First published in the United States Magazine and Democratic Review, XIV (January, 1844), “The Christmas Banquet” shares its subtitle—”from the unpublished “Allegories of the Heart”—with “Egotism; or the Bosom-Serpent,” another Hawthorne story of the period.
“The Christmas Banquet” is an allegory composed by Elliston and read aloud to his wife Rosina (and an old friend) after their reunion. The allegory presents the plight of the most unfortunate of men—more unfortunate even than the man with a bosom-serpent—the man who has no human connection to his own life, the man who can feel nothing at all.
The Christmas Banquet mentioned in the title is an annual feast, funded by an old misanthrope, in which the ten most miserable people who can be found are gathered together for the holiday. Year after year, the most unfortunate ones gather—a suffer from constant depression, a victim of heart disease, a hypochondriac, a woman whose children has died when she was far from home, etc.—to vie for the banquet prize: a wreath for the most miserable one of all. Each year the guests chosen are different, but Gervaise Hastings, a man unafflicted by any obvious misfortune, is included year after year.