Reprinted from 12.24.06 – And it will continue to be printed until the O’Reilly-originated “War on Christmas” BS ends. There’s no antidote to lies except truth.
This would be the time, if ever there was one, to reflect on the meaning of Christmas, but before we can do that to any purpose we need to clear away some of the dead wood by exploding a couple of the myths that have built up around it since the holiday became popular in the late 19th century. Chief among these is the legend that Christmas is Christian, or even religious.
Myth #1: That Christmas used to be a religious holiday but has been turned into a consumer carnival
It may seem obvious that Christmas is a Christian holiday. The very name of the day suggests a celebration of Christ, and certainly many have bemoaned the fact that Xmas seems to have lost its religious meaning under a barrage of commercialism. Back in the 1950′s the satirist Stan Freberg released a classic record called “$Green Christmas$” which savagely criticized what Christmas had become even then; its chief sound effect was the ringing of a cash register. Behind all the criticism was then – and is now – a belief that Christmas had once meant something it no longer means, that what was originally the celebration of a religious figure has been twisted into a callous, materialist frenzy of buying stuff.
The truth is somewhat different.
In America, we are reminded, the idea of a Christmas celebration didn’t really take hold until commercial interests recognized its potential and began to sell it like corn flakes.
The growth of Santa as the predominant icon of Christmas in much of the world grew out of the efforts of retail wizards such as John Wanamaker and Rowland Hussey Macy, founders of the modern department store. Much like the early church fathers, Wanamaker and Macy systematically laid claim to a Christmas of their own making in the 19th century.By this point, said Russell W. Belk, a sociologist and anthropologist at York University in Toronto, Christmas had already been through several incarnations — Christians in the United States had initially resisted Christmas because it was seen as tied to the Catholic calendar, but waves of European immigrants brought traditions of Christmas celebrations with them. Still, the idea of giving gifts to relatives was not the norm, especially among English immigrants, where Christmas gifts were primarily seen as acts of benevolence toward servants and slaves.
Business magnates who had once protested that holidays such as Christmas were a drain on the economy spotted the business potential of Christmas and encouraged the idea of gift-giving among family. Where Christmas gifts had once been primarily about charity, advertisers and marketers encouraged the notion that Christmas was primarily a family celebration and stressed the importance of reciprocal gift exchanges for friends and relatives. By the 20th century, American marketing geniuses led by Coca-Cola had seized on the advertising potential of Santa Claus. Although Santa’s ancestors in Europe and Asia had various religious connotations, the modern Santa is an American invention, with growing appeal in Europe and around the world.
“Coca-Cola to some extent owns Christmas,” said Belk. In the 1930s, he added, “they had a painter commissioned to do one painting of Santa Claus every year . . . it seems likely that the red color of Santa’s outfits came from Coca-Cola’s paintings.”
It doesn’t actually. “Santa Claus” is from the Dutch for Saint Nicholas – Sinterklaas – and the color red was always associated with the Greek St Nicholas who is the source of the icon. (More about him later.) Coke’s artists merely appropriated an image already made famous by Thomas Nast in the 1870′s and 80′s, an action that is fairly symbolic of how the holiday actually developed.
Myth #2: That Christmas is primarily a Christian holiday
The trappings of Christmas are almost entirely pagan in origin. Christmas trees, the lights on both trees and homes, wreaths, caroling, Santa Claus, the exchange of gifts – all of it was born in pagan solstice festivals beginning, as far as we can tell, long before Christ’s time. In the context of the solstice, it all makes perfect sense. In a Christian context, they simply don’t belong. What does Christ, a product of the Judean desert, have to do with pine trees, after all? Nothing.
- Christmas trees – Probably born in Germany or the Nordic countries, the ritual symbolism of the solstice evergreen was just that: it was ever green. Unlike the deciduous trees that dominated the forests of northern Europe whose leaves died and fell away as winter began, fir trees remained green all year round. They were the perfect representation in pagan societies for the persistence of life and the fertility of the earth on which those societies depended. Druids (the real ones, not the pale, bogus artifices we know today) worshipped trees, evergreens in particular, because they believed they were the earthly incarnations of spirits and/or gods. Evergreens were believed either to be or to be the homes of spirits who controlled the sun and had the power to bring it back and renew the earth for another year. The custom of bringing a tree inside, almost certainly German, probably began as a form of pagan tree-worship.
