Granted, Irving the Snowchicken is no ordinary bird. A magical talking rooster that was cast as the central figure of a made-up holiday known as Winter Wonderday, Irving single-handedly (wingedly?) solved a problem known to fellow interfaith families as "the December dilemma." This past Tuesday, while others celebrated that other holiday-that-shall-not-be-named, we gathered 'round to hang our pants by the mantle, build gingerbread coops and fashion an 800-twig-count nest. A fine time was had by all, including the three kiddies, the flaming shaygetz husband and proud Jewess wife.
Our family has been happily celebrating Winterwonderday for years, but this year I wrote an essay about it for Salon and helped make a web video for True Mom Confessions. I was happy going public with our tradition, sure others would enjoy hearing about our crazy-fun solution to a common problem among families struggling with seasonal rituals.
But it turns out "Irving the Snowchicken is destroying America."
This, according to one of the sixty-some Salon readers who have weighed in since the piece appeared last week. These messages range from brief declarations of solidarity ("I've seen the light and it clucks!") to extended, pseudo-academic ruminations on the cultural ramifications of our imaginary chicken. Gotta love that Salon readership. Engaged. Informed. Often insane.
I've been happiest to learn about the many other made-up holidays created by families that, for whatever reason, have chosen to opt out of Xmas. I have an pretty big soft spot for quirk, so it's no surprise that I'm pleased to learn about Hanukkah Harry and Reggie the Red-Eyed Flying Vegetarian Polar Bear. One reader wrote to share the legend of Kwanzabuck, a 7-point buck that leaps over garden walls and wordlessly delivers presents to baffled children. Another relayed the story of Terry Pratchett's Hogfather, an obese wicked relative of Santa who rides around in a sleigh pulled by snorting pigs, leaving gifts for good children and bags of bloody bones for those who've been naughty.
Most of the response, however, is a lot more personal. A dozen or so readers wrote in to say that I am not in fact part of a interfaith family and that Winter Wonderday represents a pathetic capitulation on my part. The writer who raised the alarm about Irving's threat to our nation went on to say I'd been "systematically broken down and forced to abandon (my) own selfhood." Another writer called me a "henpecked chickenshit"; my wife is called unfair, controlling and intolerant.
I know from reading letters to Salon that I shouldn't take any of this too seriously (my pal the TV critic Heather Haverlesky gets slammed mercilessly week after week over her thoughts on "Top Model"). But it's hard not to take it personally. It's hard not to feel that these strangers might know more than me, that the author James Surowiecki might be right about "The Wisdom of Crowds," that a big group can often reach better decisions than a supposed expert.
It's true I am often quite chickenshitted, but I think this particular crowd is dead wrong on Winter Wonderday. I wasn't stripped of anything in inventing the holiday. Quite the opposite - in it, I've managed to find something new and meaningful. My wife isn't unfair or intolerant; she just didn't want anything to do with Xmas. We don't begrudge your secular or pagan or Christian celebration, so why get worked up over our celebration of make-believe and superficial crap?
So I stand by my wife. And Irving. And a felicitous Winter Wonderday to you. May your pants be stuffed with presents.