* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where for the first time ever we are celebrating Christmas by publishing an actual Christmas piece on actual Christmas Day! Please give first-timer Jamie Feldman a generous wintry welcome. We also want to let you know about a collection of Yuletide humor pieces from Big Jewel contributor Alex Bernstein. It's called Miserable Holiday Stories and you can get the Kindle version at Amazon. Just click on the Miserable Holiday Stories link in our blogroll on the right-hand side of the page. Merry Christmas, everybody! See you again in the New Year on January 8.

‘Twas The Night Before Christmas As Retold By Popular Authors

By: Jamie Feldman


It was the night before Christmas, more or less. Call it Christmas Eve. My parents did, or nearly did. The winter home of mamma and pop was silent. The books of Bokonon advised it be so. No creature stirred under that geodesic dome, not even in the earthling habitat. So it goes.


Before I know it he rips off my stockings and throws them by the chimney.

Hmmm…I hope that my inner goddess will soon be here. Will it? When?

I gasp and quiver, strapped onto his bed. But all I can think about are his sugarplums dancing the tango inside me.


Mama and I had just arrived at the refugee camp and were given our Government Issue kerchief and cap when I heard a low groaning sound coming from out on the lawn. I feared the zombies had already found us.

Did you go to the window to check?

Yes I did. And it wasn’t Zack.

What did you see?

A miniature S-turbo 522* pulled by what looked like reindeer. God, they were beautiful. I haven’t seen animals like that since before the Great Panic.

* A miniature S-turbo 522 was a military vehicle, usually painted red, used to deliver toys and later supplies to refugee camps outside the safe zone.


How strange this is, thought the boy, as the red caravan came to a halt. An elderly merchant revealed himself along with his wares and the boy knew this man was the one to whom he would teach his secrets. The omens had told him so. The merchant gathered his reindeer from the caravan and waved his arms over their heads. He called each one by name: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder, Blitzen. The boy couldn’t believe what he was hearing. This was the Language of the World.


It’s a peculiar thing about reindeer, especially ones that fly to the house-top. You may think that these vile little creatures are the most disgusting things you could ever imagine, when, in fact, there is nothing wrong with them at all. These reindeer are perfectly normal except that they learned to fly by age two. By age three they were already practicing for Christmas Eve. Now, at age seven, they were prancing and pawing at Papa’s ramshackle roof, pulling a sled bursting at the seams with toys for his snotty nosed, little children. St. Nicholas couldn’t be bothered to travel there by himself. He was too fat.


It has come to my attention that I may be the only American — man or woman — who is keenly aware of the impact that St. Nicholas made on Gen-X fashion. Before boho there was peddler-chic. Look at Madonna in the 80s or even Guns and Roses. Both flawlessly executed the ashes and soot look. That’s what Appetite for Destruction was all about. Now, I may be biased because Guns and Roses is the first band I ever saw in a neon underground warehouse in Wisconsin, but arguably The Beatles pioneered the twinkle-eyed, dimple-faced, rosy-cheek fad decades earlier. However, back then no one would have said they were taking cues from St. Nicholas. It was the 60s.


I stare at him. His beard is white. White like snow. White like cocaine. He has a pipe. I look at it, speak.

Is that for me?

He laughs.

I laugh.

He looks away, looks back at me. He pats his belly. It shakes. He shakes. He shakes like a fucking bowl of jelly, like the addict I know he is, like the addict I know I am.

He turns his head, winks.

I want to lie down.

I want to cry.

I cry.


He gave his wand a little flick and golden sparks flew from its tip. Each stocking filled with wonderful gifts. There were chocolate frogs and wizard cards and even Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans. The muggles would be pleased by morning. Then he placed his wand beside his nose and spoke only one word aloud. “Leviosa,” he said and up the chimney he rose. He met with his broomstick and the rest of his team. Such a cheery lot, they were, as they took to the sky. But I heard him exclaim before he flew out of sight,


“Happy Christmas, nerds! Now shut it down.”

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where every day is Christmas and we still believe in Santa Claus. Nor are we the only ones! Witness Juliana Gray. She swears this is her first-ever humor piece, which is actually quite a bit like asking us to believe in Santa Claus. But aside from common sense, the laws of probability and the evidence of our own eyes, we have no reason to doubt her veracity. When you are done perusing her holiday cry for help, check out her web site (below her byline and also in our blogroll on the right-hand side of the page) and learn what she does when she is not crafting superb humor pieces right out of the gate.

When I First Learned There Was No Santa Claus (Intermediate English Essay Prompt #7)

By: Juliana Gray

When did I first learn that there was no Santa Claus? Well, to be honest, Mrs. Frobisher, the answer is, just now. Right when you gave the class that essay prompt.

