Anais Nin’s childhood writings: Christmas, 1919

The Nin home in Kew Gardens, NY

The Nin home in Kew Gardens, NY

By the time sixteen (almost seventeen) year old Anais Nin wrote the following passage in her childhood diary (translated from the original French), she, her mother, and two brothers had been in New York for five years. Stubbornly hanging onto her French while her hopes of agains seeing her father, who remained in France, were fading, Anais describes her Christmas Eve and Day:

December 26, 1919. After having waited for Maman on Christmas Eve with great impatience, I had the joy of seeing her arrive with a dozen little packages containing a few small details to decorate the tree. After dinner we began to trim the tree–a tall fir, with its topmost branch kissing the lofty ceiling, as though to wish it a Merry Christmas too. The four of us were busy, happily placing the little candles, balls of every color, snowflakes, stars, little dolls, little bags of candy, and all the other charming things that traditionally disguise a solemn evergreen to make it more human, that is, more attractive to man’s gaze and all his senses. That was quickly done. Then came the moment to place the gifts, the packages nicely wrapped in tissue paper and red ribbon, and crowned with a little tag with a name. What mysteries, what smiles!

Joaquinito’s eyes were worthy of study. Thorvald’s were not quite so big, but almost as expressive. My curiosity, which had been dormant a long time, was also awake but less noisy, like Maman’s. Once again I had the impression of being much older in my ideas, very far away from Thorvald and Joaquinito, unable to share their happy-go-lucky nature, and because of that, closer to Maman, closer to the more serious things in Life.

The time came to go to bed. I took one last look at the holly which I had used to decorate the mantels, lamps, windows, and banister, and the mistletoe hanging on a red ribbon. The tree shone at the end of the dark parlor. Do you believe that I thought only of the beauty of the scene? No, mixed with my somewhat poetic impressions were thoughts that responsibility has taught me. I was thinking also that everything was clean and in order. A woman has to be a practical poet!

The night was disturbed by dreams. The doors were open and I heard all of my dear family rolling over and over, each in his own bed. It wasn’t just the excitement of Christmas night, it was also the cold and the wind. .

At dawn I was awakened by a strange feeling of rain on my face. It was snow that the wind invited into my room and onto my bed, through the open window. I got up to close it and saw the result of the silent work accomplished in the night by the Great Painter. The landscape was majestic! I was so thrilled I couldn’t go back to sleep, so I thought. I must have looked funny, half sitting up in bed, staring out of the window, thinking of many different things, while the dim light of early morning filtered slowly into my room. Of course I was the first one dressed. But the snowstorm had been so violent that I didn’t go to Mass.

Before Thorvald and Joaquinito left, we lighted the tree and sang “Venite Adoremus,” accompanied on the piano by Joaquinito. The packages were opened and immediately the cries of joy began.

Breakfast was a little quieter, for Maman wasn’t feeling well. Afterward, while the boys went out, Maman and I dressed with great care. I had made a big tulle bow for my black velvet dress. Sometimes it amuses me to be a coquette….

The visitors arrived a little while before dinner. The dinner was a success, as almost all dinners are. It’s not very difficult to talk, eat; laugh, talk, eat, laugh until it’s over. Some people talk very little and eat a lot. Others only talk and laugh, but several eat well, talk delightfully and laugh at the same time. That must be a characteristic of a “woman of the world.” Doubtless it’s a good quality! By trying hard, I succeeded in talking a good deal in order to be pleasant. I am not unsociable any more! To avoid being unsociable, one must tell lies and act like a clown, which is very simple for liars (or flatterers–same thing) and for clowns!

After dinner we talked. There must be a reason for this old custom. I think it’s because a starving man is not very pleasant, so after dinner everyone has an opportunity to be agreeable, in order to make up for past mistakes.

To complete the celebration of this beautiful day, I went sledding with Thorvald and Joaquin after dinner. There are always many children and it’s a real party. Even now I can see the hill and the sleds going by, overflowing with children. I can hear the shouts clear into Maman’s room, where I am keeping her company, as she is in bed.

They nicknamed me “White Cap” because of my white beret, and since J oaquinito answers all their questions every time I go, yesterday a few of the boys called “au revoir” and other words that they murdered with the worst American accent. I don’t know why, but the few girls who go there can’t stand me, and while I was wondering why all of them were giving me such unkind looks, I heard three girls talking near me as a sled full of boys went by, shouting (the boys, not the sled): “Hello, White Cap!” “Want to ride on our sled?” One girl said: “See that girl with the white tamo’-shanter? Well, she is the biggest flirt!”

And the other one added: “Most of the boys behave like fools since she comes here.”

Decidedly, I will have to change my hair style!

(From Linotte, pp. 392-394) To read Anais Nin’s account of her first Christmas in New York, click here.

 

 

 

Comments

One Response to “Anais Nin’s childhood writings: Christmas, 1919”
  1. Rebecca says:

    Wonderful wonderful entry Paul! I fell in love with Anais when I was a teenage girl who discovered Linotte while looking for Henry Miller.

    I just received a kindle for xmas and I downloaded some cafe in space issues and the anais nin reader (my second download after buying it for my iphone!)

    Thank you for your tireless and amazing work!

    And I was going to promote the kindle downloads again but twitter is down today so I will do it post holidays!

    Rebecca

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