The Null Device

Posts matching tags 'christmas'

2011/12/24

A few seasonal links for today and tomorrow:

Happy holidays everyone!

africa christmas christopher hitchens craft culture history horror mythology satire the smiths xmas 0

2010/12/28

Cleaning up the last of the Christmas links: Hyperbole And A Half's Allie writes/draws about how, when she was six years old, her attempt to stage a Christmas pageant was ruined by Kenny Loggins:

Me: "Jesus doesn't want those things."
Grandma: "Sure he does. Jesus loves Kenny Loggins."
Me: "No. He hates him."
My dire seriousness only served to fuel their desire to toy with me.
Aunt: "No, no, no. Jesus was a huge Kenny Loggins fan."
Grandma: "It's true. I saw it in the Bible once."
Me: "Grandma, Kenny Loggins wasn't even alive back then."
Grandma: "Oh yes he was. Kenny Loggins is immortal."
They both burst into raucous laughter. They thought they were being awfully clever. Apparently my mom and dad thought so too, because they joined in.

christmas humour kenny loggins kitsch xmas yacht rock 0

2010/12/24

It's the time of year when one's mind turns to the multiple mythologies of Christmas.

Most educated people know that Christmas started out as a pagan festival, and was appropriated by the Christian church to better reach the masses. Chances are that the pagans the Christians stole it from had, in turn, stolen it from an earlier bunch of pagans, and so on, all the way back to a group of early humans huddling around a fire somewhere, seeing in the midwinter. Perhaps they exchanged some kinds of tokens, perhaps they imbibed fermented fluids our modern palates would find disgusting, perhaps they made propitiatory sacrifices to the gods of winter to encourage them to go away, though it's not unlikely that a burning log was involved.

So we had people marking midwinter and anthropomorphising the cosmic forces responsible for the season. Then more complicated religious systems came along and said, no, that's not the winter god, that's Zarathustra or Mithras or Sol Invictus. Then, around the fourth century, Christianity came along and decided that Jesus was born on the 25th of December. (Aside: according to some claims, the most likely date for the birth of Jesus would have been in August or September, assuming the thing about the shepherds being out in the fields was accurate.) Then along came secularism and the Enlightenment and Christianity receded somewhat to the background, though not quite disappearing; instead, becoming the default traditional-religious-meaning-of-Christmas which people complain nobody pays much attention to as they go gift-shopping.

So what we have today is a salmagundi of several different stories which don't quite fit together. We have, in particular, the Biblical story of the son of God being born in a manger in the Middle East, visited by wise men bearing gifts and so on. And beneath that we have a completely incongruous Arctic mythology of a fat man in a red suit who lives at the North Pole, rides flying reindeer and delivers presents. In some mythologies, he has armies of elves (an element of northern European mythology) helping him make and deliver the toys (presumably Apple and Nintendo have kindly signed some kinds of intellectual-property licensing agreements with them, allowing them to make iPhones and Wiis in their Polar chip fabs). In the Netherlands, he is accompanied by six to eight black men, whose job it is to thrash naughty children; in Switzerland and Austria, that task is performed by a demonic creature named Krampus. The man is known in English as Santa Claus or Father Christmas, though is generally identified as Saint Nicholas, a bishop from fourth-century Greece who is unlikely to have ever seen a reindeer. Similarities between Santa Claus and St. Nicholas of Myra are largely coincidental; some say that the bearded Arctic-dwelling man is derived from the Norse god Odin. Meanwhile, in Russia, he is known as Grandfather Frost, and in Finland, his place is taken by Joulupukki, the Yule Goat (which is actually a goatlike creature; the Finns are nothing if not metal)..

