Santa Ira deems us good kids , packing our stockings with Rakoff, Sedaris, Vowell and the like in this week’s The This American Life Holiday Spectacular. Armageddon hits through the corny scenario of a burnt book with its Christmas tales destroyed, leaving no choice but for the TAL Force Five to manufacture brand new (in 2005) stories for a new American crowd.
Act 1: The coppery scent of their afternoon sin
David Rakoff narrates in rhyme fictional Helen’s Christmas offenses via office romances. Grinchlike transformations after heartbreak disclose where one might find personal bliss, pointing to the safe, accountable perks of self-service. It’s Scrooge with a bad case of the frigid.
Act 2: There is no way that Christ was a Capricorn.
John Hodgman tunes in and expounds upon the origin story of chopped trees at Christmastime, telling of Victorian Germans embracing pagan rituals. A real Triumph of the Will.
Act 3: Other people’s parents said I looked like a whore, and they didn’t want their kids to catch my whore cooties or something.
Misunderstood and occult Jesus goes to school and hangs with another outcast–an absolute classic. Heather O’Neill’s anachronistic story hits you with some holy magical realism set in engaging suburban imagery like “a cockroach high on roach poison” and “a great view right out over the record store, probably helps you dream of music.” The stoic Jesus sells common sense Christianity to Mary Mags and appears schizophrenic to onlookers . In the end, the brilliance of Jesus’s advocacy is tapped: “these were the things that were good to say and it felt good to say them.”
Act 4: The pig tried looking behind him but all he could see was his sides.
David Sedaris does his take on a very Animal Farm Christmas Special, complete with truth seeking, betrayal, and secret Santas, and as expected it conveys much suffering.
Act 5: That was Christmas at Valley Forge.
Sarah Vowell wrote the lyrics for guest band Marah’s patriotic performance in honor of Revolutionary War heroes at holiday time. Theatrical singing and whimsical turns make for a montage-y Yuletide hit.
Act 6: I’ve worked my whole life only to have my wife give birth to an angel baby in a lousy manger.
Jonathan Goldstein transitions to explaining fatherhood from the perspective of a “surrogate father to the lord.” Obsessed with the good time had with a hot angel by the radiant ball filled with love that is his pregnant wife, Goldstein reminds that the holy family was as American as the Palins. As Jon Brion tunes ease tension to Michel Gondry-style dreamscapes, Goldstein shifts attention to simple beauty. This kind of wild meandering on religious studies found extensively in Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bible! channels the wisdom of the abrasive Lenny Bruce who muttered with repercussions, “If Jesus had been killed twenty years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses.”