A 'Gay Pride' Festivus pole rises in the Georgia Capitol

A Gay Pride Festivus Pole stands vigil in the Georgia Capitol

Credit: Greg Bluestein

Credit: Greg Bluestein

A Gay Pride Festivus Pole stands vigil in the Georgia Capitol

A rainbow-colored pole topped with a shimmering disco ball commemorating a made-up holiday invented for a 1990s sitcom rose in the Georgia Capitol on Wednesday, just down the hall from the towering Christmas tree that fills the Gold Dome's lobby.

The "Gay Pride Festivus Pole" stood vigil as a reminder of the double-edged sword of court rulings and state laws meant to protect religious symbols. After state officials gave permission for the display of a Nativity scene at the Capitol last week, they would likely have invited a lawsuit had they rejected the brightly colored pole.

The request was made by a free-speech group - known as The Humanity Fund - inspired by the fictional Dec. 23 anti-commercial holiday popularized in a 1997 Seinfeld episode. That show featured an "airing of grievances" and "feats of strength" competition that has outlived the sticom.

Chaz Stevens, the group’s Florida-based director, said he wanted to remind Georgians that society is “based on freedom of expression, free exercise of our religious beliefs and, my personal favorite – the right to yell at the government.”

“Sure, a Festivus Pole is a silly gesture, but it's a world wide recognizable symbol that provides us with a vehicle to promote awareness to the issue of Christian privilege and the religious right's manufactured” outrage, he said.

to mount the Festivus pole in government buildings across the nation, and he also won the right to hoist a similar display in Oklahoma. Lawmakers there said Stevens was

. In Georgia, the response from critics has been much more subdued.

"It just looks like a child's toy under the Christmas tree," said state Rep. Jason Spencer, one of the most conservative Republicans in the Georgia House.

Courts have long allowed religious displays on state property as long as they don't create the impression that the government condones or disapproves of a particular religion. An attempt to skirt the debate led to the bizarre scene in Florida of a Festivus pole sharing space with a display of the Nativity and a cardboard amalgamation called the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

A handful of Capitol staffers and visitors gathered around the pole Wednesday to take in the spectacle. State Reps. Scott Holcomb and Taylor Bennett, both DeKalb Democrats, traded quips about the holiday, which features a family dinner where, in the words of Frank Constanza, celebrants get to "tell them all the ways they have disappointed you over the past year."

"I'm ready to rumble - and I've got problems with you people," said Holcomb. Bennett challenged him to a "feats of strength" contest.

Others said they found a more profound meaning in the rainbow-wrapped pole. Steve and Tom Brightwell brought their two children to the pole, where they posed for pictures by substituting the word "grievances" for "cheese."

"It's a nice reminder that this is what makes our society work," said Tom Brightwell. "Multiple voices and multiple views. This has never been a monolithic society."

The Festivus celebration was almost not to be.

Stevens, who is in Florida, initially said his volunteer got "cold feet." That's when two other people brought a makeshift version of the pole, which stood for a few minutes before the more colorful version arrived. One of them, Atlanta blogger George Chidi, said he helped lug the aluminum pole into the Capitol's stately lobby because it simply "had to happen."

"The Capitol is for all of us," he said. "And Festivus is for the rest of us."