My Favorite Christmas Passage…

 

…isn’t even from a book that focuses on Christmas, or even my favorite book. I read the following on a humid summer afternoon, long after the days of assigned reading, and was instantly transported.

One of my most vivid memories is of coming back West from prep school and later from college at Christmas time.

Those who went farther than Chicago would gather in the old dim Union Station at six o’clock of a December evening, with a few Chicago friends, already caught up into their own holiday gayeties, to bid them a hasty good-by. I remember the fur coats of the girls returning from Miss This-or-That’s and the chatter of frozen breath and the hands waving overhead as we caught sight of old acquaintances, and the matchings of invitations: “Are you going to the Ordways’? the Herseys’? the Schultzes’?” and the long green tickets clasped tight in our gloved hands.

And last the murky yellow cars of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railroad looking cheerful as Christmas itself on the tracks beside the gate. When we pulled out into the winter night and the real snow, our snow, began to stretch out beside us and twinkle against the windows, and the dim lights of small Wisconsin stations moved by, a sharp wild brace came suddenly into the air.

We drew in deep breaths of it as we walked back from dinner through the cold vestibules, unutterably aware of our identity with this country for one strange hour, before we melted indistinguishably into it again.

That’s my Middle West—not the wheat or the prairies or the lost Swede towns, but the thrilling returning trains of my youth, and the street lamps and sleigh bells in the frosty dark and the shadows of holly wreaths thrown by lighted windows on the snow.

The Great Gatsby

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There are 7 comments.

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  1. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    It is lovely. Thanks.

    • #1
  2. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    I did not even remember this passage. I imagine as a youth when I read the book I would not have cared at all. I just wanted the book to be over

    More touching as a middle aged man. 

    • #2
  3. FightinInPhilly Coolidge
    FightinInPhilly
    @FightinInPhilly

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    I did not even remember this passage. I imagine as a youth when I read the book I would not have cared at all. I just wanted the book to be over.

    More touching as a middle aged man.

    I quoted a portion of the passage to a friend- he, like you, had zero recollection of it. And yes, for all the accolades, I didn’t really like the book.

    • #3
  4. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    I’ve remembered this passage for years, without remembering where it was from. Thanks!

    • #4
  5. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    I’ve listened to Gatsby two or three times, and I don’t remember that passage.

    • #5
  6. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    There’s an interesting book, ‘Metropolitan Corridor’ by John Stilgoe, which is hard to describe but basically about the psychological meaning of the railroad to non-urban Americans.  I reviewed it along with several other books here.

    • #6
  7. J. D. Fitzpatrick Member
    J. D. Fitzpatrick
    @JDFitzpatrick

    I had to be a certain age before I could appreciate The Great Gatsby. It is one of the most lyrical novels I have read—right up there with Joyce’s Portrait and Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. And Fitzgerald is a master of wringing symbolism out of Jazz Age culture. 

    This is a passage that makes you want to recall the moods and experiences of your own youth. 

    • #7
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