One imagines that the first accusations of commercialism in Christmas go back well before the holiday was codified by the church. Back when Germanic tribes were hanging offerings from Durin’s Oak as tributes to Thor, some cynical jerk probably noted that offerings were a pretty good investment two weeks before. The same goes for Yule logs, sprigs of mistletoe, and then the inevitable — Christmas gifts. As is recent tradition in Florida, at least one guy has taken to the Capitol Building to set up his own counter-Christmas display — A Festivus Pole.
Ironically, while the rest of the state remains firmly in the grip of corporate control, the lobby of the capitol building has always been a center of free speech in the state. The rotunda, considered by the state as a “public forum,” has been a free speech battleground for decades. Particularly during the holidays. Every year, at least one group of Floridians set up an elaborate nativity scene in the lobby.
These scenes are always a contentious point, seen by many Floridians as an endorsement of religion by the state. Of course, considering the rotunda as a public forum, the state doesn’t have much say either way as long as the displays don’t contain profanity or nudity.
Every year, atheist groups set up everything from Flying Spaghetti Monsters to crucified Santas; Florida even has a pending application from a Satanic church to put up a five-by-five-foot poster in the Rotunda, though it hasn’t been approved yet. These days, every religion and anti-religious group is pretty well represented.
Chaz Stevens is a “militant atheist” looking to make a point both about the nativity scene and commercialization with his contribution. Stevens’ Festivus Pole, made (of course, hipster) of empty Pabst Blue Ribbon cans, is meant as a protest of the holiday, the nativity and everything else he sees as wrong with Christmas.
Festivus is a fictional holiday created by Seinfeld writer Daniel O’Keefe, modeled after a holiday celebrated by his family since 1966. Festivus, celebrated on December 23rd, first appeared in a 1997 episode of Seinfeld titled “The Strike.” Traditional practices of the holiday include the “Airing of Grievances” during the Festivus meal, in which each person present tells every other person present how they have disappointed them in the last year.
After the meal, come the “Feats of Strength.” If one person present manages to wrestle the head of the household to the floor and pin him there, the holiday is over. The bare, aluminum pole on a stand is the traditional center of any Festivus celebration; the bare pole is the (ahem) polar opposite of those massive, gaudy, highly decorated Christmas trees found in most households.
While Festivus, with its anti-Christmas spirit, has been adopted by many atheists as a kind of protest holiday, the heart of it will always be the bare, aluminum pole that points like a stark and steady finger at the Friday-blackened, commercialist heart of Christmas.
Pam Olsen, who organized this year’s nativity scene in the Rotunda, pithily notes that the Festivus Pole should have been bare aluminum, instead of aluminum cans wrapped around a PVC pole. She does have a point, passive-aggressive as it may be.
“I am so outraged by this. Why do I have to drive around with my kids to look for a nativity scenes and be, like, ‘Oh, yeah, kids, look, there’s baby Jesus behind the Festivus pole made out of beer cans! It’s nuts!”