- Lights – As the days shortened and the sun threatened to disappear, the long nights became a source of real fear, not just because folk believed it might vanish but because they believed that evil spirits lurked in the dark, and the longer the nights were, the more chance there was that these monsters would wreak havoc on their villages. The solution, of course, was a Festival of Light held, naturally, on the one day of the year that had the least of it. There were torch parades and candles were kept burning all night. When the trees came inside, so did the candles, and by the Victorian era the candles had become attached to the branches of the tree.
- Wreaths – Common to many cultures, wreaths were either worn, as in Rome, or displayed as signs of either special favor or protection from evil. Long before trees were brought into the house, wreaths were attached to doorposts, connecting the magic of the evergreen to individual homes.
- Caroling – Noise has long been believed by many peoples to scare away evil spirits. In China they beat drums and gongs, in Europe they sang. The origin of this particular custom (called “wassailing” in Britain) is lost to history but it isn’t unreasonable to assume that it was a natural addition to all the other anti-evil charms employed by our ancestors. So is dancing, of course, so it isn’t surprising that the two were combined. In fact, the original meaning of the word was “circle dance” and was most likely an integral part of the midwinter ritual. We don’t do the dancing part much any more, and it’s too bad.
- Santa Claus – Unlike the rest of our Christmas traditions, Santa Claus does have some slight connection to Christianity. Born to wealthy and devout Christian parents in Patara, then a province of Greece, St Nicholas is supposed to have taken the words of Christ to heart and given away the whole of his large inheritance to relieve the suffering of the poor and the sick. Though he was never ordained, his reputation for piety was such that he was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Persecuted and imprisoned by the Emperor Diocletian, he returned to Myra after his release and died there on December 6, 343. For many years after that, the anniversary of his death was celebrated as “St Nicholas Day”.Co-incidence? Sort of. The fact that he died in December only a few days before Saturnalia (the Roman midwinter festival) connected him quite naturally to what became Christmas when the Catholic Church appropriated midwinter festivals for a celebration of the birth of Christ. After centuries of trying unsuccessfully to stamp out these primarily pagan rituals, the geniuses in the Church came up with a brilliant idea: if they couldn’t be stopped, they could certainly be swallowed up – assimilated by the Church and given a Catholic context. This was to prove a valuable and almost universally successful tactic in the centuries to come.St Nicholas Day melded rather naturally into the solstice festivals and it wasn’t long before St Nick and Christmas were inseparable. In many parts of Europe, Dec 6 is still celebrated as both.It should be noted that the St Nick we know is neither Greek nor terribly Christian. He’s Dutch. Sort of….
- The giving of gifts, stockings over the fireplace, and coming down the chimney– Both of these customs arose not in Europe but – are you ready for this? – here. In America. In New York, in fact.
After the American Revolution, New Yorkers remembered with pride the colony’s nearly-forgotten Dutch roots. John Pintard, influential patriot and antiquarian, who founded the New York Historical Society in 1804, promoted St. Nicholas as patron saint of both society and city. In January 1809, Washington Irving joined the society and on St. Nicholas Day that year he published the satirical fiction, Knickerbocker’s History of New York, with numerous references to a jolly St. Nicholas character. This was not a saintly bishop, rather an elfin Dutch burgher with a clay pipe. These delightful flights of imagination are the origin of the New Amsterdam St. Nicholas legends: that the first Dutch emigrant ship had a figurehead of St. Nicholas; that St. Nicholas Day was observed in the colony; that the first church was dedicated to him; and that St. Nicholas comes down chimneys to bring gifts. Irving’s work was regarded as the “first notable work of imagination in the New World.”The New York Historical Society held its first St. Nicholas anniversary dinner on December 6, 1810. John Pintard commissioned artist Alexander Anderson to create the first American image of Nicholas for the occasion. Nicholas was shown in a gift-giving role with children’s treats in stockings hanging at a fireplace. The accompanying poem ends, “Saint Nicholas, my dear good friend! To serve you ever was my end, If you will, now, me something give, I’ll serve you ever while I live.”
