Pass the Cranberry Chodes: Christmas, According to a December 1951 Copy of Woman’s Day
Are you ready for this? I wasn’t. But I’m also not ready to face the reality that Christmas is in two weeks and I don’t have presents for anyone yet. Rather than sensibly consider the very near future, let’s strap ourselves down for a second and think about the past with this 62-year-old Christmas issue of Woman’s Day, which shall guide us through the holiday season like an old-timey lantern fueled not with kerosene but with medium-grade crack.
So how does the holiday spirit look in 1951? First, like a G.E. clock called “The Clansman”:
And a thirty-year-old dude carrying a Santa bag full of cigarettes, who’s two seconds away from taking that beard off and doing that towel-slap thing with it:
What’s with the man stuff, Woman’s Day? The editors make up for it with a feature whose title will, many decades later, prove itself evergreen:
Here, “Susan Bennett Holmes,” a sentient wig adrift in a sea of quaaludes, wishes you “a very Merry Christmas—in three dimensions!” This copy reaches Donald Barthelme levels of duplicity, formal anarchy and verbal collage. “What is a broken necklace to thee and us?” “Our old straw hat never broke itself into little grass rugs—even in our mind.” The piece ends on the unpunctuated word “miniature,” refusing to finish itself either elsewhere on the page or in the magazine, because the wig and her editors do not give a fuck.
The same thread of syntactical and thematic derangement shows up in the six short stories featured in this issue (the abundance of fiction being one of the most foreign aspects of these old magazines, and one of the reasons I love to read them and imagine a career built selling my frivolous words in a totally different format). One story is called “Cassandra’s Christmas” and has the tagline In just a few seconds, she turned from an aristocrat among mice to an artist among people. It begins with the upper-class rodent Cassandra in a department store elevator, ashamed of being seen with the cleaning woman (a “Mrs. Barkowitz”) and praying that no one else mistakes her for Mickey Mouse. Another short story in the issue is called “The Mend Spot”:
If that teaser line looks insensible, try these guys on from the body: For an Immy is such a one as never was, such a one for brewing a big, wild broth in a man as has no equal in the world. The sound of the slim stem snapping in the black wind of passion comes back time and time again. An Immy is an experience, all right. Those words don’t make any sense, which is the theme of our Ladymag Christmas.
Back to holiday-themed service journalism. You’ve probably got friends coming over at some point in the next couple of weeks, right? You’re probably going to have to make some food for them? In a classic example of female-on-female microaggression, the editors of Woman’s Day prescribe caution. They are not sure about your “hamburg.”
This piece is as terrible as it looks, so we won’t spend any more time on “Haydn S. Pearson,” who is blessedly not around today to defend this article on Twitter by self-identifying as a feminist. Preying neatly on the insecurities engendered by our Haydn (“No ‘E,'” spat Haydn at the country club hostess. “I told you that on the damn telephone”), the magazine is also careful to provide you with a little Hamburg Help. First up:
Dried Beef and Beanburgers. Oh, you already ate all your dried beef for the week? Try a Walnut Squareburger.
Note the intriguing technique here, in which the burger meat actually serves as the buns for the stuffing, which is itself the squareburger. But if you’re scared off hamburg for the time being, why not try a “Cranberry Come-On”?
Here we invoke the anthropological imagination necessary to understand a world in which the best signifier of aspirational holiday eating was a tray of wobbling cranberry chodes. This page is like a Magic Eye image, in which the shape that emerges is a weird penis and some weird stuff to do with it. We’ve got tart flavors, gay dishes, the right “bite,” a “Hawaiian Fruit Ring.” I do not accept the Cranberry Come-On; into the trash can it goes! Wait, what happened to the trash can?
It’s been touched by Christmas. Nice try, Brit. Oh no, here we go again:
“How to Make with Ordinary Wire Coat Hanger THIS HOLIDAY DOOR DECORATION.” Best editors in the game. Shout out to Step #5, which is “Hang on door and await admiring comments from everyone.” Double shout out to the Wrigley’s ad at the bottom. “When folks drop in on you, frantically hand out gum sticks. Try it. Try it. Try it.” Triple shout out to that classic MFA-realism phrasing: Nothing tastes so good, lasts so long.
I appreciate, actually, the fact that this woman’s magazine is like “Make a coat hanger into a tree shape. Look at you, fancy lady!” Better a coat hanger than a $400 coat to make your fruit-shape body into a different fruit-shape body. Here is another thing you can do with a coat hanger:
“He can be made in a few hours with a dollar’s worth of plastic, a piece of muslin, a wire coat hanger, some enamel, and a billion-year pact with Satan.” Begone, floppy devil.
But isn’t there something charming about the ultra-basic nature of these crafts? In its first mass-consumerist flowering, the search for personally rewarding DIY projects to compensate for the lack of female professional mobility is pleasingly humble and make-do. Another way Woman’s Day thinks you can be fancy?
Wax your picture frames. Wax your book ends. Wax your tie racks and purses and children’s toys “especially.” Would you rather wax every surface in your house or every surface on your body? Direct your answers and your complaints about the eternal bind of womanhood to “Margaret Scott Johnson’s Wax Consumer Service Department,” reachable at “Johnson’s Wax, Racine, Wisconsin.”
Or just cut to the heart of Christmas, which is “stuff you’ll never use again.” Distract your house guests from your shitty beanburgers with a touch of the Semi-Homemade:
Here is Epsie’s suggestion for Guest Soap:
We are back in the land beyond meaning. Guest soap/ below/ Cut cubes from cake/ Stick on stars/ Tie in red veiling that doubles as overnight hair net. Epsie, really, what guest is going to be like “Thank you so much, I actually forgot to bring my hair net, this soap-scummy bullshit perfectly fits my needs.”
Guests don’t need all that, anyway! You’re already giving them shelter, so fuck a soap cube, open the wine. But you know who really does need a present or two? Your kids. Here, Woman’s Day advises that you recoup your Silly Bandz expenditures in child labor:
Gifts so easy even a child could make them! But what is a “tin-can rolling block” made of?
Empty baby meat cans and red nail polish. I cropped out the instructions because I fear the eyes of the NSA. Hey, what else can kids make?
She asked me what I wished for on my wish list/ I asked my school-age child to do a bunch of stuff involving razor blades.
Merry Christmas, everyone.