Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Saturnalia: A New Year’s Eve Message

At the dark of the year, Misrule rules. Everyone takes time from work to have parties or spend time with their families. It’s the time for gifts and greenery, feasting and drinking. All the rules are relaxed, and some are turned upside down. Violations that would ordinarily be severely punished slip by in the general merriment.

This is Saturnalia. It has gone by other names, of course. These days the holiday season of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve serve as our Saturnalia. In the old days it was even wilder than now: slaves and masters switched places, and people run naked in the streets and indulged in drunken orgies. (Somehow the office Christmas party just doesn’t measure up.) In some cultures, there was a lottery for a new, temporary king to displace the old one. The lucky man who found a bean in his cake became the King of Misrule and presided over the festivities. He was indulged in every way. Then he was sacrificed to bring back the sun.

Enjoy the good parts of Saturnalia, Go forth and make merry. Kiss strangers under the mistletoe or at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Quaff champagne. (According to Pterry, quaffing is a lot like drinking, only you spill more.) Just remember the basic safety precautions. Don’t drink and drive. Wear a condom. Get the young man’s name and address. You don’t want to become a sacrifice to the dark of the year.

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