Samuel Marchbank’s Almanack by Robertson Davies

Santa himself, beneath his paint and ample white beard, seemed to be about 25; when children approached him his eyes rolled in an agonized fashion which betrayed the youthful bachelor. A photographer was on the spot, assisted by a leggy female gnome, taking pictures of every tot with Santa. This impressed me as a fine stroke of commercial whimsy, and I started up the runway myself. “Where you goin’?” said a blonde gnome with a large bust, catching me by the arm. “To have my picture taken with Santa,” said I. “It’s just for the kids,” said she, trembling a little and looking for the manager. “I am a child at heart, gnome,” said I. But she had pressed a button in the wall beside her, and at this moment a store detective appeared, wearing the insensitive expression of his kind. “What gives?” said he. “This character wants to go up the runway with the kids,” said the gnome. “Oh, one of them sex-monsters eh?” said the detective, closing one eye in a menacing fashion. For a moment I feared that I might have to spend Christmas in jail with my friend Osceola Thunderbelly. But I talked my way out of it, and as I hastened away the detective gave the gnome a slap on the podex which was probably mere brotherly goodwill. Christmas is becoming a terribly complicated season, full of mixed and mistaken motives.

Yours, still blushing at the shame of it,



To Raymond Cataplasm, M.D., F.R.C.P.

Dear Dr. Cataplasm:

It was most kind of you to send me a Christmas card. It is a beautiful thing, and I shall probably have it framed. By the way, what is it? I did not know that you were interested in modern art.

Yours gratefully,

S. Marchbanks.

P.S. How foolish of me! I have been looking at your card upside down. Of course it is a lovely photograph of autumn colours.


To Samuel Marchbanks, ESQ.

Dear Mr. Marchbanks:

Through some oversight my secretary has sent you a coloured transparency representing a drunkard’s liver, in mistake for a Christmas card. If you will return it, a card showing myself and Mrs. Cataplasm on the verandah of our Summer home will be sent to you at once.

Yours sincerely,

Raymond Cataplasm.


To Samuel Marchbanks, ESQ.

Dear Marchbanks:

No card from you this year. Surely our little fuss with lawyers is not going to cause a breach between us?

Can I borrow your bladder for a New Year party? I mean the one you put on the table under a dinner plate and then pump up secretly, making the plate jump. You never seemed to use it effectively, and I know I could be the life of the party with it. Just leave it in the hall and I’ll pick it up.

Yours forgivingly,

Dick Dandiprat.


To Richard Dandiprat, ESQ.


You will hear from my lawyers, if they ever get around to it, which seems doubtful. I did not send you a card because I loathe and despise you.

My bladder is not yours to command. I have plans for a Happy New Year which require it.

An evil, ill-starred New Year to you and yours.

S. Marchbanks.


To Samuel Marchbanks, ESQ.

Dear Sam:

From time to time I am moved to wonder where people get their ideas about food. Last night, for instance, I dined with friends, whom I took to be persons of some discrimination. But — I scarcely expect to be believed, though I vow that it is true — the last thing on the menu was halves of grapefruit which had been lightly boiled, and over which creme de menthe had been poured! I ate it, because I am a polite person and always eat what is set before me, but when I say that my gorge rose I am not employing a mere idle form of words. When, at last, I got out into the cold night air I allowed my gorge to rise all the way, after which I felt much better. It is such trials, I suppose, that give us strength for even greater calamities, if greater calamities than boiled, booze-drenched grapefruit can be.

I hope the New Year will not use you too hardly.

Amyas Pilgarlic.


To Mrs. Kedijah Scissorbill.

Dear Mrs. Scissorbill:

Because I am a great admirer of novelty in any form, I write to congratulate you on your most successful performance as Santa Claus at the Christmas party which your club, The Militant Female Society, gave for the Misbegotten Orphans.

As you said in your speech to the Orphans, there is no reason whatever why Santa Claus should not be a woman. And I thought your costume and makeup excellent. It was a fine idea to wear your own abundant grey hair, loose and hanging down your back. This made up for the lack of the long beard which we associate with S. Claus. I think you would be wise another time to put some fire-proofing on your hair; I observed one well-developed male orphan, with quite a moustache, testing it with his cigarette-lighter. I think, too, that your pince-nez, and the natural austerity of your countenance, gave Santa an authority he sometimes lacks.

Altogether, it was a triumph, and I expect that the craze for female Santas will sweep the country.

Yours respectfully,

Samuel Marchbanks.


To Miss Minerva Hawser.

Dear Miss Hawser:

It is all very well for you to write to me on Dec. 23rd, asking for a Christmas play which you can rehearse and present on Dec. 25th, but it imposes a strain on my invention. If your Sunday School group wants a play from my hand, this is the best I can do for them; I am not sure that it is entirely suited to a class of girls between 8 and 10 years of age, but you must do your best, as I have done mine.



by Samuel Marchbanks

The curtain rises (or, if I know Sunday school stages, jerks painfully apart) to reveal a richly furnished drawing-room with a fireplace (indicated by some chairs from the vestry and a packing case decorated with red crepe paper). The sound of sleigh-bells is heard, then a few buckets of soot burst from the fireplace, followed by Santa Clans; he has a sack of toys on his back.

SANTA: Ho, ho, ho! Oh what a jolly old fellow I am. Ho, ho, ho! (He brushes his clothes, knocking a lot of soot into the front rows of the audience.) I am welcome everywhere. Nobody has ever breathed a word of criticism against me. Ho, ho, ho!

A VOICE: Stop saying Ho, ho, ho!

SANTA: Who said that?

A VOICE: I did.

SANTA: Who are you?

A VOICE: I’m St. Nicholas, that’s who.

SANTA: Go on! I’m St. Nicholas myself.

A VOICE: Have you any papers to show it?

SANTA: I don’t need papers. It’s a Well-Known Fact. Come on out and let me see you. (An old man in the robes of a mediaeval bishop enters the room (remind him not to trip over his crazier); he looks rather like Santa, but more intelligent and grouchy. He has on a long blue cloak, with fur on it. He is St. Nicholas.)

SANTA: Well, you’re a fine-looking old spook. Do you live here?

ST. NICK: You’re no Beauty Queen yourself. No: I’m a spirit and on Christmas Eve I wander the earth, doing good.

SANTA: Funny I’ve never heard of you. Come to think of it, I don’t remember ever seeing your picture on a magazine cover or an advertisement.

ST. NICK: I’m not always shoving myself forward, like Some People I Could Mention.

SANTA: Meaning me?

ST. NICK: If the cap fits, wear it.

SANTA: Now look here, I don’t want any trouble. I’m a popular spirit and I have my public. Little children love me. Storekeepers love me. Manufacturers love me. Everybody who is anybody loves me.

ST. NICK: Do parents love you?

SANTA: I suppose so. Parents love everything that is good for their children. If they don’t the children make them. You don’t understand what a force children are in the modern world.

ST. NICK: Who do you think you’re talking to? I’m the patron saint of children.

SANTA: You need a refresher course in child psychology.

ST. NICK: Do you know what I think? I think you’re the most egotistical old spirit I’ve ever met. Do you know why you’re so popular with children? Because children are egotists too. So you and little children love each other, eh? Ha Ha! Birds of a feather.

SANTA: That’s fine talk for a saint. You’re disgruntled and jealous of my popularity, that’s all. Next thing you’ll be sucking up to parents, trying to convince them that they have some share in Christmas.

ST. NICK: Yes, I will. I’ll promote a Parents’ League For the Reform of Christmas. No more indigestible food, no more noise, no more paper hats, no more mica snow getting up your nose. Just a quiet day at home with a jug.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson