There's an inherent dishonesty in the agonizing stretch of time we Americans call "the holidays." It starts with Thanksgiving, a day requiring enough emotional suppression to keep every therapist in the nation employed for life. The observance involves gathering a group of people who'd be unlikely to gather otherwise and gorging to the point of deep regret. This annual forcing of food down our gullets is somehow intended to express thankfulness. It is, of course, a holiday based on a lie. The pilgrims were illegal immigrants, and I'm fairly certain that not all of the natives were delighted to greet them with gifts of corn, blankets, and string bean casseroles topped with fried onions. Nevertheless, against all reason, year after year after year, we gather.
And from then on, it's a prolonged, desperate attempt at self-delusion in the form of twinkling, jingling, tinsel-choked, forced merriment. If you're in a city that's any larger than Pella, Iowa, you can expect an absolute onslaught. It's loud, it's jingly, it's crowded, it's fake, and it's pervasive. Few of us actually enjoy the season to be jolly. So why do we do this to ourselves? That I can tell you in one word: tradition.
But these winter holidays have morphed so many times over, the truth is that no one knows what we're celebrating anymore. Winter solstice? It's a sparsely observed pagan ritual; do you know anyone who celebrates it? Christmas (a word that's literally a shortened form of "Christ's mass") is suffering from acute calendar confusion since Jesus was born in September, not on December 25th. And the Jewish one that no one even knows how to spell? Chanukka . . . Hannukah . . . Juanita . . . whatever . . . is a minor Jewish holiday that's been pressed into service as a Jewish alternative to Christmas, which is strange since Christmas is already Jewish, as it honors the birth of a 100% Jewish person who some believe to be the Messiah (a Hebrew word for a 100% Jewish concept, from the 100% Jewish scriptures). Of course, as previously noted, the Jewish holiday of Christmas is on the wrong day anyway. Oy vey. And then there's Kwanzaa. That one's only been around since 1966, and the Curmudgeon only knows that because I looked it up. Most people haven't got a clue what that holiday's about. Feel free to visit the official website, where the design quality and the request for donations may give some hint as to the sprawling popularity of this annual celebration of African culture.
As for Santa Claus, he may be the most confusing ingredient in this celebration soup. He allegedly represents Christmas, but has nothing to do with Christ (the Jewish guy we celebrate on the wrong day). He also, suspiciously, goes by several different names: Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, Père Noël, Saint Nick, Saint Nicholas. The only people with that many aliases are spies, embezzlers, schizophrenics, and people on their fifth time through the witness protection program. Santa (if indeed that is his real name) has also held several jobs. He was originally a bishop, then a Dutch sailor, then a jolly old elf; in the 30s he sold Coca-Cola, then he worked at Macy's for a while. I believe he's currently unemployed. Once a year, he parks his sled on everyone's roof, comes down the chimney, and leaves gifts—whether or not there's a chimney, or a roof (leaving many apartment dwellers with central heating wondering how he got in). And he's not even consistent. Sometimes the presents go in stockings, sometimes under a Christmas tree (the iconic Middle Eastern Pine of course), and there's some vague threat of coal in lieu of gifts for bad children. In one version, he tosses coins through your window. I don't know about you, but I keep mine shut in the winter. He can keep the damn coins; I'd rather stay warm.
Meanwhile, for some reason, we've fully embraced the traditions of holly, mistletoe, snow on the rooftops, sleigh bells, icicles, and Jack Frost nipping at your nose, none of which evoke ancient Israel, the African harvest, the Earth's trip around the sun, or Dutch sailors. And what the devil is a wassail?
And now, on top of all this, there's a flap about wishing someone the wrong happy holiday. The joy never ends, does it?
Since we seem to be trying to create winter holidays to suit all beliefs, perhaps we ought to include one that's dedicated to the patron saint of all curmudgeons, Ebenezer Scrooge. At least he wasn't pretending to be merry . . . well, until the end . . . when he got confused by a weird dream and got all Christmassy. Oh . . . damn. There go my plans for Scroogemas.
Anyway, by way of a little Christmas bonus, I'm sharing this spot-on (and satisfyingly snarky) article I found. But if you were expecting my Christmas message to end with warm wishes for a holiday season . . . you can jolly well forget it.