The Devil's Guide to the Holidays - OZY | A Modern Media Company

The Devil's Guide to the Holidays

The Devil's Guide to the Holidays

By Sean Braswell


Because a turkey and some mistletoe can help make the season bite.

By Sean Braswell

In his irreverent 1906 masterpiece, The Devil’s Dictionary, American writer Ambrose Bierce took aim at all manner of human hypocrisies, sins and shortcomings by penning a lexicon of cynical word definitions for a cynical age.

In our latest installment of “The Devil’s Guide,” we channel Bierce’s sardonic spirit to spread some more realistic seasonal cheer. If the mawkish joy of the holidays is already getting on your nerves, we’ve got just what you need.

Advent calendar, n. System by which daily confectionery bribes are distributed to children to win their early allegiance to a season of giving and sacrifice.

angels, n. Spiritual beings who watch over you, usually from your neighbor’s tacky rooftop light display while you are trying to sleep.

Bethlehem, n. A small Palestinian town south of Jerusalem that a $500-million-annual tourist industry devotedly believes to be the birthplace of Jesus.

poinsettias, n. The plant world’s equivalent of delinquent teenagers, usually found congregating in shopping malls and loitering outside drugstores during the holidays.

candy canes, n. Crook-like peppermint sticks perfect for prompting cavities in children and unplanned trips to the proctologist for adults. 

caroling, v. To engage in roving door-to-door a-capella abuse of one’s neighbors.

chimney, n. Preferred method of egress for household smoke and the fictional fat man whose authoritarian judgment you use to discipline your children.

Christian, n. One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor. —Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

Christmas, n. Annual religious festival commemorating the birth of the long-awaited Holy Profit for sales-starved commercial enterprises.

Christmas lights, n. Creatively irresponsible means for counteracting 11 months of restrained living in one month-long orgy of electrical power and multicolored plastic kitsch. 

Christmas tree, n. Overpriced, temporary arboreal installation, great for sheltering seasonal gifts and raising the risk of home fires. 

coal, n. Combustible sedimentary rock typically dispensed in lumps that your spoiled offspring deserve to find in their oversize stockings, but which you will relegate to an empty threat.


Christmas decorations, n. A retail pharmacy chain’s means of announcing the arrival of November.

eggnog, n. A creamy, traditional Christmas drink that serves as a capable delivery device for brandy and salmonella.

elves, n. Pointy-eared supernatural beings glorified in ballads and folklore from across the world, but which during the holidays are reduced to the status of factory laborers in service of a pathologically jolly manufacturing magnate.

feast, n. A religious celebration usually signalized by gluttony and drunkenness, frequently in honor of some holy person distinguished for abstemiousness. —Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

frankincense and myrrh, n. Gold’s dowdy, less popular companions.

Frosty the Snowman, n. Anthropomorphized precipitation who could laugh and play — and melt away — just the same as you and me.

fruitcake, n. Dense, overly sweet and universally despised dessert for which only the joy of giving can fully compensate for the anguish of receiving.

gift giving, n. See gift receiving.

Hanukkah, n. Sacred Jewish holiday in which participants celebrate an obscure 2,200-year-old regional revolt that no one can explain by spinning tops and eating doughnuts.

holiday season, n. A deeply religious time that each of us observes in his own way, by going to the mall of his choice. —Dave Barry

Joseph, n. The poor cuckold with no medical experience tasked with delivering a blessed child who will die to save humankind from its sins, provided He can survive being born in an unsanitary animal trough.

kindness, n. A brief preface to 10 volumes of exaction. —Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

mistletoe, n. A convenient botanical excuse for premeditated sexual assault.

The Nutcracker, n. Classical ballet production ideal for exposing children to the timeless beauty of both warring rodents and the whimsical perversions of an extinct Russian aristocracy.

poinsettias, n. The plant world’s equivalent of delinquent teenagers, usually found congregating in shopping malls and loitering outside drugstores during the holidays.

Rudolph, n. Shining example in an inspirational morality tale that illustrates how a deformed creature can indeed win society’s reluctant acceptance, provided he is willing to perform an act of back-breaking sacrifice.

saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. —Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

Santa Claus, n. Festively attired and high-profile serial burglar who routinely forces eight animals to perform a jaw-dropping feat of physical labor so that he can ply the children whose movements he monitors with the presents he has coerced hundreds of unpaid social outcasts to make.

12 Days of Christmas, n. Popular holiday song in which the joy of realizing you remember all the extensive lyrics is outweighed only by the tedium of realizing that you know all the lyrics.

toboggan, n. Light sledding vehicle typically reserved for the hopelessly unfashionable, or the Canadian.

Wise Men, n. Three wandering vagrants with sufficient mental acuity to employ celestial navigation in order to locate a knocked-up peasant in an animal pen.

Sign up for the weekly newsletter!

Related Stories