Henry Furhmann at the Los Angeles Times has beaten me to the punch this year with advice against the holiday cliches that any writer with a modicum of self-respect will shun. But I think I am still catching you in advance of the first ’Tis the season, so once more with the holiday cautions.
Repetition is the point of ritual. Ritual achieves continuity and reassurance through the familiarity of its patterns. You can be sure that you will hear “O Come, All Ye Faithful” at the late service on Christmas Eve, that you will eat the same food at family holiday dinners, that you will make the same toasts at New Year’s. That is as it should be.
Unfortunately, in journalism the resort to trite language is celebrated as an honorable ritual rather than a failure of imagination, producing boredom instead of comfort and reassurance. Ye who have ears to hear, heed. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire are a treat; chestnuts in headlines and copy are not.
’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 …: ’Twasing is no more defensible than ’tising. If you must refer to the poem attributed to Rev. Mr. Moore (and I advise against it), its proper title is “A Visit From St. Nicholas.”
Jolly old elf: Please refrain. And if you must refer to Kriss Kringle (again, against advice), remember the double s.
Christmas came early: Actually, it doesn’t. Any such construction is right out.
Yes, Virginia: No.
Grinch: When people vandalize holiday decorations, steal children’s toys from under the tree, or otherwise dampen holiday cheer, referring to the Grinch may seem irresistible. Resist.
Charles Dickens: As with the Grinch, so with Scrooge. No ghosts of anything past, present, or future. Delete bah and humbug from your working vocabulary. Leave Tiny Tim out of it altogether. Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?
Turkey and all the trimmings: If you can’t define trimmings without looking the word up, don’t use it.
Fixins’: Fixins’? Are you planning to have your holiday family dinner at Cracker Barrel? Rube language is best left to authentic rubes.
White stuff: You should have higher standards, and more dignity, than television weather forecasters. Snow suffices in all contexts. If you please, shun the tautologies these types wallow in: winter season, weather conditions, winter weather conditions, snow event, and snow precipitation. While you’re at it, the tautologies favored in advertising copy: free gift, extra bonus, extra added bonus.
Old Man Winter, Jack Frost, Mother Nature: Perhaps you imagine that moldy personifications are cute. You are mistaken.
Stocking stuffers: Stuff it.
Xmas: Perhaps some dolt has told you that the X is the one from algebra and is therefore faintly, or overtly, sacrilegious. It is in fact the Greek letter chi, which shares the form of the Roman x and is no more than a conventional abbreviation for Christos. No offense given, none should be taken.
If you feel impelled to drag Hanukkah into holiday articles, pray do not suggest that it is some kind of Jewish Christmas, however much it may have syncretized with the Gentiles. It is a holiday more in the spirit of Independence Day than Christmas, and only calendrical coincidence pairs it with Christmas.
Ring in, ring out: Pray do not ring the old year, the new year, or anything else.
The Twelve Days of Christmas:* Parodies of this interminable song are, if anything, more tedious than the original. And if you’re honest with yourself, making poetry scan is usually beyond your capacities.
On no account are you to publish that execrable prefabricated article on the estimated cost of the gifts in the song. Whoever is assigned to write that article patently did something exceedingly nasty in a previous life. If you have been guilty of publishing it before, do not compound your sin. Have you no shame?
Some readers lap up all this swill. Some writers think it’s just swell. It is, after all, totally familiar, and totally unoriginal. Perhaps that lack of originality comforts them. It is for such people that television exists.
I, of course, am a copy editor, a mere drudge, often denounced as an assassin of originality and imagination. So show me some of that originality and imagination. Write some holiday copy without resorting to this stodge.
*Mind you, the twelve days of Christmas are the days that fall between Christmas Day, December 25, and the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. To speak of them as falling before December 25, which is properly Advent, is to expose yourself as an ignoramus. As for Advent itself, the modern, manufactured, saccharine, holly-jolly Christmas (strike holly, jolly Christmas from your list, too) which cannot even wait until the Halloween candy has been distributed has effectively effaced Advent, even among many observant Christians. You may not been able to stem that current, but you needn’t frolic in it.