“‘Happy Holidays’: Bah, Humbug!” by Tom Jemielity

Dec 18th, 2011 | By | Category: Nonfiction, Prose

Pity poor Ebenezer Scrooge.  Throwing open his window that nippy December morning, he’s so culturally insensitive as to wish everyone a merry Christmas (Pardon my language!).  Had he only known how to celebrate the seasonal festivities in a more thoughtful, less offensive way, he could have shouted  “Happy Holidays” at all he met.  Scrooge, alas, forgot that lots of people out there are not Christians, don’t know what a Christian is, don’t take being a Christian seriously, regard themselves only as nominal Christians, hate Christians, or have vague ideas at best that something Christian is somehow or other connected with December 25th.  That’s a big audience ready to be offended.  Be very careful.

The key to a culturally sensitive end-of-the-year holiday celebration is to make sure– whatever the religious and cultural basis for calling these joyous times Christmas–that nothing remotely religious is associated with this time.  Hence, the genius of “Happy Holidays!”  Lenin couldn’t have come up with a more innocuous term.

Fortunately, for those seeking to demonstrate their highly refined  thoughtfulness, the recently published Emasculated Language for Dummies offers help.  The author, Russian emigre Vladimir Snipitov, worked for years on his father’s Soviet collective farm as a castrator of pigs (Russian winters can be very severe.).  Turning his attention to language, Snipitov convincingly argued that the key to inoffensive diction is, essentially, castration.  Words are to be vague, amorphous, gender non-specific.  The result is a cuddly, harmless word hoard as cozy as lying in dozens of Hallmark cards.  As he points out successfully, politically correct language destroys specificity and gender.  Sex, of course, is no longer a preferred word.  Hence, postalperson, policeperson, congressperson, busperson, and the like.  The more cumbersome and arrhythmical the word, the more desirably correct it is.  Someday, he posits that even police lineups will be genderless, although a sceptic might wonder at its usefulness when victims are asked to identify flashers.  But quotas must be preserved.  Hence, “Happy Holidays” is perfect since no specific holiday is implied.  Snipitov hopes that other potentially offensive holidays will be reduced to vague substitution.  Why, for example, celebrate Memorial Day, originally instituted to celebrate fallen Confederate soldiers?  Independence Day, for a second, is hardly going to please American Indians, oops! Native Americans.  Why not Liberation for Some Day?

Although retailers have initiated praiseworthy substitutes, they still speak of After Christmas sales.  Why not Gift Exchange Day, beginning a long interval of bargain hunting and present returning?  A Boxing Day Sale won’t do.  Not only is that term limited to Britain, but some of the easily offended inaccurately but understandably associate such a term with violence.  For Hispanics the once-styled Feast of the Three Kings definitely needs to be abandoned.  The Wise Persons from the East (Orient is insensitive.) would serve as a welcome alternative.  “We Three Wise from Asia Are” could become a new tune for the holiday season.

Here we encounter one major problem in ridding the December holidays of any religious reference.  Retailers far too often pipe into their stores music that has inescapably religious associations. Christmas carols–both words are offensive–should become Holiday tunes.  Take one shudderingly indiscreet carol, “Come Thou Long Awaited Savior.” Savior indeed!  How about an adaptation that harmlessly celebrates pregnancy:

           Come thou long awaited baby,
           Come and set your mother free
           From the extra thirty pounds that
           She’s put on in pregnancy.

           See the drooping of your mother,
           See her bending oh! so low,
           That her feet are still beneath her,
           Only hope can tell her so.

Gone are the outlandish references to salvation, redemption, sinfulness and all that other religious folderol. The possibilities are limitless.  For those who look forward to a hearty meal on December 25th, there’s “O Come All Ye Stuffed Full.”  Anticipating extended periods of snow?  There’s “I’m Dreaming of a White Winter.”  The tune could be very popular, except in the Dakotas and northern Indiana where winters are very gray.  For those locations something on the order of “It Came Upon the Midnight Drear” would be perfect (except for the suicidally inclined).  Skip any geographical reference with religious overtones, like Bethlehem.  Instead, celebrate your own community.  The charm of “O Little Town of Hackensack” would be infectious.  Remember too the association of the holidays with sex.  “Viagra, It Has Raised Mine High” could be sung during holiday foreplay.

Don’t scant the gay market.  There’s money to be made there as demonstrated by the overwhelming success of “I’ve Grown Accustomed to His Butt, / It Always Makes My Day Begin” (from “My Fair Laddie”).  Some carols, indeed, need virtually no re-doing.  In “Deck the Halls With Boughs of Holly” a line like “Don we now our gay apparel” can inspire hand-in-hand gay tunesters  as they stroll North Clark in Chicago or cruise the bars of San Francisco, perhaps in red and green drag.  Show off your language talents as well.  Do you know French?  How about “Allons, Gais Bergeres” (Come Along, Gay Shepherds”).  We all know what shepherds do to while away the time.  “Brokeback” moments aren’t limited to cowboys.  Shepherds, remember, often herd rams, whose same-sex proclivities any Indiana farm boy can attest to.

Don’t overlook the damage done to a culturally sensitive holiday season by classical favorites.  That unspeakably titled oratorio by George Frederick Handel comes to mind.  We now know that Handel got his libretto from a man who dealt with a butcher who got his candles from a merchant who frequented  a paper merchant who sold his wares to a bookseller one of whose customers was an aristocrat whose footman made anti-Semitic remarks.  Such an indisputable chain of evidence convincingly establishes Handel’s anti-Jewish bias.  It’s best here to overlook Handel’s other oratorios that feature well known Jewish heroes.  There’s no sense being intimidated by facts.  Your refusal to tolerate this embarrassingly named oratorio will firmly ground your reputation as a zealot unwilling to accept the slightest hint of racial hatred.  Of course, you’d be very well advised to overlook any mention of Jewish religious practices.  That could remind people of Hanukkah, a religious reference!

Looking for something classical?  Try the newly rediscovered  J. S. Bach cantata  “Wack It Off” (No. 140.5).   Wildly successful at its premiere in an underground Leipzig strip club, the work  provided the composer with several somewhat ambiguous invitations from female and male members of the Thomaskirche choir (much to the annoyance of Mrs. Bach).  This cantata can considerably enhance the sexual festivities of the holiday season.

With care and attentiveness, your December festivities will prove not only inoffensive but profitable as well.  With Tiny Tim (in the newly titled A Holiday Tune) you can enthusiastically express your wish “The Fates Be Kind to Us Everyone.”  Ebenezer Scrooge, of course, might still be inclined to counter, “Happy Holidays!  Bah, humbug! Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas to all!”


After retiring in 2003 from the English faculty at Notre Dame, Tom Jemielity’s comic essays and short stories have appeared in Rosebud (twice), The Best of Foliate Oak Online, The Macguffin, the Cynic Online Magazine (three times), The Foliate Oak Literary Magazine (online), and The New York Observer.  His less than reverent approach to hymns and carols was greatly influenced by Walt Kelly’s 1950’s cartoon strip Pogo, where Kelly’s fans were treated to such seasonal delights as Deck Us All with Boston Charlie and Good King Sauerkraut Looked Out on His Feet Uneven.

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