1. The chairgod said that the next item on the agenda concerned Christmas…
2. The Jewish God said please? He was sorry. Why? Why Christmas? What had Christmas done to get its own item on the agenda? He, the Jewish God, had no more interest in Christmas than anyone else had in a festival like Saturnalia or, for all he knew, a Jewish feast like Passover. He wanted to know why they didn’t just pass over and talk about something interesting.
3. The Roman God Saturn said it was no use dismissing Saturnalia just like that. He personally was very interested in Saturnalia.
4. The Jewish God said he could understand that, but he would like to know if there was in fact anything very interesting about Saturnalia that anyone who was not a god called Saturn might appreciate.
5. Saturn said that as the whole of Roman civilisation had been geared up to the celebration of it, and depended on it for hundreds of years, it might be said to be of more than passing interest. Also, possibly, more interesting than any equivalent Jewish feast.
6. The chairgod said that if Saturn could confine himself to a brief plug for his festival without cross-faith point-scoring, he would be grateful.
7. Saturn agreed. He reminded everyone that although he had a reputation for having a grim side, hence the expression “Saturnine” for being disagreeable, he was in fact basically the god of agriculture, and was no more than a simple farmer.
8. Hence his disagreeable reputation, interposed Zeus, the head Greek God. Zeus gave it as his opinion that all so-called simple farmers were deep down dyed pessimists who liked nothing better than to grumble about the weather, the crops, the government and pestiferous insects.
9. Saturn said that if that were so, it did not explain how much people always looked forward to Saturnalia. Saturnalia was the winter feast in mid-December which gave everyone a chance to mark the shortest day and the return of the light, and of course to give thanks for the preceding fertile season and for all the bountiful work of nature.
10. Fertile season be blowed, said Jupiter, the head Roman God. As he remembered, Saturnalia gave everyone the chance to get pissed for a fortnight, and wake up next year with a tremendous sore head and not much memory of what had happened. In some ways, although he was not greatly in favour of Christianity, he was not unhappy that Saturnalia had gradually been subsumed by Christmastide, which after a few centuries had entirely taken over the old Roman feast and civilised it.
11. The Jewish God said he could never make out why, whenever they discussed an old and genuine pagan feast, it always turned out eventually to have been taken over by the Christian marketing boys. Was there ever, he asked, a pagan feast which wasn’t rebranded by the Christian PR department, in which case, was there ever an original Christmas festivity which wasn’t copied from something else?
12. He was sick to death of all this Christian copycatting.
13. The chairgod said he had a point, but it was probably a bit late in the day to sue Christmas or Easter for plagiarism, and in any case Saturnalia was probably the re-born version of some old pre-Roman feast or other. Religions came and went, but the turn of the year had always been there.
14. The Christian God said he had not bothered to intervene so far, but he would like to know what exactly the chairgod meant when he said that religions came and went. For a god to speak like that seemed slightly cavalier. In his experience, religions came and stayed. Or did the chairgod know something that he didn’t know?
15. The chairgod said that they had heard him correctly. He had indeed said that religions came and went. He stuck by that.
16. There were several very strong and thriving faiths in the world today. Hinduism. Islam. Christianity of various hues. Religions with staying power. But everyone knew that there were hundreds which had fallen by the wayside, and were to all intents and purposes discontinued.
17. Not in his experience, said the Catholic God. Catholicism had started small, perhaps, but it had grown and grown, and now, whatever you thought privately of the Vatican as a corporate entity, and He sometimes despaired of it, you could not help denying that the true faith flourished.
18. The chairgod reminded the Catholic God that it was against house rules to refer to any faith as the “true faith”, as all faiths were as true as any other. He also should not think of himself as “He” with a capital “H”, as gods had agreed to give up upper cases with pronouns. Even when spoken.
19. The Catholic God said He was sorry. Sorry – he was sorry.
20. The chief Roman God, Jupiter, said he would speak up in favour of the chairgod. He was absolutely right. Religions did come and go. Most of all known religions were no longer believed in. Most religions had been recycled from other religions in the first place. Most gods who took advantage of these admittedly great entertainment facilities at the United Deities were survivors of faiths no longer observed.
21. He himself, Jupiter, was the victim of such a fate. Nobody celebrated Roman rites any more. The very word “Roman” had been taken over by the bloody Vatican. He was lucky in that the real Roman myths and gods had such strong personalities that they had outlived the disappearance of sacrificing and entrail reading etc.
22. The head Greek God, Zeus, endorsed this. He said that if the Roman religion had not rebranded the leading icons of Greek religion for its own use, there would hardly have been any Roman gods to speak of. Mars, the Roman god of war, was just a recycled Zeus. What was Mercury if not a reinvented Roman form of Hermes? Both were celestial messengers, and he thought they both did a terrific job, but Hermes was the true, the original. Mercury was a Roman clone.
23. Mercury asked if he could comment on that.
24. Loki, Norse god of mischief, wondered if anyone had ever seen Mercury and Hermes together in the same place. Perhaps they WERE the same god. Moving very fast from place to place to maintain the illusion of being separate. A bit spooky.
25. Hermes asked if he might comment on that.
26. Loki asked if there was something wrong with his ears, or was there an echo in here?
27. Jupiter said that the Norse gods were lucky in that they never got accused of being recycled from Greece or Rome, yet they must have had their own winter festival like Saturnalia.
28. Loki said did they ever. It was called Yule. They may have heard of it. Yule was a great party which went on for days and days and days. It too was eventually replaced by feeble little Christmas. Christmas only went on for a day or so. That’s why the Church pretended they had Twelve Days of Christmas. Those Twelve Days weren’t Christian at all. They were Yule in disguise.
29. The chairgod said that it was pretty clear by now that the Christians had had their comeuppance. They had taken over the pagan festivals, but now the pagans were taking over again. Carols were on the way out, binge drinking was on the way back in again.
30. Which brought him to the next item on the agenda, the arrangements for the gods’ turn-of-the-year ambrosia party…
More of this anon.