Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

St. Lucy Ain't Juno Lucina.

This time of year, we always have people spreading bizarre ideas about Christmas celebrations which have no historical foundation. Since Christmas celebrations have all sorts of rich history already, one might wonder why people feel the need to pull stories out of their... out of nowhere.

Here's a particularly priceless one: that St. Lucy of Syracuse is really Juno Lucina.

Well, let's see. St. Lucia is down in Sicily, hanging out with all the Greek Italians. She's a virgin martyr. She's the patron of people with eye trouble because her own eyes got ripped out before she was killed. Her feast is celebrated on December 13. Some people fast from wheat on that day, to commemorate a famine she was credited with ending.

Juno Lucina was up in Rome, in a temple in a grove (lucus) with two ancient lotus trees decorated with Vestal Virgin hair. She was supposed to be a matron midwife goddess in charge of childbirth. Romans brought her a coin every time they had a kid who lived. Her festival, the Matronalia, was on March 1. Sheep were sacrificed to her, prayers offered for wives, slaves given the day off. All women wore totally loose clothing and hair, with no knots allowed lest the women be "bound up" during childbirth. Her other festival was on July 7, the Nones Caprotinae or Nones of the Wild Fig, when fig juice was sacrificed to her.

Gosh, all the similarities make you reel, don't they?

But wait, there's more. Some people actually claim that Juno Lucina was worshipped at the Winter Solstice, wore a red gown, and is thus obviously Mrs. Claus!

No. Because, first off, Juno Lucina wasn't worshipped at the Winter Solstice, and second, Mrs. Claus is a clear product of 19th century American writer Katherine Lee Bates. So unless you want to claim that the lady who wrote "America the Beautiful" was a secret minion of Juno, you must admit to pulling this from your nether regions. (And if you do think KLB was some kind of priestess, you have clearly drunk a little too much eggnog -- especially if you could type such a thing with a straight face.)

Now there was a goddess festival on December 13 -- but that was the Ides of Tellus Mater, goddess of the earth. On December 19, there was the winter Opalia, for Ops, goddess of plenty, and the festival of Juventas, goddess of youth, for all who had become adults (had their 14th birthday) in the previous year. Later that month, there was another festival on December 21 -- on the Winter Solstice -- but that was the Divalia, the festival of the Diva Angerona, goddess of secrecy, who also presided over heart attacks (angina). On December 23, it was Acca Larentalia, sacred to the mother of the Lares.

There were several different sorts of agricultural festivals, too (probably connected with winter wheat or the resting of the earth after harvest), so you might be able to understand someone trying to make something out of the wheat fast celebrated by St. Lucy's devotees. (Though its Renaissance date of appearance would be against you.) But instead, what people are saying is utter unsupported crap.

Look, if you think you're so pagan, you should at least know which false goddess you're worshipping. (In fact, I think that would be a safety consideration, considering the sort of stories that Romans and Greeks told about goddesses who got their prerogatives usurped.) And if you're going to take cheap shots at the credulity of Catholics, it ill behooves you to show yourself credulous enough to believe everything you read on the Internet.

Why don't we just try to enjoy the holidays we have, without trying to make them something they're not?


  • At 9:58 PM, Blogger Fr. Larry Gearhart said…

    People will believe all kinds of things. It can be disturbing to see the "Do not disturb!" sign on their foreheads.


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