It would be complicated enough with just these two very different mythologies, awkwardly joined at the hip. But in the 20th century, as Christmas became an ever-greater secular and commercial milestone, even more elements were added. The general rule seems to be that anything goes, as long as it's vaguely wintery or snow-related. We got supernaturally animated snowmen (Frosty the Snowman, of the popular Christmas song, and Raymond Briggs' snowman), which have nothing to do with either Christianity or the old Nordic pagan mythologies. And more recently, other remotely polar elements have been appearing on Christmas cards, such as penguins. These, of course, live in the Southern Hemisphere, but if a fourth-century Greek bishop can travel the globe by flying reindeer, surely he can have a few penguins in his entourage. And I wouldn't be too surprised if, one of these years, someone threw in a polar bear or two for the more ecologically minded.

christianity christmas culture mythology paganism santa xmas 4

2008/12/24

The Independent looks at how traditional the various Christmas traditions actually are:

The celebration of the birth of Christ on 25 December dates back to the fifth century, when Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. The date was chosen to coincide with the winter solstice and the Roman festivals associated with the shortest day of the year, which falls between 22 December and 25 December. This was seen as the day when the Romans celebrated Dies Natalis Solis Invicti – "the birthday of the unconquered sun". It was also Jupiter's birthday and, further back, the birthday of his Greek equivalent, Zeus. In Eastern Europe, the various Orthodox churches – the Russian, Greek, Armenian, Serbian et al, follow the old Gregorian calendar, and in which Christmas Day is 7 January
I've seen it claimed that Jesus Christ's actual birthday would have most probably occurred in the autumn, around August or so, if the shepherds were in the fields at the time.
There is no Santa Claus in the Gospels.
(Really? What about Frosty the Snowman?)

Santa Claus, it seems, is a Dutch import via colonial New York (even the name comes from the Dutch "Sinterklaas", or St. Nicholas). They got rid of the six to eight black men he is invariably accompanied by in the Dutch tradition, though, and who are tasked with the thrashing of naughty children.

In 1863, the cartoonist Thomas Nast began a series of drawings in Harper's Weekly, based on "The Night Before Christmas", in which Santa Claus, as he had now become known, could be seen with flowing beard and fur garments. Around 1869, he turned up for the first time in a bright red suit, with a white belt, but he was not invariably dressed in red until the mighty Coca Cola corporation appropriated him for an advertising campaign that began in 1931, and ran every Christmas for 35 years. That is also when the reindeer became full size. In Britain, this American import merged with an older folk hero called Old Christmas, or Old Father Christmas, a fun-loving heavy drinker who seems to have arisen in reaction to the Puritans.

The reindeer, it seems, are a wholly American invention (despite their German-as-stollen names); not only that, but Rudolph is a non-canon reindeer:

On 23 December 1823, the Troy Sentinel, in New York State, published an anonymous 56-line poem variously known as "A Visit from St Nicholas" or "The Night Before Christmas." which fused the feast of St Nicholas with Christmas, and had the St Nicholas that Irving created arrive on Christmas Eve in a sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer. The author was probably a Professor of Oriental and Greek Literature named Clement Clarke Moore, who did not want to sully his fine academic reputation by putting his name to some nonsense he wrote to amuse his children. The reindeer had names, but none was called Rudolf. He of the Red Nose was created by an advertising copy writer in 1939.

christianity christmas commercialism culture mythology sol invictus tradition 0

2007/12/26

Charlie Stross has published his list of Christmas wishes for 2007:

