Dec 31, 2009

New Year's Eve

Rather than embarking on some useless and arbitrary list of my favorite things that happened this year, or even the decade... mostly because I'm a stickler for counting the zero numbered year as a 10 not as a zero. You don't count year zero, and 1980 was the end of the seventies, but I digress into a pointless discussion of semantics.

I've decided to look into the history of New Year's Eve rather than the history of the year.

I have found that the celebration of the new year on January 1st is a relatively new phenomenon. The earliest recording of a new year celebration is believed to have been in Mesopotamia, c. 2000 B.C. and was celebrated around the time of the vernal equinox. That's right, in mid-March. A variety of other dates tied to the seasons were also used by various ancient cultures. The Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Persians began their new year with the fall equinox, and the Greeks celebrated it on the winter solstice. That's all over the place. New Year at the beginning and end of the growth cycle - and the Greeks with the sun cycle. Confusing.

The early Roman calendar designated March 1 as the new year. The calendar had just ten months, beginning with March. The first time the new year was celebrated on January 1st was in Rome in 153 B.C.

Now, the month of January did not even exist until around 700 B.C., when the second king of Rome, Numa Pontilius, added the months of January and February. Smarch never caught on. Lousy Smarch weather!

The new year was moved from March to January because that was the beginning of the civil year, the month that the two newly elected Roman consuls—the highest officials in the Roman republic—began their one-year tenure. But this new year date was not always strictly and widely observed, and the new year was still sometimes celebrated on March 1.

In 46 B.C. Julius Caesar introduced a new, solar-based calendar that was a vast improvement on the ancient Roman calendar, which was a lunar system that had become wildly inaccurate over the years. The Julian calendar decreed that the new year would occur with January 1, and within the Roman world, January 1 became the consistently observed start of the new year.

But that was just too logical for some people.

In medieval Europe, the celebrations accompanying the new year were considered pagan and unchristian like, and in 567 the Council of Tours abolished January 1 as the beginning of the year. At various times and in various places throughout medieval Christian Europe, the new year was celebrated on Dec. 25, the birth of Jesus; March 1; March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation; and Easter. Lots of confusion. And if you celebrate Easter, it's based on the moon again. Silly Christians.

In 1582, the Gregorian calendar reform restored January 1 as new year's day. Although most Catholic countries adopted the Gregorian calendar almost immediately, it was only gradually adopted among Protestant countries. The British, for example, did not adopt the reformed calendar until 1752. Until then, the British Empire —and the American colonies— still celebrated the new year in March.

Auld Lang Syne is sung, which goes back to the British Isles from the 18th century when guests ended a party standing in a circle. Riveting.

What the hell does that song mean, anyway? In the Scottish dialect, auld lang syne is "old long since" -- aka "the good old days." The traditional lyrics begin with, "Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind..." And the entire song's message merely means to just forget about the past and look ahead to the new year with hope. Or something. If you're Scottish, it makes sense. Even the rowdiest of parties has often ended with quiet drunks singing this song as a tribute to the past year, and words and meaning aren't really the top of mind when murdering this song.

The lesser known verses continue this theme, lamenting how friends who once used to "run about the braes,/ And pou'd the gowans fine" (run about the hills and pulled up the daisies) and "paidl'd in the burn/Frae morning sun till dine" (paddled in the stream from morning to dusk) have become divided by time and distance—"seas between us braid hae roar'd" (broad seas have roared between us). Yet there is always time for old friends to get together—if not in person then in memory—and "tak a right guid-willie waught" (a good-will drink). You've been Learned.

But it was bandleader Guy Lombardo, and not Robert Burns, who popularized the song and turned it into a New Year's tradition. Lombardo first heard "Auld Lang Syne" in his hometown of London, Ontario, where it was sung by Scottish immigrants. When he and his brothers formed the famous dance band, Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians, the song became one of their standards. Lombardo played the song at midnight at a New Year's eve party at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City in 1929, and a tradition was born. After that, Lombardo's version of the song was played every New Year's eve from the 1930s until 1976 at the Waldorf Astoria. In the first years it was broadcast on radio, and then on television. The song became such a New Year's tradition that "Life magazine wrote that if Lombardo failed to play 'Auld Lang Syne,' the American public would not believe that the new year had really arrived."

Party City

Using noise makers and shooting into the sky to welcome in a new year goes back to ancient times when it was felt that noise scared off evil spirits. In Denmark, they "smash in the new year" by banging on the doors of their friends' homes and throwing pieces of broken pottery against the sides of the houses. In Japan, dancers go from house to house at Oshogatsu making strange noises and rattling and pounding bamboo sticks and banging on drums. In many parts of the US, fireworks and handguns are shot off at midnight to mark the new year. Don't stand on the top balcony. Your neighbor is an idiot.

And the old man or Father Time is the metaphor of the year that is coming to a close. Or is about to die, so obviously, a baby then becomes the symbol for the new year ahead. How cute, but he's only going to live for one year and then die off. Very sad if you think about it.

Probably the most famous tradition in the United States is the dropping of the New Year ball in Times Square, New York City, at 11:59 P.M. Thousands gather to watch the ball make its one-minute descent, arriving exactly at midnight. The tradition first began in 1907. The original ball was made of iron and wood; the current ball is made of Waterford Crystal, weighs 1,070 pounds, and is six feet in diameter. Yes, there's even an app for that: Waterford released a New Year's Eve iPhone app called "Clink-Clink." Jesus.

A traditional southern New Year's dish is Hoppin' John—black eyed peas and ham hocks. An old saying goes, "Eat peas on New Year's day to have plenty of everything the rest of the year."

Another American tradition is the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. The Tournament of Roses parade that precedes the football game on New Year's day is made up of elaborate and inventive floats. The first parade was held in 1886.

