2011-01-27 / Sam Bari

The evolution of holidays

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand
By Sam Bari

The commercialization of holidays has long been a cause for vexation amongst a large percentage of our population. Those who finance these celebrations are particularly vexed.

You know what I’m talking about. We’ll use Christmas as an example.

It began as the celebration of the birth of Christ. However, as soon as the Neiman Marcus marketing department read the story of Christmas, they zeroed in on the three Wise Guys who brought gifts.

A hastily arranged meeting with their advertising agency ensued. Then the country’s most “over-the-top” retailer, to use a disturbing but appropriate cliché, immediately declared gift giving as the most significant symbol of the holiest day on the Christian calendar.

Macy’s decided to jump in on the action and started a parade in the name of an obscure Saint recognized in the Netherlands and Belgium called Sinterklaas. And yes, you got it right – Sinterklass evolved into Santa Claus.

Thus, the Macy’s Day parade. The rest is money-grubbing, ostentatious, child-spoiling history.

Easter had a similar ending, but began with pagan roots. Easter began as a celebration initiated by Eastre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring. Celebrating Eastre had nothing to do with the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Christ.

Because of its prolific nature, the rabbit was a symbol of Eastre and everything that came to life in the spring. This evolved into the Easter Bunny, which represented new birth – thus the Easter egg.

Again, the major retailers along with a high-end designer named Faberge, pounced on the opportunity and turned the holiday into another money-grubbing fiasco. Faberge created the worldrenowned Faberge egg, a glittery bauble reserved exclusively for the rich and silly.

Somehow, the evolution of Easter went awry and the pagan celebration and Christian celebration melded together into one. Now everybody celebrates the Easter Bunny by spending money on lavish gifts and nobody knows why.

But don’t blame the rabbit. He was just being a rabbit when the moneygrubbers gave him rockstar status.

Now let’s take a look at Valentine’s Day, the most maligned of all the celebrations. At least this commercial extravaganza has evolved into a pseudo-holiday with a purpose, although it is somewhat skewed.

Ask nearly anybody about why we celebrate V-Day, and you can safely bet that the person you ask won’t know the answer.

The original holiday was the Festival of Lupercus, a pagan celebration commemorating the rite of passage for young men into manhood. Lupercus was the Roman god of agriculture and shepherds.

On this day, local teenage girls wrote their names on pieces of paper and dropped them into a box. Eligible young men drew their names in a kind of lottery. The girl assigned to the young man who drew her name would be his mate for the rest of the year.

The practice gave young people an opportunity to test the waters, and if things didn’t work out, they tried again the following year.

The yearly celebration continued for 800 years, until A.D. 270 during the reign of Claudius II. At that time, Pope Gelasius decided that the ritual was much too much fun and fervently objected to the coveted celebration.

After all, the road to heaven was paved with suffering, guilt and penance – not fun. So, he sent a bishop named Valentine to marry these young people in secret, to stop their hedonistic behavior, and Claudius said, “Off with his head.”

Valentine was imprisoned before his beheading. During this time, he fell in love with the blind daughter of his jailer. As we know, affairs of the heart were certainly not foreign to the clergy. He signed his farewell message to her, “From your Valentine.”

Now, Valentine’s Day has evolved into a reward for women whose husbands and significant others are addicted to football and NASCAR. If these ladies allow their love interests to spend 16 Sunday afternoons glued to NFL contests on the television, they will be amply compensated the week after the Super Bowl – on V-Day.

It just so happens that the opening day of the NASCAR season is Feb. 13. If the men who are addicted to watching cars circling a track at upwards of 200 mph are allowed to indulge without interference, Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, can be very rewarding.

When I stop to think about it, V-Day is the only commercialization of a meaningless holiday that has purpose.

Holidays are just confusing events in this system we can’t understand.

Return to top