Happy Festivus! (On Satire And Parody Religion)

I originally wrote this in 2012 for my old personal blog. Happy Festivus!

As a Genuine and Authorized Discordian Pope (Hail Eris!), a paid-up SubGenius (Praise “Bob”! Eternal salvation or triple your money back!), and an early convert to Pastafarianism (Ramen!), you might guess that “satirical” and “parody” religion is something near and dear to my heart. I firmly believe the Discordian maxim that “The human race will begin solving its problems on the day that it ceases taking itself so seriously.”

There’s a very nice paper on joke religions by Laurel Narizny, who says of the difference between “satirical” and “parody” religion that “While adherents of satirical religions may be playful believers, adherents of parody religions are overwhelmingly likely to be playful atheists.” (Being both a Pagan and an atheist, I find that I can have one foot in each camp — though it does take some flexibility to stretch that far.) Narizny also notes that “religious humor is a form of ‘deep play’ that works to renegotiate ideas about tradition, space, identity, community, and the body, and uses paradox to further one’s progress toward enlightenment.”

So in that context, I’d like to consider Festivus, a satirical or parody holiday celebrated on December 23rd.

Adams Morgan Festivus kiosk, photo by Rudi Riet, CC-BY-2.0
Adams Morgan Festivus kiosk, photo by Rudi Riet, CC-BY-2.0

Festivus was introduced to the world in a 1997 Seinfeld episode, but its origins go back to 1966, as a February holiday made up by Dan O’Keefe, a magazine editor, author and self-taught linguist, to celebrate the anniversary of his first date with his wife.

It evolved in a context of significant religious and magical scholarship; O’Keefe is the author of the 1982 book Stolen Lightning: The Social Theory of Magic. He said of the development of Festivus, “In the background was Durkheim’s `Elementary Forms of Religious Life,’ saying that religion is the unconscious projection of the group. And then the American philosopher Josiah Royce: religion is the worship of the beloved community.”

Dan’s son Daniel became a writer on the Seinfield show, and through it introduced a version of his family holiday to the world. It found a ready audience among those dissatisfied with traditional or commercial holiday celebrations.

Some seem to have taken to it in a satirical (in Narizny’s sense) vein, as a way to have an inclusive, lighthearted, non-commercial (even if you can buy a Festivus pole, something never part of the O’Keefe family celebrations, on-line) holiday celebration. On this end, it’s all about play; yet that play can reveal why it is that we are drawn together at this time of year, the darkest time, to celebrate community.

Others, such as Deerfield Beach, Florida resident Chaz Stevens, have used it as parody . Stevens, an atheist and a gadfly rightfully upset over the placement of a nativity scene and Menorah on city property, demanded that the city also display his Festivus pole — one made from a stack of Pabst Blue Ribbon cans. The city acquiesced, and a blow was struck against state favoritism towards religion.

So whichever way you take it, Happy Festivus, and a salute to the memory of Dan O’Keefe, who passed away in August 2012.

"Thank you for sharing this. It is very inspirational."

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