And, looking around the room, I guess I’m the only one. When you, Mrs. Frobisher, told us to “investigate that memory,” my classmates just smiled knowingly. They were already pecking away at their laptops while you explained about “sensory detail” and “the innocent perspective of childhood.” Meanwhile, I sat there with my mouth open. No Santa? What the hell?

I honestly don’t know what to think right now.

I mean, in a way it all makes sense. Christmases at my house were always up and down; sometimes I got nearly everything on my list, and sometimes it seemed like my letters never even reached the North Pole. Mom said Santa had a hard time some years, what with all of those reindeer and elves to feed.

But, seriously, I’m almost eighteen, and this is how I find out? In this writing class that I didn’t want to take anyway, but only wound up in because Biology was full? Stuck sitting next to that dick Bradley Turner for a whole semester? And now you drop this bomb on me?

This is the worst writing prompt yet, even worse than “write about what scares you” and “when did you first understand death.” I hope this doesn’t affect my grade, but what the hell, Mrs. Frobisher? Do you get off on reading about other people’s pain?

Now that I think about it, the years when I didn’t get any toys were also the years when Dad wasn’t working. Huh.

But wait — that can’t be right. There’s the time Santa accidentally delivered one of my presents to Mr. Stickley next door. I remember because that was the year I asked for a Furby, but when my dad saw that on my list, he said it was a girls’ toy, and didn’t I want a GI Joe instead. I told Dad no, Furbys were cool, they were robots, but he just shook his head and went to Uncle Jim’s house.

Keep your eyes on your own screen, Bradley Turner. Yeah, I can see you looking.

Anyway, when I didn’t get a Furby under the tree, I was so crushed! But then the next morning, after Dad went to work, Mr. Stickley came over. He had a brand-new Furby, a blue one, just like I wanted. He said Santa must have confused our addresses. I was so happy! I remember jumping up and down, with that awesome Furby in my hands, while Mr. Stickley and Mom watched. She was so grateful for the delivery, she gave him a great big hug — even a kiss! She must not have even minded the fish smell (Mr. Stickley works in the seafood department at Wegmans), but maybe that’s why she was crying a little bit. Mr. Stickley put his hand on my head and said, “I’m glad you’re happy, son.” It was kind of weird, but okay. We were all just so happy that Santa had remembered me.

I loved that Furby. Even after Dad accidentally ran over it, I kept the pieces in a box in my room.

So no, Mrs. Frobisher, I don’t think I accept the validity of your essay prompt after all.

In fact, I know Santa’s real — because I saw him, in my own house! I was younger, about five, and I was so wired on Christmas Eve that I couldn’t sleep. Dad wasn’t home — that was back when he moved in with Uncle Jim for a while, before he left for good — so I thought I could sneak downstairs and wait for Santa. I crept into the living room, moving slow and quiet like the mouse in the poem — and I saw him! This big, jolly shape next to the fireplace! Up against the fireplace, actually, but definitely shaking like a bowl full of jelly. It was hard to see; the tree was partly blocking my view, but I could make out a man’s boots, and I could hear him laughing…not exactly “ho ho ho.” More like heavy breathing. I mean, carrying all those toys is hard work — no wonder the guy gets out of breath!

I thought if he saw me he’d put me on the naughty list, so I ran back to my room. I think he heard me, though, because when I banged into a table, the “ho ho ho”-ing stopped, and a few seconds later Mom came into the room to check on me. She said I needed to stay in bed and let Santa finish his magic. After she kissed me, I was so happy, but I remember I had weird dreams about Santa’s sleigh being pulled by giant fish, I guess because when Mom kissed me she smelled like —

Oh. Oh, god.

Bradley Turner, if you don’t stop snickering over there, I swear I will end you.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we prefer to celebrate the holidays with peculiar tales of caterpillar pets gone wrong. Please say hello to Tarja Parssinen, whose first piece for us is sure to warm your cold, cold heart.


By: Tarja Parssinen

I am pet-resistant.

This is a difficult thing to admit. An un-American thing. A cold-hearted bitch of a thing, but seeing as how I’m a cold-hearted bitch of a mom, you can understand, can’t you? Oh, come now, be reasonable. I’m already raising two wild things and I have to walk them and feed them and clean up poop every goddamn day. The good news is they’re lovable and don’t shed, the bad news is they slobber and track dirt in the house and hate leashes.

But in the same way that I get soaked to the bone every time I wear my stupid water-resistant jacket, being pet-resistant does not mean I’m pet-proof.

And that’s mainly because the five-year old hounds me on a daily basis for a hound, with the next best thing being “a turtle, and when that dies then a tortoise, and when that dies, then a fish.” (I’m slightly unnerved by the fact that my son can so easily imagine the demise of his pets, which leaves me wondering how he knows my poor track record with orchids so well.)

