Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Festivus For The Rest Of Us, and Happy Holidays

Holiday Art 


Christmas, a Christian and now semi-secular holiday, commemorates the birth of Jesus. The term Christmas is a combination of the original phrase Christ’s Mass, the original religious service. Typically, Christmas is celebrated on December 25, though some orthodox Christian faiths, that follow the traditional Julian Calendar, celebrate Christmas on January 7.

Christmas traditions have evolved over time, as many of the holiday icons were adapted from other pagan festivals and/or cultures which adopted the Christian faith. Winter festivals and symbols, such as the Christmas Tree, became part of the holiday tradition in the early to mid 1800s.

Today’s most recognized symbol of Christmas (or Xmas) was primarily shaped by the poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas”, attributed to Clement Clarke Moore. In it, Moore described a jolly, fat father Christmas, in a red suit - a new interpretation of the older Dutch tradition of Saint Nicholas. Cartoonist Thomas Nast then slowly evolved the image of Father Christmas into the modern looking Santa Claus. St. Nick’s appearance was finally canonized through Coca Cola’s 1930’s advertising.

Once advertising and merchants recognized the benefits of a holiday that promoted the exchanging of gifts, Christmas’s slow transformation from a purely religious celebration into a secular gift-giving holiday rapidly accelerated. Christmas spirit, popularized by Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, is generally expressed by giving gifts to friends and family and through charitable donations and doing good works.

Hanukkah (Chanukah)

The Jewish celebration usually falls near the Christian Christmas Holiday. The Festival of Lights commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple of Jerusalem during the 2nd century BCE. Hebrew tradition recalls how a single day’s amount of consecrated olive oil burned for eight days - allowing the rededication to take place.

Hanukkah is celebrated through daily rituals performed over the eight days. Though Hanukkah is not a “Sabbath” there are often daily prayers and blessings. Typically, gifts are exchanged each night and traditional olive-oil fried foods are eaten by the family


A modern, primarily American, week-long celebration of African heritage and culture, Kwanzaa is celebrated from December 26 to January 1. The holiday was created in 1966 by Ron Karenga as an alternative to non-African American dominant holidays.

The seven day celebration features candle-lighting and the pouring of libations. Homes are decorated with traditional African art and colorful fabrics and cloth. Traditional clothing and foods are worn and eaten and ancestors are remembered, and African heritage and history is celebrated. Kwanzaa is intended to build family, community, and cultural unity. The modern description of Kwanzaa by its originators states, It’s not intended to supplant or negate religious holidays, it’s meant to be a communal celebration of humanity, intended to be celebrated by all races and faiths, just as Cinco de Mayo and the Chinese New Year are celebrated by others.


A satirical commemoration of the writer Dan O’Keefe’s first date with his wife, this farcical family tradition morphed into a pseudo-legitimate holiday when it was popularized by Dan’s son, a writer for the sitcom Seinfeld. The episode features Frank Costanza resurrecting his original family holiday, Festivus for the rest of us.

Festivus features the Festivus Pole, a plain, unadorned aluminum pole. Festivus miracles are also easy to come by, as every day occurrences are exclaimed to be “festivus miracles”. The holiday celebrations culminates with the family Festivus dinner. This is followed by the airing of grievances, where family members tell each other how they’ve disappointed each other. After this, the feats of strength begin. Festivus can not end until the head of the household is pinned during a wrestling match.

After the episode, Festivus celebrations began to actually take place. Manufacturers created and sold Festivus poles and cities and towns have actually permitted observance of some of the holiday’s traditions. While still a nascent holiday, which will most likely wane as Seinfeld winds through syndication, the episode never-the-less created a new holiday within popular culture.

Pastafarianism’s Holiday

Pastafarianism began as a spoof aimed at the Kansas Board of Education’s decision to include the teaching of intelligent design. Incensed, Bobby Henderson created the parody religion, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (aka Pastafarianism). What started as a spoof quickly reached full-blown internet meme status. Some would argue it has attained religion status - as pirate-garbed evangelists preach the gospel of the Flying Spaghetti monster.

Since proper religions require a holiday near Christmas and Hanukkah, the vaguely-defined holiday “Holiday” was created. Pastafarians forsake formalism, so Holiday has no set date, it’s more of a season. The secular greeting Happy Holidays has been co-opted as support for Pastafarianism. In 2005 Henderson wrote to thank you to President Bush for using the phrase (as a nod to the Flying Spaghetti Monster). He also extended the same thanks to retail giant Wal-Mart.

While Pastafarianim’s is still considered a parody, it has attained thousands of “followers” and some celebrate “events” and act as missionaries. Reports of Spaghetti Monster visions or miraculous apparitions abound on the internet - complete with photos, testimony, and even pieces of toast that depict the Spaghetti Monster’s image. So the next time you offer the greeting “happy holidays” you might need to consider if you’re a Pastafariansist.

Dec 18, 2009

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