And Americans love giving gifts to the first baby that pops out on Jan 1, but my accountant tells me to pray for a December 31st birth - so you can deduct the dependent on both year's taxes.

Resolutions anyone?

One drunk dude at the party said, "I'm never going to drink again." That lie caught on and is now the joke you make at the end of one night or the beginning of the next day.

Have a safe time tonight.

Dec 29, 2009

Shepherd's Tale

A shepherd was herding his flock in a remote pasture when suddenly a brand-new BMW advanced out of the dust cloud towards him. The driver, a young man in a Broni suit, Gucci shoes, Ray Ban sunglasses and YSL tie, leaned out the window and asked the shepherd... "If I tell you exactly how many sheep you have in your flock, will you give me one?" The shepherd looked at the man, obviously a yuppie, then looked at his peacefully grazing flock and calmly answered "sure".

The yuppie parked his car, whipped out his IBM ThinkPad and connected it to a cell phone, then he surfed to a NASA page on the internet where he called up a GPS satellite navigation system, scanned the area, and then opened up a database and an Excel spreadsheet with complex formulas. He sent an email on his Blackberry and, after a few minutes, received a response. Finally, he prints out a 130-page report on his miniaturized printer then turns to the shepherd and says, "You have exactly 1586 sheep. "That is correct; take one of the sheep." said the shepherd. He watches the young man select one of the animals and bundle it into his car.

Then the shepherd says: "If I can tell you exactly what your business is, will you give me back my animal?", "OK, why not." answered the young man. "Clearly, you are a consultant." said the shepherd. "That's correct." says the yuppie, "but how did you guess that?" "No guessing required." answers the shepherd. "You turned up here although nobody called you. You want to get paid for an answer I already knew, to a question I never asked, and you don't know crap about my business...... Now give me back my dog."

Never Tell Me the Odds

Security theater consists of security countermeasures intended to provide the feeling of improved security while doing little or nothing to actually improve security. The term was coined by Bruce Schneier for his book Beyond Fear, but has gained currency in security circles, particularly for describing airport security measures. It is also used by some experts such as Edward Felten to describe the airport security repercussions due to the September 11 attacks. Security theater gains importance both by satisfying and exploiting the gap between perceived risk and actual risk.

Security theater has been defined as ostensible security measures which have little real influence on security whilst being publicly visible and designed to demonstrate to the lesser-informed that countermeasures have been considered. Security theater has been related to and has some similarities with superstition.

Thanks Gizmodo for the pic and the facts

Dec 28, 2009

Holy Banana Batman!

First of all, that's not an image of Christ the Savior. It's the legendary Banana Christ.

You know, for monkeys?

As if things weren't ridiculous enough in Christianity, the Messiah is now appearing on slapstick gag props. Maybe next someone will see Jesus' face on a cream pie?

But don't worry. It is not Banana Christ or the Monkey Messiah....

Its clearly Dimebag Darrell, and very close to the anniversary of his passing, I might add.

Leia The Riveter

Leia The Riveter shirt, mixing the Rebel Alliance's favorite princess with everyone's favorite WWII propaganda icon. Available for today only (and only $9!), pick one up while you can. [TeeFury]

New Security Measures

For Airline Passengers, Pat-Downs, Searches and Restroom Monitors.

The next step will just be complete nudity.

The T.S.A. issued an update on its Web site Sunday that said passengers would be subject to greater security, but its information was not as detailed as the memorandums sent by the agency to airlines this weekend. The airlines said the new T.S.A. measures required an additional round of searches, including body pat-downs at airport gates overseas.

International travelers were also told that they could not leave their seats for the last hour of a flight, during which time they also could not use a pillow or blanket. They were also limited to one piece of carry-on baggage, including a purse or briefcase, and that piece had to be stowed in an overhead compartment for the last hour of a flight.

Airlines were ordered to turn off in-flight entertainment systems with maps showing a plane’s location, and pilots and flight crews were told not to make comments about cities or landmarks below the flight path.

All I can say is, thanks Al Qaeda - you've taken an already abysmal practice which is airline travel, and have found a way to make it even more despicable. Frankly, if there were any politicians looking to find a way to keep funding and troops in Afghanistan - all they would have to say is, "Hey, anybody here been on a plane lately? Let's go kill those sons-abitches!" That politician would have instant votes.

Dec 26, 2009

Batteries Not Included

U.S. Says Incident Aboard Plane Was Attempted Act of Terrorism

A passenger aboard a plane at Detroit Metropolitan Airport apparently tried to ignite an explosive device on Friday, an incident the United States believes was an attempted act of terrorism, according to a White House official who asked not to be identified.

Read More

Organized Religion

Dec 25, 2009

Thanks Santa!

Well, I hope you all got what you wanted this Christmas. I did.

Looks like that Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle got upgraded! Now I'm ready for the Zombie Apocalypse with my new Red Ryder Peacemaker 2010!

Baby Jesus Wrap Up

Advent is over! We did it.

Now a quick recap. Here's some issues I've come across this month, some plot holes - if you will - with the whole Baby Jesus story.

First off, Mark being the first of the synoptic gospels, makes no mention of Jesus being born of a virgin. But, it's possible the Mary was the virgin birth... but that's according to arcane fan fiction. John. Matthew & Luke also fail to mention Mary is a virgin. The other two synoptic gospels, have differing reasons for Jesus’ birth to a virgin.

Then, Matthew, a Greek speaking non-Jew, goes to extraordinary lengths to match Jesus’ life to Old Testament prophecy. His inadequate Hebrew linguistic skills cause him to make more than 20 interpretative errors of the Hebrew Bible. The glaring error being he cites Isaiah 7:14 as a messianic prophecy, which it is clearly is not. Further, he mistakes the Hebrew word ‘alma’ to mean virgin. Thus the Jesus myth of a virgin birth is nothing more than a translation error. Oops. I'll try to remember this argument when someone says the Bible is 100% the Word of God, or when the phrase Gospel Truth is used in polite conversation.

