Showing posts with label Christmas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christmas. Show all posts

Friday, December 13, 2013

Christmas: the Meta-Holiday

I would like to introduce a word to the language: meta-holiday.  A meta-holiday is a holiday that celebrates the fact of its celebration.

Initially, holidays are celebrated because of actual reasons.  Purim celebrates the deliverance of the Jews from the plotted genocide of Haman.  Passover celebrates the deliverance of the Jews from slavery in Egypt.  Yom Kippur celebrates redemption and atonement.  To stop picking on the Jews, Easter celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus.  The Feast of the Immaculate Conception celebrates the Catholic belief in beginning of the life of Mary without Original Sin.

Actual things.

But after a while, people stop caring about the reasons for the celebration.  But not only do they keep celebrating, but the particulars of the celebration become the reasons for the celebration.  Thanksgiving is celebrated because turkey and pie.  Halloween is celebrated because candy and costumes.  St. Patricks Day is celebrated because green beer and clovers.  Talk Like a Pirate Day is celebrated because talk like a pirate.

The worst of these is Christmas.

Christmas is the celebration of the celebration of Christmas.

Monday, December 24, 2012

What IS Santa?: a proposal for a modern understanding

For as long as I can remember, every Christmas, I have been confused by what exactly Santa Claus is.

Historically, Santa Claus is St. Nicholas of Myra, a Christian archbishop in modern-day Turkey who lived during the Roman persecution of the Church and was present at the Council of Nicea.  He was claimed to be a wonder-worker, and was also well-known for his anonymous gifts to the needy.  He has historically been honored on the 6th of December, and because of his generous reputation convents and monasteries began a tradition of sneaking out at night and delivering gifts to the poor. (see here, here, and here for references, the middle one being especially fantastic)

Among the hundred or so other things of which he was patron saint, one of them was sailors.  For this reason, sailors would often find themselves back home on the 6th, and be able to give a present obtained at sea to their children "from St. Nicholas".

That all makes sense to me.  Santa was a really cool guy who loved the poor and Jesus, and he was such a great guy we still do nice things for children and the poor because of him.  "Here's an extra toy, son, in honor of this really great guy."  Awesome, sign me up!

What doesn't make sense, though, is the weird Santa of American folklore, the guy who lives at the North Pole with a cadre of elves, who flies around in a sleigh pulled by magic reindeer and sneaks in to your chimney to deliver gifts to all the kids all over the world.

I mean, what is he?

goblin --> elf, Great Goblin |-> Santa
This is literally how I understood
this as a child
The Night Before Christmas, arguably the progenitor of the modern mythofigure, describes Santa as a "right jolly old elf".  As a kid, I took that to heart and assumed Santa was like the Elf King by virtue of being the tallest and fattest of the elves, and that makes him in charge (I guess the same way the Great Goblin in the Hobbit is king of the goblins).