Saturday, December 25, 2004

Winter Howdies to all!

Well, now, last year I made a New Year's resolution to blog more often, and here it already is, twelve months and six posts later. Sigh. Maybe in 2005.

Anyway, the title of this post comes from a phrase that I started hearing several years ago from a bunch of my friends, either as a standalone greeting, or in phrases like, "I still have to mail out my winter howdies this year." I wasn't quite sure what it meant at first, but I was able to glark from context that it was a generic, nondenominational, universally-inoffensive term for seasonal greetings, Christmas cards, family newsletters, Hanukkah cards, etc. Clever!, I thought, and began using the phrase myself.

A year or so passed, and Christmas rolled around again. I was visiting my friends Qarin and James, when Qarin happened to mention something about her winter howdy cards, and I stopped her to ask, once and for all, where the heck "winter howdy" had come from.

"From you," she said.

"Say what?"

"From you. You coined it."

"I did what?"

James jumped in. "On icb, a few years ago. You don't remember?"

"Um... no."

"We were talking about how it's always a hassle with mixed families to be sending Hanukkah cards to some people and Christmas cards to other people, and you said, 'Why not just say Winter Howdy! and make it easy on yourselves?' and everybody liked that and started saying it to each other. You really don't remember this?"

"You are so making that story up."

"I'm not! It was totally you!"

This went on for a while, and eventually, when the events were confirmed by the testimony of other witnesses present at the scene of the alleged coining, I had to confess that I must indeed have been the progenitor of the Winter Howdy. I still have no recollection of it whatsoever. But... it seems that it has continued to spread; it was a year after that conversation that I first received a personalized printed card that read "Winter Howdies!" Not many Google hits yet, but it's out there, it's out there...

And it is a festive addition to the holiday-greeting canon, don't you think? I may not remember it, but I'm certainly pleased by it.

And perhaps the world needs it. From what can I glean from the blogosphere, it seems this year there was a little flurry of political dudgeon on cable TV over "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays", with assorted GOP spokesvermin like Fox News's Bill O'Reilly trying to convince their followers that these two phrases--which most people had long understood to be harmless, cheerful expressions of friendly wishes at a time when many Americans are celebrating--were in fact coded messages meaning, respectively, "Enjoy the yuletide celebration, my fellow patriotic, Christian Republican," and "Fuck you, baby Jesus!" (I exaggerate a bit, but judging from the quantity and intensity of the flamage that made it onto the internet in the wake of this made-up controversy, not that much.)

Of course, very few scholars believe the Christmas holiday originally had anything to do with the birth of Jesus; pretty-much everyone agrees that the Catholic Church simply adopted a pre-existing pagan holiday. Why do such a thing? Because people do love their holidays, and if you can find a way to piggyback your message onto the rituals and traditions that families and communities happily re-enact each year, you've got yourself a very potent--and self-sustaining!--marketing message.

And that, of course, is exactly what O'Reilly and his ilk are trying to do now--graft their message of antiliberal hatred onto the holiday traditions so it all gets mixed up in people's heads. Just as the Catholics successfully exploited a pagan holiday to spread their story, O'Reilly wants to exploit it again to spread his.

With, unfortunately, some success. I say "Merry Christmas" all the time (sometimes in August, if I happen to be feeling whimsical), and I say "Happy Holidays" equally often, and never gave it much thought or got any notably surly responses to either one. But, as Kevin Drum at Washington Montly recently said, this year's GOP effort to turn seasonal greetings into political shibboleths has succeeded at making me feel self-concious every time I used either one to a stranger--concerned that, if this person happened to be an O'Reilly viewer, he or she might be reading messages into what I said that were not there. Which is exactly what O'Reilly and the others wanted, and it bugs me that they manipulated me so easily. (I don't even watch TV!)

It is into this charged climate that I hereby offer, to any of you looking for a way to express feelings of warm respect and holiday cheer to your fellow men and women without participating in these jerks' latest kulturkampf, the humble Winter Howdy. Suitable for any occasion, and so far completely uncharged with negative associations by schmucks on TV. May it serve you long and well!

And to all a good night.

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