Saturday, December 25, 2010

The History of Christmas According to Dan (5 of 5)

Christmas Tree

No one knows the exact origin of the Christmas tree, but the custom of decorating a tree can be traced to the 15th century, Acne infused, Brotherhood of the Blackheads.

They set up a tree at their guild hall, then on the last night of the holidays, the tree was taken to the town square and people danced around it.

I'm assuming this was also the start of the tradition of getting blackout drunk on whiskey and eggnog and forgetting how lonely you are on the holidays.

Eventually, the different German guildes wanted to one up each other and had themselves a Christmas penis measuring contest and would erect trees outside of their guild halls. Sorry non-guild members, you don’t get to enjoy the tree. Now scram!

The tree was considered a Protestant tradition by the Roman Catholic Church, so it didn’t spread until around 1815, when the Catholics realized they couldn’t stop the tradition. So we did what we do best, took the tradition and did it better than anyone else.

How's that for welcoming the Christ child?

Obviously the Wise Men were the first to give presents on the very first Christmas, but it didn't really catch on. My guess is that Joseph and Mary kept it quiet because the amount taxable on gold and myrrh is astronomical. So this gift giving was kept quiet until Jesus could speak, and then, the humble man he was, he rarely bragged about the gold bars sitting in the bottom of his closet behind his skateboard and baseball card collection.

The tradition of putting presents under the tree can be traced to Queen Victoria’s family in the early 19th century. It’s mostly a boring story about how rich kids got a ton of candy and presents under their tree. On of the princesses writes about it, but again, boring, rich aristocrat stuff. We read a ton of this in British literature in high-school.

Eventually department stores, cities, and people started bringing the gift giving and tree decorating traditions into their house.

Thanks to stores putting up Christmas decorations starting in July, and advancements in artificial Christmas tree technology, it’s now widely accepted to put the trees up starting around Thanksgiving.

Fun Christmas Fact: Initially the tree wasn’t brought in until Christmas Eve and promptly trashed on the 6th of January because it was considered bad luck to do it any other way.

Some have suggested that we turn the period of time between Thanksgiving and Christmas into one holiday called “Thanks-mas-Giving” or “The Holy Creation of the Christchild and America the Christ Country, ‘Merica.”

This way we can save time arguing over when its too early to put lights on the house and it gives us an excuse to eat like disgusting pigs for the better part of 30 days. "A second helping, oh yes please. It's the holidays. I'll run it off in the summer."

The Warm Feelings of Christmas

I don't think any mortal can describe it better than Linus on my first post.

Christmas traditions have grown from a scary-ass Pagan holiday, to a celebration of the coming of Christ, to a commercialize shell of that celebration. Please, don't take this as my damnation of the holiday. It's my favorite. In my mind, whenever there’s a holiday where I get presents for someone else’s birth, is a great holiday that can never be ruined by anyone ever.

Fun Christmas Fact: I Love Presents!

Christmas is the time of year where you should love your enemies and friends just a little bit more than on an average day. It's the time of year when the Grinch and Scrooge become not only tolerable people, but heroes. It's the one time of a year when parents can lie to their children and you know what, its not only acceptable, but the world is in on the lie. What's wrong with giving a little hope and happiness during the coldest, darkest months?

Just remember that this is a celebration of love and togetherness. As a world we need to try our best to push the commercialism from our minds, then and only then, we will all have Christmases like those Coca Cola ads, where there’s a roaring fire, a loving family, and a sweet, delicious drink.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The History of Christmas According to Dan (4 of 5)

Christmas Lights

Originally candles were lit in windows to show persecuted Christians where they could worship.

Then, in the mid-17th Century, people started using small candles to decorate their Christmas trees. Surprisingly this wasn’t the most dangerous way to light your Christmas tree as you will see below.

That honor goes to the giant lightbulb Christmas lights first introduced in the 1880s, but not becoming popular until the 1940s-1950s. These giant bulbs would light dried trees on fire, get stepped on and slice people’s feet open with Christmas wounds, and probably gave off an unhealthy amount of radiation.

