We celebrated the Christmas Holiday, but what did we forget, and what comes next?
The origin story to Christmas is quite muddy. Nobody is truly sure whether to trace it back to Norse and Viking origins or if it traces back to Roman ones; and because historians love to lock down a single progenitor of any tradition, the sources never seem to agree on one or another. The Norse origins are heavy ones that loosely link it to Odin and his Wild Hunt where he rides across the skies with dead warriors, raising hell and portending some sort of catastrophe. The Roman origin story on the other hand, links it to Saturnalia. Saturnalia was the Roman festival to the god Saturn, who was the god of everything from harvests to commerce. Some historians believed that Saturn also took in a large set of traits from Babylonian and Assyrian gods of the harvest (what with the Roman tradition of stealing everybody’s culture). Saturnalia, typically a three to four day affair, would occasionally run an entire week long from around the 17th of December to the 23rd of December, complete with mass animal sacrifices and a healthy quantity of Barbecue. It would be accompanied by a whole host of crazy social upheavals where servants would be served by their masters, gambling would be allowed in the streets and sweets and treats would be made out of paste, simply to punk those who tried them. Meant as a way of celebrating the “Golden Age of Saturn” before the modern era when all men were equal, it gave the farmers and the lower classes (slaves) a week of celebration after the harvests were finished.
Not to be confused with other wonderful Roman holidays, Saturnalia was the after the harvest fest, whereas the pre-planting festival (Romans loved to party) was Matronalia. The party that was held on the first of March was another social upheaval occasion, where men gave gifts to women and female servants were given the day off as a “thank you” for the work that they would be putting in over the next year. Another fun Roman holiday is Lupercalia, the February 13-15th holiday celebrating fertility. What makes Lupercalia so memorable, besides the strange similarity to Valentine’s day, is the fact that men would go blazing through the streets in their birthday suits hooting and screaming as they battered anyone who got in their way with goatskin thongs. Romans believed that the naked thongslaps would help pregnant women give birth, or help women become pregnant. Nobody knows romance like a Roman.
As far as what comes after Christmas, as of the 26th, Kwanzaa began and will continue until the first of January. Now in its 48th year, Kwanzaa is the first African-American specific holiday. Began in 1966 to give African Americans an alternative to simply following suit with the dominant culture, it was created by Maulana Karenga to celebrate Pan-Africanism and to celebrate African history in America as a greater community.
As a bonus to this post, I’ve added a link that has the Gullah version of the Christmas Story. Gullah is the language of the Gullah people who hail from near the coast of South Carolina, forming a culture and a community unlike many around them. They have an different language which is in part English, in part Creole, part African, and wholly intriguing.
Hopefully y’all learned something new, something cool or something different. When Valentines day comes this year, just be happy you won’t be assaulted by stringy goat strips. Some traditions really need to be brought back…
Citations, while I still have faith that people use the links:
Goatskin thongs aren’t clothes, But if anybody would rock that, it would have been a Roman
Gullah: De Shephud Dem Go fa See de Chile Jedus