The advertising blitz, the commercial crush, the painful little shots of lightning that you get behind your eyes when imagining another office Christmas party (you made an ass of yourself last year, didn't you?) -- it's enough to drive you away from the holiday altogether if you're a Christian, and enough to make you smug about your own religion if you're not.
Luckily, though, we live in the kind of postmodern world in which, if you don't like your own winter traditions, casually borrowing from other cultures and traditions is not only kosher, it's outr & eacute;. So if you want to catch a little spirituality this season without having to deal with Christmas (or whatever) Fever, why not dabble in one of these heathen observances?
Virgen de Guadalupe - Dec. 12 & r & The peasant Juan Diego first stumbled across the vision of the Virgin Mary on Dec. 9, 1531, in the hills outside Tenochtitlan. She told him she wanted a church built on that hill, and go tell the bishop I said so. Three days later, on the 12th, he crossed the same hill, and the vision appeared again, this time burning her visage into his serape. That was proof enough of the encounter for the bishop, who built her a small church (the miser). Millions now gather there every year to dance, pray and shoot fireworks. If you can't make it to Mexico City, though, just visit Goldencasino.com, the online gaming site that bought both the Virgin Mary (or Marlene Dietrich) grilled cheese sandwich and the Jesus Christ (or Walt Whitman) fried pierogi.
Yule/Winter Solstice - Dec. 21 & r & Despite being a despicable pagan celebration, Yule will feel very familiar to most Christian celebrants, as it is the source of many of Christmas' most beloved traditions and icons. The Christmas tree, the Yule log, mistletoe, boughs of holly (fa la la la la), the eating of ham, the drinking of spiked Egg Nog and the Tivo-ing of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation all stem from Yule, the millenia-old Germanic pagan celebration of the solstice -- the shortest day of the year and the first of winter. Crank up the Yanni and celebrate the birth of the Oak King!
Festivus - Dec. 23 & r & Festivus is a secular, man-made alternative for those weary of hollow, glamorous Christmas -- thus the slogan, "A Festivus for the rest of us." It eschews the evergreen tree bound in distracting tinsel for a bare aluminum pole, desirable for its high strength-to-weight ratio. It also cuts through the forced happiness of Christmas with free expression; central to its celebration are the Airing of Grievances (in which participants tell each other all the ways they've disappointed them) and the Feats of Strength, a wrestling match between the head of the family and a combatant of his choosing. Also common to the holiday are "Festivus miracles," usually mere coincidences.
Hanukkah - Dec. 25-Jan. 2 & r & Buttressed by its proximity to Christmas, this relatively minor Jewish holiday celebrates the reclamation of the temple in Jerusalem and the rebellion of the Jews in Israel against Greek culture, imposed upon them by Antiochus IV more than 2,000 years ago. Which is why you'll spend eight days and nights lighting the menorah and celebrating the harvests of wheat, grapes, figs, pomegranates, etc.
Karl Rove's Birthday - Dec. 25 & r & Jesus wasn't the only one born on Christmas, so don't let him bogart the whole day. Feel free to fashion a new holiday from the birthdays of Rickey Henderson (1958), Jimmy Buffett (1946), Cab Calloway (1907), Humphrey Bogart (1899), Louis Chevrolet (1878) and/or Clara Barton (1821). Morbid types can also celebrate the deaths of W.C. Fields (1946), and/or Dean Martin (1995). We celebrate the latter every day.
Kwanzaa - Dec. 26-Jan. 1 & r & Like Festivus, Kwanzaa was also created in 1966 as a secular, anti-commercial alternative to Christmas. Kwanzaa, however, celebrates African and African-American culture, along with seven central principles: unity, self-determination, collective work, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. Sounds pretty pinko, we know. And once you master the Swahili terminology and all the details about how many (and what color) candles you should light and when you should light them, and what type of cloth and how many ears of corn you should use on your homemade altar, etc., you might even start calling perfect strangers "brother." Or "comrade."
Boxing Day - Dec. 26 & r & Historians disagree over whether it's called "Boxing Day" because it's the day when, historically, priests would pop their collection boxes and give the alms to the poor, or because people gave "Christmas boxes" to their servants and to tradesmen. They agree, however, that it has nothing to do with post-gift-opening ennui leading to volatility and fisticuffs between family members.
Roberto Clemente Day - Dec. 31 & r & As with Karl Rove's Birthday, you can avoid all that depressing, sentimental, nostalgic Auld Lang Syne, kiss-somebody-at-midnight, make-a-resolution-only-to-break-it New Year's Eve crap by creating a counter-celebration to honor the day in 1695 that England imposed a window tax on business owners. Not sexy enough? How about the day in 1879 when Thomas Edison first demonstrated incandescent lighting for the public? Or the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991? Or the day Roberto Clemente died in a plane crash, on his way to bringing aid to Nicaragua?
The Rose Bowl - Jan. 4 & r & As Easter is the pinnacle of the Christian year and Yom Kippur is the ultimate Jewish holiday, the Rose Bowl is the climax of many college football fans' year. For everybody else, it's just an excuse to prepare vast spreads of snack food, invite the whole family over and pretend you know what an offensive tackle does. This year the Rose Bowl game will also be the national championship game, so all eyes will be on Pasadena for a matchup, probably, between USC and Texas. That, and the tight ends' tight ends (that's all my step-mom cares about, anyway).
Hajj/Eid al Adha - Jan. 10 & r & Eid starts wherever you are now and ends in the holy city of Mecca, in Saudi Arabia. It commemorates the willingness of Abraham (you may remember him from such religions as Christianity and Judaism) to slaughter his son Isaac at God's command. Once the trek ends, you run circles around a building inside the mosque, make two more mini-treks and then participate in "the stoning of the devil," chucking rocks at three stone pillars. Prepare for the trip by a) becoming a Muslim (non-Muslims aren't allowed in Mecca) and b) playing dodgeball -- two years ago, 251 pilgrims were killed and 244 injured during the devil-stoning bit.