Sometimes it takes an outsider to notice the confusion laced within a holiday message. When it comes to Christmas, the confusion is on overload. Somewhere along the way a religious message got smacked with a load of pop culture overtones to create a holiday lush with semiotic excess, too much for the brain or heart to process. So, allow me from my seat on the sidelines to create the How To guide so you can enjoy the perfect pop culture Christmas.
12. Shop early and shop often for things you’ll never need that are on sale at bargain basement prices.
Christmas really begins on Black Friday, or 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, whichever you prefer. The holiday is about buying to your heart’s content and making sure everything you and your children have ever dreamed of is stacked up under that decorated tree. The bruises and broken limbs you get in pursuit of those awesome sale prices will be well worth it. Who needs teeth when they can have stuff?
11. Cover everything in lights. The tinier and twinklier, the better.
Queen Victoria popularized illuminated trees thanks to her German hubby. After electric made big waves, the capitalists leapt on the opportunity to brighten up their stores during the holiday season. Slowly the trend spread to homeowners. Colonial-esque window candles at the Bicentennial gave way to lights strung around bushes and along rooflines, which in turn gave way to neighborhood spectaculars that make the power companies drool with delight. The louder and the more obnoxious, the better. Cause a seizure in your epileptic neighbor for bonus points.
10. Get stuck going to yet another awkward office holiday party.
Sure, you like your coworkers well enough to have a water-cooler chat. But hours of forced socialization may force you to get to know your fellow cubicle dwellers just a little too well. Especially if alcohol is involved. Still, who doesn’t want an excuse to let loose with your co-workers, maybe get to know a secret or two, or make out with that cute guy or gal you always bump into in the copy room? After all, it wouldn’t be Christmas without some awkwardly placed mistletoe and at least one regret to learn to laugh about in the new year to come.
9. Complain about your family, incessantly, while surrounding yourself with them out of sheer guilt and obligation.
Complaining about family obligations is the hallmark of the holiday season. There’s the crisis of deciding whose house to go to and when, what in-laws to avoid and who is going to give the crappiest present. Old grudges flair up during this most maudlin time of year as you’re forced to sit across the dinner table from the one relative who invariably screws you over time and time again. And let’s not forget the Cousin Eddies you want to avoid altogether. In the end someone’s going to be offended, so you’re better off just airing your grievances out in the open and offending everyone equally. Call it the gift that keeps on giving.
8. Stick flora and fauna everywhere, including your living room.
Ralphie Parker’s dad got a real steal by today’s standards. In 2011, the average cost of a Christmas tree was $46 ($78 for a fake one). And it seems that the bigger your tree is, the more you’re required to whine about global warming and deforestation come springtime. Nothing beats watching the landscapers morph into Christmas decorators in Texas. It was a perfectly logical choice, given their easy access to chainsaws and all forms of lawn tools. Their cost? An average of $1500 per house, lights included. Who knew purely pagan traditions could be so pricey?
7. Force the general population to listen to the same 10 holiday songs on commercial-free radio, beginning November 1 and playing through January 5.
One of my old bosses would play the “All Christmas, all the time” radio station the entire season. I knew the rotation and made it a habit of imitating a drunk Dean Martin sloshing about my desk and hitting on the fax machine like it was some hot Playboy bunny just to keep myself entertained. Listening to that much holiday music taught me that Jewish songwriters and performers really did craft Christmas into an all-American, nifty-fifties explosion of goodwill on earth. It also taught me that there were some terrible, horrible, strangely bizarre Christmas songs that must have been written by drunks dropping acid. There are many Christmas traditions that, as a Jew, I just don’t understand. Italian donkeys are one of them.
6. Get a laugh from your boss when you ask, “Where’s my holiday bonus?”
Christmas used to be the one time of year to celebrate a bonus from work. I’m pretty sure that tradition died in the ’90s, a victim of the PC culture war as much as the recession. Today, most folks celebrate the holidays by just being grateful that they have a job. Still, more celebrate by taking on seasonal jobs at retailers that keep hideous hours, including the required Black Friday midnight openings, not to be out-done by Thanksgiving Day at 6 p.m. shopping blowouts.
5. Load your DVR with VERY SPECIAL holiday episodes of all of your favorite shows.
Everything important used to happen during the “very special holiday episode” of your favorite show. Some holiday episodes were so special that your favorite movie stars deigned to guest star. Now you could pick any other episode, CGI Santa hats onto your favorite characters, and you’d have what flies for a Christmas show today. And that’s only if they air any new episodes after November sweeps. Thankfully, Britain still embraces the Christmas special for all its worth, holiday spirit, important plot points, dramatic conclusions and all.
4. Force your children to bow to the power of strange men in costumes they’d never be allowed to speak to at any other time of the year.
Again, chalk it up to “Christmas traditions a Jew will never understand.” With all the “stranger danger” out there, and the twisted stereotype that all old men are obviously child molesters in disguise, why do you put your child through this hell?
3. Fuel meaningless cable news culture wars.
I get it. You don’t like being wished a “Happy Holiday.” But, just because wishing me a “Merry Christmas” is completely irrelevant to me doesn’t mean I’m anti-Christmas. It just means I don’t celebrate your holiday. Now that cable news has Ferguson to drool over, perhaps we can all back off and enjoy our winter celebrations without having to turn every single wish for good cheer into a covert operation to take down enshrined cultural traditions.
2. All while making sure your kids know the real meaning of the holiday season is “It’s good to want…”
I’m pretty sure this holiday, for as many pagan roots as it has, is supposed to be about an Israeli kid. But even when you sing about that Israeli kid, it’s in terms of giving him gifts. Kids in general are taught to make good choices from Thanksgiving until December 25, lest a big fat dude named Santa, or his creepy undercover lackey, Mr. Elf on a Shelf, catch them in the act of being naughty. Because the only reason to ever do good is to be rewarded with stuff and lots of it. (Even the creepy Elf gets rewarded with stuff!) And the only time to be good is from Black Friday until Christmas Day. After that, you can go back to being a punk.
1. …By being sure to outshine any presence of God with your own vain humanistic trappings at all opportunities.
Back in October, I wrote a rather controversial article on why Jews and Christians should re-think celebrating Halloween. One reader wrote:
“There are definite reasons why Jews and Christians who base their faith in the Bible should re-think introducing and encouraging their child’s participation in this, the most pagan of American holidays.”
Interesting. Halloween is bad because its pagan. But I bet Susan Goldberg has no problem with Christmas or Easter, huh?
To which I replied:
If you are insinuating that Christmas and Easter follow the same line of Church re-appropriation of pagan holidays, then you are correct. As to whether or not I have a problem with Christmas or Easter, I’m obviously not the Jew whose opinion you should be worried about.
Which brings me back to that Israeli kid you guys are supposed to be gaga over. The one thing every pop culture tradition has in common is the goal to create as much separation between you and him as possible.
I’ve given you the how, but I have yet to figure out why it is you celebrate Christmas. And I don’t know that you’ve figured it out, either. But hey, rock around that tree to your heart’s content – just make sure you don’t crush any boxes and the Elf isn’t watching.