It’s Better to Give Than to Receive the Thought That Counts


“I’ll have a blue ‘Christmas’…without you.”

It’s that time of year again. Lights. Snow. Goodwill and cheer. Also extended holiday hours, crowds, pushing, shoving, elbows to the crotch, and egg nog. If you’re lucky — and you’re probably not — maybe a cookie or two. Chocolate chip. No nuts. More shopping, more crowds, anger, pain, fear, aggression, getting robbed in the parking lot. Gift anxiety. Credit card debt. Social revulsion. Tree-trimming. Jimmy Stewart. Martha Stewart. Fruitcakes.

Through it all you feel like an impostor, like some wind-up automaton lurching through life as though directed by some ancient, unknowable programming, a kind of cuneiform C++ of glitchy cultural custom that you don’t accept but dare not question. This is the time of year when elves wish they were dentists and dentists wish they were dead, but fret not, fellow lurkers in the tenebrous alleys just off Mainstream, USA, for I have fashioned this rudimentary lathe missive for your perusal, which will help alleviate the nagging holiday desire to set everyone you’ve ever known, met, hoped to meet, regretted meeting, or passed in the street, on fucking fire. If you hold the holidays in as much disdain as I do, remember; you are not alone.

First You Say It…

Chances are you’ll hear one or more of the following platitudes over the course of the holidays, uttered by some well-meaning twit to whom you’re probably related and, as such, cannot smack with a flaming yule log repeatedly and viciously about the neck and head area without inviting incarceration for domestic turpitude. If you’re like me, and your grip on Blessed Sanity is tenuous even under less festive conditions, you’ll die inside a thousand times between now and New Year’s Day whenever one of these spiky rods of banality assaults your tender ear canals.

“It’s the thought that counts.” — Yeah, you know what? It’s not. Seriously. It’s the gift. Imagine yourself and your loved ones gathered around the Christmas tree this year, sipping spiced wine, popping Xanax, and exchanging thoughts. Sounds like the premise of an Ira Levin novel:

“From the author of Rose Marie’s Baby and A Kiss Before Drying comes a terrifying yuletide tale of submission and clairvoyance in suburbia. Look for A Very Stepford Christmas in bookstores this winter, from Rammed ‘Em House.”

If anyone has ever tried to mollify your gift-giving anxiety with the words “it’s the thought that counts,” feel free to officially consider yourself a Shitgifter. Be ashamed. Be very ashamed.

“Jesus is the reason for the season.” — You’ll probably see this on a bumper sticker instead of hearing it spoken aloud, but it’s all the same when it comes to Christmas idiocy. The first thing about this that bugs the sweet and figgy fuck out of me is that it rhymes. People who think that a load of crap is more credible just because it’s mildly poetic need to examine their premises a little more closely, so that their own method of propagandizing can’t be used against them:

Jesus gives the meaning to the screaming


Jesus is the reason for the squeezin’

are two that come immediately to mind which are no more true for their rhyming than the “reason for the season” bullshit, but if you repeat a lie often enough…well, you know.

The second thing that annoys me about this saying is that it is simply, demonstrably, and patently untrue. If the people who plaster this blistering inanity on their cars knew anything about anything at all, and if they gave half a flaming cūlus about the truth, you and I would be spared the obnoxious spectacle of reading such sanctimonious ramblings masquerading as spiritual wisdom while waiting for a red light to change.

Note that you never see such insecure proselytizing from other religions. (“יהודה המכבי is the סיבה for the חֲנֻכָּה!”)

“It’s a Christmas Miracle!” — In which “miracle” is defined as any fortuitous arrangement of events which occur without cause and against apparently astronomical odds. Not to be confused with a Holiday Buggering, which is when the universe (or your equivalent celestial dispenser of random acts of misery and/or goodwill) comes down on you like a bag of shit and hammers. Absolutely nothing goes right, and it’s just one damned not-going-right thing after another, and the most coherent thought you can muster for about a week (the length of the standard Holiday Buggering, though your mileage may suck) is “how many of these blankety-blank fucktards can I take down before the cops get here??” If this happens, please, for all that is calm and bright, seek help.

"And I'd be better off dead, than to be on AfterMASH!"

“I’d be better off dead, than to be in AfterMASH!

…Then You Do It

You’re also likely to run into some of the following social directives from the Citizens’ Unified Noël Training Service. These ironclad rules gentle guidelines are designed to ensure that a Service-sanctioned and properly delineated Fun Time is had by everyone, especially people whose only desire is to be left the hell alone. From their handbook on how to make a giant fucking Christmas nuisance of yourself:

“Bring a plate of cookies to a grumpy neighbor!” — Aside from being deliciously presumptuous, what better way can you think of to break the ice with a cantankerous lout than to bring him a plate of sugary niceness? Everybody likes cookies, right? (Everyone except maybe type 1 diabetics, who, for one thing, are known to get rather crabby from time to time, and who might also die if they don’t regulate their sugar intake. No matter, though, as long as you feel good about yourself.)

