Celebrating Frustration near the New Year: A Festivus Story

In this addendum to my recent Not Today Santa holiday post, I revisit the discussion of third-century CE Latin Church Father Tertullian’s defense of the Bible by recourse to a principle of truth being stranger than fiction lifted from the arguments of Aristotle in Rhetoric. A pre-Christmas coffee with an intelligent and learned friend put me back in mind of that part of the previous essay when he mentioned to me the work of cognitive anthropologist Pascal Boyer, who argued that religious ideas prove memorable and even compelling because they involve the so-called “minimal counterintuitiveness effect” by violating just a few ontological expectations about the world and how it works. The 166th episode of the hit 1990’s sitcom Seinfeld provides a vivid illustration of both Boyer’s idea and Aristotle’s-cum-Tertullian’s appeal to strange reality in its presentation of a made-up anti-Christ…mas celebration dubbed Festivus. It turns out that Festivus is—or rather was—a real invented holiday, and the truth of it proved so odd and potentially disturbing that it had to be altered for television so as not to overly tax the limits of minimal counterintuitiveness. The reality of Festivus is palpable, poignant, and very apropos of this time of celebrating a new year and new chances to defy the depredations of time and show our human strength through accomplishment. If you’re ready to air some grievances and man-up for feats of strength, click here for more. 

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