2) There is a disease pandemic that affects all of us. Its onset is slow but progressive and it inevitably gets worse once it is established. Symptoms include skin damage and inelasticity, loss of muscle tone with consequent lethardy, neurological degradation, bone damage, and at a cytological level damage to chromosomes and errors in mitochondrial DNA transcription that appear to drastically increase susceptibility to cancer. In extreme cases, it kills, although victims frequently die of other causes first. It may well be an acquired zoonosis or an endogenous retrovirus, because it is more or less universal among mammals but members of some other classes of animal (such as reptiles and fish) don't show obvious signs of it. This disease is senescence, and it would make me very happy indeed if people stopped treating it as inevitable and started treating it as a pathological condition that needs curing. I am myself feeling the early onset signs (I'm in my forties) and having to watch the decay of elderly relatives, who I remember from their vigorous middle age, fills me with a sense of helpless anger. (In fact, I'm not sure abolishing senescence shouldn't be in the #1 place, ahead of world peace: at least we have a chance of avoiding war.)
3) I was originally going to put a cure for AIDS and Cancer in at this level — as a bumper-pack, I guess -- but I've changed my mind. AIDS and cancer make life a misery for many and kill up to a third of us, but there's some hope that they can be abolished without invoking a magic wand. On the other hand, as a species, we suffer from a dismaying surfeit of, to put it bluntly, misogynistic old sacerdotal bigots. It's not simply a matter of being a member of the clergy; I have no beef with belief itself (although I frequently consider it misplaced, irrational, or just plain silly). Rather, it is with the expression of bigoted religious beliefs that punish or restrict the freedom of others, within a political or cultural framework that provides them with the force or actuality of law. In Saudi Arabia, a woman who was gang raped was subsequently sentenced to be lashed for adultery (yes, I know she was subsequently pardoned; that's not the point); in Africa, lying clergy assert that condoms spread AIDS and preach against their use: in Nicaragua a church-inspired ban on abortion is killing women with ectopic pregnancies: children are witch hunted in Nigeria, homosexuals around the world are routinely preached against and persecuted, as are religious minorities, such as Baha'i in Iran ... the list is endless. It's mostly women who are on the receiving end of this -- the "minority" that's a majority, constituting about 51% of the human population -- but when you add all the other out-groups up, I'd be surprised if less than two-thirds of humanity aren't suffering direct or indirect privation as a result of religious bigotry. I just want those who preach intolerance and hatred to stop.
7) Global climate change is clearly a big deal. It doesn't matter whether it's anthropogenic or a consequence of natural variation in insolation -- it's going to affect us either way, and the cause only affects us insofar as it might determine some of the things we've got to do to survive it. Similarly, it's fairly clear that we are not, contrary to orthodox Green ideology, going to deal with this by wailing, putting on hair shirts, and going back to being pre-industrial peasant subsistence farmers. Nor are we going to deal with it by reducing our carbon budget. (You want to reduce our species' carbon budget? Get a rifle and shoot someone. You don't get a lower carbon budget than a corpse. NB: please don't suggest this to some of our more excitable politicians who might be worrying about meeting their carbon trading limits in the near future. That would be Bad.) No; dealing with global climate change is going to take big business and big engineering projects. Lots of nuclear reactors, solar power farms, and plants pumping CO2 into the salt domes of evacuated oil and gas fields. All of which means it's going to cost big money, but in turn, it's going to make big profits for the companies that wise up first and realize that mitigating climate change can be a shiny new business proposition. Please, let's stop thinking negative-sum about climate change and start thinking positive-sum? Capitalism will clean up its own shit -- once it acquires a new set of taste buds and realizes it's delicious.

charlie stross christmas futurism 0

2007/11/6

The Church of England is delighted that this year's Royal Mail Christmas stamps will contain explicitly religious imagery, rather than, say, snowmen or what have you (Or, as the tabloids would say, "it's political correctness gone mad, I tell you!"). Royal Mail says that it has a policy of alternating between religious and secular themes, though the Church doesn't consider this to be good enough, and has called for explicitly Christian imagery to be used every year:

The Church has argued that Christian-themed designs "remind people of the true meaning of Christmas".
There should absolutely be more recognition of the true meaning of Christmas; I look forward to the stamps depicting Thor, Sol Invictus and a bit of old-time public nudity.

christmas church of england culture history philately religion royal mail secularism 0

2006/1/4

The Graun looks at Christmas and New Year's television programming across the world. While Britons get into the Queen's speech (and "alternative" takes by various "edgy" celebrities like Jamie Oliver and Damon Albarn), Americans are shedding tears over Rankin/Bass's animated Frosty The Snowman, Russians are getting maudlin over extended reruns over a 3-hour comedy titled The Irony Of Fate that they have all seen dozens of times before and Romanians are watching action replays of the execution of former dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu. Meanwhile, Australians are watching celebrities singing "Aussie carols" like Six White Boomers and Santa Never Made It To Darwin (which, in all my years in Australia, I had never heard of), while their (apparently more self-consciously "British") neighbours in New Zealand watch Only Fools And Horses and Morecambe And Wise. The French seem to have the coolest Christmas TV fare, though:

Since 1982, black-comedy Le Père Noël Est Une Ordure (which translates along the lines of Father Christmas Is A Scumbag) has risen from obscure box-office failure to France's ninth most popular movie. Set on Christmas Eve in a social service helpline call centre, three workers try with varying degrees of failure to spread festive cheer among the depressed, suicidal homeless, heartbroken and bereaved who turn up looking for salvation. Utterly bleak, totally farcical, and very very funny.
Across the border in Germany, however, one of the annual Christmas favourites is, inexplicably, an old British comedy skit named Dinner For One:
Dinner for One, also known as Der 90 Geburtstag (The 90th Birthday), has rattled around the cabaret circuit for decades. Written by British author Lauri Wylie in the 1920s, it presents a morbidly funny story in miniature—(just 11 minutes on TV): Elderly Miss Sophie throws her birthday party every year, setting the table for her friends Sir Toby, Mr. Pommeroy, Mr. Winterbottom, and Adm. von Schneider, while conveniently ignoring the fact that they've all been dead for a quarter-century. Her butler James manfully takes up the slack by playacting all of them. He serves both drinks and food while quaffing toasts on behalf of each "guest," a bevy of soused British noblemen and von Schneider, who toasts Miss Sophie with a heel-click and a throaty "Skål!"
In 1962, German entertainer Peter Frankenfeld stumbled on Dinner for One in Blackpool's seaside circuit. Frankenfeld was so charmed that he invited actors Freddie Frinton and May Warden to perform the sketch on his live TV show Guten Abend, Peter Frankenfeld. The now-classic black-and-white recording dates from a 1963 live performance in Hamburg's Theater am Besenbinderhof.
The skit's popularity has spread across Northern Europe, and it has inspired numerous derivative works, including dubs into regional German dialects, many parodies and a Latin translation. To this day, nobody is entirely sure of why Dinner For One is so big in Germany, though there are theories:
But why? How did a sliver of British humor come to dominate another culture's holidays—with apparently no connective thread back to its source? First, the slapstick of Dinner for One transcends the language barrier. Second, it offers a slight thrill of the verboten: After all, it features a very crazy old lady, a bevy of lecherous male friends, a big stench of post-WWII death, a hell of a lot of drinking, and senior-citizen sex. A third notion, floated by Der Spiegel and the Guardian alike last year, is that the film plays to Germans' worst idea of the British upper class: dotty, pigheadedly traditional, forever marinated in booze despite titles. The BBC counters with the more politic theory that Dinner for One "has become synonymous with British humor, on a par with Mr. Bean." British TV executives see it as fit only for foreigners, or they would rush to broadcast it themselves. Why Germany finds it so funny and the British don't is, according to Der Spiegel's Sebastian Knauer, "one of the last unsolved questions of European integration."
Best of all, Dinner for One is a perfect foundation for a tidy drinking game in which you down four different liquors in 11 minutes, "the same procedure as every year." What more fitting way to ring in the New Year?

(via gimbo) christmas comedy culture dinner for one englishness france germany television 0

2005/11/25

The aftermath of the Christmas party season is the busiest time of the year for photocopier technicians, thanks to drunk office workers' propensity for photocopying their bottoms, with the increasing weight of McWorlders possibly adding to the problem:

Geoff Bush from the north of England said one case he'd attended, where a young lady had cracked the glass mid-scan, also jammed the scanner so that it wasn't until the machine was fixed and her colleagues all sober that copies of her backside starting pouring from the machine.
Partly in response to this trend--or perhaps because of the "supersizing" of the western physique--Canon has now increased the thickness of its glass by an extra millimeter.

christmas obesity photocopiers risks 0

2004/12/26

Could this be the worst album ever recorded? A Star Wars Christmas album from 1980, forever debunking any claims that the Star Wars franchise once had a pre-Jar-Jar Golden Age. This album has everything; C3PO and R2D2 singing duets, lots of jingling sleigh-bells and sugary strings interspersed with Star Wars sound effects, corny comedy routines from "droids" and wookies, inane dialogue, the obligatory extra-large helpings of schmaltz, and if that wasn't enough, a young Jon Bon Jovi leading a high-school choir. (via bOING bOING)

bulldada christmas jon bon jovi kitsch star wars 0

2004/12/25

The Independent has a piece about the cost of Christmas:

£20m: Amount made by Mark Tilden, British robot expert who invented Robosapien, this year's hit toy
£20m: Amount nations of sub-Saharan Africa are paying in debt to developed world every 16 hours
30,525: Number of miles your Christmas dinner will have travelled to reach your table - vegetables alone are likely to have come 15,800 miles
4.2%: Rise in murder rate over Christmas

(via 1.0)

christmas food miles murder 0

2004/12/24

This afternoon, Your Humble Narrator caught a bus down Charing Cross Road and made it down to Santa's Ghetto a subversive/punk/coolsie art gallery in the guise of a temporary gift shop/graffiti-covered squat.

