As Matt pointed out, when you purchase Sufjan Steven’s box set, Songs for Christmas, you get a few additional goodies. One of the extras is a 23 panel Tom Eaton comic strip titled, It Was the Worst Christmas Ever. Under the title Eaton has drawn a malicious-looking fairy, who we learn is the Evil Sister Winter.
Our story begins as Evil Sister Winter is spotted flying over Santa’s Headquarters on wings of icicles. Her spell throws Santa’s chemical balance into disarray! He now wallows in self-pity and winter funk. Is Christmas ruined?!
It’s a quirky tale, appropriate for this collection of tunes. You can rest easy; Christmas is saved, though not by Sufjan who makes his appearance in the 7th panel. No, deliverance comes from an unexpected source, one that will not be revealed here.
More interesting than how Santa is rescued from his funk is the source of his ill temper: Sister Winter. The evil fairy is also the title of one of the most striking and original songs on the fifth volume, Peace! Some of the tunes in this collection are hymn-like, others playful romps through the Michigan snow. Sister Winter is a Christmas confession.
Oh my friends, I’ve begun to worry right where I should be grateful. I should be satisfied. Oh my heart I would clap and dance in place, with my friends. I have so much pleasure to embrace. But my heart is returned to Sister Winter. But my heart is as cold as ice.
As a theme, confession does not get much play this time of year. Expectation and hope? Sure. Stress and regret? Yes, if we’re honest. But the idea rings true as the songwriter reveals more of the story.
Oh my thoughts, I return to summertime. When I kissed your ankle, I kissed you through the night. All my gifts, I gave everything to you. Your strange imagination, you threw it all away. Now my heart is returned to Sister Winter. Now my heart is as cold as ice.
We understand now how Sister Winter has turned this heart to ice. What better time of the year than Christmas to be reminded of lost and spurned love? It seems every billboard, commercial, and greeting card tells a story of love and companionship. Is there a more poignant metaphor for loneliness than being alone on Christmas? I doubt anyone would fault Stevens if he ended the song here, but there is more to come.
All my friends, I’ve returned to Sister Winter. All my friends, I apologize, apologize And my friends, I’ve returned to wish you all the best. And my friends, I’ve returned to wish you a Happy Christmas. To wish you a Happy Christmas.
It is an apology from a broken-hearted man who has turned in on himself, away from his friends. As we listen, we know how hard this is. Such repentance- turning away from frozen isolation towards the friends who never left- is nothing short of a Christmas miracle. And while Sister Winter will likely return one day, perhaps it is enough for now to look at our friends and wish them a Happy Christmas
“Sister Winter” by Sufjan Stevens