Linus had it right back in 1965, when "A Charlie Brown Christmas" debuted. The wiry-haired "Peanuts" guy moaned about the commercialism of the holiday way back when, bemoaning the rise of fake trees. (His sister, Lucy, had no such qualms, urging Charlie Brown to "Get the biggest aluminum tree you can find ... maybe painted pink.")
Things have only gotten worse in the 40 years since then. Stores start hanging tinsel shortly after they take down their Fourth of July bunting. Newspapers are careful to be inclusive, wishing everyone not Merry Christmas, but Happy Holidays, even on Dec. 25. Companies have no idea how to deal with a minefield of religious sentiments, so they muck things up with generic parties when their employees would really prefer a bonus or a few extra vacation days instead.
Still, whether you celebrate Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, or "Seinfeld's" Festivus, there can be a magic to the season. We don't deny that, but we'd like to get back to the magic by clearing out a bunch of the holiday traditions we hate. Take a big, cleansing breath and read along.
Office holiday partiesIn this era of cost efficiency (shutting down half the elevators) and flex time (50-hour weeks), how have holiday office parties survived the chopping block? Not that coworkers don’t know how to party, but few traditions reek more of quaint 1950s social graces than blowing a wad of cash so we can knock back whiskey sours and gossip about which secret couple is going to reveal themselves after the DJ turns up the Buster Poindexter CD. These parties might have been novel in the three-martini lunch era, but modern offices are stress-inducing, lawsuit-happy environments. Why augment that with booze, Secret Santas (see below), conga lines and ticky-tack decorations so generic (in accordance with Corporate Policy 932.A.16) they can’t possibly offend anyone—even that guy who hands out Solstice cards. While I like to raise a glass or two with my fellow working schlubs, the far kinder gesture would be a few extra hours, and a few extra bucks, for us to arrange our own holiday cheer. Though it’s not impossible to pull off a great holiday office bash, it’s damn hard. So why bother? Uh, note to my boss: You never read this. —Jon Bonné
Secret SantasThere’s nothing that fills me with more Christmas dread than the horrible office tradition of the Secret Santa, wherein some way too perky (and usually holiday-sweater-attired) office minion comes around with a hat, asks you to draw a name from it and purchase a gift for that person for under $20. Does it make me a scrooge that I don’t want to think about what Joe, the nondescript guy who I’ve exchanged maybe three words with, wants for Christmas? And, yes, I will actually think about it for maybe a minute before trudging down to Barnes & Noble and buying him the requisite gift card (hoping that he’s not the type to use it for a book by John Grisham). I’ll see his bored smile and slight shrug on opening it and feel yet more Christmas cheer. And in return, I will oooh and aahh over the reindeer toe-socks that I receive from my Secret Santa. And maybe I’ll even keep them in my drawer for a year, before finally surrendering them to Goodwill. —Paige Newman
Overeager store decorators
Halloween, a day formerly known for overly sugared kids roaming the streets in homemade costumes, has now become the traditional start of the Christmas-decoration season. Down come the jack o’ lanterns, up go the snowmen, tinsel and artificial flocked trees. What’s that sound? The Muzak version of “White Christmas” on the store sound system? On November 1? What the ho-ho-ho? Nothing, and I mean nothing, will drive me out of a store faster than Christmas in early November. I love Christmas. I love Christmas decorations. I love jingle bells and “Jingle Bells” – in December. I realize the stores have product to move and accounts to put in the black but trying to shove the commercial end of Christmas down my throat before I put Thanksgiving turkey there leaves me cold. Internet shopping anyone? —Denise Hazlick
Presigned Christmas cards