So Washington Irving invented the Santa Claus we know more or less out of whole cloth, relying on legends (as he often did) and embellishing until the original story was barely recognizable. Irving entirely ignored the religious connotation of the title “saint” and any overt connection to religion, let alone to Christ. His St Nick was already 95% secular, a cultural symbol closer to solstice celebrations than Christian ones.
The total secularization of St Nicholas, morphing him into the Santa Claus we know, was accomplished by only two men: Clement Moore (probably) and Thomas Nast. Moore is generally credited with writing A Visit from St Nicholas(“‘Twas the night before Christmas/and all through the house….” – you know it) for his children in 1822. It forever identified St Nick with the roly-poly, “jolly old elf” of Irving’s story and pretty much divorced him from any possible religious significance. Fifty years later, what Moore had done with words, Nast did with pictures. His cartoons of Santa Claus formed our visual image of the old guy once and for all. Following Irving and Moore, Nast’s Santa is no more a religious figure than, say, Uncle Sam.
Of all the traditions we associate with Christmas, only three are overtly religious: the Nativity Scene, the angel on top of the tree, and going to church. Many Christian churches have the former and most Christians do the latter on Christmas even if they never go the rest of the year. By my count, that makes Christmas roughly 87% secular whether Bill O’Reilly likes it or not.
Just when you thought corporate greed couldn’t sink any lower, Coca-Cola, based in not-too-far-away Atlanta, takes it to a whole new level.
Coke [is] urging restaurateurs to stop offering plain old tap water to customers: “Every time your business fills a cup or glass with tap water, it pours potential profits down the drain.” Cap the Tap can put a stop to that, says Coke, “by teaching [your] crew members or waitstaff suggestive selling techniques to convert requests for tap water into orders for revenue-generating beverages.” Read the rest of this entry »
The Securities and Exchange Commission, which is the govt “watchdog” that’s supposed to bark at corporate wrong-doing, has a gift for us this Thanksgiving. Well, that is, not us exactly. More like for lobbyists.
As the Project on Government Oversight reports, the SEC is postponing a new ethics rule. That’s no big deal, right? Wrong.
As POGO notes, the move deliberately allows an untold number of senior SEC employees to evade standard employment regulations – more specifically, it allows them to leave the agency and immediately begin lobbying their old government colleagues on behalf of corporate clients.
Eliseo Medina, a long time union activist who used to march with Cesar Chavez, is in deep shit.
So there Mr. Medina was on Friday, now 67 years old, in a white tent just below the Capitol on the National Mall in the 11th day of a water-only fast he hopes will “touch the heart” of the House speaker, John A. Boehner of Ohio, and make him act on immigration.
Despite Boehner’s penchant for tears whenever he’s feeling sorry for himself -
which he does a lot – would you really want to bet your existence on his heart? On his ability to empathize with someone in trouble? Other than himself, of course.
I am loaded with admiration for Mr Medina’s courage and optimism, but his judgement may need a little work. You can’t shame the shameless.
The sterling-silver New York Times took a break from its long series of tear-stained stories covering the tragic consequences on the rich of our economic disintegration to notice – briefly – how destructive our attitudes toward the unemployed have become.
Ms. Barrington-Ward…was laid off from an administrative position at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2008; she had earned about $50,000 that year. With the recession spurring employers to dump hundreds of thousands of workers a month and the unemployment rate climbing to the double digits, she found that no matter the number of résumés she sent out — she stopped counting in the thousands — she could not find work.
“I’ve been turned down from McDonald’s because I was told I was too articulate,” she says. “I got denied a job scrubbing toilets because I didn’t speak Spanish and turned away from a laundromat because I was ‘too pretty.’ I’ve also been told point-blank to my face, ‘We don’t hire the unemployed.’ And the two times I got real interest from a prospective employer, the credit check ended it immediately.”