The child also happens to be bonkers for bugs, which are small and quiet and hairless, so I decide that’s how the wee Noah will start filling the ark of my home. I’m not crazy enough to jump straight into the Praying Mantis Egg Case kit, but why not a cup of live caterpillars that turn into butterflies and then you release them? Are you following me here? Pets that come with their own food, you enjoy them for two weeks, AND THEN THEY’RE GONE. The concept is so simple, so beautiful! Until a cup of five caterpillars — Ken, Len, Sten, Ben, and Den — arrives in a box that the UPS man dumps on the doormat and which my son then proceeds to kick around the house, forcing me to yell, “THOSE ARE LIVING, BREATHING CREATURES!”

As it turns out, Eric Carl was right: caterpillars are very tiny and very hungry. The first week was manageable (minus tiny hands that kept tapping the cup, shaking the cup, and covering the air holes of the cup), but it was evident to everyone that Den was a little slow on the uptake. Poor latch? Reflux? As long as he was inching along, I couldn’t be too concerned.

All I know is that on the seventh day, Len climbed to the roof of the cup like a motherfucking vampire and hung there. And that’s when things got weird.

Ken, Sten, and Ben followed their leader (Den decided to ascend later, being slow and all), and then the four of them hung down in the tell-tale “J” position JUST LIKE THE BROCHURE SAID THEY WOULD! One minute they were caterpillars and the next they were chrysalides. They had wrapped themselves up like tiny Tutankhamuns and hung there, still and silent on the kitchen counter.

I started having chrysalide anxiety dreams where I had either killed them or they had emerged. Life or death, they were both equally terrifying. I had to justify the strange cup to the cleaning lady, grandpa, the babysitter, the pizza delivery guy. “Science!” I would shrug, inwardly re-imagining Anne Rice books (Interview With the Caterpillar!) and the 1987 movie The Lost Boys (a gang of vampire caterpillars is up to no good, starring Corey Feldman as Den).

And then things got even weirder.

On the third day of the vampire stage, I was instructed to move the chrysalides from the cup to the butterfly habitat — to take the paper ceiling of the cup to which they were attached and tape it to the side of the habitat. Easy, right?

Except that when you touch the paper ceiling, their little mummified bodies start moving and twitching and freaking out BECAUSE THEY’RE LIVING, BREATHING CREATURES and so you try to do it fast and not to forget to remove all the string hanging around them because the butterfly wings could get stuck upon emergence and they could DIE but then Den falls off and you have to scoop his twitching body up with a spoon and shove it on the floor of the habitat and then tape the paper to the side, where they are all twitching so fast that the tape won’t stick and you’re whispering “DAMMIT DAMMIT DAMMIT!” and your son is yelling, “Don’t kill them, Mommy! Why did he fall off? Is he dead? Mommy! Mommy Mommy!”

When I’m done, I collapse on the couch, twitching and freaking out, but it’s done! I am so badass! Look at me care for animals! I’m like Jack Fucking Hannah! Of course, there’s the underlying fear that I’ve mortally injured Den and traumatized Ken, Len, Sten, and Ben, but I must radiate calm and positivity. “This is how it’s all supposed to be,” I tell my son.

And strangely enough, it is.

All five caterpillars complete metamorphosis and emerge not as Corey Haim with fangs and wings, but as normal butterflies. Despite all odds — the overpowering love of a five-year-old, the idiocy of his mother — they seem to be just fine. They even eat the nectar I prepared! The butterflies think I’m a great cook, despite the contrary beliefs of my entire family!

I am so dazzled with my abilities to assist fat, worm-like creatures transform into beings of sheer beauty, so anxious that they live in their natural habitat, that I bungle the release, sending them flying into the twilight air on a wing and a Mariah Carey butterfly joke.

“It’s kind of cold — can they survive?” my husband whispers.

“They’ll be fine, it just can’t be below 55 degrees,” I hiss.

“It’s going to be 52 tonight.”

Proving once and for all that if a butterfly flaps its wings in one part of the world — namely three feet away from you — it can, indeed, cause a hurricane. Of self-accusation and guilt.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we are usually in favor of whatever makes it a beautiful day in our neighborhood, particularly during the holidays. Which of course is the whole mission of your friendly homeowners association.

A Letter From Your Friendly Homeowners Association

By: Melissa Darcey

Dear Smith Family,

Your friendly Homeowners Association would like to welcome you, the newest residents of Apple Orchard Estates, to the community. Three months have passed since you first moved in and we see you have settled in quite comfortably. We understand that, as new residents, you possibly aren’t aware of the rules and standards that we have set in place to help maintain the class of Apple Orchards Estates and to distinguish it from, say, a trailer park or bohemian nudist colony.