Today we use fairly safe, smaller lights. These use relatively little electricity and usually if they cause accidents, its user error. (See Christmas Vacation, 1989)

Fun Christmas Fact: Some British call their Christmas lights Fairy Lights because they are a gullible, wussy, mythology loving people.

Now onto the flying reindeer!

Flying Reindeer

The eight traditional reindeer were invented in the poem by Clement C. Moore called “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”

He probably got the idea from the eight legged horse, Sleipnir. There’s nothing to back that theory up, but Mulder would see eight reindeer, eight legs, and call shenanigans on Santa.

The original names of the reindeer are German and are Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder, and Blitzen. (Which mean Thunder and Lightning respectively.)

Fun Christmas Fact: Donder and Blitzen went on to be stars in American Gladiators

At one point in the early 1900s, L. Frank Baum tried to write that there were 18 different reindeer. Some names were Racer, Pacer, Fearless, Peerless, Ready, Steady, Feckless, and Speckless. His version didn’t catch on, sounding more like sleazy race horse names than cherished magical beasts.

Then, in 1939, Rudolph was invented by Robert L. May so that the Montgomery Ward department store had something to give to the Children at Christmas time. Rudolph has largely taken over as the most popular of the reindeer. This proves that the outcasts can rise up and become popular, giving mythological nerds and elves who wish to be dentists hope.

Besides an awful cash grab attempt in 1989, (see Prancer) no other reindeer have tried to steal the spotlight from Rudolph.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The History of Christmas According to Dan (3 of 5)

The Elves

Santa didn’t always have elves, but he’s always had a tradition of surrounding himself with minorities.

Our good friend Sinterklaas has Zwarte Piet. At first glance, Zwarte Piet looks like a man dressed in black face. In fact, he probably was. He’s described as a black man, dressed in Asian clothing, and is St. Nicholas’ servant. To celebrate, many Dutch continue to dress like this jackass below.

Story has it that St. Nick used to be accompanied by the Devil, who’s occupation was to terrorize the bad little children. If you were a bad little Dutch child, you not only got coal in your stocking, but you would be water-boarded by Zwarte Piet as well. Basically imagine Dick Cheney in blackface. (Cause he shoots people on hunting trips, and there was all of that torture during those years, and he is like Darth Vader, get it? No? No one thinks that is as hilarious as me.)

Then, one year on Christmas Eve, there was a light-saber battle or something, and St. Nick triumphed over evil, shackled Zwarte Piet, and forced him into slavery.

What I’ve learned from this is that the Dutch saw Africans as the Devil, and since St. Nick was cool with having slaves, they should be too.

Fun Christmas Fact: In America, Zwarte Piet is known as "Black Peter." White Peter was tired of getting his calls and had to distinguish himself from the other Peter.

Another devil reference is Krampus, a part goat-human that accompanied the Austrian Santa. He essentially had the same role as Zwarte Piet, but is a hell of a lot scarier.

In other news, Austrian children are able to run on less than two hours of sleep a night during the month of December.

Santa then switched to using shorter, pointed eared elves. There’s not much of a background on why elves. As far as I can tell there wasn't a set in stone Santa mythology, and Louisa May Alcott tried to cash in on these elves she made up in the book called Christmas Elves. She never published, but none the less, the elves remain.

Fun Christmas Fact: The politically correct thing to call Elves are "Little Helpers."

My personal thoughts on why Santa changed to elves are as follows:

1) He needed help. Anyone could do this, even monkeys.

2) He needed protection from Orcs, Dragons, Yeti, and evil Wizards. The elves are known for their bow skills. It just makes sense to score a two for one deal. Get help making toys and protection.

3) Thanks to Abraham Lincoln and friends, it was no longer kosher to have slaves, even if it was the devil.

4) Krampus ... well look at Krampus. Do you want to be tied to that? Not the best way to extend business.

5) Santa needed to consolidate his work force. Times were hard and the business of giving things away wasn't exactly paying the bills. Outsourcing to the elves helped his bottom line and his stock holders concerns.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The History of Christmas According to Dan (2 of 5)

So who is this Santa fella and how does he relate to the Christ child's birth?

Apparently he’s based off of Saint Nicholas of Myra, who was the bishop of Myra in the 4th century. He was known for his gift giving skills to the poor. (He gave a lot of presents to keep poor women from becoming prostitutes.)

