We’re all familiar with classic Christmas tales of outcast mutant reindeer, hallucinating old men, and thieving green goblin cartoons, but there are plenty of other holiday parables and stories that spin a more unconventional twist on the year-end holiday. Whether you celebrate or not, here are ten alternative Christmas accounts whose offbeat weirdness will add any needed merriment to this holiday weekend.
John Updike examines the facts of Christmas mythology with a skeptical eye — and the help of Edward Gorey’s satirical illustrations — in The Twelve Terrors of Christmas. He recontextualizes Santa as a concept (“There is a point where altruism becomes sick”), the freakishness of reindeer (“hooves that cut through roof shingles like linoleum knives”), and the psychological toll (“fear of not giving/receiving enough”) with a bemused detachment that will make you appreciate the absurdity of it all.
David Sedaris’ Holidays on Ice anthology features festive favorites such as Halloween-friendly and Easter misadventures, but the collection ultimately leans toward Christmas-inspired stories. With his usual wit and self-deprecating style, Sedaris recounts contrasting cultural mythologies (“Six to Eight Black Men”), the pains of being a Macy’s elf (“Santaland Diaries”), and the particular woes of barnyard Secret Santas (“The Cow and the Turkey”) in this slim but comprehensive seasonal stocking stuffer.
Though it has the guise of a children’s book, It Ate Billy On Christmas is not necessarily for impressionable youngsters. After Lumie’s brother gets gobbled up by a monster, she has to learn the meaning of his absence (seemingly pleasant at first) and the responsibilities that come with it (how exactly do you continue to feed a flesh-hungry monster?). Roman Dirge’s characteristically dark and funny story adds some homicidal humor to the meaning of a Christmas wish list.
Yes, Harlequin went there. In a titillating departure from the childish fun (and even aforementioned dark parables) of Christmas winder, the publishing house best known for its expertise in heaving bosoms released a holiday season tale with enough bad puns in its back cover description alone to beat out a porn title convention: “Noah Spenser felt like a fool sitting on Santa’s lap. However, when he noticed that this Santa had padding in unexpected places, he wasn’t so anxious to leave…So how could Noah talk her into parking her sleigh on his roof for good?”
Christmas 1993 or Santa’s Last Ride is a bittersweet commentary on the modern demands and global complications that have steadily stripped the Santa Claus myth down to a cynicism-dried shell of its former splendor. Featuring the wistful reminiscing of four elves as they struggle to put together a gadgety new toy, the gorgeous illustrations and tender poem slyly show how social bureaucracy and global conflict have corroded even the jolliest of icons.
Matching absurdity with satire, Christopher Moore’s The Stupidest Angel chronicles a Christmas debacle of epic proportions. Revolving around the murder of man dressed as Santa Claus, the story features a traumatized 7-year-old witness, a blackmailing Casanova, the victim’s murderous ex-wife, a pot-growing town constable, and an angel who accidentally raises a host of zombies while trying to fulfill his “miracle mission.”
Edward Gorey’s own off-kilter Christmas tale is a riff on Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol. In this account, a Scrooge-like miser is guided by familiar ghosts to see the Christmas That Never Was, the Christmas That Isn’t, and the Christmas That Never Will Be, but Gorey’s characteristically wry storytelling skills twist the otherwise familiar plot into a surreally creeped-out alternative version.
This photo collection features candid portraits of less-than-joyous kids having their sit-down with Saint Nick. Fear, tears, and terror are standard features of each shot, which begs the question of how and why these kids were forced to sit in Santa’s lap in the first place.
After dealing with millions of letters and pandering behavior, Santa finally speaks out against the bullshit he puts up with throughout the year. This collection features letters from children as well as responses purportedly from the man in red himself (on “Santa Enterprises, north Pole” letterhead, no less). This might seem like an unsustainable conceit for an entire book, but the joke actually sustains itself the whole way through thanks to the author’s caustic humor and disillusioned candor.
One needn’t be a cynic to appreciate the trivia found in Christmas Curiosities: Odd, Dark, and Forgotten Christmas — this refresher in the history of Christmas reveals that the most merry of holidays actually has a dark and violent past. Featuring vintage postcards, advertisements, and other antique materials, the book paints a decidedly different picture of the holiday, one which features gangs of masked teenagers demanding food and money, roving drunkards, supernatural demons, and Santa’s former sidekick, a devil-like creature who actually beat misbehaving children.