginning of the holidays. Eggnog, thick and yellow and sweet. White fudge Oreos, which compete with my wife’s buckeyes for supremacy in my heart. And my latest discovery: Extra Creamy Hershey Chocolate Bells. Generally, regular Hershey’s chocolate ranks as the Thunderbird or Boone’s Farm of my candyfreak addictions. It’s good for a cheap, quick thrill. Hershey Christmas Bells, however, come from a whole different chocolate wine cellar. Smooth and a little nutty, they have the staying power of a Godiva truffle or Ghiradelli dark square. And they taste even better chilled or frozen. Put them on top of peanut butter blossoms, and I’d sneak away to a cheap motel with them for a weekend.
There is one Christmas candy product that I have been dreaming about my entire adult life. At Easter time, the shelves at Wal-Mart and Target are lined with hollow chocolate rabbits. From the cheap Palmer variety to the more upscale Russell Stover kind, these bunnies all provide a singular thrill. Whether I start with the ears or tail or feet, I know what will happen with my first bite. The chocolate lepus will crumble between my lips, and I will taste the air trapped inside. As a child, I always thought that air tasted like Lent, full of sin and guilt and the promise of redemption.
The Christmas equivalent of this Easter staple would be a chocolate manger scene. It doesn’t exist, although it seems like a no-brainer to me. Chocolate shepherds and sheep. Cows and camels. Angels and magi. I imagine picking up a chocolate donkey and biting into it, the air inside tasting of desert and rock and thirst. Or sinking my teeth into Joseph’s head and finding fear and courage and strength. Or wrapping my lips around Mary’s hands and feeling the chocolate give way to surrender and faith. And the Golden Ticket of Christmas: a chocolate baby Jesus, small and fragile.
I would place that tiny manger on my tongue, letting it slowly melt, flooding my mouth with hope, expectation, joy, and love for a world without Great Depressions and hunger and want. An Augustus Gloop world. A world filled with buckeyes and Hershey Bells and Christmas brickle.
|Time to take some more insulin|