Christmas: that wonderful time of the year when the country, as well as the entire city of Dublin, seems to come alive with people. People who do merry things such as take up all the spots in the university library, decide to move all their Christmas freight via public transport, and generally be a festive pain in the ass.
But don’t worry, after surviving the agony of city life during the winter period, you can look forward to spending some quality time with your dearest family, who’ve you missed so much. Probably. Your family meaning your parents who will interrogate you to no end about your studies, your aunts and uncles who will get you another pair of awful looking socks, and of course your wonderful social-justice obsessed younger sister who will call you a Nazi when she catches you reading this article.
It may involve a lengthy Mass depending on your religious background, and you might even be able to look forward to a political argument or two over dinner as well.
Now, at this point you might be asking: “Which absolute b****** came up with this awful holiday?”
The truth is that Christmas wasn’t always this way, nor was it always this bad. Whilst today it has become about mindless consumerism and angry fights over the dinner table – perhaps involving the systematic oppression of the traditional turkey – the holiday used to have a long list of reasons and traditions that actually made it pleasant to partake in.
So, who came up with it? Believe it or not, Christmas was originally a religious festival before global capitalism got its grubby hands on it. However, the religion of its origin is still up for debate. Whilst it is obviously Christian now, there are suggestions it has roots in Saxon, Germanic, and even Celtic circles. The two main possibilities for its roots are both situated firmly in two religions popular in Ancient Rome.
The first of these two festivals was the Roman Pagan festival of Saturnalia, a festival celebrating both the harvest and the god Saturn. The holiday involved normal Christmas things such as feasting and gift-giving, but also involved traditions that have since died out, such as women’s gladiator matches and the festive tradition of Saturnalia dwarf fighting, as well as the annual Saturnalia Monarch.
This latter tradition is particularly interesting. The position of Monarch was randomly given to one person in the household, who would then control the household until the end of the festival. This lottery even included both the slaves and women who lived in the household. Quite progressive for two millennia ago. So your sister would probably approve of this tradition.
The second possible origin was ‘Dies Natalis Solis Invicti’ (DNSI), a holiday from the Syrian Mithraic cult. The cult of Mithras was a major contender against Christianity during the Abrahamic religion’s early life in the Roman empire. Also, like Christmas and Saturnalia, DNSI had its festival fall in late December.
Similar to Christianity after it, the Mithras cult came to real prominence in Rome when a believer became Emperor. It also helped that the religion harmonised well with the previous pagan faith, allowing the citizens of Rome to continue many of their beloved traditions after converting to the new religion. And yes, that did include the fighting dwarves.
Eventually however, both these religions gave way to Christianity and its major holiday that coincidentally occurred on the 25th of December. Whilst some practices (such as the dwarves) died out after the fall of the Roman Empire, others stuck around, and a few were even added to the mix.
For example, the Protestant tradition banned the more festive elements of Christmas throughout America for a period of time, launching the tradition of hating the Christmas holiday in earnest, continued today by famous people such as Ebenezer Scrooge, the Grinch, and now at least one of The Burkean’s editors. Truly, the American forefathers contributed much to modern society.
So, when you inevitably start tearing your hair out explaining to your family that the gender pay gap is a myth that was generated by people who do not understand mathematics, try to remember the true, traditional western meaning of Christmas.
It’s not about consumerism, or college deadlines. It’s about joy, it’s about worshipping a god of some sort, eating way too much, and perhaps electing your chosen faith-friend as emperor over the household, and possibly even the state. But most of all, do not forget the most meaningful tradition of all: relax and enjoy yourself.
Merry Christmas from everyone at The Burkean
Oh, dunno, the women’s gladiator matches could be brought back alright.We just get Katie Taylor and our “ethnic minority “to beat the crap out of each other, on St Stephens day, or as it was known for very good reason, Boxing day in England. When major boxing matches were held.Bare knuckle, last man standing, fights.
Beat watching the rubbish shown on RTE that’s for sure.
Merry ,whatever you are having yourselves at this time of year.