Merry Holiday

Posted: Dec 11, 2003 12:00 AM


Washington, DC -- The U.S. Capitol Holiday Tree is scheduled to arrive at the West Front of the Capitol along First Street, NW, at approximately 10 a.m. on Monday, December 1." -- Congressional press release

The recent arrival of the U.S. Capitol Holiday Tree, heralded in the above press release, marked the beginning of our celebration of the annual late-December holiday that is increasingly referred to as "Holiday."

The Holiday-tree tradition is long-standing. It dates back to Germany in the 16th century, a dark age when the remote control had not been invented and the Holiday Bowl wasn't even played yet. The evergreens were meant to symbolize the Paradise Tree in the Garden of Eden, and it was a religious extremist named Martin Luther who first had the idea of decorating them with lights. In England, meanwhile, people began giving Holiday gifts to one another in remembrance of a story involving Three Wise Men.

All of this started a several-centuries-long period when Holiday was closely associated with the birth of an obscure Middle Eastern religious figure whose name now escapes me, although it would probably show up in a Google search.

But the triumph of such potential offensiveness was only temporary, and soon a reaction against it began, initially led by store clerks ordered to refer to the annual late-December holiday only as "Holiday." By the late 20th century, Holiday had evolved into something close to its current version, in which no religious affiliations, symbols or meanings are allowed to interfere with the enjoyment of the Holiday Spirit.

Today, Americans engage in a frenzy of Holiday shopping that reaches a crescendo as Holiday Day approaches, when Holiday presents are exchanged. Homes are decorated with Holiday lights, Holiday wreaths are placed on doors, and Holiday trees are sometimes affixed at the top with a Star of Bethlehem, a small town in Israel at latitude 31.42N and longitude 35.12E.

Holiday has spawned a cottage industry of entertainment. An old favorite is Charles Dickens' story, "A Holiday Carol," a harrowing tale of the consequences of not abiding by Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules regarding overtime and other workplace conditions. Major TV classics include "Charlie Brown's Holiday" and "The Grinch Who Stole Holiday," while lucky TV viewers might stumble on "A Very Brady Holiday." The movie "It's a Wonderful Life" is shown on nearly a continuous loop, featuring the story of how George Bailey manages to enjoy his Holiday, despite financial problems.

Outside, roving bands of singers sometimes go from house to house singing Holiday carols, including "The 12 Days of Holiday" and "We Wish You a Merry Holiday." Other popular Holiday songs are "Rockin' Around the Holiday Tree," "I'll Be Home for Holiday" and "All I Want for Holiday is My Two Front Teeth." For the lighthearted, there's always that mischievous ditty that packs a serious message about the nation's need for affordable prescription drugs: "Grandma got run over by a reindeer/Walking home from our house Holiday eve."

Workers try not to embarrass themselves at Holiday parties, kicking off a season of overconsumption with the drinking of inappropriate amounts of alcohol and the wearing of tacky Holiday apparel, like reindeer antlers and flashing ties. Throughout the land, people give their enemies super-hardened Holiday fruitcakes, and fatten themselves on that product of the unholy alliance of the dairy, liquor, and nutmeg industries, eggnog. Holiday cookies abound, sometimes in the shape of mysterious winged creatures, in what might be a reference to Victoria's Secret models.

But for all the changes that have made Holiday what it is today, some things never change. On Holiday eve, not a creature will be stirring, no, not even a mouse. Until the night is rent with that joyous call from "The Senior with Weight Issues Formally Known as Saint Nick": "To all a Merry Holiday, and to all a good night ..."