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Not Celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa? Try Festivus


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Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC, in VOA Special English.

I'm Doug Johnson. On our special holiday show this week:

We answer a question about why Christmas is celebrated on December twenty-fifth …

Play some music from new holiday albums …

And report about an unusual holiday.

Festivus

Every December, many Americans celebrate holidays.  Christians have Christmas, Jews have Hanukkah and many African–Americans observe Kwanzaa. Some people also celebrate a holiday that began on a television show. Faith Lapidus explains "Festivus."

A man named Dan O'Keefe created Festivus and started celebrating it in the nineteen sixties.  O'Keefe's son Daniel became a writer for the American television comedy show "Seinfeld."  He wrote a show about Festivus that was first broadcast on "Seinfeld" in December of nineteen ninety-seven.  He also wrote a book about it. "The Real Festivus" was published in two thousand five.

On the television show, the character Frank Costanza invents "Festivus." He does so to protest that Christmas has lost meaning and has become nothing more than a time to shop.

He celebrates "Festivus" on December twenty-third.  He uses an aluminum pole instead of a Christmas tree.  People gather at someone's house and tell each other all the ways they have been disappointed in the past year.  They eat a holiday dinner.  Then two of them test their strength by fighting with each other.

One of the main ideas of "Festivus" is that people of all religions can celebrate it. Frank Costanza explains on "Seinfeld:"

The Washington Post newspaper recently listed some ways Americans are celebrating "Festivus" for real.  For example, it says about four hundred people are expected to attend a Festivus party on Saturday in Springfield, Illinois.

In New York City, the Pink Pony restaurant held a Festivus party earlier this month. The Grape Ranch in Okemah, Oklahoma, celebrated Festivus with a party on December sixteenth.  The Grape Ranch also produces a Festivus wine.

And shoppers in the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, can attend a Festivus marketplace.  They can give away gifts they have received that they do not like.

December Twenty-Fifth

Our VOA listener question this week comes from Vietnam. Dinh Cong Huy wants to know why Christmas is celebrated on December twenty-fifth.

That is the day Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, whom they believe was the son of God.  But history and religious experts say there is no evidence that the man known as Jesus was born in December.  In fact, the Christian Bible says nothing about when he was born or that his birth should be celebrated.

Experts say the reason for celebrating the birth of Jesus in December came from festivals in ancient Greece and Rome.  The Greeks honored their god Bacchus on or about December twenty-first each year. The Romans honored their god Saturn for seven days beginning December seventeenth. The Romans observed Saturnalia by closing businesses, attending parties and giving gifts.

Another important part of the celebration was using light to frighten away dark spirits.  History experts note that these holidays came at the same time of the year as the day with the shortest period of daylight.  That day is called the winter solstice. The ancient calendar said it was December twenty-fifth.

Experts say the winter solstice was an important part of all societies because the sun is at its lowest point.  Ancient people believed that the gods must defeat evil forces for the sun's light to return.

People in the Roman Empire in the fourth century celebrated festivals honoring the sun on December twenty-fifth. Roman Emperor Constantine celebrated such a sun festival.  He became a Christian shortly before he died more than one thousand six hundred years ago.

The Christian Church within the Roman Empire took the date of the sun festival, December twenty-fifth, as the date for Christmas.  Not all Christians did this, however. In areas using a different calendar, Christmas was celebrated in January.  Some Christian churches today celebrate Christmas on January sixth.

Experts say many Christmas traditions began as Christian attempts to gain religious followers.  These early Christians accepted the traditions of other groups.  For example, the Norsemen of Scandinavia celebrated a sun festival in which they burned fires and placed green plants in their homes. Many Christians today place evergreen trees in their homes as part of the holiday celebration.

You can hear more about modern Christmas traditions and music on the Special English program  THIS IS AMERICA  on Monday.

Holiday Music

Popular singers and musicians release special holiday albums for the Christmas season. Barbara Klein tells us about some of the new albums this year.

Grammy award winning singer Sarah McLachlan released her first ever album of Christmas music, "Wintersong." It offers quiet and serious music for the holiday season.  Here, Sarah McLachlan sings "Christmas Time is Here."  Diana Krall is playing the piano.

Another new Christmas album is from country singer Brad Paisley.  His album is called "Brad Paisley Christmas." Critics say it is a good mix of new and traditional holiday songs.  Here is Brad Paisley singing "Winter Wonderland."

Still another new Christmas album is from Bette Midler.  It is called "Cool Yule."  Her collection includes both serious and funny Christmas songs.

She sings one song in the language of Hawaii -- the state where Midler was born.  We leave you now with Bette Midler singing "Mele Kalikimaka."  It means "Merry Christmas."

I'm Doug Johnson.  I hope you enjoyed our special holiday program today.

It was written by Nancy Steinbach. Caty Weaver was the producer. To read the text of this program and download audio, go to our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com.

Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA's radio magazine in Special English.  And all of us in Special English wish all of you a happy holiday!

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Correction: Sarah McLachlan's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this page.


"American Mosaic" in VOA Special English
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