‘Christmas Song’ by Langston Hughes

Hughes, Langston 1957c

Christmas Song by Langston Hughes, 1957

The magic trick:

Using nearly every sentence to combine moods into a holiday stew 

Only Hughes could weave race, civil rights, comedy and charm into a holiday story. He does so using his ace character Simple in “Christmas Song.” Every sentence channels a certain feeling, but it never comes across as manipulative or obvious. Simple points out that the city doesn’t clean off the sidewalks in Harlem as well as they do downtown. But he also is stressed out because he is running around trying to buy Christmas gifts for everyone in his building. He composes a hilarious song about people he forgot to buy presents for. Then he turns around and waxes poetic about the biblical Christmas story, focusing on who he calls the black wise man. It might seem schizophrenic, but it flows perfectly in a Simple-sense kind of way. And that’s quite a trick on Hughes’s part.

The selection:

“I am hurrying. Joyce sent me out to get some sparklers for the tree. Her and her big old fat landlady and some of the other roomers in their house is putting up a Christmas tree down in the living room, and you are invited to come by and help trim it, else watch them trimming. Do you want to go?”

“When?”

“Long about midnight P.M., I’d say…”

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