Recently Ted “My hair has a life of its own and it’s better than mine” Cruz took a tentative step outside the Conservative Bubble inside which he has spent most of his life in order to address a group of *gasp!!* ordinary people.
It didn’t go too well. They…well, they laughed at him.
Speaking with Fox News’ Chris Wallace in front of a crowd for the Atlantic’s Washington Ideas Forum, Ted Cruz claimed he “didn’t want a shutdown” — a comment that was immediately greeted with laughter.
To be fair, the audience, apparently unclear on the concept of just how disconnected from reality a bubble-ized conservative is, thought he was self-referentially joking. He wasn’t.
Responding to laughter in the audience in response, Cruz said, “Now, folks here can disagree, but repeatedly, I voted to keep the government open.”
He believes it, too. He actually thinks that’s the way it went down. Conservative bubblers are nothing if not mentally flexible. As rubber bands.
Sorry, Ted. The real world doesn’t coddle you like the bubble does. Sometimes it laughs.
Three women in Virginia have started a consulting firm to help the Republican Party appeal to women voters, which seems like it will be a real challenge since the Republican Party is terrible on the issues that many women care about.
Actually, it’s not a “challenge” since the Pubs have no intention of addressing the problems of real women (as opposed to mechanical dolls like Sarah and La Coulter) and have made it clear they’re not going to let anybody make them. Which means that three very smart women have just found a way to collect a boodle from the RW gravy train without doing, well, anything, really. I mean -
When you have the chairwoman of the Republican Women’s Policy Committee laughing on Fox News about how women should have to shoulder the financial burden of maternity coverage alone because a man “has never delivered a baby,” you know the problem isn’t about messaging.
When you have a state attorney general wondering aloud why God hasn’t punished the United States for guaranteeing women their constitutional right to abortion care, you know the problem isn’t about messaging.
This is going to be a great gig. OK, so they’ll have to spend a certain amount of quality time pretending to listen to Pub morons like Cucinelli and “Women Get Diseases in Ditches” Gingrich so they can tell them what they want to hear but that’s a minor sacrifice when you consider the size of the check these bozos will gratefully hand over to hear women who aren’t hookers tell them they’re right and if they just say it differently women will flock to join The Team.
It’s brilliant. What could be an easier score than charging megabucks for telling men so stupid, so immature, so hopelessly ignorant that fairy tales are true?
Chicken contaminated with chicken manure is one likely result to come from the ag department’s dangerous and ridiculous determination to privatize poultry inspection in some 200 processing plants across the country. Currently, government inspectors – who’re professionally-trained in food safety – are stationed along the processing lines in the factory operations of such giants as Tyson Foods. They examine the birds for diseases and visible defects, including – yes – contamination by feces.
But the Obamacans have a “modernization” plan to remove these skilled, independent inspectors and let corporations police their own lines with untrained company hirelings. In addition, the privatization scheme would allow the poultry plants to speed up their lines to an absurd 175-birds-per-minute!
I said almost unbelievable. If I hadn’t, years ago, given up on Obama proving to be something other than a tame corporate shill, this would feel like a betrayal. As it is, I just sighed, “Of course.”
More of the Myth and one of the reasons corporate-owned Pubs spent so much spreading it around. “Govt is bad, corporations can do a better job policing themselves if we just leave them alone” is the kind of thinking that certainly makes it easier for corporations to dump govt inspections (after having paid the appropriate bribes to the appropriate officials and pols, of course), which means, of course, there will be no inspections at all, thus no possibility that profits will be lost due to nasty govt refusing to let them sell – at full price, mind you – spoiled food or food full of, you know, poisons and nuclear waste and shit and what not. Of course.
Apparently it isn’t enough for the Democrats to let agrocorps make our food unsafe, now they have to let them make it lethal. I hope the Dems are getting a good price for poisoning us. Because that’s what’s important here.
Obviously this is less important than it might at first appear.
Among the ostensibly “non-essential” services on hold during the government shutdown is the Food and Drug Administration’s food inspection program. Within the country, as the Huffington Post points out, that means as many as 80 food production facilities each day may be going uninspected (although an FDA spokesman clarified that an unclear portion of those will be carried out by state agriculture and public health departments).
