Time for Moore: Christmas imperfections

But in real life, there’s something about this season that seems to demand perfection, when in fact that’s the one thing few of us can achieve.

Jane Turpin Moore
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A small group of friends gathered recently for a virtual get-together, as we began doing in the isolating days of the pandemic, to discuss Truman Capote’s 1956 autobiographical short story, “A Christmas Memory.”

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Most of us hadn’t previously read the incredibly poignant tale, which is largely set when Capote was a seven-year-old. Essentially abandoned by his parents, Capote lived then in rural Depression-era Alabama with a haphazard assortment of relatives. The one who befriended and cared for him was a 60-something distant female cousin who remains nameless in the story. She is depicted as a person the others viewed as “simple” and useful only for cooking and performing additional household tasks.

Together the misfit pair scrapes together their meager supply of coins to purchase essential ingredients for making fruitcakes, which they then send to friends and acquaintances elsewhere as an expression of gratitude.

In our discussion, one friend noted Capote’s masterful use of colons and semi-colons that keep the narrative flowing with little sense of interruption. (And yes, you may infer this group included several old English majors.) Another’s insightful take was that “fruitcake” itself is an unpopular, sometimes vilified treat whose status has been knocked down a peg over the years to the extent that calling someone a “fruitcake” is now a certifiable insult.

Capote and his elder cousin were similarly seen as the odd ducks, the “fruitcakes” of the family who were imperfect and therefore deserving of derision or shunning.


The “unlovable outsider” concept is often repeated in literature and pop culture, especially during the holiday season. Consider Charlie Brown’s pathetic Christmas tree that only blossomed when it was appreciated; Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl;” the broken nutcracker in “The Nutcracker;” Elsa in “Frozen;” the Grinch; Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer; and the heroine of basically every Hallmark Christmas movie ever produced.

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But in real life, there’s something about this season that seems to demand perfection, when in fact that’s the one thing few of us can achieve. The perfectly decorated house, cookie tray, Christmas tree, family Christmas card photo, light display, Instagram-ready party, gift selections, table setting, outfit choice, cocktail — name it and there is a standard that’s nearly impossible to reach but always contrives to guilt us into feeling like we’re neither doing nor being enough.

Isn’t perfection the opposite of what Christmas is really about? Was anything perfect that first “Christmas,” when a weary couple trekked to crowded Bethlehem without a hotel reservation? Who plans to give birth in a shed with cows next to them, or lay their newborn baby on a mound of hay?

We don’t need to be perfect, or make everything perfect, to celebrate Christmas. Merely opening our imperfect, unlovable, “fruitcake” selves to the possibility of giving and receiving love is enough.

And if those presents don’t get purchased or wrapped, the mistletoe isn’t hung, the bulk of your ornaments remain tucked in boxes, that party doesn’t get scheduled and the stockings aren’t filled, take Elsa’s advice and let it go.

Or get your priorities straight by paying heed to old Ebenezer Scrooge: “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

Opinion by Jane Turpin Moore
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