Torontoist humbly predicts that Derek McCormack’s Christmas Days will be the book of the season. Part holiday anthropology (think David Sedaris’s absurd “Santaland” meets Hairspray, with a side helping of Canadian pop history), part petite art object, the book itself is designed and decorated by Canadian cartoonist Seth. Each chapter is like an advent calendar door that leads into a bygone era of holiday history, from asbestos-covered snowy trees to the invention of the gift tag, and the book wears a clever removable ‘sash’ so you can gift it or incorporate it into your holiday décor minus the unsightly price and ISBN barcode.
But this paean to the festive season is just the latest in McCormack’s cult cannon: his country and western vampire fable The Haunted Hillbilly was acclaimed by everyone from The Village Voice to the LAMBDA Awards, and is a John Waters film just waiting to be made if ever there was.
McCormack will launch Christmas Days at This is Not a Reading Series on Thursday evening (admission is free), complete with egg nog and a slide show on the history of Santa castles. In anticipation, TOist sat on his knee and whispered a few Christmassy questions.
Torontoist goes to a lot of cocktail parties at this time of year. What’s the best obscure Christmas factoid or anecdote from the book that you would recommend to help lubricate cocktail conversation (along with a cup of spiked egg-nog)? The surefire crowd-pleaser, if you will.
At markets in major cities like Winnipeg and Montreal, butchers used to decorate their wares–carcasses and cuts–with flags and pennants and streamers. Some butchers painted Christmas designs–holly and stars, etc.–onto sides of beef and pork. Tainting the taste. Some butchers attached deer antlers to cow carcasses, bear heads to pigs. For fun. Some butchers showed emaciated animals, with signs declaring them “The Snap of the Season.” “Snap” was a word you heard a lot of at the turn of the last century. We don’t use it anymore, we use the word “deal” or “bargain” instead.
Is there any interesting Christmas lore that, for whatever reason (x-rated, late research, or simply a juicy apocryphal tale), didn’t make it into the book?
Well, I understand that when Santa’s Village opened in Bracebridge in 1955, the park was staffed largely with local teenagers. Who dressed as elves. Elves are horny little devils. I’ve heard stories, but couldn’t confirm anything.
Earlier this month, Holt Renfrew attempted to revive the bygone fanfare and tradition of unveiling department store Christmas windows, complete with temporary skating rink. In the 21st century, we’re a long way from stately historic department stores and fabled customer service like Marshall Fields. Can we recapture that nostalgic sense of occasion?
God bless Holt Renfrew ! That’s my number one Christmas hangout. The hustle and the bustle–it’s a blast. And so beautiful. I didn’t see the unveiling of the windows, but I stood around on the street outside the store earlier in the day. Soaking up the excitement. Well, I was excited; I think many Torontonians were annoyed at the disruption. Anyway. Glendon McKinney, the artist, told me once about the Christmas that Holt’s plastered their sidewalk with glitter. I hope they do that again. Your question, can we recapture the nostalgic sense of occasion? Probably not. I mean, now shopping malls are an endangered species! Where will kids go to see Santa and see pseudo-Victorian carollers? The suburbs are full of big box stores, Staples and such. And they don’t put any effort or expense into the holidays. It sucks.
Did you attend The Santa Claus Parade on Sunday?
Sundays I work at a bookstore in the Annex. I’ve had the Sunday shift for, wow, over a decade. And the parade comes right by the store. So I see bits and pieces. A few years back Pizza Pizza sponsored a spooky float –a haunted house with witches and ghosts. It was utterly out of place. That was my fave float ever.
Be honest: who has the best Christmas window in the city right now?
There’s a jewelry shop near Bloor and Spadina. It’s had the same window display for the last fifteen years. A ragtag bunch of baubles. At Christmas, they toss in a tinsel streamer. It’s sad and beautiful. Very Pretty Paper –do you know that song?
What’s the best Christmas gift you’ve ever received?
A hand puppet, The Count, from Sesame Street.
And the worst?
It’s just not Christmassy to complain!
What are you hoping to see under the tree this year?
You’re at a downtown mall. It’s the Saturday before Christmas and the mix of frantic parents, screaming children, garish lights and vulgar display of materialism is making you queasy, not to mention Scrooge-ifying. Where’s do you go to recapture the holiday spirit?
That is the holiday spirit –garish, materialistic, frantic. I love it. Christmas is never commercial enough for me.
Following Thursday evening’s book launch, Derek McCormack will also be touring in Peterborough, Winnipeg, Montreal and Ottawa.