The holidays are here. I can see them if I peek through the blinds. It’s that festive time of the year when people count their blessings, remember their friends and the year gone by, and then hang themselves from the showerhead by a guitar string. Unfortunately I cannot count a guitar among my blessings, although I tried and failed to hang myself with a Ukulele string that wouldn’t go all the way around my neck, and subsequently I threw myself from the piano. I barked my shin painfully on a Gothic Revival porte-manteau but did not die. I am going to ask Santa for a tuba. Then I can blow my brains out.
“Why so glum, chum?” You might inquire, if you were the inquiring type, which I can tell you’re not from the glassy look in your eyes. Truth is, I’m in great spirits (mostly whiskey). But the future ain’t looking so good, and I thought it would be better to go out while the going was good. Is suicide a victimless crime? Here’s the problem, in bite-sized nuggets. If Santa’s workshop is at the North Pole, I got some bad news for you. The North Pole is gone. Santa’s great enterprise has sunk to the bottom of the ocean. All those curly-shoed elves drowning in the frigid sea, their stubby blue fingers gripping half-painted wooden trains and gaily colored rubber balls until hypothermia and exhaustion pull them beneath the cruel waters, it’s just too sad.
Besides the death of the living Earth, we have war with Iraq, we have war on domestic terrorism, which is really a full-scale assault on average Americans, and war on international terrorism, which is really an empire-building effort that would have made Julius Caesar blush like a Vestal Virgin. Meanwhile the actual terrorists are laughing so hard they can’t even aim their anti-aircraft weapons. We have the end of the Great Society, the zenith of corporate feudalism, and the revocation of the Bill of Rights. The judiciary is undergoing a movement to the right of Torquemada, the congress is undergoing a movement of the type associated with Serenity adult diapers. At least it’s still a free country. Denmark, I mean.
That’s not all, but if I get into details- like the million folks whose unemployment benefits are running out as of this writing, the over ten million whose benefits ran out long ago, or the tens of millions more who aren’t even counted because they were never eligible- I won’t be able to take a shower because of all the people hanging in there.
There are lots more things to be miserable about this holiday season. But this has always been a miserable time of year. Do you really want to hang out with your relatives and open gifts from Bed, Bath, & Beyond that demonstrate how little any of them know you, and when they open your equally thoughtless offerings from Target, see the look in their eyes that tells you they know you’re making less money than any of your cousins who went into business administration or dry cleaning?
As usual, there’s a perfect answer to all this, and it’s Jewish. Yes, the culture which brought us the blintz, holishkes, and the word ‘arumgeflickt’ (which describes my situation exactly; it means ‘milked’ or ‘plucked’) also has a holiday season day for being miserable.
This day is the Tenth of Tevet, and falls in December on different dates depending on what’s happening with the Jewish calendar, which won’t sit still for even a minute. The T of T is a very serious fasting day when you’re not supposed to hear any good jokes or giggle in a high-pitched voice. The basic idea is this: as you may have noticed, Jewish history is punctuated by hideous disasters visited upon the Chosen People, possibly because they spelled Jehova without vowels. Any people that gets kicked around the world like a football for this many thousands of years ends up with a very long list of shitty (farkuckt) days to remember. But being a pragmatic bunch, the Jews collect many of these miserable days into a few single days, and then mope in unison. And not coincidentally, there’s a big lump of misery in mid-December.
On the Tenth of Tevet you are theoretically glooming about the siege of Jerusalem, which led to 70 years of Jewish exile and a lot of gloating from the Babylonians. You don’t see them around any more, do you? Also folded into the Tenth are some other little high spots, like when King Ptolemy forced a bunch of Talmudic scholars to translate the Hebrew Bible into Greek (this was a bad thing because the Greeks of that period were like Californians, in that their lifestyle and habits had a way of leaking into everybody else’s traditional culture, which the Jews of the period were not thrilled by. Understandable if you’ve ever seen traditional Greek dancing or any of those racy plays by Aristophanes.) Also, Ezra the scribe (a guy on the same level as Moses, but he wrote on paper, not rocks) died on the 9th. To avoid everyone being miserable all weekend his death is commemorated on the 10th. Various other gloomy duties are thrown in as well, like kaddish (prayer for the dead) for all the folks who died in place or time unknown, but definitely died.
The genius of this is obvious. Right before the holidays there’s this day of fasting. So for at least one day you’re not gorging on stale Halloween candy and fruitcake. And because it’s a day to observe dark times, you can go around sulking and people will think you the better for it. Nobody needs to know you’re actually just unhappy because your braying aunt Janet with the huge knockers is going to be in town with her awful new husband, or because once again your parents are angry that you’re not coming to their house for Christmas even though whenever you actually do show up it’s a festival of guilt. Better yet, convert to Judaism and you can skip Christmas and spread the fun out over eight days-besides which, your relatives will stop talking to you and you can have some peace. Also those chocolate coins go great with eggnog (which is not kosher, but there are limits to this thing).
So rather than kill yourself this holiday season, which for all you know would tickle hell out of everybody you’re trying to upset by doing it, celebrate the Tenth of Tevet instead. Spend the day fasting (if you’re not Jewish you can just nibble in private but don’t go crazy with the cheese logs, marzipan, etc.) and gaze mournfully out the window wondering where it all went wrong. It will clear your palate and your brain for the upcoming holidays. After all, subsequent to the T of T, ’tis the season to be jolly, regardless of what a complete and utter plate of feces you’ve been served this year. Just remember this important safety tip: if anybody comes down the chimney, he’s probably with the Feds. With the reindeer at the bottom of the Arctic Sea, Santa is grounded in Alaska this Christmas.
BEN TRIPP is a screenwriter, political satirist and cartoonist. He can be reached at: email@example.com