Luke, the only other gospel to mention virgin birth, does not make any reference to the prophecy as being the reason for Jesus’ non-sexual conception. Also, Luke writes that Jesus was born when Quirinius was the governor of Syria. You'll note that the problem is that Quirinius did not become governor of Syria until 10 years after the death of Herod, which messes up all the calenders. Either Matthew isn't correct when he says that Herod was king at the time of Jesus’ birth, or Luke is wrong. Weren't these guys in the same writer's meeting?

Despite extensive records of King Herod’s reign there is no mention of a baby killing edict of children under the age of two in the Bethlehem vicinity. Again, as Mel Brooks will tell you, it's just too Jewish. And despite extensive accounts of Caesar Augustus’ reign there are absolutely zero mentions anywhere that an empire wide census for which all citizens had to return to their ancestral home to register. You'd think there'd be a pamphlet or something laying around?

Just for fun, let's pretend that it did happen, how could such a thing ever logistically take place? You couldn't even pull that off today - have you been to the Denver airport for Thanksgiving? The Bible says that Joseph must return to Bethlehem because his ancestor David was born there, but David lived 1000 years before Joseph. So now every citizen living under the Roman empire was required to return to the homes of their ancestors from 1000 years ago? It seems that this whole bit about Jesus’ birth place to be in Bethlehem so to fill in a plot hole to match the prophecy of Micah 5:2...

But if you really stop and think about it, if Jesus was born to a virgin, then his genealogy, and specifically Joesph’s ancestry becomes irrelevant and therefore cannot be used to fulfill Old Testament prophecy. Why go through all the trouble to say that the Messiah descended from King David, if you're going to abandon the storyline next season? It's like that Russian hitman story in the Soprano's that they never tied up.

Matthew writes that Joseph was more than a little bit put out upon discovering that 14 year old Mary was pregnant. He retires to bed that night, presumably with intentions to kill her the next morning as per Mosaic Law, but an angel appears to him in a dream to comfort him that she is carrying the Holy Spirit’s child. Would the modern equivalent to this this would be Maury Povich? according to the New Testament, violates the laws of the Torah, which specify what constitutes adultery. Mary, according to the New Testament, did not conceive by her betrothed, Joseph. Therefore, she committed adultery "under law" (Deutronomy 22:23-24). As a result, the Christian claim that Jesus was born of a woman engaged to a man, yet had God as his father, must be considered to refer to an adulterous union.
Whereas Luke writes that Mary is unaware that she is pregnant but an angel appears to her to advise she is carrying God’s baby. I guess to ruin the surprise? In Galatians 4:4 Paul claims that "God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under law."

And about that "born under Law" crack, if we go ahead and presume a birth without a man's assistance, we still have the problem that Jesus was not born in accordance with the Law. His birth, God's law does not allow for God to seduce a maiden, even through the medium of the Holy Spirit. What would be the worth of a moral code that is violated by God Himself? "Oh, it's okay if I do it..." The seduction of a female by a god fits, at best, in the realm of pagan mythology or the Phantom Menace. Such a statement made in reference to the God of Israel is an abomination. Ooops again.

Oh, and remember when Luke wrote that shepherds are lead to the new born baby Jesus by an angel that visited them in a nearby field? Matthew wrote something completely contradictory. Matthew wrote that three wise men are guided by a star from the east that leads them to Jerusalem. The star takes a breather. Starts up again and leads them to the very house that baby Jesus was born in. A star! Maybe it's one of those cute cartoon ones from Dora the Explorer? I have remarked earlier that it is also a question mark to the validity of this celestial apparition since it shows up in no other culture or record -- Specifically in China, Druid, or Inca, Aztec or Mayan - who were all excellent astronomers/astrologers. You'd think they'd made a note of it?

Another couple review notes, caroling, holly, mistletoe, poinsettias, nativity scenes and candy canes, stockings and trees are all completely unrelated to Christmas - but somehow were adapted all the celebrating. Christmas cards are nothing more than 1843's answer to cutn'paste.

Well, happy day off everyone. I hope you enjoyed the Blasphemes's Advent Calender this year. I think I learned a lot - very much wish that everyone else did too.

Remember, Axial Tilt is the Reason for the Season!

Geeky Nativity Scenes

In my exhaustive search on the Advent, I happened to come across some very interesting stuff. Some of the best had to be the geeky nativity scenes. I've been storing them up as my Christmas present to all my Blasphemes readers. I think you'll enjoy these almost as much as I have.

Nativity on Tatooine
Come celebrate the virgin birth of Anakin Skywalker on the desert planet of Tatooine. The Jedi are standing in as the three kings, it seems. And Obi Wan is Joseph?

Nativity on Endor
This one is a little less thought out, as it seems that Leia has given birth to Han's child - and Darth Vader is there, for some reason? And two Luke Skywalkers, one in Hoth gear - and the African Cloud City guard. It is pretty though.

Nativity on Yancy Street [Marvel Comics]
I love the mutant Angel and Electro sitting on the roof, but don't quite understand the gigantic Spider man there's probably a three issue story leading up to this cross-over.
Jean Gray Phoenix and Scott Summers are the virgin and Joseph.

Ultimate Nativity on Yancy Street
More in line with Fantastic Four only. Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman as Mary and Joseph, the Thing as a shepherd doing one-handed curls with a sheep, the Human Torch and Silver Surfer as Wise Men, and Franklin Richards as everyone's personal savior.

Pirate Nativity
Pirates of the Caribbean witness to the birth of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Doctor Who Nativity
No less than two doctors and two companions witness the holy birth of K-9.
I suggest the Doctor think twice before he opens the gifts from the Wise Men though.

