O’Hara is an acclaimed master of the short-story genre. His numerous stories of the 1930’s and 1940’s were, as a rule, very short. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, pieces he wrote became longer and less numerous (he did, however, still average more than one short story per month during the last ten years of his life). “Christmas Poem” is one of the later, longer stories. It was first published on December 19, 1964, in The New Yorker.
Billy Warden has just arrived home from Dartmouth College for the Christmas vacation. The setting is Gibbsville, Pennsylvania, during some period earlier than the time of publication. No dates are given, but one character drives a new Marmon (not a Dort, his girlfriend insists), Billy orders a lemon phosphate at the drugstore soda fountain, and there is a discussion of getting a couple of pints of whiskey on credit, a suggestion of the Prohibition era. The Stage Coach Inn, featured so prominently in Appointment in Samarra, is mentioned in passing, though now spelled “Stagecoach.”
For the first six pages, the story is almost exclusively dialogue as the Warden family chats at the dinner table. Clearly, Billy is loved and valued by his parents and his older sister, Barbara (Bobby). For the period between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, he has been invited for skiing and a house party at Montrose, Pennsylvania, above Scranton. The hostess will be Henrietta (Henny) Cooper, who comes from a...
(The entire section is 564 words.)