Posted by: HAT | December 23, 2014

The Book with the Oranges

a mass of oranges

Haifa oranges in Israel

Hi, Gang!

“It’s Christmas Eve Eve!” as Eloise at Christmastime would say.

In 1997, I bought a book as a Christmas present for my mother, Christmas Stories, compiled by John Miller.

It has proven over and over to be a marvelous book, a brilliantly eclectic gathering of excerpts, short stories, memoirs, and poems on the common theme of Christmas. 0% kitsch, 0% saccharine, high in the literary equivalent of anti-oxidents: honesty, clarity, humanity, and a dash of bitters.

I say “upon review,” because at the time I saw the book in the bookstore, I knew that Mom LOVED Christmas (even more than I abhor it now), so it was impossible to go wrong buying some homage to Christmas. Even so, this one was right on the cusp of superfluity. Hadn’t I already gotten her lots of this kind of thing? Did she or anyone really need another anthology of Christmas literary bric-à-brac?

I remember the debate I had with myself in the bookstore. I also remember reading the introduction by Andrei Codrescu, and I have never forgotten the words that made up my mind – the ones that, when it came time to parcel out the books in the estate between saving and letting go, this one had to be sought and found and brought home. They were embedded in Codrescu’s recollection of Christmas in Communist Romania; here they are:

Miraculously, oranges appeared in the usually threadbare shops. Every day, from the first of December onward, my mother discussed with our neighbors the burning question of oranges. There were rumors as to when exactly they were supposed to arrive. I stood in line for bread and milk every morning at 6 a.m., before going to school, and listened carefully for hints about the oranges. Someone had it on good authority from the cousin of someone married to a man in the railroad administration that the oranges were due in the shops two days hence, on the 14th. A similarly authoritative source, on the other hand, claimed to have word of the oranges being sighted in a warehouse just outside of town. After many days of such agitation, the oranges finally made their brilliant, sudden, wondrous appearance in the windows of shops that were soon mobbed until the last orange vanished. The Christmas oranges, to the credit of their purveyors, were not just common oranges. They were huge, thick-skinned, individually wrapped Haifa oranges, imported from Izrael. In our bleak world, dominated by the dull greys of necessity and a general air of decay and moroseness, these bright globes of sunshine were concentrated spheres of hope. They changed our mood. We became suddenly better, kinder, sweeter. It felt almost like a sin to actually eat these harbingers of good news. When my mother and I finally sat down with our oranges on Christmas day, we peeled them slowly, kissed the plump slices before we actually bit them, closed our eyes and, as the heavenly juice sprayed our palate, we fancied that we were cured of everything that ailed us. (The curative powers of oranges were whispered about in awe in my home town: a single orange was said to bring a dead man to life.) [1]

(This Christmas Eve Eve, may there be oranges.)
____________________
[1] Andrei Codrescu, “Introduction,” in John Miller, Christmas Stories: Tales of the Season
(San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1993) 2-3.

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Responses

  1. His story of oranges when I read it in one of his books made me cry. It definitely stands out for me.

  2. […] been times and places when oranges were rare and precious. One of my favorite Christmas stories is Andrei Codrescu’s memoir of the arrival of oranges at Christmas in Communist Romania – a time and place in which a recipe that called for a teaspoon of grated orange zest might as […]


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