As a service to readers, I have posted annually since 2006 a compendium of dreary but apparently irresistible holiday cliches that any writer with a modicum of self-respect should shun. As Tom Lehrer sings in his Christmas carol, "Brother, here we go again."
The repetitions of ritual are the point. They establish continuity and reassurance through familiarity. So you can be sure that you will hear "O Come, All Ye Faithful" at the late-night service on Christmas Eve, that you will eat the same holiday dinners, that you will make the same toasts. And that is exactly as it should be.
Unfortunately, in journalism the resort to trite language appears to be understood as an honorable ritual rather than as a failure of imagination. So, for you who have ears to hear, heed the Holiday Cautions. Chestnuts roasting by an open fire are fine, but they can be kept out of copy and headlines.
“’Tis the season”: Not in copy, not in headlines, not at all. Never, never, never, never, never. You cannot make this fresh. Do not attempt it.
“’Twas the night before” anything: 'Twasing is no more defensible than ’tising. And if you must refer to the Rev. Mr. Moore's poem, if indeed he wrote it, the proper title is “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”
“Jolly old elf”: Please, no. And if you must mention Kriss Kringle, remember the double s.
Any “Christmas came early” construction is right out.
“Yes, Virginia” allusions: No.
“Grinch steals”: When someone vandalizes holiday decorations, steals a child's toys from under the tree, or otherwise dampens holiday cheer, this construction may be almost irresistible. Resist it.
Give Dickens a rest. No ghosts of anything past, present or future. Delete bah and humbug from your working vocabulary. Treat Scrooge as you would the Grinch, by ignoring him. Leave little Tiny Tim alone, too. Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?
“Turkey and all the trimmings”: If you can't define trimmings without looking up the word, you shouldn't be using it.
“White stuff” for snow: We should have higher standards of usage — and dignity — than do television weather forecasters. Also avoid the tautologies favored by these types: winter season, weather conditions, winter weather conditions, snow event and snow precipitation. And the tautologies favored in advertising: free gift, extra bonus and extra added bonus.
Old Man Winter, Jack Frost and other moldy personifications can safely be omitted. And should be.
Stocking stuffers: Stuff it.
If the spirit of ecumenism and inclusion requires mention of Hanukkah in holiday articles, these points should be kept in mind. Hanukkah is a holiday more like Independence Day than Christmas, and it is only the coincidence of the calendar dates in a gentile culture that has caused the holiday to mimic Christian and secular elements. The holidays are coincidental; they are not twins.
Ignore tiresome objections to Xmas from people who do not understand that it is an innocuous abbreviation. The Roman alphabet X in this case is understood as the Greek letter chi, also X, which is the first letter of Christos. Xmas in no way takes Christ out of Christmas; it merely abbreviates.
Pray do not ring out or ring in an old year, a new year, or anything else.
Parodies of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” are, if possible, even more tedious than the original. And typically they do not scan.*
On no account are you to publish that execrable prefabricated article on the estimated cost of the gifts in "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Whoever gets assigned to write it every year patently did something very, very bad in a previous life. If you have been guilty of publishing that thing in the past, do not compound your sin. Have you no shame?
Some readers (and, sadly, some writers) lap up this swill. It is familiar, and the complete lack of originality comforts them. It is for such people that television exists.
*If you are in any way traditional in outlook, or informed, you understand that Christmas was originally a twelve-day liturgical season, running from December 25 to the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. The modern, manufactured, saccharine, holly-jolly Christmas, which can’t even wait until the Halloween candy has been gluttonously disposed of, has essentially effaced the original. There is no point of trying to swim publicly against the current, though you are free to observe Advent privately.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun