You might think he's doing something else. But in reality, he's learning how to sit/stay, and not doing a very good job of it (he eventually learned how to do so beautifully ... sort of ).

martedì 21 dicembre 2010

Io, Saturnalia!

OTTAWA — This year's winter solstice — an event that will occur next Tuesday — will coincide with a full lunar eclipse in a union that hasn't been seen in 456 years.
The celestial eccentricity holds special significance for spiritualities that tap into the energy of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year and a time that is associated with the rebirth of the sun.” (This from the Montreal Gazette, addenda’d below.)

Wow. That’s today.

The last time that happened was 1554 say some sources; NASA says 1638. I prefer to go with 1554, since I will experience something not experienced since Cosimo I experienced this, that is if he experienced it. Cosimo might’ve been clueless, as he was busy taking over Siena. The last time the solstice and a lunar eclipse occurred, Cellini was putting the finishing touches on his Perseus. Or maybe he was already in the Loggia dei Lanzi. Perseus, that is.

Then I thought about the Saturnalia, wherein ancient Romans would have been whooping it up an even longer time ago. Was this feasting tied into the shortest days of the year merging into the beginning of more light?

Says the sometimes reliable Wikipedia: “Saturnalia was introduced around 217 BCE to raise citizen morale after a crushing military defeat at the hands of the Carthaginians.[1] Originally celebrated for a day, on December 17, its popularity saw it grow until it became a week-long extravaganza, ending on the 23rd. Efforts to shorten the celebration were unsuccessful. Augustus tried to reduce it to three days, and Caligula to five. These attempts caused uproar and massive revolts among the Roman citizens.”

It sounds a whole lot like Christmas, doesn’t it? Though we’re not sacrificing much of anything (unless you count spending a lot of money which you don’t necessarily have on presents) and the Romans surely did (probably the obligatory and unimaginative ram), Saturnalia involved giving presents, allowing gambling (even for slaves), Saturnalia, continues, “ was a time to eat, drink, and be merry. The toga was not worn, but rather the synthesis, i.e. colorful, informal "dinner clothes"; and the pileus (freedman's hat) was worn by everyone. Slaves were exempt from punishment, and treated their masters with (a pretense of) disrespect … The customary greeting for the occasion is a "Io, Saturnalia!" — Io (pronounced "e-o") being a Latin interjection related to "ho," or less quaintly today, “yo” (as in "Ho/Yo, praise to Saturn").”

Why praise Saturn? Because he was the god of agriculture. He also was the father of Zeus, and failed to eat him (as he did most of his other children, fearing that he would be usurped) because Mother Earth (Gaia) put a stone in the swaddling clothes which Saturn duly swallowed. Zeus lived to tell the tale, and to enact a lot of his own misdeeds.

I continue to rip off/quote wiki: Seneca the Younger wrote about Rome during the Saturnalia around 50 a.d./c.e. (Sen. epist. 18,1-2): “It is now the month of December, when the greatest part of the city is in a bustle. Loose reins are given to public dissipation; everywhere you may hear the sound of great preparations, as if there were some real difference between the days devoted to Saturn and those for transacting business... Were you here, I would willingly confer with you as to the plan of our conduct; whether we should eve in our usual way, or, to avoid singularity, both take a better supper and throw off the toga.”

Richard Cohen, in an op-ed piece in yesterday’s International Herald Tribune remarks: “Thus, although the New Testament gives no indication of Christ’s actual birthday (early writers preferring a spring date), in 354 Pope Liberius declared it to have befallen on Dec. 25. The advantages of Christmas Day being celebrated then were obvious. As the Christian commentator Syrus wrote: “It was a custom of the pagans to celebrate on the same Dec. 25th the birthday of the sun, at which they kindled lights in token of festivity …”

Throw off the toga! Our plan of conduct? To eat and drink to excess. Except.

It might be the shortest day of the year, it might be a feast fit for the gods, except that it’s a pretty grim day on the Roman Catholic calendar. Ten saints are feted on the 21st of December: St. Peter Canisius, Bl. Adrian, St. Anastasius XII, St. Andrew Dung Lac, St. Themistoeles, St. Severinus, St. Glycerius, St. Honoratus of Toulouse, St.John and Festus, and St. John Vincent. Peter Canisius (1521-1597) spooked for the Vatican, toting heaving tomes of Catholic doctrine into Luther-filled zones; Bl. Adrian, who lived sometime in the 13th century, was executed with 27 others in Dalmatia by Muslims; Anastasius XII, patriarch of Antioch, might’ve been killed by Syrian Jews about 609 a.d./c.e.; Andrew Dung Lac, canonized in 1988, was martyred in Vietnam in 1839 and recently-ish canonized in 1988; St. Themistoeles, in Nicodemia, was martyred in 253 a.d./c.e., St. Severinus, bishop of Trier, around 300, with “No details of his labors are available” (one tends to think of Hercules at such moments), St. Honorius of Toulouse, 3rd century religious guy, seemingly escaped being martyred, St. John and Festus – this sounded promising – martyrs of Tuscany, “Their Acta are no longer extant”; St. John Vincent, a 7th century bishop and hermit (one wonders how he pulled that off – bishop and hermit? Kind of like a baby grand piano).

Had been hoping that, of those 10 saints honored on this day, at least one of them would be associated with something celebratory, something festive. But NO. At least half of them were possibly martyred. The most promising of the group was “St. John and Festus” – as “festus” suggests “festa” and “festival” and all sorts of good things. But again : NO. Virtually nothing’s known about this duo; even the go-to- showed zip for these two so-called Tuscan martyrs.

Obviously, a most joy-less bunch in this period of joy.

"For see, winter is past, the rains are over and gone. Flowers are appearing on the earth. The season of glad songs has come, the cooing of the turtledove is heard in our land."

Merry Christmas/Buon Natale/Here comes the sun …


For the rest of the article, go to

Richard Cohen, “There goes the sun,” International Herald Tribune, December 20, 2010.

Italians often play Tombola on Christmas day. It’s a whole lot like Bingo, only funner [sic]. Sometimes $ is exchanged, as it will be at our house this year. So I guess you could say we’re running – if only for a day – a gambling den.

List of ten saints for December 21st from

Song of Songs 2:11-12

Photograph of the Mistress of Deportment (Georgia), Tillie, and Santa Paws … a long, long time ago.

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