Saturday, December 07, 2013

Happy Holidays, y'all!

You know, it's that time of year again; as we approach the end of the year, we enter the Holiday Season. And just like every year of late, there are those who can't be happy unless they're given the opportunity to feel angry about something. And this time of year, the majority of them are the fine folks who don't believe in American values like "inclusiveness" and other sentiments best expressed at the base of the Statue of Liberty (you know, that whole "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" thing).

People like (just as an example) Bill O'Reilly, who want to pretend that there's some kind of "War on Christmas." They have decided to make themselves angry over something as innocuous as wishing people "Happy Holidays," instead of saying "Merry Christmas."

This is a particularly stupid thing to get cranky over, if you think about it, because the time in question, often referred to as the "Christmas season," runs from Thanksgiving through Christmas, and usually spills over into New Years, which is three holidays right there.

(I'm going with the current, somewhat commercialized version of the "Christmas season" - you know, "free market = good thing" - as practiced here in America in the 21st Century, so keep your cranky little historical interruptions to yourself - I might just mention them later anyway. And incidentally, the current "Christmas season" seems to have extended itself almost to Halloween at this point, which is yet a FOURTH holiday.)

December is just littered with minor Christian holidays, some of which (depending on your particular flavor of Christianity) are considered of relative importance, such as the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8) and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12 (which is moderately popular here in New Mexico for some reason).

(A little trivia for you: the "Immaculate Conception" doesn't refer to the birth of Jesus, but to the day Mary was conceived, probably a decade and a half or so earlier: see, in order to give birth to the child of God, her birth had to be "immaculate." A lot of good Christians get that wrong - it's pretty much a Catholic thing.)

December is particularly full of Feast Days to various saints, from St Francis Xavier (December 3) to St Lucy of Syracuse (December 13). Yesterday, December 6, was St Nicholas Day, if it helps - that, at least, has a Christmas-based attachment to the holiday.

At least five of the December saints are Johns, if you count one non-English variation: St John Damascene (December 4), St Juan Diego (December 9), St John of the Cross (December 14), St John of Kanty (December 23) and, of course, St John the Apostle (December 27).

A lot of the saints were Johns; that's why Jesus needed to make sure that the prostitutes got into heaven first (Matthew 21:31). * ba-dum CHING *

Now, that last John (the Apostley one) is actually a part of a whole series of Feast Days (an even dozen of them, in fact), which make up a string of holidays immortalized in the song "the Twelve Days of Christmas." You'd think that somebody fixated on Christmas traditions could at least remember that much.

There's a whole buttload of secular holidays and commemorations going on: December 10 is Human Rights Day, December first was World AIDS Awareness Day; it seems like every time you turn around, somebody wants to remember, bring attention to, or sell something. Look up International Civil Aviation Day, and Poinsettia Day (which is also Christmas-related, if it helps - December 12). In fact, today (December 7, 2013) is National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. (Did you remember? SpaghettiOs did.)

December 22 is Forefather's Day, commemorating the Pilgrim's landing on Plymouth Rock. You want a whiter, more all-American holiday? And how come you didn't celebrate it last year, you commie?

The day after Christmas, December 26 (which is also St Stephen’s day, one of those Twelve Days of Christmas I mentioned earlier) is Boxing Day, which is mostly (but not entirely) only still celebrated in England.

December 4 through December 21, a roughly 2-week string, are considered Zappadan, celebrating the life and works of Frank Zappa. Popular culture also gave us Festivus (you know, for the rest of us) on December 23.

If you happen to be African-American, Kwanzaa runs from December 26 through January 1, and it's a commemoration of African heritage; having first been celebrated in 1966, it's now officially older than a lot of the people bitching about it. (Here's a thought: if you're going to complain about people not honoring your white, Christian traditions, perhaps you shouldn't complain when they hold celebrations in honor of theirs.)

But just because other religions aren't Christian doesn't mean they don't have their own celebrations. For example, if you're of a particularly pagan turn of mind, December 21, 2013 will be the Winter Solstice. Among the Germanic people, this was known as Yule - it's one of the many pagan celebrations that the early Christian church hijacked. (Where do you think the term "yuletide" comes from?) There's also Saturnalia, which is a festival based around fertility rituals that comes from the Greco-Roman traditions (and certainly sounds like more fun than another round of carol-singing).

For our Hindu friends, Friday the 13th this year will be Gita Jayanti, celebrating the "birth" (creation) of the Bhagavad Gita; technically, it's held on the Ekadasi (11th day of the waxing moon) of the month of Margashirsha in the Hindu calendar, so I did that math for you.

If you happen to be of the Buddhist persuasion, tomorrow (the eighth day of the twelfth month) is Rohatsu, or "Bodhi Day," commemorating the enlightenment of the Buddha. (If you happen to live in a Zen Buddhist monastery - I don't, but your mileage may vary - this would be the last day of a week-long sesshin, or meditative retreat.)

Hanukkah ended on December 5 this year. Since our right-wing friends like to trumpet the term "Judeo-Christian traditions," it's surprising how few menorahs I saw in the windows.

If you are a follower of the Jedi church, I really don't know what to tell you. "Life Day" is a Wookie holiday, and falls about once every three years on our calendar. But the first human awareness of it came about this time of year in 1978. Make of that what you will.

In that magical era of the Fifties that conservatives like to pretend was a special time in American history when everything was perfect, they liked to refer to America as "the melting pot," where people from all cultures could live and thrive. So, really, if the phrase "Happy Holidays" offends you, perhaps you should consider why you're such a crappy American.