For some reason, I didn’t see a lot of “bear trap in the fireplace” gags this year. Which is a good thing, I would add.

However, Monty (AMS) put a spin on that tired old chestnut, and there’s nothing I love more than watching Sedgewick try to be a real boy, while his patient butler, Jarvis, humors him and, in this case, becomes once more his foil.

Most of the strips about Santa and chimneys had to do with him being required to show proof of vaccination, and those were only a portion of the Covid Christmas pieces.

It’s not that they weren’t appropriate for this year, of course, but we’ve had nearly two years of coronavirus gags, and it’s hard to do anything that stands out.


John Darkow is the winner, therefore, for an understated piece that reminds us of the ongoing crisis but does not let it define the holiday. He also manages to be reverend without being preachy, and that’s a rarity any year.


Gary Varvel (Creators) tries to tie in the crisis in Afghanistan, but the most obvious first reaction is that Christmas isn’t a Muslim holiday and, the flag not withstanding, her hijab suggests these are not Christians.

The other flaw is that they are home.

There are a handful of American citizens stranded in Afghanistan, and negotiations continue to get them out. Most of them appear to be people who came here and obtained citizenship, but made the choice to go back home.

If they now want to leave, they should be allowed to. But deciding to emigrate is not simple and there are Afghans determined to tough it out.

Here’s a longer-than-normal excerpt from an important, and moving, interview from yesterday’s Morning Edition:

I also saw a story on NBC’s Nightly News about Vietnamese boat people who are helping Afghan refugees get settled here. I had some involvement with resettlement after the Vietnam War, so I was glad to see the story, and I hope it really reflects something more widespread.

In any case, efforts continue and the stunning collapse of the Afghan economy should keep enough pressure on the Taliban leadership that they won’t be able to refuse Western demands for exit visas.

The crucial question, I suspect, is whether the Taliban leadership has any control over the various bands of self-declared Taliban who follow their own local leaders.

As Seraj says in that interview, “This is a repeat of history.”

Which she offers as both a plea for Western powers not to interfere again, and as an explanation of why not every Afghan wants to leave.

It’s a fascinating look behind the various official versions.


Peter Schrank, by contrast, invites us to admire, not pity, refugees, this rubber raft referencing in part those attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, but perhaps more specifically those who have died trying to get across the Channel from Europe to Britain.

The fact that he depicts a pregnant Mary suggests the search for shelter and hospitality, but the overall motif also reminds us that the Holy Family became actual refugees, fleeing to Egypt to avoid the Slaughter of the Innocents.

Granted, all of this is folkloric, and we can assume that, had Herod made such a decree, or had Rome decreed a census, it would have been recorded in secular documents.

But so what? Anyone who has read the histories written in those days knows they are nearly all largely folkloric, which is why the work of Thucydides (c. 460 – c.?400 BC) stands out:

Rare bird, that Thucydides. Even Plutarch is guilty of passing on rumors as fact, and the point is that most ancient histories are highly folkloric.

Not that they aren’t entertaining, but reading Suetonius to learn Roman history is like watching Entertainment Tonight to learn cinematography.


Look at David Horsey’s take on the moment.

Scholars will tell us that shepherds wouldn’t have their sheep out in the fields in December and so Jesus must surely have been born in the spring, which raises an important question:

What difference does that make?

A. The calendar has shifted around so much that pinning down specific dates for much of anything 2100 years ago is a fool’s game, and

B. Northern cultures all have some acknowledgment of the darkest time of year. Given that the Nativity is folklore, it is not diminished by melding it with other traditions and so

C. Repeat to yourself “It’s just a book, I should really just relax.”

To which I would add that much of the more strident denialism should be viewed with charity: People who have been raised in rigid, unforgiving fundamentalism often seem to reject that world only to become rigidly and unforgivably fundamentalist in their denial.

Annoying people are also covered in the folklore.

Folklore — religious or historical or simply tales around the fire — has always been a means of passing on community values, and though George Washington’s chopping down of the cherry tree didn’t really happen, that doesn’t mean that it’s alright to lie to escape responsibility.

And if young Abe Lincoln didn’t really walk miles to return proper change to a store customer, it doesn’t mean that cheating people is an approved practice.

Jesus most likely was not born in a manger and there were no magi, but that does not release Christians from the clearly stated moral obligation to be good, kind and charitable always.


I mentioned the other day that I haven’t been hearing much Christmas Muzak at the grocery, so when I went to Price Chopper yesterday, I listened, and there was no Muzak at all.

Price & Piccolo couldn’t have known this back when they drafted this Rhymes With Orange (KFS), but I suppose cancelling the Muzak contract was another way to fight the pandemic profit swoop.

And, BTW, “Jingle Bells” isn’t a Christmas carol. Neither are “Frosty the Snowman” or “Winter Wonderland.”

You can sing them until March if you’d like. Even if you’re an atheist.


Finally, First Dog on the Moon speaks for this blog as well as for himself.

But I’ll be back tomorrow with something special for cartoonists and readers of all ages.

‘Til then, swallow your cynicism. You will not die, it’s not poison.



  1. You can sing Jingle Bells, Frosty the Snowman, or Winter Wonderland any time you like. You might get some strange looks, but probably nothing more than that.

    WETA-FM’s Bill Cerri played Christmas music on his morning show on August 8, 1974, either because it was a hot day or just possibly because of something else going on in DC that was “Christmas in August.” You choose. This turned into an annual event on the Mall, with the US Air Force Band providing the music. I went to a couple of the concerts in the 1980s.

  2. The oldest “bear trap in the fireplace” gag I know of is the cover of Panic #1. (For those who may not know, Panic was a “sister comic” to Mad when both were comic books. Panic’s editor, Al Feldstein, took over Mad when Harvey Kurtzman left.)

    I suspect it’s the first, since it’s a pretty subversive joke, and subversion was EC’s stock in trade.

    Here it is:

  3. @Fred: I recall a similar episode on Milwaukee’s “classic rock” station in the wee hours of the morning during the 1988 heat wave. I think Mike Palec was the DJ, warning us listeners that he was about to play something that might get him fired.

    It turned out to be the Darlene Love version of “Marshmallow World.”

    (Dang it, Christmas just isn’t complete without her singing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”!)

  4. 2nd section: “reverent”, perhaps?

    I have a Christmas keyboard…the “L” keycap is missing. Apropos of nothing, nice title.

  5. Fixed it, Harley. Sheesh, I can’t even do the alphabet at that hour of the morning. Yes, DD — that was the intention.

  6. Merry Christmas, Mike.

    I was a member of the University of Detroit Chorus in the late sixties, and our winter semester started a week after local high schools returned to school in January. So our director arranged a concert tour of the schools. It was great fun, singing morning and afternoons all week. One year the director decided we needed a lively song and scheduled his jazzy version of “Jingle Bells.” First concert, we dutifully sang it . . . and the high school kids sat on their hands. He found something else for the rest of the tour.

  7. Nobody wants a jazzy version of a Christmas Carol any more than they want a jazzy version of the National Anthem. At least, despite a couple of comments here, the carols are seasonal. The anthem, sadly, is a year-round trial.

    Before the Army/Navy Game this year, a woman with a terrific voice sang the National Anthem as written, without “vocalizations” or improv or adding her own touches. I’d forgotten how good that song can sound straight up.

    A lot of Christmas carols are like that, too.

  8. Yiu can play Handel’s Messiah pretty much all year round too, since it covers birth to crucifixion.

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