Oh, hey, it's Saturnalia! I haven't been checking my Roman calendar much lately, so I didn't mention it earlier, but Saturnalia started on the 17th. Saturnalia was a festival honoring the god Saturn/Cronus, the father of the great Olympians.
The festival lasted from the 17th to the 23rd, and consisted of some public religious rites, but also a school holiday, the making and giving of small presents, and a special market. They legalized gambling for the week, even for slaves, but that wasn't saying much since gambling wasn't exactly rare the rest of the year. There was much feasting and merriment.
They also basically excused slaves from punishment and let them treat their masters with disrespect, and the masters either served their slaves a banquet, ate with them, or allowed them to have one before the masters' own. Everyone wore casual clothes, not togas, so it further blurred the master/slave boundary. One person was elected master of ceremonies and directed the partying in his circle.
Saturnalia is a source of many Christmas traditions common in the middle ages- masters and servants switching places for the day, a master of ceremonies, that sort of thing. This major holiday was probably why it was decided that Jesus was born in late December, despite there being pretty much no evidence of any time of his birth- I mean, at his birth, even if you believe in him, he wasn't known to be a prophet of messiah or whatever you think he is. So they didn't really record anything. But the early Christian leaders weren't stupid, they knew that the best way to get people to stop celebrating the pagan holidays was to replace them with events that happened at the same time and were kinda similar in nature. Luckily, there were a lot of holidays that fell at around the same time, in different non-Christian religions, so lots of birds with one stone.
Speaking of Christianity, interesting thing happened today. I was working at the register and a customer noticed my necklace- my prayer box necklace that my little cousin gave to me- and started asking me about it. "What's in your little box?" she asked. "My daughter has one like it."
"Oh, it's a prayer box," I explained. "You write your prayers on little slips of paper and put them inside."
"Ah, yes, that's what my daughter's is too- but hers is a little different. where did you get it?"
"My little cousin gave it to me for Christmas one year," I answered, omitting the fact that said little cousin is almost a teenager at this point.
"Oh... Are you Catholic? Do you know if those are mostly a Catholic thing? I heard they might be."
Uhm... okay. Here's the thing. First of all, I'm not positive what religion my aunt, uncle, and cousins are, just that it's Protestant and I don't think it's Baptist. I want to say Methodist, but that's irrelevant. The thing is, my cousin is really active in her church and sings in the choir and all- and I know that whole family looks down on ours. I mean, my aunt was a born-again Christian, and my mother- her sister- is an atheist. Meanwhile Shrewd knows more about what she doesn't beleive in than what she does (though I don't think she considers herself atheist anymore) and I'm... well, I'm complicated. Now, I don't think that my cousin understands that I'm not Christian, because I doubt that's the sort of thing my aunt and uncle would talk to her about. She at least should know that I'm not as religious as her family is. But I still kinda felt like giving someone a prayer box is essentially saying, You should put your faith in my God and my religion, and be more religious, like me. It's a bit like giving a cross pendant. A lovely gift, if you know for sure that the person is a Christian and will appreciate wearing their religion around their neck.
But I beat the system. I wear the box and I even put prayers inside of it, though they aren't serious prayers for the health and happiness of my family- those I say myself, since anything important ought to be said in person, and not written down. Right now my box contains prayers for success in school and for a Prince Charming to come along. Things that I could accomplish on my own with minimal divine intervention if I had the nerve and made enough effort. Still, they're prayers. They're just to a radically different god than the one the box was originally made for.
Anyway, back to today, and the conversation. It kinda went downhill from there. I told the woman, "Oh, my cousin is Protestant. It's not just a Catholic thing," thinking, It's not just a Christian thing, and she said, "Oh, good... Are you religious yourself?"
Uhm, lady? I don't even know you, I'm the girl who's ringing up your wrapping paper at 25% off. Why are you getting into a theological discussion?
"Oh, no, not really... My dad's Congregationalist, but we never really go to church," I answered, deciding that I would not explain the complexities of religion in my family to a total stranger, nor would I let her know that I was not only not Catholic, but not Christian at all, since she seemed the sort to smile sympathetically, offer some story about how Jesus saved her, and inform me of services at her church of choice with an excellent pastor who could "help me through my religious turmoil."
In fact... Next thing you know she's standing there talking about this Christian camp thing that she went to, and how "most of the people who go there have already had some horrible event in their lives, but really, you shouldn't wait that long," and I'm thinking, Right, because there's no way that a 19 year old could have already had horrible events, like, you know, a suicide attempt, and she's telling me how the experience changed her forever and made such an impact on her life and I should look into it, really, if I want to get in touch with my faith...
Meanwhile I'm trying to figure out when she's going to leave. I was trying to be nice and smiley and friendly but honestly, it was getting hard. I mean, come on... Maybe I should have just said "Oh, I'm not Christian," but I think that would have dragged out the conversation longer, and ended up with her suggesting that I correct my "crisis of faith" at her church. Because honestly, that's what everyone says. I say I'm not Christian. They ask what religion I am. I say I have a collection of beliefs that are hard to explain and that don't fit into an organized faith. They assume that means I'm looking for a faith, specifically theirs, and start suggesting that I check out their church/temple/whatever.
But honestly? I am actually pretty religious. My faith is mine alone, but I adhere to my beliefs stronger than many Christians and Jews I know (I'd say Muslims too but this is New Hampshire, we have like ten Muslims total, and fewer of any of the other religions). And the important things- a strong moral code that fits with most of my society's customs, a sense of right and wrong, and a general sense of personal self-worth and acceptance of life and my place in it- that's all covered. I'm not in the market for a new faith, though I am in the market for followers, that'd be awesome. Starting a cult is twenty-third on my list of Things To Do To Ensure Immortality Among Geeks, and that's a joke, so no hate mail, please.
I talked about this for a long time with my sister and what we concluded was this: One of the central themes of our morality training as children is that it doesn't matter what you believe, so long as you're a good person. For me, being a good person is defined as following the five most basic morals in the world: Don't kill, love/protect/nurture your family, honor your vows, respect your fellow man, and care for your body and your soul. #4 is pretty significant here- because part of it's definition is "don't judge if you disagree."
I respect the beliefs of even the crazy uber-Christians. I agree with some of their beliefs, even. But the fact that I respect them is cheapened by the fact that they don't respect me, and think I am incapable of creating my own belief system without a church to guide me. So it doesn't matter what they believe- as long as they're a good person... which means that it doesn't matter what they believe, as long as they respect me. And everyone else.
Oh, and I bought Harley Quinn. She is AWESOME. And bald. She's a bald Barbie. That makes her AWESOMER.