Jangle bells: Have a holly, nasty Christmas


December 05, 2004|By Phil Kloer | Phil Kloer,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Christmas doesn't come with just wrapping and ribbons this year. In the new book The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror, it comes with brain-eating zombies and a dead Santa.

Author Christopher Moore's novel is a spoof of all those sugarplummy small-town Christmas books and a part of the growing trend of "Have Yourself a Nasty Little Christmas."

Add other recent cruel Yule images - hookers and chainsaws and Satan, oh my! - and what pop culture does to Christmas these days is way beyond "Bah, humbug!"

"We all have this sense of dread that precedes Christmas," says Moore. "You start seeing the ads in October and just go, `Oh my God!'"

That backlash also propels Christmas With the Kranks, the new film in which a couple tries to reject neighbors' expectations of holiday celebration, only to be pressured to join in.

The all-time holiday jeer champ, 2003's Bad Santa stars Billy Bob Thornton as an alcoholic, oversexed, foul-mouthed thief whose gimmick is posing as a department store Santa, then robbing the stores when they close on Christmas Eve.

The cup of holiday jeer does not overflow quite so violently in The Santaland Diaries by David Sedaris. But it is a very politically incorrect play that at one point fantasizes about transforming a department store "Santaland" into a disturbingly funny "Satanland."

There's no way to measure how much more nastiness there is now compared with the recent past. But Dr. Elmo Shropshire agrees there's a lot more, and it's a lot rougher.

And who is Shropshire? Just the veterinarian and musician who recorded "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer," first played 25 years ago this month.

"It was really outrageous at the time," Shropshire recalls. "I went to play a club in San Francisco, and they had pickets outside, with signs: `What's so funny about a dead grandma?'"

This trend toward rougher, nastier humor isn't limited to Christmas, of course. It's just more jarring when it involves a holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus and that is supposed to symbolize youthful innocence and peace on earth.

"I don't have an overly cynical view of Christmas," says Moore. "But readers have told me that this is an antidote to all those smarmy Christmas stories set in Norman Rockwell small towns. People want variety."

Variety, and maybe some brain-eating zombies.

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