There's some debate over the origins of the modern, red-suited, white-bearded Santa Claus.
His name, for example, is derived from the 4th century bishop St. Nicklaus of Mycea, who was known for his generosity. But other aspects of the modern Claus appear to be derived from German pagan traditions, his bearded visage more closely resembles that of the Germanic god Odin. And Santa's reindeer-powered transcontinental journey seems inspired by the tales of Odin's flying horse Sleipnir.
While there are plenty of points of contention about Santa's origin, there's one thing that people all around the world have agreed upon for some time - Santa is a big guy.
Recently that presumption has come under fire. Earlier this year a London newspaper reported that there was a push in that country to make the legions of seasonal Santa workers get in shape in order to set a better example for children. More recently the US Surgeon General Steven Galson told the Boston Herald that Santa did not provide a healthy role model for children. The Santa makeover effort has prompted somewhat of a backlash, led in part by a tongue-in-cheek campaign from local advertising PR firm DVA Advertising and Public Relations. The company launched a satirical website last week, www.keepsantafat.com in a lighthearted effort to counter the push for a PC Santa.
So far the group has secured roughly 3,400 signatories to its Keep Santa Fat online petition, gathering support from all 50 states and dozens of countries, said Justin Yax, DVA's public relations director. The website has received more than 8,000 hits since launching this past weekend, Yax said, and has been featured on ABC News and the New York Times. The company hatched the idea to do a web campaign about three weeks ago after watching the Santa weight controversy gather momentum, said Yax.
"Instead of doing a holiday card this year, we're doing this. This what we're putting our effort into," he said.
DVA has pledged to donate the equivalent of one pound of food to America's Second Harvest Food Bank for each signature, up to 50,000 pounds. Yax said DVA is currently looking for business and individual partners to match its donation.
The web campaign, which includes video spots by DVA in the Daily Show vein, was a group effort, said Yax.
The site includes an optimal weight chart for Santa, which Yax said puts him between 285 and 330 pounds. Oh yeah, and he's roughly 5 foot 8. For those keeping score that puts him at body mass index somewhere between 43 and 50. And well into the obese range, according to the National Institute of Health.
But then again, nobody's arguing that he isn't fat.
"We've been having fun with it and that's all we set out to do," Yax said.
Burning It at the Box Office
With an opening-weekend box office of more than $26 million, it's hard label The Golden Compass (see film reviews page 37) a flop. But ticket sales fell at least $4 million short of expectations - and critics who called for a boycott of the flick on religious grounds already are claiming victory.
"Our goal was to stop The Golden Compass from meeting box office expectations, and we succeeded," Bill Donahue, president of the conservative Catholic League, wrote on the group's website.
The Golden Compass is a film adaptation of the first book in the fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, an outspoken atheist. Mainstream Catholics don't seem to be as lathered up about The Golden Compass. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops gave the movie an A-II rating, meaning it's suitable for adults and adolescents. And the Catholic News Service gave it a glowing review.
None of which deterred Donahue from crowing. Comparing The Golden Compass's opening weekend gross with that of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, the movie adaptation of the first volume of C.S. Lewis's pro-Christian Chronicles of Narnia series, Donahue pointed out that the latter took in $65.5 million on its first weekend.
"Let this be a lesson to militant atheists like Pullman: keep your hollow beliefs to yourself," Donahue wrote. "And ease up on demonizing Catholicism - no other religion has done more to promote human rights, science and goodwill. Why not make a movie about that?"
Great idea, Bill. Should we go with the Spanish Inquisition, the persecution of Galileo or the Albigensian Crusade?
The Resident White House Blonde Joke
In the spring of 1962, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev secretly installed nuclear missiles in Fidel Castro's Cuba, just 90 miles from the US mainland. When President John F. Kennedy found out about it, it led to a confrontation that brought the world to the brink of Armageddon before the Soviets finally backed down and agreed to remove the missiles.
It was quite the big deal at the time. Later, books were written about it and movies based on it.
But White House Press Secretary Dana Perino never heard of it. At least, not until recently.