I thought to myself, St. Francis of Assisi and Robin Hood are both known for similar skills. What if they came along first? Then we’d have presents delivered by St. Francis, a man with a more righteous beard than St. Nick, or Robin Hood, who is a guy that favors tights to coats. It would’ve really affected my childhood. I would either love beards more than I already do or love tights... more than I already do.

So, the Dutch started the Santa Claus term, by having a fella named Sinterklass, deliver presents on December 6th. Sinterklaas means “The Good Saint”, but I was thinking it sounded more like a German Death-Metal Band, like Rammstein.

Side note: There are many parrarels drawn between Santa and Odin, a major Norse god, who was known cross the sky with his hunting party once a year. Children would leave carrots and straw in their boots to feed his horse Sleipnir, an eight legged horse that could leap long distances. For the best take on this, listen to Smodcast #66.

Then, in the 17th century, Sinterklaas was merged with the British Father Christmas, and thus a sweet, skinny, hippy, robed dude named Santa Claus was born.

More and more, decade after decade, Santa gained weight. Then in the 1930s, Coca Cola pretty much immortalized the chubby Santa Claus we know today in an ad campaign. This was probably to show all of those people that were starving during the great depression that Santa was eating fine, and had unlimited supplies of Cocaine filled soft drinks to keep him delivering presents all night long.

Of course technology has tainted the purity of Santa Claus a bit. We’re like hungry paparazzi outside of Paris Hilton’s house. We must know what Santa is doing at all times. Now Santa is tracked by Norad, can receive email, and even has a GPS locator cell phone app or two.

I’m beginning to think Futurama was correct, and Robot Santa will soon blow up bad little boys and girls with rocket launchers.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The History of Christmas According to Dan (1 of 5)

We all know the story of the birth of the Christ child that is the basis for this holiday known as Christmas. (Literally meaning Christ's Mass)

If you don't know the story, the cliff notes version goes something like this, virgin conceives child, is told this child is Christ, God says its going to be a rough road, Joseph and Mary make it to Jerusalem, they get kicked out of some hotels, end up in a barn, Jesus is born. There's all sorts of animals like a Disney movie and three really intelligent guys come with gifts. This is the beginning of salvation, grace, Christianity, acts of miracles, and the best selling book of all time.

For a full detailed account, refer to Matthew 1:18-25; Matthew 2:1-12; Luke 1:26-38; Luke 2:1-20.

Or let my buddy Linus tell you all about it:

In this series, I'm going to focus more on the traditions, commercialisms, and mythology revolving around the holiday.

So where do the holiday traditions come from? What about Santa Claus? What the hell is a Krampus?

Over the next few days, the history of these events will be explained through my filter of what I've read on Wikipedia.

St. Louis Noir

I went for my daily lunch break walk today and had a hard time going back to work.

Everything was overcast. I pulled my trench-coat closer as the wind kicked up. It was just cool enough for me to need a hat, but not cold enough for it to be ridiculous that I was outside. Something like 44 degrees.

I was only a six shooter and a cigarette short of being a private eye.

I'd recline in my chair with my feet kicked up on a dark oak desk. A pretty lady would wander into the room, crying, spilling some sob story about how gangsters took off with her husband.

My ceiling fan would cast shadows across her blond hair and fur coat. I'd think, "She seems to be a good kid, and I've got rent due." I'd take the case.

After running into several seeming dead-ends in the case, I'd get a big break when the bad guy showed up behind me with his gun pulled. There would be a scuffle. He'd get a couple of lucky licks in, but then I'd sock him in the nose sending him to the ground. His gun lays on the floor between us and we both jump for it.

We desperately try to wrestle the gun out of each other's hand until it accidentally goes off. The camera freezes on both of our faces. We're in shock. Who was shot. The camera lowers to our guts and it was him that was shot. He collapses next to me as I sit on the floor and light up the cigarette.

The police show up and I tell that little lady that it was her Uncle Joe that hired hitmen to take out her husband. When she asks if he was server justice, I show her my gun and merely reply, "You Betcha," cool and calm as I walk off camera.

