Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Is Pop Culture Christmas Real Christmas?

Given that our pop culture driven TV and movie viewing had virtually ruled our lives for the past 60 years or so, is pop culture influenced Christmas still pass muster as real Christmas?

By: Ringo Bones

Maybe Family Guy’s Kiss Saves Santa might be too much for some people who still believe that a true-blue traditional Christmas involves celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ and a Santa Claus that accepts Jesus as his Lord and Savior. But pop culture had also had given us something new that revolutionized everyone’s perception of Christmas – like the Yuletide staple titled It’s a Wonderful Life and the updated versions of Charles Dickens’ Yuletide morality tale called A Christmas Carol. And given pop culture’s ongoing influence on how we celebrate Christmas, it might only be a matter of time that traditional true-blue Christmas could become indistinguishable from its kitschy over-commercialized secular humanist equivalent.

When it comes to “redefining” our idea of what is Christmas, nothing compares to the quirky pop culture world of science fiction. Maybe after seeing the Starship Voyager being transformed into a Christmas Tree decoration by that omnipotent extraterrestrial being named Q, one would wonder if humanity still celebrates some semblance of a traditional Christmas in the 24th Century - or do we still need Klingon Santa Claus to register for next year's World Santa Claus Congress. Or what about that straight-to-video sci-fi Yuletide cult classic called Star Wars Christmas Special? Nothing turns traditional Christmas on its head like Chewbacca on a one-horse open sleigh, right?

In actuality, the official title of the Star Wars Christmas Special is “Star Wars Holiday Special”. It is a story about Life Day – a Christmas analog that is traditionally celebrated in Chewbacca’s home planet in George Lucas’ Star Wars universe. At least those who will can safely hope that a variant of the true-blue traditional Christmas is - or was – celebrated long ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Probably the weirdest manifestation of a pop culture influenced quasi-Christmas holiday is the celebration of Festivus. Festivus is the supposedly non-denominational holiday invented by George Costanza’s father, Frank Costanza (played by actor Jerry Stiller) that has since celebrated every 23rd of December by Seinfeld fans. Festivus centers around a ritual object called the Festivus Pole and the “feats of strength” with the holiday slogan “Festivus for the rest of us!”

In terms of weirdness and the degree of being far removed from the celebration of traditional Christmas, Festivus and the Star Wars Christmas Special are probably the two that takes the cake. Festivus could be seen as a critique of the runaway commercialization of Christmas celebration – a statement of protest in holiday form. While the Star Wars Christmas Special or the Star Wars Holiday Special could be seen by the uninitiated as a “pitiful” attempt to meld Christmas with Halloween. At least in a secularly commercialized Christmas – there is still importance placed upon gift-giving.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The World Santa Claus Congress: Yuletide Professionalism?

Held in Denmark each summer by professional Santa “impersonators” the world over, does the World Santa Claus Congress provide the much needed professionalism in the global Santa impersonation biz?

By: Ringo Bones

Eventually, every kid who pledged allegiance to Western Christianity will eventually find out that their local Santa Claus / Thomas Nast – style Saint Nicholas is just an over-glorified Yuletide Season impersonator. A fat guy disguised with a white natty beard and a big fat jolly red suit just trying to make ends meet in our increasingly globalized society. But it doesn’t always mean that every Santa Claus impersonator has to be a character of contention during the Yuletide Season.

Often frowned upon by the strictest of Christian fundamentalists as the surest sign of the runaway commercialization of an arbitrarily dated holiday supposedly set to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, believe it or not Santa Claus “impersonators” do have a regulatory body / commission that oversee in the maintenance of their professionalism.

For the past 43 years or so, the World Santa Claus Congress has been held every summer in Denmark where Santa Claus “impersonators” the world over went there for their annual meeting. Official Santa Claus impersonators (which probably also mean really good Santa Claus impersonators) that represent their respective countries – or countries in the world with a sizeable population that celebrate Christmas with Santa Claus – are vetted for their kid-friendliness and their in-depth knowledge on the origins and story of the traditional Western Thomas Nast – inspired Santa Claus.

Since the end of the Second World War, Japan has been celebrating Christmas big time that it has since became the biggest rival to the Christian West when it comes to celebrating a Santa – oriented Christmas. Japan’s official Santa Claus, or the officially sanctioned designated Santa Claus impersonator, has garnered accolades over the years as the “Gold Standard” of authenticity in Santa Claus impersonation. Given that the Japanese take traditions very seriously, Santa Claus more or less had become an established Japanese tradition during the Yuletide Season.

Before the Thomas Nast – style Santa Claus was embraced by the Japanese, Japan’s traditional gift-giver used to be an enchanted pig that came down from the mountains during winter time. The resemblance to the jolly bearded fat man in a jolly red suit might only be a coincidence, but the “Japanese Santa Claus” has since traditionally been served with roast pork and rice pudding – the now established traditional Japanese Christmas dinner – as opposed to the Christian West’s traditional milk and cookies treat for Santa doing his rounds. The World Santa Congress it seems not only establishes and maintains professionalism in Santa Claus impersonation but also the idiosyncrasies of various Santa Claus traditions in other parts of the world. Even those who haven't exactly pledged allegiance to Western Christianity.