Santa's Ghetto is a shopfront, covered with graffiti and filled with stolen, tag-covered street furniture and confrontational poster/stencil art. Perpetual public face of the cool set in London, Banksy, was a mainstay of this exhibition, with prints of his stencils on sale (for around £165 or so; my credit card didn't stretch quite that far), as well as T-shirts reading "SUICIDE BOMBERS JUST NEED A HUG", £10 notes bearing Princess Diana's image (for £10.99), and copies of his new book, "Cut It Out". Also, £5 will get you a roll of adhesive tape printed with "POLITE LINE / DO NOT GET CROSS". Other exhibitors included Jamie "Tank Girl/Gorillaz" Hewlett, who had his cartoonish prints of butt-kicking soldier girls and all-American zombie armies, Jamie Reid (who did the Sex Pistols' cover artwork in the 1970s, and seems to be doing much the same sort of thing; I suppose catering to nostalgic middle-agers is where the money is), and D Face (who does those graffiti-character stickers, which look not unlike the ones plastered all over empty shop windows in Melbourne). And there was a picture of two snowmen humping signed, apparently, by Raymond Briggs (of Fungus the Bogeyman fame), though his name wasn't on the flyer. Apparently Chris Cunningham and 3D (of Massive Attack) had works there too, though I didn't see them.

Santa's Ghetto was, in some ways, similar to the Outlandish Exhibition that I saw in Melbourne some six months ago. Except that it wasn't quite as confrontational and wasn't held in an industrial wasteland; it was more a public face of "subversive" art just around the corner from Oxford Street, London's main fairy-light-festooned and perpetually crowded permanent sale and/or Düreresque vision of Hell. There were also no bikies and no Chopper Read artworks, and rather than a punk/noise band, an iPod was playing some funky grooves, of the sort you could expect to hear in a fashion shop or trendy bar, from behind the counter. The business of Santa's Ghetto was not so much to shock and offend the bourgeoisie as to part them from their money (it even takes credit cards) whilst giving them a sense of being subversive and transgressive and underground. (In case you're wondering, I bought a copy of the new Banksy book.)

There are photos here. The exhibition/sale closes on the 24th (that's today), so if you want some Polite Line tape for wrapping your gifts, you'd better hurry.

art banksy christmas santa's ghetto 0

2004/12/5

The 10 Least Successful Holiday Specials Of All Time (via substitute):

Ayn Rand's A Selfish Christmas (1951)
In this hour-long radio drama, Santa struggles with the increasing demands of providing gifts for millions of spoiled, ungrateful brats across the world, until a single elf, in the engineering department of his workshop, convinces Santa to go on strike. The special ends with the entropic collapse of the civilization of takers and the spectacle of children trudging across the bitterly cold, dark tundra to offer Santa cash for his services, acknowledging at last that his genius makes the gifts -- and therefore Christmas -- possible.
A Canadian Christmas with David Cronenberg (1986)
Faced with Canadian content requirements but no new programming, the Canadian Broadcasting Company turned to Canadian director David Cronenberg, hot off his success with Scanners and The Fly, to fill the seasonal gap. In this 90-minute event, Santa (Michael Ironside) makes an emergency landing in the Northwest Territories, where he is exposed to a previously unknown virus after being attacked by a violent moose. The virus causes Santa to develop both a large, tooth-bearing orifice in his belly and a lustful hunger for human flesh, which he sates by graphically devouring Canadian celebrities Bryan Adams, Dan Ackroyd and Gordie Howe on national television. Music by Neil Young.

