Zappadan: A Desperately Necessary Winter Festival

The days between Franksgiving and Zappadan were challenged this season by the exhausting effects of a global viral pandemic with a chance of light snow.

The Christmas season having formally begun with the passing of Thanksgiving into Black Friday is still a few weeks away from the astrological onset of Winter. In the meantime, as solar and lunar calendars wind their ways toward the Solstice — the sun setting earlier each day and the Kislev moon waning with each passing night — we come to Bummernacht, the anniversary of Frank Zappa’s death and the traditional start of the Zappadan festival and then light the first Chanuka candle one week later. These traditions alternately mimic and evoke the deliberate rhythm of our galaxy that pulsates with the flight and return of darkness and light in our world. A few days after this year’s Chanuka menorah is fully lit, when the waxing light of the Tevet moon is joined by the longer daylight hours, comes the Solstice and Zappa’s birthday, concluding the eighteen days of Zappadan. Coincidentally, or not, the Hebrew alphanumeric 18 (חי) spells out the word “life.”

It is futile to pigeonhole Frank Zappa. He was a complex purveyor of libertine sexuality, conservative economics, liberal public policy priorities, disciplined musical performances and a consistent genre-shattering iconoclasm. Whether attracted or repelled, the cumulative legacy of Zappa’s art may be held as any number of things to any particular observer but his conceptual continuity remains arguably rooted in Enlightenment modernity.

Essential to the spirit of Zappadan is the vital importance of art, intellect and creativity. Frank Zappa was and remains a serious artist who composed and performed some sweet and moving pieces of music and a good number of joyfully offensive and hilarious songs. Zappa released 62 albums in his lifetime and the Zappa Family Trust released about another fifty since his death, so far.

Having established himself by the 1980s and 90s as an independent artist with his own record label, Zappa achieved a hit on the Billboard Top 40, conducted and recorded his work with the London Symphony Orchestra, advocated for artistic freedom in hearings before the US Senate Commerce Committee that included Tennessee Democratic Sen. Al Gore in response to an attempt to regulate the popular music industry by the Parents Music Resource Center, cofounded by Sen. Gore’s wife Tipper, and was cited by the late Czech Premier Vaclav Havel as a major inspiration of the Velvet Revolution that ended Soviet rule over what was then Czechoslovakia and recruited Zappa as Special Ambassador to the West on Trade, Culture and Tourism.

In a bit of sweet irony, Zappadan was born on the internet, for which the aforementioned Sen. Al Gore was instrumental in the passage of the High Performance Computing and Communications Act of 1991, or the “Gore Act,” supporting the National Research and Education Network — an initiative that helped make the World Wide Web kind of a big deal.

Zappadan was born in 2006 as an idea for a “blogswarm,” in which the writers of weblogs, or “blogs,” would all publish Zappa stuff from December 4 through December 21. If I understand the history correctly, the founder of Zappadan is one Sandy Underpants of the blog The Aristocrats, who was joined by the likes of Zen Comix, Art Art Revolution, Driftglass, Blue Gal and lots of others.

“Frank Zappa died December 4,” wrote Blue Gal in 2008, “and was born (earlier, they tell me) on December 21.

“Two years ago, the blog known as The Aristocrats declared that December 4 through 21 should henceforth be known as Zappadan: the days of the year between death and birth, that ethereal time when there was no Frank, so we must celebrate him to keep his spirit safe until his birthday again.

“Or it’s just a great excuse for a party that has nothing to do with the greed and debt festival known as Christmas in America.”

There will be Zappa tunes and Zappa-inspired music, stories, visual art, videos, anything human beings can be inspired to create — even muffins (and pictures of muffins).

On Tumblr, on Twitter, on Facebook and Instagram, as the landscape of the internet shifts shape and evolves into whatever it is evolving into now, Zappadan finds its community.

Expect miracles…!

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