A lot of well-meaning but thoughtless people have been supporting the modern GOP because they believed, despite all evidence to the contrary, in the right-wing myth of corporate efficiency and competence. What all these people refused to acknowledge was that the reality beneath the appearance of corporate success had far less to do with competence than greed, far less to do with efficiency than ruthlessness.
Well they may still be in denial but if they’re paying attention at all they will have realized that we are seeing corporate-style governing this week in the extortion and blackmail the Republican Congress has loosed on the nation in a desperate attempt to get its own way. These are time-honored corporate strategies used by disparate corpos from Disney to IBM to Microsoft to Wal-mart to McDonald’s. Extortion, blackmail, and bribery are the three key components of American corporate success.
So it was no surprise when Robert Reich let it slip in his blog that this govt shutdown was planned and paid for by…tah dah!…the corporate BigWigs of th 0.1%.
The bullies are a faction inside the Republican Party – extremists who are threatening more reasonable Republicans with primary challenges if they don’t go along.
And where are the Tea Party extremists getting their dough? From even bigger bullies – a handful of hugely wealthy Americans who are sinking hundreds of millions of dollars into this extortion racket.
They include David and Charles Koch (and their front group, “Americans for Prosperity’); Peter Thiel, leverage-buyout specialist John Childs, investor Howie Rich, Stephen Jackson of the Stevens Group, and executives of JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs, (all behind the “Club for Growth”); and Crow Holdings’ Harlan Crow, shipping magnate Richard Uihlein, and investment banker Foster Friess; executives of MetLife and Philip Morris, and foundations controlled by the Scaife family (all bankrolling “FreedomWorks.”)
Their game plan is to not just to take over the Republican Party. It’s to take over America.
These are the standard tactics of a hostile takeover: threats and intimidation. Do what we want or we’ll burn down the store. I’d say the gloves are off. They’re not even pretending anymore.
In the course of discussing Fox’s penchant for insisting that there’s a race war…against whites, naturally…Ellen Brodsky asks the kind of question I keep hearing from the left, a querulous confusion suffused by puzzlement.
Given Fox’s symbiosis with the Republican Party and given the GOP’s supposed desire to win back minority voters, it’s hard to understand what Fox thinks is to be gained from this outpouring of antipathy.
The unstated assumption is that both Fox and the Republican party aren’t really batshit crazy but are somehow actually responding to a perceived – however misperceived – sense of rational self-interest. The assumption, however, is unwarranted. They aren’t, either of them. Instead they are, and have been increasingly over the last three decades, responding not to any form of reason, however twisted, but to the dark, fevered emotions of the id, and a damaged id at that.
Psychologically, the profile of the right wing in America is the profile of a paranoid psychopath. Read the rest of this entry »
Salon’s Jos Truitt complains that tv’s female characters are 2-dimensional. My response is, “Well, at least it’s 2 occasionally. It was only 1 for a few decades and it’s still mostly just 1.”
Look, Jos, it’s no good saying, “Men have it better on tv” because it’s an absurd claim. TV doesn’t treat anybody well. What, the automatons of Mad Men are deep, complex characters with layers of sophisticated feelings behind those moronic masks? Gimme a break.
Tee Vee is a cesspool run by corporate sales forces as a way to access consumers. You’re lucky the talent still has enough juice to demand better material and enough people remain unenamored of dreck like Duck Dynasty, Jersey Shore, and American Idol that money can still be made on half-assed attempts at “complexity” like Breaking Bad, Scandal, or Weeds.
Movies rarely take chances with risky material, tv virtually never. Every dangerous idea is safely watered down, every potentially offensive moment analyzed for its commercial value before it’s allowed to air. TeeVeeLand is a place where no truth is to be spoken unless it’s covered in enough sugar to gag a maggot, no character is to have more sides than an English professor can explain in one sentence, and every plot has to be simple enough that even George W can understand it without Cliff Notes.
To expect any more than that is an exercise in reality-denial.
Apparently it’s finally dawning on Republicans that redistricting to win seats has its limitations. There comes a point when even your supporters have had enough destruction and death.
