December is here again and threatening to drown us in holiday-season overload. But anytime I hear the word December, it's hard not to remember that the month's name is derived from the Latin word decem, meaning "ten" (as in decimal), because it was the 10th month of the Roman calendar. I'm almost sure that the Romans derived their calendar from the Middle-Earth calendar, which became unstable after that ring incident at the fires of Mordor. This eventually threw off the very foundations of time, pushing December into the 12th month and forever messing up the English language. Thanks, Frodo.

October, containing the Latin root octo, meaning "eight" (as in octave), didn't fare well either, but let's not get off topic here - although it is tempting to wonder which numerical base octopi use when counting.

December has no shortage of holidays. As we get ready for the Day of the Immaculate Conception of Mary on December 8, we should pause to note that same day is Mother's Day in Panama and Constitution Day in Romania. Even if we stick to domestic celebrations, December still holds Pearl Harbor Day, the Nobel Prizes awards day, Solstice, Festivus, New Year's Eve and a slew of religious and ethnic holidays some of which are quite widely observed. But the December day we all wait for is, of course, Monkey Day, celebrated worldwide on December 14.

I have no fond childhood memories of Monkey Day, sitting around the monkey tree, singing jungle songs, telling monkey stories and grooming each other for fleas. This is probably because Monkey Day originated in the year 2000 at Michigan State University by art students, essentially depriving anyone born before 1995 of happy recollections of Monkey Days past.

Technically, Monkey Day is an unofficial holiday, but Hallmark Cards gave it all the validity it needed just by mentioning it on their 2011 Ultimate Holiday website as a "day when monkey business is actually encouraged." (The fact that this page has been removed from the Web in no way lessens the importance of this recognition.) It is also a day to raise funds for primate-related issues such as monkey homelessness and a campaign to bring down the rate of domestic monkey incarceration, which hovers right around 100 percent.
Even though proponents insist that all simian creatures are celebrated on Monkey Day, we have to be careful because apes, an entirely separate category of primates including gorillas and chimpanzees, are easily insulted when offered gifts on Monkey Day. To their great dismay, apes don't yet have an unofficial "Ape Day," even though, as we have seen at the movies, they have their own planet.

Monkeys include the marmosets, capuchins, howler, macaque, baboon and the Barbary Ape (which is technically not an ape but apparently wants to be) and about 250 other living species, not to mention the wide variety of New World Sock Monkeys, which enjoy the widest distribution and are the least endangered of any monkey.

My wife and I keep two sock monkeys confined in our home, and we take great pleasure giving them a voice when we imagine what they would say if they could insult us. We also played games with them, which were quite a laugh until one of the monkeys tragically lost an arm during a game of "Pull-Monkey-Pull." Aside from this, I have never touched a live monkey, so my one-on-one simian experiences are nonexistent. On the positive side, if you never touch a monkey, you'll never come down with any monkey-borne diseases.

Monkey Day is always a good time to catch up on monkeys in the news. A quick scan produced an article about a fundraising project to house a small monkey found wandering the showrooms of a Canadian IKEA store. He was wearing a sheepskin coat, as Canadian monkeys tend to. Another headline stated, "Monkey on the Loose in Florida Has Cops Working Tirelessly." A third story was titled: "Men Wearing Monkey Masks Rob Gas Station." OK, it's not all good news, but note that it was not monkeys wearing human masks at the gas station. That would be disturbing.

We must all be careful not to let Monkey Day overshadow December's lesser holidays. We don't want to offend the Romanians, the mothers of Panama or any of the religious groups who share the mirth of December. However, let's all keep an eye on the calendar. Nobody wants December disappearing because of some Middle-Earth monkey business.

Tom Sadowski lives in Lincolnville. He can be reached by e-mail at sadowski@tidewater.net. © 2014, Tom Sadowski