In a few hours, the sun will rise–weakly and with effort–over the British Isles. Families will wake early to have the traditional British Christmas breakfast: eggs, something they claim to be bacon, and a knife fight. After that is a long day of drinking and literary references, followed by some sort of reminder that the country’s best days are over. The real fun is the next day, Boxing Day, in which the entire population beats the living shit out of each other. It’s like The Purge, but in metric.
In Jerusalem, there is more of an emphasis on religion, which is to be expected. The city of Jerusalem is like a 4/chan thread with public transit that occasionally explodes. Christmas is no different: the Christians want access to someplace that was a church before Saladin took a shit there; the Jews will be picking fights with everyone in sight, each other, and Rome (just for old time’s sake); and American Protestants will be antagonizing everyone into starting Armageddon. Christmas is a lot like every day in Jerusalem.
Australians–at the moment of this sentence’s writing–either celebrated Christmas yesterday, or maybe last month, or possibly not until next week. (You know about my inability to understand time zones.) Aussies sleep in on Christmas, and then assemble in great droves to get in fist fights about whether Ford or Holden has better cars, and sing the beloved Australian carol Santa’s Not Such A Bad Cunt. Each year, around a dozen people are killed by their Christmas trees because in Australia, Christmas trees are venomous.
German Christmas begins promptly at dawn: there is a sunrise service and all attend. After this, state TV broadcasts a Scorpions concert from 1982; the entire country watches while they eat breakfast, which is composed of nine different kinds of sausage. One of the sausages has a crucifix concealed within it, and the family member who receives the prize is declared der OberGruppenKristmasKommisar (such a beautiful language) and he or she is in charge of the day’s rations of pretzels and collective guilt.
Chinese Christmas is also known as Friday, and people celebrate going to work, or taking care of the kids, or shooting dope. Just another day, basically. The Apple Store in Beijing probably has its halls all decked out, but Wu Ming or Zhang San out in the boondocks? Friday.
On Christmas morning, Albanians return the chickens they have stolen throughout the year.
In Ancient Rome, it’s not Christmas at all, but Saturnalia. It marked the end of the Roman year, and has since turned into Christmas and New Year’s, in a cultural-evolutionary and syncretic kinda way. There were gifts and feasts and parties, and the usual taboos on drunkenness and gambling were lifted. Slaves got served dinner by their masters–the slaves still had to cook, but the serving was the important thing–and all the markets were closed. Various animals were sacrificed for various reasons.
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.
That was Seneca in a letter to a friend, but it should be remembered that Seneca was one in a long line of scolds that populate the history of Rome. (Also: Seneca wrote the original letter in Latin. Seneca spoke Latin because he had a classical education.)
The plebeians knew the difference between a market day and Saturnalia. Slaves certainly knew the difference: if a slave could, he would keep Saturnalia in his heart all year round.