I am trying to get ahead of the nonsense by publishing the annual holiday proscriptions. Read and heed.
Repetitions of ritual 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 dishes, that you will make the same toasts as in every holiday dinner past, and in January you will make the same resolutions that will have been abandoned before Presidents Day. 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 to recognize the hopelessly hackneyed. So, for you who have ears to hear, the Holiday Cautions. Chestnuts roasting by an open fire are fine, but they can be kept out of copy and headlines by the vigilant.
“ ’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, its 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 could, and should, display 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. While you are at it, the pleonasms favored in advertising: free gift, extra bonus and extra added bonus. You should shy away from any language you encounter in advertising copy: spooktacular, for one, or gobble up the savings.
Old Man Winter, Jack Frost and other moldy personifications can safely be omitted. Omit them.
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.
Also, ignore tiresome objections to Xmas from people who do not understand that it is an innocuous abbreviation. The Roman 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. Neither does the expression Happy holidays constitute a “war on Christmas.” Stay noncombatant.
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 sense of decency, at long last?
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 advertising copy is written. There you will find ’tis the seasons in abundance, and you will now understand them to be a mark of intellectual and imaginative impoverishment.