Some coffee’s processed in the guts of monkeys. Some, of ferrets.
Our coffee’s not like that.
Some coffee’s brewed by starving orphans and their puppies in the basements of the pyramids wherein Starbucks may be made.
Our coffee’s not like that, either.
Our coffee’s the good stuff. It’s the right stuff. It’s the stuff of joy and virtue, and of love.
2. The Merry Christmas Man
The Merry Christmas Man goes to Holidaytown.
And he walks its streets, and he slums inside its stores, and on his way out of one store there’s a Sid at the door who tells him, “Happy holidays.”
And it’s like the words are a knife on the Merry Christmas Man’s skin.
They cut him right open. They grate down his arm. Blood wells up, red and angry, and there’s the faintest tinge of green.
And Sid’s gone pale with horror, he’s stammering an apology, but the Merry Christmas Man just growls at him and says, “You say that again.”
But Sid doesn’t.
He won’t say it, not even in Holidaytown, not now that he recognizes the Merry Christmas Man. For he knows the words will cut a Merry Christmas Man, but he doesn’t know the reason why.
“Say it,” says the Merry Christmas Man.
But the silence, it just stretches until the Merry Christmas Man goes away.
The Merry Christmas Man’s not here to buy presents. He could get those at Christmas, or, leastaways, somewhere in Twelve Days. And he’s not here to start something. He’s not that sort of Man.
“I killed me a reindeer,” he says.
He doesn’t have much of an audience. He’s sitting on the corner, next to a giant candy cane, surrounded by forest animals and a pale-faced little girl.
She’s looking at him in confusion.
She’d been walking by in her wolf-eared fur coat, but then she’d seen him, and she couldn’t quite get it, so she’d stopped and she’d stared and she’d been staring ever since.
“. . . Santa?” she asks, like she isn’t sure.
It’s not her fault.
You have to understand, it’s not her fault, growing up in Holidaytown, that she doesn’t really get it about the Merry Christmas Man.
But scorn still plops from his voice like thick batter from a spoon, and he says, “I’m not Santa, little girl. I’m not anything like Santa. I’m a Merry Christmas Man.”
“Oh,” she says. Then, to be sure it’s all quite straight in her head, she says, “And you killed a reindeer?”
“It’s deep magic,” he says. “You take on the spirit of Christmas with the skin of the reindeer, and you gulp down its meat. And you hang tinsel from your hat and put a candycane in your shoe, and you hop, skip, and jump and you’re a Merry Christmas Man.”
There’s more to it than that.
There’s a step or two he’s skipped, right where he says he’s skipping ’em, and another that we’re leaving out, because we don’t want our readers going all skinwalker or curse-maker when they read these words. There’s more to it than just skinning and eating a reindeer and doing some junk with sympathetic magic (not that it’s really all that sympathetic); but those things, they’re the gist.
“And then you can fly,” says the Merry Christmas Man, “and make snow fall where you please, and pull presents from the emptiness if the recipient is good.”
He makes a present-summoning flourish with his hand, and then looks sourly at the result.
“Or,” he says, “pull forth coal chunks for the naughty, if the recipient is so disposed.”
“Thank you, sir,” she says, and takes the coal. “It’s because I am always skinning animals to make my coats.”
“Good lass,” he laughs, forgiving her at once. “Good lass.”
Such forest animals as had remained through his declaration of reindeer-skinning skulk off to frolic elsewhere now: a pointed objection, perhaps; a shunning of the animal-skinning kind; a subtle contextual reminder that even in the winter wonderland of Holidaytown happy forest animals would rather like to keep their skins. Now in Christmastown, to hear some tell it, they love nothing better than to roll stickily in blood diamonds before they jump into the furring machines themselves, but —
“Happy Holidays,” says the girl, and she nods her head, and she walks on.
The snow is turning crimson with the Merry Christmas Man’s bright blood.
4. Jelly, in the Cold
It’s cold in Holidaytown, just like it is over in Christmas, and he’s wishing, just a little, that he’d gone to Valentine’s instead.
It wouldn’t have served his purpose, no, but the hearts would have kept him warm.
Instead, he’s cold.
He’s really, really cold.
His beard is white with snow now and his belly, it’s too cold to jiggle—it’s just like a bowl of jelly that you’ve left out jiggling in the cold while its jiggling grows feebler and feebler until it can’t jiggle any longer, not a bit, and it grows a last despairing rind of ice.
And he’d like to laugh it off, ho, ho, ho, but his laugh had turned to silvery bells when he’d become a Christmas Man.
Didn’t eat enough reindeer, some would say, while others would suggest he’d ate too much.
There’s a lot that we don’t know about the magic that makes a Merry Christmas Man.
They have magical powers. We know that. And they probably eat children. They can lay fell curses, and they really like Christmas, and when you tell them “Happy Holidays,” they bleed.
And one more thing, which we’ll get to! we’ll get to! But not till later on.
5. The Jinglers
The Merry Christmas Man is fading.
In the cold, he’s fading, he’s losing his sense of self and liveliness, and he’s wondering if he’s going to get to do what he came to do before he loses fingers to the cold.
Then ring the bells. Then sound the footsteps on the walk. Then voices that had seemed quite far away unexpectedly draw near.
He thinks with sudden fierce and giddy joy:
I am in luck.
There’s a whole party of jinglers coming his way, just off their work, and they won’t be able to help stopping to look at the Merry Christmas Man.
And he’s sure they’ll wish him Happy Holidays, and the words will make him bleed; and the first of them is kneeling down beside him now—but—
Damn it, thinks the Merry Christmas Man.
“Hey,” says Sid. “Hey, you OK?”
Sid looks up at the others.
“It’s a Merry Christmas Man,” he warns. “So ixnay on the olidays-hay. And a Merry Christmas to you,” he adds, turning back to the Merry Christmas Man, “good sir!”
“Uckfay your ixnay,” says the Merry Christmas Man, preserving this legend’s suitability for children by inventing a jolly new curse word for the holidays instead of saying something potentially obscene. “And the horse it rode in on. I’m in Holidaytown, for the Holiday, I don’t want to hear any ittyshay uckingfay Scrooge-uggeringbay ‘merry Christmas’es.”
At this point the narrator must assume that the Merry Christmas Man has gone around the bend and begun to speak in tongues, likely from exhaustion and cold fatigue but potentially from possession by the Holy Spirit.
Sid seems even more confused than we.
“Sir,” he says, “you’re overwrought.”
The Merry Christmas Man snorts.
Sid says, “If we all actually wished you a Happy Holidays—“
The Merry Christmas Man bites his tongue to hold in the scream.
“Well,” says Sid, his face ashen, “you see, I mean, it’s like—“
But the Merry Christmas Man is on his feet now. He’s holding out five fingers crooked like candy canes, and the stripes of them are red, red, red, and his fury has made him so warm that his stomach may shake like a bowl full of jelly once again.
“We, ‘sir,’” he spits out between his teeth, “are in Holidaytown.”
Sid doesn’t cringe.
It’s a near thing, but Sid doesn’t cringe, not even with those fingers pointing most of the way in his direction before they cunningly curve and point backwards towards the hand. Not even with the sweetness of the sugar-snow that has fallen on the shoulders of the Merry Christmas Man. Not even knowing that the Merry Christmas Man is a skinwalker, and that skinwalkers can kill.
“Merry Christmas,” he says, and turns away;
And the Merry Christmas Man is vast like a giant, and billowing with his power and his rage, and bellowing, “What does it take to get a bloody ‘Happy Holidays’ in this town?”
The answer to which, apparently, is that shout; for as if by autonomic motion, for streets around, and in answer to that cry, the people of Holidaytown turn in the Merry Christmas Man’s direction and wish his holidays be bright.
The Merry Christmas Man is cut, at first, and bleeds.
Then it is beyond mere flaying. Then the words are tearing into him, catching him like great hooks, ripping him apart, this way, this way, and that. He is pulled apart, and yet improbably alive; and the veins transport the blood of him, and the nerves convey the feel of him, and he is dissipating like some gateway god into the form of ten thousand spheres; but the cutting does not stop.
The world where he was rips open.
The space inside him is made to emptiness, and one vast ring surrounds it, and inside that ring is no location known to man; and with a terrible cry and one last great inversion, the Merry Christmas Man vomits into the world through the vehicle of that emptiness the shining contents of his soul.
They splay there, burning with a holy light against the whiteness of the snow, and with great hope:
The coffee beans the reindeer’d ate, before the Merry Christmas Man began.
For that’s the secret of it all, isn’t it? The source of that grace and that ineffable mystery that brings a Merry Christmas to the world? Isn’t that where all our joy and virtue, and our love, begins?
O, merrily, it’s thus!
The secret of life isn’t coffee beans processed in the gut of some monkey, we can tell you that. And certainly not a ferret.
You can’t get the good stuff by having orphans hammer and brew it out in the dark reaches beneath the world.
I mean, it’s pretty good.
We are not knocking a good Frappucino.
But it’s not the thing.
To get the kind of coffee that can bring a real Merry Christmas to the world, that can fill the body with great warmth and make a person into a font of joy and virtue, and of love, you have to process the beans through the gullet of a sacrificial reindeer and a sacrificial man. You have to feed them to the flying arboreal ungulates that live in the canopy where the beans are grown, and let them process them down into the spirit of Christmas; and then somebody has to have the courage to step up and be a Merry Christmas Man, to cut the reindeer open and put on its skin and eat its meat and swallow down the coffee beans entangled in its soul.
And if they’re cruel then the world shall know a time of sorrow; for it tempts you to dark magics, oh yes it does, being a Merry Christmas Man.
But if the candidate is good enough, if they’re strong enough, if they’re cussed enough to cling to their first intention in the face of the power that a Merry Christmas Man can wield, why, then they’ll go down to Holidaytown and they’ll flay themselves on the innocent unknowing words of the Happy Holidaysers there. And their death will give back to us the beans we use in the coffee we sell here;
For just 99 cents a cup.