Everybody’s Waiting for the Man with the Bag.

by Alexa on December 21, 2007

First of all, I am never again making a decision without consulting you people. You are an eternal font of knowledge, and I cannot thank you enough for the cascade of bra recommendations. In the past year alone my readers have helped me plan my wedding, plod through IVF research, and more importantly, get up the courage to wax my Area. Surely I would be lost without you.

As you may remember, my mother is living in Switzerland. At the moment she is still in the hospital after being struck by a car driven by a crazy Italian, but she is hoping to be back in her apartment for Christmas, as my brother and uncle will be visiting her through January. Scott and I are having Christmas by ourselves, and in an attempt to make us feel included in the festivities being planned across the ocean, my uncle has taken to emailing me snippets he finds on the Internet about Swiss holiday traditions. Swiss traditions are not entirely foreign to me—my family is of Swiss descent, after all, and we customarily have a meal of raclette or fondue around the holidays, and eat pffernusse and tiny delicious nut cookies. However some of the traditions referenced in my uncle’s messages have been decidedly…unfamiliar. My favorite is the following paragraph:

“Schmutzli is nearly all brown: dressed in brown, with brown hair and beard, and a face darkened with lard and soot. He is St. Nicholas’ helper in Switzerland. He carries a switch and sack. Children used to be told that Schmutzli would beat naughty children with the switch and carry them off in the sack to gobble them up in the woods.”

Now here is a Christmas belief I can get behind—Schmutzli (presumably so-named because of the schmutz smeared all over his face), whom I imagine as a bearded, slightly more bloodthirsty version of a Walter Mathau character. It cuts right through the treacle of Santa Claus, don’t you think? And I have always had a soft spot for curmudgeons.
I have been telling every impressionable creature I can think of about Schmutzli. Cat chewing upon the branches of your Christmas tree? Remind him in a stern voice of another cat you once knew, who was carried away in a sack on Christmas Eve after nibbling the leaves of a favorite potted plant…and was never heard from again. Babies still refusing to kick reassuringly at 19 weeks? Perhaps they have heard of Schmutzli’s uncommon fondness for succulent fetal flesh. No? Well let me tell you children a story…

Scott is rarely supportive of my ideas (most recently, my proposal for a steamy reality show called Red Hott to be set in a communist co-op full of nubile young ideologues—“From each according to his abilities…to each according to his needs…”) and I suspect my plan to introduce Schmutzli as a part of our holiday tradition is doomed to failure. But that won’t stop me from greeting my husband nightly with hearty cries of “Merry Christmas, and may Schmutzli spare you!” until he beats me to death with a switch of his own.

My past three holiday seasons ranged from excruciating to mildly dysthymic. Three years ago I was pregnant, but miscarried on New Year’s Day. Holidays the next year were nearly unbearable, and last year seemed better only until I arrived at Christmas dinner, where my good mood dissolved little by little.
This year I am overwhelmed by my luck, and find myself thinking a great deal about those of you who are still gritting your teeth through family gatherings and excusing yourselves to the bathroom to blink back tears after a cousin announces her plan to get pregnant between the coming June and September in order to coordinate her childbearing with her teaching career.
I wish you all fortitude this holiday season, and better things in the New Year.
Merry Christmas, and may Schmutzli spare you.

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