Now I happen to love most Christmas cards, from the photo postcards to the bragletters. ("Rover got into Yale and Buffy won the Nobel Prize.") But the one form of holiday card that does nothing for me is the preprinted, presigned greeting. I don't mind if you're not really into sending out cards, and I certainly won't disown you if you don't send me one. But please, don't send me one that human hands have never touched. You know what I mean: The card is preprinted, and you write no personal note. You instruct the card company to mass-print FROM THE MILLERS inside the card, so you don't need to bother with signing your own name. Even the address labels were printed out on your Mac. I understand cards can be time-consuming, but if a bestselling author can personally inscribe 100 novels an hour, surely you can scribble "Love, Auntie Em" on a couple dozen cards. I don't even mind if they don't hit the mails until New Year's. —Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
Jingle HellsI like traditional Christmas music, the kind with an organ and a boys’ choir, or maybe some Bing Crosby for variety. I can’t stand the hastily recorded, cynically marketed pop-music versions of Christmas carols. “Little Drummer Boy” isn’t a great song, but it’s even worse in the hands of 98 Degrees. A boy band feigning awe at the Christ child while struggling to imbue the already-silly “pa rum pa pum pum”s with gravitas? And the beauty of “Silent Night” comes from the simplicity of the melody, but nobody told Mariah Carey, who felt obliged to over-decorate the song with about a thousand trills, and squeaks audible only to dolphins. Pop Christmas albums exist so that record companies can sell more product to undiscriminating fans, and that plan can have unintentionally hilarious results—the Brady Bunch’s rendition of “O Come All Ye Faithful” is a national treasure of tuneless kitsch. Jessica Simpson’s noir-nightclub-meets-Betty-Boop rendition of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” on the other hand, is creepy—and superfluous. If Destiny’s Child or any other pop act simply must dream of a White Christmas, I’d rather they did so in private. —Sarah D. Bunting
It’s not a ‘Wonderful Life’Thank Clarence for small miracles: "It's a Wonderful Life" used to be on every day from November through Christmas, but mercifully, NBC bought the rights to this movie a few years ago, and the Peacock limits the number of times the film airs. Even now, we're offered the traditional Thanksgiving viewing of this Frank Capra classic as well as at least two more chances to watch George Bailey get his, er, stuff, together before the Fat Man ho-ho-hos on Dec. 25. George has started to get on my last nerve. “Oh poor me, I didn’t get the life I wanted. Boo hoo.” How many people do you know who do get everything they want in life? Yeah, me neither. And what kind of life did George get? A loving family, respect in the community and people who were there to help him in his time in need. I can see why he’s so upset. Clarence should have smacked him upside the head instead of showing him how life would have been without him. —D.H.
‘Black Friday’ indeedThanksgiving gives most American workers their only four-day holiday weekend of the year — except people working in retail, so they take it out on the rest of us, running commercials telling us we have to shop at 6 a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving, dubbed Black Friday, to get the lowest price ever on the year's must-have iWidget UberMegaIT. Six a.m. is earlier than most of us get up to go to work, but there are the hypnotized masses, searching for parking spaces within a quarter-mile of the entrance, then standing in the checkout line until the iWidget UberMegaIT is replaced by a new model. And if you're one of us who hasn't finished digesting Thanksgiving dinner, you spend nearly as long standing in line at the restroom. Personally, I'd rather spend the day with Bruce Dern in the Goodyear blimp. —Wendell Wittler
Lions, Tigers and Bears, oh my!How about Steelers, Patriots and Falcons instead? Since the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears met on Thanksgiving Day 1934, the Lions have hosted the first football game of the holiday ever since. Pigskin and turkey are a great combination, but the Lions, for the most part, have been an embarrassment for the past 71 years. Isn't it time to change up the rotation a bit? For the interest of those outside Michigan, and the millions of fans who like to see offense-oriented football, let's see the Indianapolis Colts and Peyton Manning, or even his brother Eli and the Giants. Folks in Detroit are slow to change, it seems. GM is still touting SUVs while the rest of the country is going Prius crazy. The second game of the day has traditionally been held at Texas Stadium, where the Dallas Cowboys host every year. Now, this isn't great either but it's infinitely better than watching for the Lions. One bad call and Dallas coach Bill Parcells may blow a gasket and instantly combust on the sidelines. —Stuart Levine