Day 701: Drunken Orgies & Monkeys With Sweater-Vests – December Holidays

originally published December 1, 2013

It’s that time of the year once again when we flip over that last wobbly sheet of our wall calendar and marvel at the… oh. It’s a winter scene. Why does every location-based wall calendar feel the need to stick a snowy representation of their subject on the December page? I live in a city where it has been winter for upwards of a month – I don’t need to see Times Square under snow, a frosty mountain in the Italian Alps or 17th Street in Cleveland bathed in frost (some of my calendar choices are extremely specific).

December is when I want to see sun, I want to see optimism. I don’t need a reminder that I’m facing five more months of bulky coats and gritty snirt. But in the minds of calendar-makers, December is little more than winter and Christmas. Well I’m calling bullshit.

I know, there’s Chanukah and Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve and probably a full moon somewhere among those 31 white squares, but I prefer to look a little deeper to find the toasts few people choose to make. It’s a good way to appreciate the intricacies of our global culture, and also an effective excuse for more toasting and therefore more drinking.

Like Black Friday, for example. No, not that ludicrous excuse to pour an unreasonable amount of one’s income into the retail industry – that’s in November and that’s more something to regret than to celebrate. A true party-lover will acknowledge Black Friday as the last Friday before Christmas, which in the UK is the most popular night for office gatherings of pseudo-merriment and pretending you like and trust your coworkers enough to allow them to see you perform that Michael McDonald impression that always seems to rise to your lips after a few spiked eggnogs.

Pubs, restaurants and paramedics call this Black Friday because it inevitably means they’ll be busy mopping up vomit or sopping up post-brawl blood. Up in North-East England, where they party with their fists clenched and ready, this day is known as Black Eye Friday. If you’ve always dreamed of fighting in a real British pub brawl, you’d best work a December jaunt to Northumberland into your travel plans.

If you don’t feel like getting hit in the face with a pint of Smithwick’s but you still yearn to travel this month, you should head to Oaxaca City in Mexico on the 23rd to witness the Night of the Radishes. For whatever reason, craftsmen spend a few hours that evening carving radishes and other root vegetables into elaborate displays. It’d be like watching them build those Rose Bowl Parade floats, except much smaller and primarily with radishes instead of flowers.

These masters will carve Nativity scenes, buildings with a curiously passionate attention to detail, and a myriad of other tableaux. The festival continues through the Christmas holiday, but the 23rd is the night you don’t want to miss. Radishes have been a part of Mexican culture since the Spanish hauled them across the ocean in the 1500’s, and if you’re a fan of the food this is probably the only time you’ll find people organizing a party around it.

One day in 2000, a Michigan State University student and artist named Casey Sorrow scribbled ‘Monkey Day’ on his buddy’s calendar just for a joke. Despite the evident disposability of the gag, the holiday somehow caught on. Casey and his fellow scribbler Eric Millikin began pushing Monkey Day in their comic strips, and they encouraged other artists to promote it online. Which they did. And now even Hallmark has recognized Monkey Day, which falls on the 14th of December.

How should you celebrate? A monkey-themed party is good, maybe showing a Planet Of The Apes marathon or something. Peter Jackson’s King Kong was released on Monkey Day, though I can’t say for certain whether or not that was a coincidence. I don’t know – I’ll be buying heaps of presents this month for a holiday that I don’t technically celebrate in any religious context; I think taking a day to smatter some applause for the monkey world is a pretty good idea.

According to the website, it’s the “Annual celebration of solidarity and sartorial splendor expressed through the collective wearing of sweater vests.” Yes, it’s the International Sweater Vestival, and it’s happening on December 6. Coined by Boston Globe Reporter Carolyn Johnson for reasons I cannot even begin to fathom, this is the day in which you should boldly trot out that sweater vest your mother bought you when she thought you were dreaming of becoming a hipster, and wear it to work.

If this is something you’re thinking you might get into, you may want to drag some coworkers into the weirdness with you. Otherwise you’ll be known around the office as ‘that guy who has that atrocity in his closet and thinks it looks presentable enough to wear in public.’

For those of you who have somehow found a way to squeeze a droplet or two of pleasure out of Black Friday (the shopping one), you may want to pencil in Super Saturday, which lands on the 21st this month. The final Saturday before Christmas is traditionally goldmine-city for retail stores, as people pour their panic and procrastination into a blender, gulping down a hearty mug of consequence amid the scurrying crowds and oft-recycled Christmas carols at the local mall.

Retailers love Super Saturday because the online retailers can’t get in on the game. This is when the advantage of not having to wait for shipping kicks in, and it’s why you’ll find me far away from the mall when that day rolls around.

Who am I kidding? That’s probably when I’ll start my shopping this year.

A lot of office holiday parties are scheduled for the Thursday before Christmas, making that day National Regifting Day. It seems that roughly 40% of gifts given at office parties are re-gifts, meaning they’d been bought and given to someone who decided they’d rather use the gift to fulfill their holiday obligation to someone else than actually make use of the thing. The state of Colorado made this an officially proclaimed day in 2008.

I’m not a big fan of the re-gift, though I understand the chore-aspect of obligatory present-giving encourages the act. We once did a Secret Santa thing at a computer store I worked at. The guy I was buying for was a formidable douche, head of the corporate sales department and far too important to drizzle any time or conversation my way. I gave him a massive plate of my wife’s baking as a gift, arranged on a beautiful plate and featuring snacks like caramel-covered pecans and peanut-butter-cup cookies. The gift I received later that day? The same damn thing. He had pulled my name in the Secret Santa draw and I guess he figured this would look like he put a lot of effort into it.

Well fuck that guy, and fuck National Regifting Day. I’m steering my holiday spirit toward the monkeys this month.

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