Steven Spielberg Nativity
There's a lot going on in this one. Looks like Indiana Jones, and Donald Duck, and Iron Man and an Iron Giant are in attendance. I think there's a Homer and a Bone in there too. I see no less than three Velociraptors. Okay, well, the cartoons we can chalk up to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Dr. Strange - maybe Dreamworks has the rights? The Homer Simpson - a little harder to explain... and the Klingon cha'DIch hanging over the manger... (yeah, I had to look up the spelling) um... maybe this is just a bunch of geek stuff this guy owned and threw it in a manger?

Lost Nativity
Baby Arron born in a hatch. Polar bear is a nice touch.

Saviors of the Lost Ark
Much better use of the property.

Creationist Christmas

Dec 24, 2009

Last minute gift ideas...

Advent List

And now, for your enjoyment and merriment, a list of the previous Advent stories and revelations.

The Big Day: the 25th

Gift Giving

Oh Christmas Tree

Christmas Card


Yule Log

Roman Census

The Creche



Candy Canes




The Color Pallet of Christmas

A Shepherds Tale

Three Wise Men (Part Three)

Three Wise Men (Part Two)

Three Wise Men (Part One)

King Herod

No Vacancy at the Inn

Joseph the Carpenter

Mary and the Immaculate Conception

I hope very much that you enjoyed this series of discovery surrounding the winter solstice celebrations. I know I learned a lot, and found it's good to ask questions and do some research. I even used books!

Feel free to drop me a line, or toss it over to Reddit and let them tear me a new one. Again, hope you found it interesting as well. Cappy.

The Big Day: the 25th

At this point we're all asking:
How did Christmas come to be celebrated on December 25?

Going back to those wacky Roman pagans. They celebrated the holiday of Saturnalia. I've been bringing it up a lot the last 23 days. What was this fun little holiday? Well, it was a week long period of lawlessness celebrated between December 17-25. During this week, the Roman courts were closed, and Roman law dictated that no one could be punished for damaging property or injuring people during the week long celebration. Whoa, what?

The festival began when Roman authorities chose “an enemy of the Roman people” to represent the “Lord of Misrule.” Each Roman community selected a victim whom they forced to indulge in food and other physical pleasures throughout the week. At the festival’s conclusion, December 25th, Roman authorities believed they were destroying the forces of darkness by brutally murdering this innocent man or woman. That sounds a lot like what we do to female pop singers or actresses?

The Greek writer, poet and historian Lucian described it for us: In addition to human sacrifice, he mentions these customs: widespread intoxication; going from house to house while singing naked; rape and other sexual license; and consuming human-shaped biscuits... Gingerbread men, anyone? So next time someone compares ancient Rome and present America - not even Larry Flint could pull this kind of 'fun' off.

By the 4th century CE, Christianity imported the Saturnalia festival hoping to bring along the unwashed pagan masses in with it. Christian leaders succeeded in converting to Christianity large numbers of pagans by promising them that they could continue to celebrate the Saturnalia as Christians, and keep their foreskin. But the circumcision of non-Jewish Christ followers is probably another topic for another day.

How fun is that? You still get ripped, rape and maim in the last week of the year. And Jesus will forgive you? What a deal!

The problem with including this hedonistic holiday in the Christian traditions, is that there was and is still nothing Christian about Saturnalia. [From certain points of view, anyway.] In attempt to throw some duct tape on this little gap, the Christian leadership named Saturnalia’s concluding day, December 25th, to be Jesus’ birthday.

But, those Christians had almost zero affect on dulling the practices of Saturnalia. As Stephen Nissenbaum, professor history at the University of Massachussetts, Amherst, writes, “In return for ensuring massive observance of the anniversary of the Savior’s birth by assigning it to this resonant date, the Church for its part tacitly agreed to allow the holiday to be celebrated more or less the way it had always been.” The earliest Christmas holidays were celebrated by drinking, sexual indulgence, singing naked in the streets. Good times!

Reverend Increase Mather of Boston observed in 1687 that “the early Christians who first observed the Nativity on December 25 did not do so thinking that Christ was born in that Month, but because the Heathens’ Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome, and they were willing to have those Pagan Holidays metamorphosed into Christian ones. Which would be a trend in other holidays.

Because of its known pagan origin, Christmas was banned by the Puritans and its observance was illegal in Massachusetts between 1659 and 1681. However, Christmas was and still is celebrated by most Christians despite the prohibition.

But let's go back to that fun Roman blood orgy. Sounds like a lot of fun, right? Well, the Catholic Church revived the customs of the Saturnalia carnival in 1466. Pope Paul II brought it back for the amusement of his Roman citizens. He forced Jews to race naked through the streets of the city. An eyewitness account reports, “Before they were to run, the Jews were richly fed, so as to make the race more difficult for them and at the same time more amusing for spectators. They ran - amid Rome’s taunting shrieks and peals of laughter, while the Holy Father stood upon a richly ornamented balcony and laughed heartily.” And I thought the modern Catholic Church had issues.

It didn't stop there. As part of the Saturnalia carnival in the 18th and 19th centuries, rabbis of the ghetto in Rome were forced to wear clown outfits and march through the city streets to the jeers of the crowd. They would then get pelted by a variety of missiles. Kind of a reverse parade. When the Jewish community of Rome sent a petition in 1836 to Pope Gregory XVI begging him to stop the annual Saturnalia abuse of the Jewish community, he responded, “It is not opportune to make any innovation.” What a dick.

On December 25, 1881, Christian leaders whipped the Polish masses into Antisemitic frenzies that led to riots across the country. It was called “The Republic of Baboonery.” In Warsaw 12 Jews were brutally murdered, huge numbers maimed, and many Jewish women were raped. Two million rubles worth of property was destroyed. Before I get into some Nazi rant, let's move on.

So when was Jesus born?

We all know that we just assume it's December 25th in the year 1 C.E. Not 0.

