Have a PC Holiday, Ancient Rome-Style

Every December, American schools and businesses wonder how to be as inclusive as possible during the holiday season. Do the ecumenical goals have their roots in ancient Rome and its winter festival?

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

The perennial question is upon us: Whether to wish someone a merry Christmas or a happy Hanukkah or a good Kwanzaa, or take the generic route and say `Seasons greetings' or `Happy holidays'? Essayist Diane Roberts imagines that things haven't changed much since Rome ruled the world.

DIANE ROBERTS:

What's this empire coming to? Now they want us to stop greeting people with, `Io, Saturnalia.' `We have all these different cultures in Rome,' they tell us. `We shouldn't offend anyone,' they tell us. `We should be inclusive. We've got the barbarians from the north with their tree decorations and their fire rituals, and the weirdos from Gaul cutting mistletoe with a golden sickle, and the Mithraists, the Zoroastrians, the Isis cults and, of course, those characters that hang out in the catacombs.' `Hail, winter,' we're supposed to say. I ask you, what next? We lose the feast? We stop the solstice parties? No more honoring Ops, goddess of abundance?

I was buying some candles and greenery down by the Forum the other day and there's old Macrobius with some Visigoth chick, and she goes, `Good yule.' So I go, `Hey, in this country, we say, "Io, Saturnalia." Maybe you should go back from where you came from.' Then Macrobius goes, `She can't; she's a slave.' Whatever. At this time of year, the Visigoths sacrifice a pig and burn a special log which they then dance around instead of acting like normal people and going to the temple of Saturn.

I swear, I was at this party over at Septima Commodia's house the other day--she always has a Saturnalia party--anyway, she decorated the place with prickly green leaves. `It's holly,' she said, `the latest fashion from Britannia. They all do it over in Londinium.'

It gets worse. She had this statue of some goddess from Ultima Thule or somewhere--name of Frigga--sitting right there on the dining room mensa. I mean, this is darn near blasphemous. I'd be scared of what the lorries(ph) and penatties(ph) would do if I put that thing in my house. But Septima Commidia just said, `Oh, get over it. We're cosmopolitan around here.'

Cosmopolitan; that's what they call it. Well, by Jupiter, I live in Latium, I'm a Roman and this empire was founded on the principle that the gods, our gods, must be honored at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way. None of this foreign heretical nonsense or these strange customs from Germania or Hibernia or Palestine. I say, `Io, Saturnalia,' and if you don't like it, you can leave.

HANSEN: Diane Roberts observes the holidays around her family's seasonal shrub in Tallahassee, Florida.

It's 22 minutes before the hour.

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