Starting to look like Saturnalia

McDonnell Planetarium Decked Out for the Holidays

It is starting to look a lot like Christmas, at least around here and snow is on its way. It is in the forecast for tomorrow. So maybe, but probably not. Yesterday, I brought up the purple tubs full of ornaments, also-known-as the purple worn of D&D fame. I cleared the mantel of the everyday knick-knacks and decorated it with the X-mas stuff. Today, we’ll fetch the tree and then straight away put it up in the living room. Normally, we let our live tree acclimate to the warmer inside temperature, by first staging it through the basement, but it is supposed to hit fifty this afternoon. I figure that by then the tree lot’s mercury will be pretty close to what the basement regularly resides at. After the tree is up and has been decorated, then it will really start looking like Christmas around here.

Observant readers might have noticed that I used both the parochial and secular connotations for the holiday that falls every year on the 25th of December. I’m not declaring war on Christmas or anything like that. Even an ardent Christian should have realized by now that there are now more than a little bit of secular undertones to this once entirely religious holiday. Maybe entirely is even too strong an assertion, because it is thought that early Christians chose this time of year to celebrate Christmas, because another Roman holiday, Saturnalia, was available then to mask the Christian’s religious activities. A little bit of drunken bacchanal would go a long way to disguise their devotions. I mean, who wants to get thrown to the lions on Christmas Eve?

I don’t think that it was mere chance that the early Christians chose this time of year for their story of rebirth. Winter solstice is the nadir of the year, with the shortest day and the longest night. It is not by accident that the New Year is celebrated a week later. Scholars wanted to wait that week in order to be sure that the days had in fact begun to get longer again. Does anyone celebrates Saturnalia anymore? While the whole world, if only in its commercial form, celebrates Christmas. This year though Saturnalia is staging a comeback. On December 21st, winter solstice day, the planets Jupiter and Saturn will be in a conjunction. Last summer there was another conjunction of these two planets and we witnessed it while at the cabin. This time they will be close enough to each other that both planets’ mini solar systems should be viewable in one frame. Last time, in those darker northern skies we could see the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn. I pray that it is not cloudy here on the 21st.


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