Over the past few months, we’ve noticed some occurrences that do not adhere to our rules. As this is your first warning, you will have two weeks to make appropriate changes. A second warning will result in a fine and suspension from the clubhouse. If a third warning is sent, we will enforce martial law and do what we please with your property (as an example, see the Apple Orchard Dog Park on lot 42).

Below is a list of documented issues that do not adhere to our policies:

1. Last week, the grass on your lawn was three inches high. All grass must be two inches high. Grass taller or shorter ruins the synchronization of everyone’s lawns. We wish to maintain a peaceful flow and you’d be shocked at how an inch can disrupt an entire community!

2. It appears you have an apple tree growing in your back yard. May we remind you that while our community is called Apple Orchard Estates, we do not allow fruit trees of any kind. You must understand that we do not wish our community to resemble a farm or labor field. Our residents are respected lawyers, doctors, and architects — not apple pickers or gardeners. We have a lovely Whole Foods down the road where you can purchase fruit.

3. Your front door is currently a deep mahogany brown. Based on the sample we scraped a few weeks ago, the paint appears to be Valspar #302. If you refer to the handbook, it states that front doors must only be painted Valspar #301 or #300. You’d be shocked at how one slightly darker shade can dampen the spirits of community members!

4. Last month, a neighbor who wishes to remain anonymous heard The Beatles playing loudly from your house at 11:32 p.m. Perhaps you forgot that on page 22 of the handbook it states that no music should be played after 8 p.m. and rock music shouldn’t be played after 4 p.m. (although you’ll find that most residents don’t need the cacophony of banging instruments to enjoy their day). While we cannot stop you from listening to music quietly or with headphones, we do not encourage it.

5. Two weekends ago, your young child was heard “giggling” (as it was described) while at the community pool. However gleeful he may be, our community members do not appreciate voices of a high pitch at the clubhouse. This includes the children’s pool and playground. We would also prefer he leave the inflatable arm floats at home. If he can’t swim without them, perhaps his time in the water should be limited to the bathtub.

6. For two weeks in December, a decorated pine tree was clearly visible in your front window. We do not tolerate any forms of bigotry and ask that you do not force the Christian holiday on anyone in the community. Appropriate holiday decorations include non-religious wreaths on the front door or two poinsettia plants by the front entrance. Please do not do both. No decorations can include mythical creatures like snowmen with faces, Santa Claus, or reindeer with red noses.

7. On December 30, there was a four-inch circle of oil left on your driveway for 17 minutes. While we appreciate your removing it, page 59 of the handbook clearly states that no oil should drop on any roads or surfaces within the community. The best way to avoid this is to invest in a new vehicle (please contact us a for a list of recommended models and colors).

8. Speaking of vehicles, the green Toyota Corolla must go (it’s a 2011, so we assume that you are already planning on upgrading). We strongly suggest only American-made vehicles (sedans and crossovers only, please — we feel there is no need for SUVs, trucks, or vans, and you shouldn’t need eight seats as we have a limit on how many people can occupy a home). While your vehicle does not have to be a specific color (we do allow some individuality, after all!), there is a permit required for vehicles that aren’t either black or pearl. The permit is $89 a month and is not tax deductible.

9. As animal lovers ourselves, we regret to inform you that your Siberian husky is not on the list of permitted dogs. Regardless of where you purchased the dog, we do not allow pets from certain Eastern regions, including, but not limited to, Russia, Mongolia, Ukraine, Belarus and any country that ends in “stan.” There is a wonderful animal shelter located just a few miles away.

10. We understand the pleasures of a home-cooked meal, but we’ve been notified that you have cooked red meat on an outdoor grill at least three times. Many of our residents are vegans and we would like you to respect their lifestyle choices. While you may not take issue with eating something that was once a free, living being, we ask you to be courteous enough not to make your neighbors an accessory to murder. Please cook all meats indoors. If you wish to grill outside, may we suggest portobello mushrooms? They’re quite divine. Trader Joe’s also has an excellent meatless chicken.

11. Finally, is the Mrs. of the house of an exotic descent? We’re concerned about the volume and density of curls in her hair that appear, unfortunately, to be natural. Our board’s Style Consultant believes the look is outdated and reflective of the chaotic 1980s. While we believe in self-acceptance, a hair straightening treatment would greatly improve her overall appearance. While she is free to choose any salon of her choice, we highly suggest she select one from our list (see page 112 of the handbook).

We look forward to seeing your changes! If you have any questions, do no hesitate to reach out to us. Please know that by making the appropriate changes, not only are you benefiting your own property and life choices, but you are also helping the entire community.


Apple Orchards Estates Homeowners Association

P.S. The china set you were looking at yesterday on the Pottery Barn website would look much better in ivory than azure. We updated the color selection in your wishlist.