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Saturday, December 25, 2004

And a Happy Saturnalia to you!

One big problem with contemporary religions is that their holy days are usually anything but comfortable. Involving flagellation, abstinence, kneeling for hours, or listening to dull sermons, there's not much to recommend contemporary religion save for the fact that all that agony is a perverse way to get to heaven. The ancients of course had an opposite view. Since life was agonizing to start with, pagan faiths made sure that their holy days at least had some entertainment value. Whether it was sacrificing virgins, having drunken bacchanals, or just plundering the village next door, you could be sure that the gods bestowed some good times to intersperse with the sheer misery of living as our ancient ancestors did without running water, adequate food, and cable TV.

Of course we may protest, what about the good time holidays like Christmas that make religion worthwhile? Well, that's just an accident really, or more factually, a marketing ploy thought up by some bishop heading up the sales division of the earlier Christian church. During Roman times a religion that's all penance and no play was not the type to garner converts. And although the emerging Christian church did not enforce circumsion and onerous dietary laws, hell fire, the end of the world, and being kind to your obnoxious neighbor did not exactly inspire a case of the jollies. Enter the ho, ho, ho. At the winter solstice, around December 25th or so, the Romans engaged in a swell festival to honor the God Saturn. They would exchange gifts, gorge on foods, and have holiday orgies which gave new meaning to the term come all yee faithful. The Romans were loath to abandon such a terrific festival in exchange for dour hopes of paradise, so the church relented, and allowed good times both on earth and in heaven. So now in the new festival of Christmas, we can have fun with the seven sins, gluttony, greed, lust, and so forth, and its all Ok. Of course, Christians, particularly the one's who are familiar with the Christian by-laws (i.e. the bible) perenially note ruefully that Christ is hardly ever to be found in Christmas, given our engagement in the holiday bustle. Ironically, the Romans noticed this as well, and in a famous remark by the Roman philosopher Seneca, he noted that Romans weren't exactly keeping Saturn in Saturnalia. Oh well. But Christmas rolls on, Saturn and Christ notwithstanding. Indeed, the human need to have a good time is so strong, I predict this winter festival will soon knock down all the major religions like tenpins, as they will adopt Xmas cheer, as least for marketing purposes. So in addition to the jolly Jewish festival of Hannukah, look forward to the Ali Baba festival (Moslems), and yuletide traditions of Shazzam (Buddhists), and Hare Crismas (Hindus), wherein all the world have their jollies.

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