I spent part of Christmas Day 2020 reading A Very Scalzi Christmas (2019), a (mostly) humorous collection of short Christmas-themed pieces by, naturally, John Scalzi. As Marion so aptly commented in her review of Scalzi’s highly similar collection Miniatures, “this collection of works does verge on the silly. It jumps the border of silly. It tap-dances and cartwheels through the world of silly, shrieking ‘Wheeeee!’ ” It’s the same in this case, except with a few more serious pieces to offset the absurd and satirical ones.
Of the humorous pieces, I had two favorites: First, there’s “Jangle the Elf Grants Wishes,” in which Jangle’s boss, the head of the Department of Non-Material Christmas Wishes, tries to make Jangle understand that he can’t just grant someone’s Christmas wish without considering the larger repercussions. If Genevieve wants a white Christmas, Jangle’s style is to send a blizzard that dumps two feet of snow on four states, causing massive travel delays and power outages. Jangle is kind of the Christmas version of the monkey’s paw. The other is the final piece, “Resolutions for the New Year: A Bullet Point List,” which begins in classic fashion, losing weight and exercising more, but devolves into a diatribe against his ex-girlfriend Kate, who left him for Chuck, the annoying dude from Accounting. Probably because of all of the narrator’s monologues about robot uprisings and cloning. He’s clearly an alarmingly creepy person, but it’s still a very funny piece.
The Christmas holiday frequently sits somewhat uneasily at the intersection of religious observance and commercial overindulgence, and Scalzi has a keen eye for the foibles of some of the secular traditions associated with Christmas. In “A Bitter November,” the month of November invades Scalzi’s kitchen and, while swiping and eating his Thanksgiving leftovers, complains, well, bitterly, about how December and its holiday festivities have invaded the month of November, especially the days after Thanksgiving, when everyone’s attention shifts to Christmas decorations and shopping. “Interview with Santa’s Reindeer Wrangler” explains how nobody at the North Pole is a fan of the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”:
Well, it makes us look like jerks, doesn’t it? A young reindeer is discriminated against up to and until he has marginal utility. I mean, really. Who looks good in that scenario? Not all of the other reindeer, who come across as bigots and bullies. And not Santa, who is implicitly tacit in reindeer bigotry.
“An Interview with the Christmas Bunny” is a Q&A session with the newly-appointed Christmas Bunny, under a franchise sold by the Easter Bunny. The Bunny is in the thick of plans to compete with Santa and drive down his popularity, though he admits he’s been told he needs to leave Jesus strictly alone. There’s also “An Interview with the Nativity Innkeeper,” in which the innkeeper defends his actions on that fateful night and criticizes the wise men’s gift choices for the Christ child (“Have you ever in your life gone to a baby shower where someone says, congratulations on the baby, here’s some perfume. No. Because most people have some sense.”).
Underlying the satirical humor is Scalzi’s goodhearted affection for Christmas, which comes out most clearly in the sole poem in the collection, “Jackie Jones and Melrose Mandy,” in which a girl with an immense collection of dolls begins to understand how the joy of Christmas is more in giving than getting, and in the short stories “Christmas in July” and “Sarah’s Sister.” Those two stories are the longest works in this collection, and the most serious and touching, particularly “Sarah’s Sister,” which shoots straight past sentimental and heads for the tearjerker target.
Most of the pieces in A Very Scalzi Christmas have been previously published on his website “The Whatever” or elsewhere, but three of the better pieces are new and exclusive to this collection. The collection was an amusing way to while away an hour or two with Christmas-flavored works.