Saturday, December 13, 2008

Holiday Catalog Madness: or, Attack of the Jule Nisse

My boyfriend made the mistake of buying something from Williams-Sonoma. Once. 18 years ago. The catalog still comes, and the Christmas catalog is the best.

Growing up in north Florida (or LA as we jokingly referred to it - as in, Lower Alabama) our only views of the outside world came through HBO (when my parents finally broke down and got it circa 1981), the New Yorker, and catalogs. Stacks and stacks of catalogs.

My mother got everything from Miles Kimball and the Sharper Image, to its competitor Hammacher-Schlemmer. We also got LL Bean, Sears, JC Penney, the Horchow Collection, American Dolls (which was enough to give anyone with eyes a nightmare), Childcraft (way past childhood), and any number of other catalogs I've since forgotten.

A pass-time around the house was for friends to visit, to have coffee, and sit and talk about the world while flipping through catalogs and making fun (or secretly coveting) whatever was in them. In that light, I bring you the 'Nisse' mug collection from the holiday catalog of Williams-Sonoma (pictured above):

(actual catalog copy)
In the regions of the far north, mythical elves are famous for spreading good luck during the holiday season. We collaborated with Norwegian artist Svein Solem in creating these mugs from his popular renderings of nisse, as gnomes are known in Norway. Each mug is different, together telling the tale of an industrious elf who builds a snowman and decorates it with classic kitchen wares – a copper pot, wooden spoons and a kitchen towel. Use the companion mugs for all sorts of warming beverages, especially hot chocolate. 16-oz. cap., 4 1/4" high. Sets of four, one of each design. A Williams-Sonoma exclusive.

My favorite adaptation of W-S is that the snowmen are decorated with self-referential W-S cookware. Now imagine if Target or Kmart produces their own line of decorative mugs? It suddenly slides from class to crass. Or maybe it's all what my brother Brian calls 'crapitalism.' I mean, do we really need cook-ware hawking Nisse mugs? Or $78 coconut cake, or $16 hand-made marshmallows? No, but then what would I make fun of in our apartment while trying to figure out Christmas dinner and what to get my relatives this year?

While the auto industry begs for $15 billion dollars, and the country lurches toward a depression, all that keeps my spirits bright is making fun of things I've never been able to afford, and will never buy when I'm able. I am making cheese/sausage balls, and my mother's Danish recipe for peppernutter. That's my scandinavian contribution to the holiday. Maybe I'll decorate the cookies with images of our industrial loft-space surrounded by the homeless and the missions trying to save them. Now that's something you won't see in any catalogs.