Pallbearer skies, clouds pregnant with sleet threatening a bleached sun already low on the horizon, crowds in shops queuing for everything and anything – you get the picture – it’s getting to be that most wonderful time of the year again. But stop me before I completely shoot Santa out of the sky – it used to be a whole lot more fun back in Roman times as per Wikipedia’s description of the original glutfest, Saturnalia- ‘a public banquet, followed by private gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival atmosphere that overturned social norms: gambling was permitted, and masters provided table service for their slaves’. Sounds familiar right (OK slavery ended a long time ago, didn’t it)?
Most would wish for a festival that reflected the best qualities of the latter day Christian version of events filled with giving, universal goodwill and kindness. Instead though we’ve got the usual tinsel covered call to arms to buy stuff aided and abetted by the Hollywood cheese cart of manufactured sentiment.
Christianity just doesn’t seem to be a comfortable bedfellow with rampant consumerism and the inevitable message from its sponsors. And who left the party in the charge of a creepy, overweight hipster-bearded master of ceremonies swigging a Coke anyway? So what else is there of value when so much seems so fake?
Well, I’m a father and it’s a source of amusement and joy to watch my two younger children’s as yet unbroken belief in the subterfuge of a man who brings them gifts at the appointed hour. And I like the pagan undertones of the festival here in Scandinavia and the scent of pine from a real tree brought into the home. And I like a well told Christmas ghost story that reflects the darker, more sinister aspect of a gloomy season illuminated by candle light.
And like a latter day Roman, I like a good drink – so Happy Saturnalia to one and all or should I say, Merry Christmas.