While it’s true that nothing says “I’m better than you!” quite like being friendly to an asshole, the problem is that assholes are used to this approach; they see right through this kind of sanctimonious, passive-aggressive manipulation and are as likely to kill you with a hand axe as they are to break down into some sappy soliloquy about the error of their ways and the size of their new-found heart on Christmas Eve. I’ve got a better idea; don’t bring a plate of cookies to a grumpy neighbor — instead, eat the cookies yourself and give him the finger from the kitchen window. “Fuck you, Mr. Grumpy Neighbor Man, I have cookies!”

“Say ‘Merry Christmas’ to everyone you meet.” — This is a great idea, if you happen to live in either A) Whitebread, Iowa, where homogeny isn’t just for breakfast anymore, or B) 1953, when people of non-Christian religious affiliations knew their goddamn place. Nothing (I mean nothing) spoils Christmas faster than somebody who thinks different thoughts than you do. This is a free country; everyone who doesn’t love Baby Jesus on His birthday should just get the heck out and stop bringing the party down for the rest of us.

“Put glitter in the envelope when you write your Christmas cards.” — Let me just get this out of the way right now; if I have to clean up after your fucking Christmas card, I will hunt you down, and kick your ass. Then you and several inches of your anatomy will know what it feels like to be a mailbox.

“Attend a holiday parade in a small town.” — Having just experienced the effects of a small-town holiday parade on commerce, traffic, and my blood pressure, I’d like to float a counteroffer to the holiday parade suggestion, and give my respectful declination. Parades might have been a valid, though still pathetic, form of entertainment 100 years ago, but today they’re nothing more than wasteful, self-aggrandizing displays of jingoism, child exploitation, and papier maché. The very concept of the parade fills me with a kind of prosaic dread, as I can think of nothing more mind-meltingly insipid than a hundred people dressing up in whatever celebratory raiment catches their fancy, or in accordance with the strict uniform code of the paramilitary organization of their choosing, or worst of all, like a clown, and then proceeding to walk…down…the street.

The only thing more repulsive than a grown man who enjoys dressing like Clarabell (and if that isn’t the scariest thing you’ve ever seen, you’ve lived a tortured life indeed), cavorting down the thoroughfare and throwing candy at children, is the voyeuristic douchewagon who enjoys standing on the sidewalk and watching him do it. Take your hands out of your pockets, dry your upper lip, and go the fuck home, Creepshow. Both of you.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

And of course it wouldn’t be Christmas without a couple of sappy old standards on the radio to lift your spirit, brighten your day, and make you wish you were dead deaf home again. Make you wish you were home again. Yeah.

“O Come, All Ye Faithful” — I’ve heard this song every year since I was a kid, and I must confess that I haven’t the slightest idea what the fuck it’s about. Apparently the lyrics are written in English, but any song that contains the word “come” seven times in such quick succession cannot possibly be about Christmas:

“O Come All Ye Faithful
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.

Come and behold Him,
Born the King of Angels;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him…”

Bing Crosby released a single of this song in 1936, which also appeared on Decca’s Merry Christmas album in 1945. Bing was a baritone, which made his voice perfect for songs like this and other yuletide wrist-slitters, but personally, I think he just liked to say “come.” He also did “White Christmas” and a disturbingly surreal duet of “Little Drummer Boy” with David Bowie. No subtext there at all. None. Nossir. (Bing died shortly after that video was recorded. Apparently he saw it.)

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” — This was written for Meet Me in St. Louis, with Judy Garland, Tom Drake, and a bunch of other people. What almost nobody realizes is that the condescending lyrics we all know aren’t the original lyrics that were written for the film. Those were scrapped at the request of Garland, Drake, and director Vincente Minnelli because they were considered too “dark:” (And no, I’m not making this up.)

“Have yourself a merry little Christmas
It may be your last
Next year we may all be living in the past
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Pop that champagne cork
Next year we may all be living in New York
No good times like the olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who were dear to us
Will be near to us no more
But at least we all will be together
If the Lord allows
From now on, we’ll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now…”

Dark? Dark my ass, it’s perfect. Okay, sure, the song was supposed to be sung by the lead character (Garland) in an effort to cheer up her despondent little sister, but still, they could have at least left in the line about the champagne cork. Instead we got an exhortation to “let your heart be light” and “make the yule-tide gay.” Regardless of who sings it, you can tell that the subjects of this lyrical circle-jerk are just barely holding things together, modified lyrics notwithstanding. There’s a kind of quiet, dignified acceptance in the original song, while the modified lyrics demonstrate an alarming will to self-deception. In other words, it’s the perfect Christmas song.

Yeah, we all know it’s the most wonderful time, yadda yadda yadda. We know that there will be holiday greetings and gay happy meetings and friends coming to call and all that, but when the bustle gets so stressful that your five-year life-plan is in danger of becoming a 25-to-life plan, when perdition’s flames flicker long and bright and far too inviting, take a breath, take a break, and remember; nothing about this time of year, whether a gift or a parking space or the last table at the food court, is worth dying for. (Or, I suppose, killing for.)

Except maybe this. I’d kill for this.


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