Their problems are threefold and intertwined. First, the GOP has become effectively agenda-less, advocating policies that lack popular support, and that they quite possibly couldn’t execute even if they controlled the government entirely.
Second, as Politico honchos Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen explain, “The party is hurting itself even more with the very voters they need to start winning back: Hispanics, blacks, gays, women and swing voters of all stripes.” That’s partially a consequence of theiragenda-less-ness, and partially a consequence of its members’ propensity to say things and advocate ideas that further alienate women and minorities.
Third, a combination of chance and poor decisions will turn the coming midterm into a referendum on issues custom tailored to energize Democratic demographics that tend to sit out midterms.
Actually there are four problems, not three. Number 4 is that it isn’t just that their policies “lack popular support”. It’s that their policies are batshit crazy and as destructive as a plague. Read the rest of this entry »
The Houston Chronicle is reporting that British Petroleum, fresh from their sterling response to their destruction of the Gulf of Mexico by pumping oil all into it – and over it and under it and next to it and… – namely, “God did it, not us, so how come we have to pay?”, is suing the US for refusing to give it more chances to spill just as much oil in other places, too.
BP sued the U.S. government on Monday over its decision to bar the British oil giant from new federal contracts to supply fuel and other services following the company’s agreement to plead guilty to manslaughter and obstruction charges in connection with the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster.
The company said in court papers filed in U.S. District Court in Houston that the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to suspend the company from such contracts and its continued enforcement of that order is arbitrary, capricious and “an abuse of discretion.”
“Abuse of discretion”. That’s, like, if your boss rapes you at a company party but then he apologizes afterward, it’s an “abuse of discretion” to report him to the police anyway because he’s, like, totally sorry, dude, so it’s completely unfair to hold him responsible just because he, you know, did it. Read the rest of this entry »
Twenty years ago, Michael Moore started asking, “If corporations won’t pay employees enough to live on, who do they think’s going to buy all the shit they make?”
The answer, when it came, was, basically, “The Chinese”. They thought “emerging markets” were going to take up the slack if they stopped caring about the home market, so they did. They froze wages and increased upper management incomes by some 800% in the last quarter of the 20th century and by more than 2000% over the past decade or so, most of which came directly out of the pockets of their employees. The middle class has been decimated and poverty has risen exponentially but so far there has been no corresponding rise in exports. Emerging markets have failed to emerge, at least they have failed to emerge in a way that would sacrifice their home consumers for the benefit of American corporations.
Finally, after almost 35 years of unfettered greed, the American business press (if not American business) is coming to the conclusion that it may just be possible that the deliberate corporate destruction of the American market by an American business theory that focused on short-term profits and dumped every other consideration was, well, just maybe, a mistake.
The fundamental law of capitalism is that if workers have no money, businesses have no customers. That’s why the extreme, and widening, wealth gap in our economy presents not just a moral challenge, but an economic one, too. In a capitalist system, rising inequalitycreates a death spiral of falling demand that ultimately takes everyone down.
Low-wage jobs are fast replacing middle-class ones in the U.S. economy. Sixty percent of the jobs lost in the last recession were middle-income, while 59 percent of the new positions during the past two years of recovery were in low-wage industries that continue to expand such as retail, food services, cleaning and health-care support. By 2020, 48 percent of jobs will be in those service sectors.
This from Bloomberg News, hardly a left-wing rag. What it means is that things have gotten so bad that even dyed-in-the-wool corporatists are at last attempting to face reality.
Be gentle with them. They’re new to it.
Depending how you define it, success sometimes isn’t. In the wake of a narrowly-defined success, you can easily overlook the seeds of failure caused by all the factors you left out to create your “success”. Dr Frankenstein “created” life – a success – but utterly failed to understand that having done that, he would then lose control of it. The Frankenstein story is generally taken to be a cautionary tale about radical scientific advance but could be equally informative concerning the dangers of blind hubris in other fields.
Take Eddie Lampert, Sears’ CEO as an example of the “success” of the Greed Is Good, Selfishness Is Better school of corporate philosophy. Living up to it has made him extremely rich. It has also utterly destroyed Sears. Read the rest of this entry »