Appearing on National Public Radio's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" show last weekend, Perino confessed that when a reporter asked a question referring to the Cuban missile crisis, she was stumped. "I was panicked a bit because I really don't know about [it]," she said. "It had to do with Cuba and missiles, I'm pretty sure."
"I came home and I asked my husband," she added. "I said, 'Wasn't that like the Bay of Pigs thing?' And he said, 'Oh, Dana.'"
Oh, Dana is right.
Maybe Upfront should cut Dana a little slack because she's only 35 and the Cuban missile crisis happened more than 10 years before she was born. On the other hand, the Civil War happened a hundred years before we were born and we're still somewhat aware of it.
He Didn't Have It His Way
Three bites into his Whopper, college student Van Miguel Hartless realized there was something funny about it. It had a peculiar taste, and this odd rubbery texture ...
"I immediately spit it out and ran to the bathroom to vomit," the 24-year-old Hartless said.
Shortly thereafter, Hartless alleges, he discovered the source of the rubbery texture - a condom, unwrapped and (possibly) used.
The Rutland (Vermont) Herald reported that Hartless, a junior at Green Mountain College, has filed suit against the company that owns the Burger King in Rutland where Hartless bought the allegedly contaminated meat patty in June.
In his suit, Hartless claims the company was negligent and seeks an unspecified amount of damages for "sustained pain and suffering, vomiting, nightmares, mental and emotional distress" and medical expenses.
Yes, Hartless insists: "I know it sounds kind of funny now, but I had dreams where I would be doing random things and whatever I was holding would turn into the hamburger or the condom."
Hartless has received a written apology from Burger King, but he doesn't sound like he's in the mood to let bygones be bygones.
Burger King's letter, he said, ended with the sentence: "Hope you come back and have a more pleasurable experience."
"I called them and said 'This is crap,'" he said. "What makes you think I would ever come back?"
If You Snooze You Lose
Back in the good old Middle Ages, a guy had to go on a crusade to get a papal indulgence. But nowadays you don't need to sweat in hot armor, risk exotic diseases and fight hordes of infidels - you just have to take a little vacation.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the alleged appearance of the Virgin Mary to 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous in the French village of Lourdes. Over the last 15 decades a big tourist industry has developed catering to the tens of thousands of Catholics who come to worship or in the hope of being cured of their ills by the supposed miraculous healing power of water from the spring in the grotto where Bernadette met the Virgin.
So to give Lourdes a little extra marketing boost this year, Pope Benedict XVI is offering a special deal: Make a pilgrimage to Lourdes and receive, absolutely free, a papal indulgence.
(Note of explanation for non-Catholics: Purgatory is where you go after you die if you're not quite good enough to make it into heaven but not evil enough to be thrown into hell. After spending a few thousand or million years in purgatory you're purified enough to go to heaven. A papal indulgence isn't quite a get-out-of-jail-free card, but it can shave time off your purgatory sentence.)
Believers who are prevented by disabilities or illness from making the physical pilgrimage to Lourdes, the pope said, can also receive indulgences by making a "spiritual" pilgrimage to the sacred shrine.
It's too good a deal to pass up, but don't delay - this exclusive one-time offer will expire Dec. 8, 2008.
So Far, So Good
Eight months after being kicked off the air for calling the Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos," Don Imus is back on the air. As of this writing, he hasn't been fired yet.
In his first show on WABC-AM, the acerbic 67-year-old promised to be a good boy from here on out. "I will never say anything in my lifetime that will make any of these young women at Rutgers regret or feel foolish that they accepted my apology and forgave me," he promised. "And no one else will say anything else on my program that will make anyone think that I didn't deserve a second chance."
Imus also has added African American comics Karith Foster and Tony Powell to his cast and said his show will offer a forum for "an ongoing discussion about race relations in this country."
However, he went on to say he thinks he's taken the contrition thing far enough: "I didn't see any point in going on some sort of Larry King tour to offer a bunch of lame excuses for making an essentially reprehensible remark about innocent people who did not deserve to be made fun of."
And if anybody out there in radioland was thinking he's lost his edge, Imus set them straight: "Dick Cheney is still a war criminal. Hillary Clinton is still Satan."