Then I realize I'm once again sitting in my cubical, in front of my computer, resolving tech issues.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Elevator Etiquette

I almost always take the stairs.

I'd like to say its a way for me to get just a little more exercise in the corporate world, but the truth is, I don't know how to handle elevator etiquette.

We've got something like 30 elevators in our complex, but still rarely do I ever get an elevator to myself.

The problem I have is the situation forces you to invade and have your personal space invaded. You are trapped in a small metal box with a bunch of germy, sweaty, strangers all looking to make small talk.

Guess what, I don't want my time wasted. I will instead listen to this podcast and learn something or enjoy something. Believe me, its much better than talking about the crappy cold weather or "how those Cards are doing."

People try to get on the elevator before everyone already on the elevator get off. You get this awkward traffic jam where everyone apologizes, but no one really does anything to solve the situation.

Then you have the weird conversation. It can go either way. Either two people step onto the elevator and in mid-sentence stop talking until you get off. Makes you feel like you're really make their day horrible because they have to wait three floors to start talking again.

Then there's the people that lock themselves into the elevator and continue with their conversation and pretend like you're not there. In which case, they are the rude bastards.

Then there's the frantic button pushers. The ones that also hate crowded elevators. They're the ones that press their floor and then keep pressing the close door button a million times thinking it'll make the door shut faster. (This same phenomenon also happens at crosswalks.) Interesting note, 90% of the time that button is disabled unless you have the key to the control box.

Here's how I solve it. I usually have my headphones up loud, press my floor, and step into the opposite back corner so no one asks me to do anything. If they start looking for eye contact, I quickly look at my phone and pretend like there's something interesting on there.

Yes, everyone, I am what is wrong with the world.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Thoughts on Wikileaks

You haven’t been able to escape Wikileaks in the news lately. You know, that website that has been posting leaked U.S. military documents over the past few weeks. They also released the famous “Collateral Murder” video a few months back in which a US helicopter guns down two famous, unarmed journalists.

I’ve been back and forth about what I think of Wikileaks.

On paper, they sound like a necessary counter balance to world powers. They could do a lot to force the governments of the world to answer questions, keep them honest. Every government does things that are criminal to get the job done and sometimes they should answer for it.

But then there is the argument that ignorance is bliss. And it often is. I like thinking that North Korea is the bad guy, even if it’s blindly. I like thinking we’re these heroic world problem solvers, even though I know that’s not always true.

As more and more documents are posted, I’m beginning to worry about the ramifications of Wikileaks. Yes, the arguments about diplomats, contacts, and locations of bases being exposed have already been made by every military and government leader. They’re valid arguments and I’m sure it’s going to cause more than a few people to lose their lives.

What I’m seeing now though really scares me.

We’ve seen documents in which opinions on personalities are revealed. Weaknesses of world leaders, ways to win their favor, and secret packs they made with other leaders. Hilary Clinton is calling the French and Germans wusses, while the ineptness of George W. Bush and Tony Blair are shown in high resolution. Saudi Arabia asks the United States to hurt several rivals while their highest earners funnel money to terrorists. Today it was leaked that NATO and the United States had a plan to defend the Baltic Sea from Russia if they were to attack. We already had strained relationships with them and were finally mending it.

After the events in the past few months like bombs trying to be transported in printer cartridges or even the artillery shellings North and South Korea unloaded on each other only a week, I feel like this can only hurt the world. The probably less than 100 volunteers with Wikileaks could bring this world to war again.

Sometimes secrets are best kept secret. While I don’t like authority figures, I trust that my government is trying to keep me alive because it’s a sick parasitic relationship we have. We both need each other. I need them to protect me, make sure I have necessities, and to keep dumb people in check. I on the other hand, give them currency and labor. I’m the small voice that tells them what I like and what I don’t through voting. Even though, people and government alike get lost in calling each other liberal and conservative like they are both bad words, I prefer those petty squabbles than full out war.

I guess what I’m saying is that if someone were to make Julian Assagne disappear, I wouldn’t be upset. I don’t want him killed because he will only be made a martyr, but if he were put in prison and allow people to forget him, I would be happy.