The New Testament gives no date or year for Jesus’ birth. This will be review, but the earliest gospel – St. Mark’s, written about 65 CE – begins with the baptism of an adult Jesus. This suggests that the earliest Christians lacked interest in or knowledge of Jesus’ birthdate.

The year of Jesus birth was determined by Dionysius Exiguus, a Scythian monk, “abbot of a Roman monastery. His calculation went as follows:

In the Roman, pre-Christian era, years were counted from ab urbe condita (“the founding of the City” [Rome]). Thus 1 AUC signifies the year Rome was founded, 5 AUC signifies the 5th year of Rome’s reign, etc.

Dionysius received a tradition that the Roman emperor Augustus reigned 43 years, and was followed by the emperor Tiberius.

Luke 3:1,23 indicates that when Jesus turned 30 years old, it was the 15th year of Tiberius reign.

But if Jesus was 30 years old in Tiberius’ reign, then he lived 15 years under Augustus (placing Jesus birth in Augustus’ 28th year of reign).

Augustus took power in 727 AUC. Therefore, Dionysius put Jesus birth in 754 AUC.

However, as we pointed out in an earlier post about Herod, Luke 1:5 [unfortunately] places Jesus’ birth in the days of Herod, and Herod died in 750 AUC – four years before the year in which Dionysius places Jesus birth.

Joseph A. Fitzmyer – Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at the Catholic University of America, member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, and former president of the Catholic Biblical Association – writing in the Catholic Church’s official commentary on the New Testament, wrote about the date of Jesus’ birth, “Though the year [of Jesus birth is not reckoned with certainty, the birth did not occur in AD 1. The Christian era, supposed to have its starting point in the year of Jesus birth, is based on a miscalculation introduced ca. 533 by Dionysius Exiguus.” Well, if he says it, I'm going to go with his expert opinion. I'm not buying a new calendar though.

The DePascha Computus, an anonymous document [more Christ fan fiction] believed to have been written in North Africa around 243 CE, placed Jesus birth on March 28. Clement, a bishop of Alexandria (d. ca. 215 CE), thought Jesus was born on November 18. Based on historical records, Fitzmyer guesses that Jesus birth occurred on September 11, 3 BCE. He's gettin' born all over the place.

So it's probably just easier they picked the Solstice.

But then what's with the 12 Days of Christmas?

*sigh* The Twelve Days of Christmas is probably the most misunderstood part of the church year among Christians who are not part of liturgical church traditions. Read Orthodox. Contrary popular belief, these are not the twelve days before Christmas, but in most of the Western Church are the twelve days from Christmas until the beginning of Epiphany (January 6th; the 12 days count from December 25th until January 5th). In some traditions, the first day of Christmas begins on the evening of December 25th with the following day considered the First Day of Christmas (December 26th). In these traditions, the twelve days begin December 26 and include Epiphany on January 6. Confused yet?

The origin and counting of the Twelve Days is as just as complicated as all the other Christmas traditions. It's all tied into the differences in calendars, church traditions, and ways to observe this holy day in various cultures. In the Western church, Epiphany is usually celebrated as the time the Wise Men or Magi arrived to present gifts to the young Jesus (Matt. 2:1-12). Which we've learned might have been when he was 2.

In some cultures, especially Hispanic and Latin American culture, January 6th is observed as Three Kings Day, or simply the Day of the Kings (Span: la Fiesta de Reyes, el Dia de los Tres Reyes, or el Dia de los Reyes Magos; Dutch: Driekoningendag). Even though December 25th is celebrated as Christmas in these cultures, January 6th is often the day for giving gifts. In some places it is traditional to give Christmas gifts for each of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Since Eastern Orthodox traditions use a different religious calendar, they celebrate Christmas on January 7th and observe Epiphany or Theophany on January 19th.

This all ought to be over just in time for Passover.

Dec 23, 2009

X-Mas Origins: Santa

Gift Giving

Christmas is the time when capitalism goes uncloaked, when alienation blossoms, when much of the world succumbs to a frenzied potlatch of one-upmanship, debt, and disappointment.

Gift giving in general is obviously linked to the Magi's visit to the Baby Jesus. But, actually, giving gifts at the time of the solstice and the Romasn strenae (New Year) was customary way beforehand. The typical gifts were honey, fruits and lamps... but if you were rich, you were expected to give gold coins as per the tradition of the Roman Saturnalia.

Like many old customs, gift exchange was difficult to get rid of even as Christianity spread and gained official status in the Empire. Early church leaders tried to outlaw the custom, but people want what's coming to them, so it stuck. Which forced church leaders to conjure up a Christian justification for the practice. The justification was found in the Magi’s act of bearing gifts to the infant Jesus, and in the concept that Christ was a gift from God to the world, bringing in turn the gift of redemption and everlasting life. That's weaker than my grandfather's decaf coffee.

But the real explosion of gift giving, wrapping paper and all those customs we hold dear without actually questioning really gets going in Victorian England. The Victorians, who brought a renewed warmth and spirit to Christmas after it had experienced a long period of decline, made the idea of family part of the celebration. Friendliness and charity filled many hearts during their Christmas season, so giving gifts was natural. The ultimate reason for giving a gift was as an expression of kindness, a sentiment that went nicely with the historical tradition of the holiday. Damn Dickens.

The American Christmas was immediately copied, gift giving, traditions and all. America expanded on the concept with the addition of Santa Claus. The association with gifts was a natural one. Soon a funny little elf with flying reindeer (or one of his earlier models) would take responsibility for trinkets left in an ever-increasing number of stockings.

He has many names, in many customs. Father Christmas, also known as Santa Claus, Père Noël, and the Weihnachtsmann; Saint Nicholas or Sinterklaas; the Christkind; Kris Kringle; Joulupukki; Babbo Natale; Saint Basil; and Father Frost.

