It’s not exactly a news flash: The “reason for the season” isn’t about fundraising for major credit-card companies. But, as local author James Cox points out in his satire The Christmas Curmudgeon: A Christmas Story for Guys (Infinity Publishing, 2007), plenty of people spend the holidays racking up massive debt, working themselves into a stupor, packing on pounds and fighting traffic until their blood boils.
So much for peace on earth, let alone good will toward men.
“We don’t think about all the people starving in Bosnia, Rwanda and Bangladesh or any other weird country on the other side of the world,” admits Harry Jenkins, Curmudgeon‘s main character. “We’re Americans. It’s an American celebration. Unfettered eating, slurping, grunting and sighing with satisfaction denote the day.”
Harry, a textbook example of an absent-minded professor, suffers from bouts of narcolepsy. He might be schizophrenic, and he’s definitely jaded when it comes to holiday cheer. Goaded by his sardonic brother Henry, Harry bumbles through seasonal preparations with minimal enthusiasm—except for the brothers’ shared belief that modern-American Christmas is inherently evil and must be done away with.
While Cox’s self-published novel is, indeed, a work of fiction, he says that “mostly the attitudes are true to my brother and myself,” and that “for many years I’ve not been a big fan of all the Christmas commercialism.”
Like Harry, the author’s real-life wife is a fan of the holiday. Meanwhile, Cox feels that tightening financial screws (not to mention crippling anxiety) brought on by the weeks following Thanksgiving actually threaten the mental and social health of Americans. Wanting to alert others to the dangers of consumer behavior, Cox first penned Curmudgeon in 2000. The final version of the book was released in August.
“I really want to get a message across to people,” he says. “I want people to think of Christmas as a cultural symbol of what’s wrong with our country. The rampant consumerism is destroying this country.”
In the book, Harry and Henry plan to make a statement through a line of darkly humorous anti-Christmas cards bearing messages like a Santa Claus proclaiming, “Remember … nothing is better than debt.”
Though Cox (who illustrated the cover of his novel) has yet to manufacture the greeting cards, that’s a possibility for the future. “I did draw them up just for fun,” he says. “Who knows? Maybe that will happen.”
This year, the author has decided to “do nothing” for the holidays, a protest of sorts derived from his book. But Cox points out that he’s not strictly anti-Christmas.
“People going around in their community singing carols—I think we should do that all year,” he opines. As part of his readings, he offers a history of the holiday season, looking back as far as the Roman celebration of Saturnalia.
As far as Curmudgeon being a guy’s book, Cox muses, “I’ve talked to many women who feel the same way [about the holidays] but [the book] speaks more to the historical role of men.” In fact, there’s nothing in the story—at turns convoluted and charming—that seems particularly directed toward men. And readers may be surprised that the culmination, in an almost Dickensian twist, edges toward a true meaning of Christmas spirit.
In fact—and almost despite itself—Curmudgeon manages to be downright heartwarming.
who: James Cox reading from The Christmas Curmudgeon: A Christmas Story for Guys
what: A satirical anti-holiday novel with a deeper message about consumerism
when: Saturday, Nov. 24 (2-4 p.m. Free. 254-6734)