Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Happy Solstice, Y'all

UPDATE: I just finished watching the news, and apparently the tree in question was dragged back into the lobby yesterday, but was removed after a few hours. The plot thickens!

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There was all kinds of brouhaha recently about a Christmas tree that was removed from a downtown Toronto courthouse so that it wouldn't offend non-Christians. Most people are irked about the removal, and some, quite rightly, have pointed out the fact that Christmas and Christmas traditions - including the Christmas tree - are outgrowths of early pagan festivals that celebrated the winter solstice and aren't Christian at all.

I'm not a religious person myself, but I do enjoy a nice Christmas tree - ours is so large we have to walk sideways into our kitchen. (It's possible we are crazy.) In any case, in the spirit of debunking some perceptions about Christmas, I did some digging about Christmas origins and traditions.

It is widely believed that Christmas is an outgrowth of Saturnlia, "...one of the best known ancient celebrations of the Winter Solstice...Saturnlia was the greatest festival of the Roman year, and was marked with great feasting, gift-giving, dancing, playing, and relaxing. Homes were decorated, work was suspended, and there was general merry-making done by all." They also took their festivities on the road; "Caroling, Wassailing, and masked processions were other Saturnalia staples that outlasted the Romans." A few millenia ago, the solstice fell on the 25th of December, and in modern times it has shifted to the 21st or 22nd. (The solstice this year falls on the 22nd, at 22 minutes after midnight.)

What about the recently relocated Christmas tree, anyway? "The Christmas tree, like many Christmas customs, originated in the ancient Roman new year festival of Saturnalia...Home decoration was emphasized, and the decorations were the evergreen trees sacred to the sun- pine, holly, etc."

Even smooching at this time of the year has a pagan origin; "(t)he roots of [kissing under the mistletoe] are unknown, but is likely tied with the fertility aspects of mistletoe and that it was viewed as a bringer of peace by the Druids." This particular tradition was banned in many churches, due to its roots in paganism.

What about Yule? And what's up with that silly song about the partridge in a pear tree? "The pagan Norse Solstice celebration, Yule, gives us both the Yule log and the "Twelve Days" of Christmas. The burning of a tree, a log, or a wheel was a widespread custom in European pagan Solstice ceremonies. The burning of the Yule log is a symbolic sacrifice of the sun's sacred evergreen, and its sacrifice gave energy to ensure the rebirth of the weakened sun."

Personally, I've always wondered what Boxing Day - the day after Christmas - was all about. Apparently, "(t)his word comes from the custom which started in the Middle Ages around 800 years ago: churches would open their 'alms boxe' (boxes in which people had placed gifts of money) and distribute the contents to poor people in the neighbourhood on the day after Christmas.

Well, there you have it. I, for one, would like to thank the pagans for their partying spirit and general hedonism. Happy solstice, everyone! John and I are ditching our families and running off to ski the slopes of Quebec tomorrow. Now all we have to do is pray for snow.

I'll see you all in the New Year.

Maia

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Near Death Experience!

It's possible I'm a tad melodramatic, but that's part of my charm. I've been laid low with a spectacularly awful virus for the last week or so, making me delinquent on my posting, and in about every other part of my life. Now I'm busy trying to get BHJ and I ready to head to Quebec for a week of frolicking in the snow, except...there's no snow. Environment Canada says there's a 60% chance of getting the white stuff today, so please, everyone, pray to whoever your designated diety is (personally, I've accepted the Flying Spaghetti Monster as my personal saviour, mostly because of the focus on loose moral values) for some snow for us. We have the worst ski trip luck in the world. I blame John.

Cheers,
Maia

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Happy Tummy Cyber Cafe and Hammock Bar

I admit it, I'm a terrible hedonist. I like to sleep, I like to eat, and I like comfort. The only reason I believe in Astronomy is because I fit my sign's characteristics to a T. The first hit when Googling "Taurus" turns up: Self-indulgent and greedy. Um, well, yes. I like good food (lots of it), good wine (also lots of it), sitting on the couch (also...okay, you get the picture). In any case, my penchant for *lots of it* tends to spill over into my writing. Most of the conflict in my first book was pretty realistic, but now that I'm getting ready to start #2, I have a tsunami of soap opera storylines raging inside me. They all suck, and frankly, I find myself at a loss as to what the main drama's going to be in my next book. I've had some characters happily living in my head for a while, but I'm not quite sure what they want to do yet.

So, in an attempt to do some brainstorming, I turned to the news. What about traveling? That's always stressful. I had followed the news stories a few weeks ago when an American woman was yanked off a plane for breastfeeding (which prompted a country wide nurse-in at a number of US cities and got the flight attendant censured). Who knew that passing gas could also get you the boot? I decided not to have my protagonist fart herself off a 747 and kept searching. Since it's the Christmas season, I tried to do a little digging on the holiday spirit. What did I find? A mother who got her son arrested for opening his Christmas present early. No joke; apparently 911 is the new way to address behavioural issues.

I always gravitate towards the stranger than fiction type newstories, or sites like the Darwin Awards, which delights in showcasing some of humanity's worst moments. But after spending all this time scouring the Internet looking at news stories, I was forced to admit that I spend too much time reading about people's quirks and not enough writing about them. And I still don't have any good ideas.

You'll have to excuse me now. I'm heading off to the wedding of two very good friends, where I will be indulging...er, well, you know.

Maia

PS: The title of this post is the name of the restaurant I'd set up if I ever won the lottery, sort of an ode to headonism: a cyber cafe featuring drinks with insanely long straws, so that people don't have to get up from their hammocks. Believe it or not, I've been able to convince a few people that this is a good idea. Come on: Hammocks? Food? Drinks? Computers? What's not to love?