However, the lavish Americanized version of Christmas gift giving is relatively new to the traditions, and it comes with the commercialization of the entire month. The most famous and pervasive of these figures in modern celebration worldwide is Santa Claus, a mythical gift bringer, dressed in red, whose origins have diverse sources. The name Santa Claus is a corruption, perhaps a mispronouncing, of the Dutch Sinterklaas, which means simply Saint Nicholas. Nicholas was Bishop of Myra, in modern day Turkey, during the fourth century. Among other saintly attributes, he was noted for the care of Children, generosity, and the giving of gifts. His feast on the 6th of December came to be celebrated in many countries with the giving of gifts. Saint Nicholas traditionally appeared in bishoply attire, accompanied by helpers, and inquired about the behavior of children during the past year, before deciding whether they deserved a gift or not. By the 13th century Saint Nicholas was well known in the Netherlands, and the practice of gift-giving in his name spread to other parts of central and southern Europe. In the Reformation, many Protestants changed the gift bringer to the Christ Child or Christkindl, (corrupted in English to Kris Kringle), and the date of giving gifts changed from December the 6th to Christmas Eve.

The modern popular image of Santa Claus, however, was created in the United States, and in particular, in New York. By Don Draper. Well, not him specifically, but you get the reference. Six people including Washington Irving and the German-American cartoonist Thomas Nast can be counted as part of the team. After the American Revolutionary War, New Yorkers were looking for symbols of their non-English past. Since they were established by Dutch colonials, and was once called New Amsterdam the Dutch Sinterklaas tradition seemed a good place to start. Of course, they weren't totally happy with it, and in a committee reinvented Sinterklass into Saint Nicholas. In 1809, the New-York Historical Society convened and retroactively named Sancte Claus the patron saint of Nieuw Amsterdam (yeah, that's the Dutch name for New York City).

In 1810, Santa Claus was drawn in bishops' robes. However as new artists took over, Santa Claus developed more secular attire. Nast drew a new image of "Santa Claus" annually, beginning in 1863. He was kind of creepy and elfish. By the 1880s, Nast's Santa had evolved into the robed, fur clad, form we now recognize, perhaps based on the English figure of Father Christmas.

Santa Claus is famous around the world for giving gifts to good children. And so is Father Christmas. Pssst. They're the same dude.

Father Christmas, a jolly, well nourished, bearded man who typified the spirit of good cheer at Christmas, predates the Santa Claus character. He is first recorded in early 17th century England, but was associated with holiday merrymaking and drunkenness rather than the bringing of gifts. Hey, he is British after all. In Victorian Britain, his image was remade to match that of Santa. How's that for a feedback loop? The French Père Noël evolved along similar lines, eventually adopting the Santa image. In Italy, Babbo Natale acts as Santa Claus, while La Befana is the bringer of gifts and arrives on the eve of the Epiphany. It is said that La Befana set out to bring the baby Jesus gifts, but got lost along the way. Now, she brings gifts to all children. In some cultures Santa Claus is accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht, or Black Peter. In other versions, elves make the toys. His wife is referred to as Mrs. Claus.

But wait, what about his iconic red suit and superpowers? That starts with the Coca Cola Company. And that one little Irving poem.

The Coca-Cola Company began its Christmas advertising in the 1920s with shopping-related ads in magazines like The Saturday Evening Post. The first Santa ads used a strict-looking Claus, in the vein of Thomas Nast. But, for the record, Nast had introduced the red furs over green before Coke contracted Santa for an endorsement deal.

But why would Coke spend all that money on Santa? Up until then, folks treated Coke as a drink only for warm weather. The Coca-Cola Company began a campaign to remind people that Coca-Cola was a great choice in any month, and with every meal. This began with the 1922 slogan "Thirst Knows No Season," and continued with a campaign connecting a true icon of winter -- Santa Claus -- with the beverage. Brilliant.

In 1930, artist Fred Mizen painted a department store Santa in a crowd drinking a bottle of Coke. The ad featured the world's largest soda fountain, which was located in the department store of Famous Barr Co. in St. Louis, Mo. Mizen's painting was used in print ads that Christmas season, appearing in The Saturday Evening Post in December 1930. It snowballed from there. Pretty soon kids were sending their letters to Coca-Cola HQ rather than the Dead Letter Office.

From what I can tell, most of the other superpowers and background stories only come from the songs, Miracle on 34th Street, and the Rankin/Bass CBS specials. Rudolph was created for Montgomery Wards.

At this point, Santa has more superpowers than late 1970's Superman. But that's the American Santa...

Current tradition in several Latin American countries (such as Venezuela and Colombia) holds that while Santa makes the toys, he then gives them to the Baby Jesus, who is the one who actually delivers them to the children's homes, a reconciliation between traditional religious beliefs and the iconography of Santa Claus imported from the United States. Because that makes SO much more sense.

In Alto Adige/Südtirol (Italy), Austria, Czech Republic, Southern Germany, Hungary, Liechtenstein, Slovakia and Switzerland, the Christkind (Ježíšek in Czech, Jézuska in Hungarian and Ježiško in Slovak) brings the presents. The German St. Nikolaus is not identical with the Weihnachtsman (who is the German version of Santa Claus). St. Nikolaus wears a bishop's dress and still brings small gifts (usually candies, nuts and fruits) on December 6 and is accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht. Although many parents around the world routinely teach their children about Santa Claus and other gift bringers, some have come to reject this practice, considering it deceptive.

And then there's The Krampus! In parts of Austria, Krampus is a scary figure, most probably originating in the Pre-Christian Alpine traditions. Local tradition typically portrays these figures as children of poor families, roaming the streets and sledding hills during the holiday festival. They wore black rags and masks, dragging chains behind them, and occasionally hurling them towards children in their way. These Krampusumzüge (Krampus runs) still exist, although perhaps less violent than in the past.