ayn rand christmas david cronenberg humour 0

2003/12/9

Satirical Christian webzine (yes, there is such a thing) Ship of Fools has a feature titled the 12 Days of Kitschmas, bringing a choice selection of tacky Christian-themed consumer goods; from unrealistically fair-skinned holy figurines of several varieties to flashing cross mobile-phone covers (I bet everyone in the cool cliques in Bible-belt high schools has one of these) to this artfully deceptive Lord of the Kings jigsaw puzzle, seemingly designed to nudge its young recipient into permature teenage Satanism; and who can go past a nail in a cardboard box:

COMING SOON! A 7-inch screw in a cardboard box, to remind you of what George Bush and Tony Blair are doing to the Middle East! Meanwhile, get your nail in a cardboard box for just $8.99

(via bOING bOING)

christianity christmas kitsch satire 0

2003/12/4

A trade union representing retail employees in Austria has claimed that excessive playing of Christmas carols in shops is "psycho-terrorism":

From morning to night, for weeks before Christmas, there was the same Christmas music in department stores over and over again, said Gottfried Rieser of the Union of Private Employees.
"Many staff in the retail sector suffer psychologically from it," Mr Rieser said. "They get aggressive. On Christmas Eve with their families, they can't stand Silent Night or Jingle Bells any more."

christmas human rights psycho-terrorism psychological warfare terrorism 2

2002/12/26

It must be the silly season again; BBC News has an article on what Christmas will be like in 2050. Robot helpers bringing out the synthetic turkey, wall-sized video screens hooking up instantly with family members far away and providing virtual scenery, and emotion-sensitive Barbie dolls as presents. In other words, the usual future scenario, much unchanged since the Jetsons first aired. But it's from a BT futurologist, so it must be credible.

bt christmas future futurology robots 0

2002/12/19

It's that time of the year, when shops and public places replace their annoying top-40 music with annoying Christmas music (in particular, look out for the "hip" "rock'n'roll" Christmas songs between the regular carols; a guaranteed hit with the kiddies, those), and people who should really know better wear those daft foam rubber reindeer antlers in public. Yes, Christmas (or Hannukah or Kwanzaa or Winterval or whatever you call it) is upon us once again, and hence the new (or, perhaps more accurately, "new") title graphic.

And remember: make sure you buy lots of stuff this year, or the terrorists will have won.

christmas commercialism 3

2002/12/15

Strange, but true: In Catalonia, Spain, the concepts of shit and good luck are closely intertwined. Which is why, among other things, bakeries sell turd-shaped cakes, and Christmas nativity scenes always include a figure of a guy taking a dump, known as the caganer (literally "shitter").

Another Catalán commentator and writer Xavier Fàbregas claims that the crouching figure, busy with his bodily needs, represents "a cosmic indifference which contrasts with the spiritual motivation which is awoken by the greatest mystery of human kind". Right. Although that might explain the absence of the character in most church nativity scenes.

(via Plastic)

bizarre christmas culture shit spain 0

2002/10/17

Some topical fiction for our times: The Moscow Times has a suitably nihilistic cyberpunkesque dispatch from US-occupied Iraq, circa 2004. And a Santa Claus techno-thriller for the Bush era.

Then he's over the wall and yelling and charging straight at the machine guns and somehow the bullets aren't hitting him. Gone is the Santa of old: fat, jovial, and bearded. Now he's clean-shaven, square-jawed, buff and barrel-chested in his signature red and white uniform, and the colors blaze amongst the desert browns and greys. And his bag, painted bright blue with little white stars to show his national pride, is slung over his shoulder. He's like a beacon, a big banner that says shoot me, I'm American.

(via bOING bOING)

christmas fiction grim meathook future iraq the long siege 0

2000/12/23

And while we're on the subject of US spy agencies, The tree at the CIA's Christmas party is apparently quite a sight to see, festooned with ornaments designed in the agency's spy-gadget labs.

A dragonfly ornament's wings move at hummingbird speed when the tree lights are clear. The wings are made of sheer material that could be used to construct a microphone that would be almost impossible to detect... And if you put on a pair of special cardboard glasses, the words "happy holidays" appear dancing around the star, showing off a way to conceal messages.
One straggler with perky short brown hair and black-frame glasses snapped into a sandy-haired corporate type by shedding her disguise. Agents in the field can don a new look in two minutes, she said.

Myself, I wouldn't mind some of those compact speakers that can produce the sound equivalent of a 50-foot woofer.

christmas cia espionage fun tech 0

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