Thursday, January 1, 2009

National Hangover Day

This post is a response to Sam's last reflection (below).

It is indeed interesting to note to correlation between religious observances and bizarrely-calendar-based festivals in modern culture -- such as the coincidence of New Year's and the Catholic Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God -- but I don't think it's accurate to assume that people have grafted binge drinking onto religious feast days.

In fact, something like the opposite is true. Since certain broadcasters have taken it upon themselves to lead the charge against a so-called "war on Christmas" (these people tend to be rather limited in their choice of metaphors), I decided to take some time and look up some of our cherished Christmas traditions to find out how much of the holiday has ever really been devoted to Jesus. As it turns out, there's very little Christ to take out of Christmas -- most of the dearly-held traditions, such as Christmas trees, Advent calendars, and the date of the holiday itself, are culled from either Roman or Germanic pagan rituals that centered variously on one or another war god or the Winter Solstice. Since time immemorial, these celebrations involved orgiastic bouts of drinking and gallantry, which were, presumably, upsetting to church authorities when the emperor Theodosius I made Christianity the official Roman religion in A.D. 380. A trend of superimposing religious observances over previously-existing (and probably more entertaining) pagan festivals was established, presumably for reasons that are not too difficult to guess.

While new connotations became associated with the holidays, the "party" element apparently wasn't entirely suppressed. The nativity became the pretext for the December feast day, but it seemed to still include a fairly large amount of public intoxication, which led to religious authorities actually discouraging the celebration in England. Christmas was not routinely observed by the initial colonists in the New World (Puritans are no fun at all). What we now think of as Christmas in America did not really exist at all until after Charles Dickens popularized the rather ecumenical "A Christmas Carol" in 1843. It now involves not only a celebration of the birth of Christ, but also visits from "Saint Nick" (whose feast day is Dec. 6) and the exchange of presents (which is sometimes done on the pretext of commemorating the visit of the gift-bearing Magi -- although the Feast of the Epiphany is observed Jan. 6).

The season happens to be packed with feast days, actually -- as noted above, the Solemnity of Mary is Jan. 1, Dec. 26 is the "Feast of the Holy Innocents," and so on. As a child, I remember being frustrated every year by the rather high frequency of compulsory Mass attendances that my family took me along to, which got in the way of assembling the Lego kits I'd received Christmas morning.

All this to say, that the New Year's eve drinking tradition has deeper roots than just about all the rest of the holiday practices, and the more devout might consider it fortunate that the all-night party has at least been moved to a week after the date set aside to commemorate the birth of Christ. While Sam (party-pooper though he might be) may feel, understandably, that there's too much party in his religious observance, I would put it the other way and say that there's too much religious observance in my party.

N.B.: For years, I've considered Jan. 1 to be "National Hangover Day," since even normally-restrained people are apt to tie it on a little during New Year's celebrations. This year, however, I'm up, clear-headed and blogging, at 10:30 a.m. My plans for the evening fell through, and my fellow-revelers and I couldn't even muster up the joy to finish a bottle of rather good champagne. There's always next year.

9 comments:

samrocha said...

Talk about overexerting yourself...

I fear that the devout interpretation you gave to my note is quite a bit off the mark (at least from the "intent" of it).

You wrote: "While Sam (party-pooper though he might be) may feel, understandably, that there's too much party in his religious observance..."

My main point was the relativity of time in general (not mixing party and prayer, in fact I think go quite well together) and how that seems to throw this thing into the category of weirdness. I don't object to parties and libations at any time for just about any reason -- I'm not a Puritan -- but here I just thought it might make more sense using the oddly mixed drink of secular/sacred holidays (that you have written of elsewhere) as they more coherently follow the year on Planet Earth.

All that aside, if I were to have said those kinds of things, this would have been a lovely response.

brogonzo said...

I'll have to apologize, then, Sam... I'm not quite sure I understand what you're stabbing at. Is it just the sheer arbitrariness of the "beginning of the year" being marked as January 1?

samrocha said...

Don't apologize, people might mistake you for someone who does that sort of thing. And, besides, I have never gotten high marks in the "written clearly" category.

If I had to find a spot where I could make my point it would be when I wrote: "For the intents and purposes -- that, religion aside, suit me much better, at least from a time-division standpoint -- of the Church the (liturgical) year ended and begun right before Advent."

So ya its a time thing, for the most part, and the Holy Day part bothers me too.

Louis said...

Ian, this is the second time that you accuse the church of placing holidays to coincide with pagan rituals for reasons "that are not too difficult to guess." I'm going to go out on a limb and say that you prob believe that those reasons are to eradicate the prior celebration of that day and to replace it in people's minds as a day for chritianity.
When Christmas was placed on the 25th, Christianity had just been legalized. Before that Christianity was forbidden. By placing a holiday on the same day as an established celebration of another religious tradition(s), Christmas gained some legitimacy as a holiday. The same strategy was used in establishing Kwanzaa on Dec 26th.
Just because christianity thrived and the pagans fizzled out doesn't make Christmas on the 25th any less legitimate. Darwinism applies to beliefs as well, apparantly...

samrocha said...

If the pagans fizzled out, then, what are Adam and Ian doing here?

brogonzo said...

I'm not a pagan -- that would be silly. I don't want to speak for Adam, but I don't think he's a pagan, either. Heathens, perhaps; pagans, no.

And Louis, I'm not "accusing" the Church of any wrongdoing in its scheduling of holidays (if I wanted to point out clerical wrongdoing, there are plenty egregious crimes to list) -- but I am pointing out the silliness of the supposition that Christ's birthday was somewhere near Dec. 25. It's a pretty well-known pattern that Church festivals fall on or around dates that had been used before as pagan celebrations.

And yes, I think you could make a convincing case for the idea that Darwinian natural selection applies to beliefs as well.

Adam said...

Louis, your argument would carry a lot of weight, if it were not for later actions, such as priests in Ireland going around to every pagan holy site and saying "Go ahead and keep worshiping here, it was actually St. Patrick that made this place holy. Oh, and you know your god Bridgit? Actually a saint! Whatdyaknow!?"

Adam said...

Also, Christianity was legalized with the full force of the Roman State behind it, so its need for legitimacy was probably less than you think.

eva said...

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