Today, in Schladming, a town in Styria, over 1200 "Krampus" gather from all over Austria wearing goat-hair costumes and carved masks, carrying bundles of sticks used as switches, and swinging cowbells to warn of their approach. They are typically males in their teens and early twenties, and often get very drunk. Awesome. They roam the streets of this typically quiet town and hit people with their switches. It is not considered wise for young women to go out on this night, as they are popular targets.

In many parts of Croatia, Krampus is described as a devil, wearing chains around his neck, ankles and wrists, and wearing a cloth sack around his waist. As a part of a tradition, when a child receives a gift from St. Nicolas he is given a golden branch to represent his/hers good deeds throughout the year; however, if the child has misbehaved, Krampus will take the gifts for himself and leave only a silver branch to represent the child's bad acts. Children are commonly scared into sleeping during the time St. Nicolas brings gifts by being told that if they are awake, Krampus will think they have been bad, and will take them away in his sack. In Hungary, the Krampusz is often portrayed as mischievous rather than evil devil, wearing a black suit, a long red tongue, with a tail and little red horns that are funny rather than frightening. The Krampusz wields a Virgács, which is a bunch of golden coloured twigs bound together. Hungarian parents often frighten children with getting a Virgács instead of presents, if they do not behave. By the end of November, you can buy all kinds of Virgács on the streets, usually painted gold, bound by a red ribbon. Getting a Virgács is rather more fun than frightening, and is usually given to all children, along with presents to make them behave.

Why the hell hasn't the Krumpus been brought to America? It's got public drunkeness, beating and kidnapping of little bratty kids - and he's more hideous than Freddy Kruger! Maybe Halloween town was fighting over rights issues. It's a messy contract dispute.

Dec 22, 2009

There is no contest

Oh Christmas Tree

Funny how we haven't gotten to this one yet. I mean, how does one rationally cut down a perfectly good carbon trap, ship it from the farthest northern region of Michigan, slap it on to a car and then put it in the house - then put shinny glass things on it, while then either lighting candles on a dried out fire stick, or wrapping it with electric lights? And this has to do with the Christ Child... er, how, exactly?

And isn't it kind of blasphemous too? As Jeremiah the prophet admonishes those who dare to erect such a pagan artifact: "Thus saith the Lord, learn not the way of the heathen...For the customs of the people are vain; for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not." (Jeremiah 10:2-6)

To find the origin of Christmas trees, again we go to pre-Christian (read icky dirty Pagans) Northern Europe. The nice folks who lived there believed that trees, especially fruit trees and evergreens, were the embodiment of powerful beings. But, why would they then cut these trees down and put them in the house? Wouldn't that, you know, kill the being inside it? Right, they thought so too! So they didn't. Now we have to jump forward to the fourteenth century - where on December 24th, as part of the miracle play was the story of Adam and Eve. They'd hang an apple in an evergreen to symbolize the paradise tree. Hey! Guess where those shinny red things you hang come from? There you go, we're learning stuff!

About two hundred years later in sixteenth century the Germans began hanging evergreens in their homes - which could have been a misguided attempt at the Yule Log (see our earlier post) or they were just really cold and would rather look at the tree in their home than outside? The German Christbaüme, or Christ Trees, were decorated with fruit, candies, cookies, and Eucharist wafers.

There's a rumor that Martin Luther is the first person to put candles on the tree, and therefore invented Christmas lights - but the funny thing about history is that he was probably trying to burn the Christmas tree down, and it was misinterpreted as a new decoration.

The mostly German tradition probably would have stayed with the Glüwein, and a few expats living in the US. Except a few German merchants gave one to Queen Victoria. Well, actually, it was for her boyfriend Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg. And as soon as the ladies saw etchings in Godey's Lady's Book (the Oprah of the Victorian Age) everyone had to have one... and they did. And no one ever once asked why.'

Artificial trees were also a German invention, but they were goose feathers that were dyed green. Now that's Festive! But this was a response to the deforestation of Germany. In the 1930's the Addis Brush Company made fake trees from brush bristles. Couldn't find the pipe cleaners, I guess? And like in the Charlie Brown special - there really were aluminum trees in the late 50's. Probably to go with that new aluminum siding on their homes? Today, most are made in China out of PVC or some other type of petroleum based plastic. Aproximately 10% of artificial Christmas trees are using virgin suspension PVC resin and despite being plastic most artificial trees are not recyclable or biodegradable.

Should you go plastic or real? Well, we debated that one way back in 2007.

Dec 21, 2009

Winter Solstice 2009

At exactly 12:04 p.m. UT (3:04 a.m. Eastern Standard Time) on December 21, the Sun will have reached its most southerly declination. Over the past six months, for the folks in the northern hemisphere, the every day peak of the Sun’s arc across the daytime sky has gotten lower. At 12:04 UT it reached its lowest point. Tomorrow, and now every day until June 21, the Sun will be a bit higher in the sky at local noon. June 21 at 05:45 UT, and be at the highest point it can get. Then the process reverses again.

We call those points in time the solstices.

"Solstice" is derived from the Latin phrase for "sun stands still."

The Winter Solstice has always been a time of celebration, because ancient people were intricately tied to the goings on of the sky. Their constant sky-watching was tied to a life in agriculture. The stars were their calender, GPS, and DirecTV. It might have helped that there was zero light pollution, save for a cloudy night here and there. The people of that time knew that the Winter Solstice signaled that the Sun had begun it's new cycle of life. Eventually spring - and more importantly, food - would return. The promise of another growing season would be fulfilled.

Throughout history, humans have celebrated the winter solstice, often with an appreciative eye toward the return of summer sunlight.

Massive prehistoric monuments such as Ireland's mysterious Newgrange tomb (video) are aligned to capture the light at the moment of the winter solstice sunrise.

Germanic peoples of Northern Europe honored the winter solstice with Yule festivals—the origin of the still-standing tradition of the long-burning Yule log. We have discussed.

The Roman feast of Saturnalia, honoring the God Saturn, was a weeklong December feast that included the observance of the winter solstice. Romans also celebrated the lengthening of days following the solstice by paying homage to Mithra—an ancient Persian god of light.

Many modern pagans attempt to observe the winter solstice in the traditional manner of the ancients.

"There is a resurgent interest in more traditional religious groups that is often driven by ecological motives," said Harry Yeide, a professor of religion at George Washington University. "These people do celebrate the solstice itself."

You and I celebrate the Solstice in modern times, as well. But we’re all far more sophisticated these days - we cover up this ancient pagan sun worship with more important religious customs and countless trips to Target.

Happy Winter Solstice, everyone.

Mandates for Christmas

Reid: "We are reshaping the nation. That's what we want to do."

...said majority leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada. “With this vote, we’re rejecting a system in which one class of people can afford to stay healthy, while another cannot.’’ Hey, he said it. That's what every Republican has been bitching about since this whole thing started. He actually quantified the Republican argument on the Senate floor.

Minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said that the bill would “long outlive this frantic, snowy weekend in Washington,’’ but he called it a historic mistake.

“If the people who wrote this bill were proud of it, we wouldn’t be voting on it in the dead of night,’’ he said. “The final product is a mess.’’ I can't argue with that statement.

The vote was 60 to 40, with all 58 Democrats and two independents supporting the measure. Republicans stood united against it, and they seemed determined to resist until the last moment possible under the Senate rules, setting the final vote for Christmas Eve night.

With the Senate and House health care bills expected to come crashing together like two drivers in Texas driving in the snow this week, let us take a quick look at the three biggest issues that have yet to be resolved...

* Abortion: Both bills have placed limits on abortion, but surprise, surprise neither side is happy. Abortion rights supporters feel women are being denied access to abortion, while anti-abortion folks are fairly sure that the government will be subsidizing insurance that covers the procedure.

* Taxes: The Senate bill increases the Medicare tax by almost a full percentage point for those earning more than $200,000 (or $250,000 for couples), but many Democrats believe this is a burden on the middle class. Which proves to me that these jokers need to be returned to the private sector and get a real job.

Also - NOTE - that none of any of this even starts until 2014. Most folks don't know that. You're not getting anything until then. It's so that all these back room deals and the current group of crooks won't be around or will conveniently have retired by then. With their full Congressional pension and Congressional Health Plan.

* The public option: The House bill includes a government-run plan, but the Senate bill—in an effort to bribe gain more support from moderate Democrats—sticks with privately-run national plans, one of which must be nonprofit and supervised by a federal office. Though some senators, such as Al Franken, still want the public option, more and more seem willing to compromise. Especially since Harry Reid has been standing in the Senate chamber with his wallet out. Scratch that - YOUR wallet out.

The funny part is that, as I predicted back in March, no one is happy with this hodgepodge of a corpse thing they're presenting as a bill. It's so corrupt, so vile, and so many people have compromised everything they wanted - no one is happy. The left has been betrayed: the Single Payer was DOA, but it worked on them pretty well on November 2. The right only looks obstructionist, but they're simply doing the potty dance until they get their turn again at the trough.

I agree with Howard Dean, strike the whole thing - start from scratch. If you're going to do it, do it right. Not this. Live or die with your values and your integrity of the party and- oh, that's not working out too well? I guess just keep whittling it down to the point of irrelevance then. Like you've been doing.

Christmas Cards

Christmas cards originated in England over 150 years ago. "You cannot reach perfection though you try however hard to there's always one more friend or so you should have sent a card to," wrote Richard Armour. Sir Henry Cole knew exactly what Armour was saying. The founder of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London had so many Christmas greetings to send that handwriting them was impossible. Yet he wanted to make his friends aware of the need to help the destitute on that holiday. What a champ.

His 1843 answer to cut n' paste? Sir Henry commissioned John Calcott Horsley to paint a card showing the feeding and clothing of the poor. A center panel displayed a happy family embracing one another, sipping wine and enjoying the festivities. And where did his good intentions get him? The card drew criticism because showing a child enjoying a sip of wine was considered "fostering the moral corruption of children." Crap! "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You" was printed on that first card. Legend says Sir Henry didn't send any cards the following year, but the custom became popular anyway.

Holiday cards designed by Kate Greenaway, the Victorian children's writer and illustrator and Frances Brundage and Ellen H. Clapsaddle, were favorites in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Most were elaborate , decorated with fringe, silk and satin. Some were shaped liked fans and crescents; others were cut into the shapes of bells, birds, candles and even plum puddings. You know, for the poor. Some folded like maps or fitted together as puzzles; other squealed or squeaked. Pop-up Cards reveled tiny mangers or skaters with flying scarves gliding around a mirrored pond. Sure beats the one I made at Costco.

Christmas Card by Louis PrangFor more than 30 years, Americans had to import greeting cards from England. Apparently it was just too high concept or high tech for Americans to figure out. In 1875, Louis Prang, a German immigrant to the U.S., opened a lithographic shop with $250 and published the first line of U.S. Christmas cards. His initial creations featured flowers and birds, unrelated to the Christmas scene. By 1881, Prang was producing more than five million Christmas cards each year. His Yuletide greetings began to feature snow scenes, fir trees, glowing fireplaces and children playing with toys. His painstaking craftsmanship and lithographic printing have made his cards a favorite of collectors today. Christmas Cards have changed since the days of Sir Henry and Louis Prang. They now sport comics, jokes and clever verses. You'll find these at Spencers at the mall. But those that picture timeless and simple settings such as excited children around a Christmas tree, Nativity scenes, nature scenes and carolers singing in the snow are still in the highest demand today.

It seems the trend will become just an elaborate Facebook post, somehow sponsored by Hallmark in the next couple years.