Yahtzee and ChristmasDecember 23, 2011
The Christmas season has always been the busiest time of year for any Yahtzee comrade. The gathering of friends and loved ones, coupled with the frightful weather outside, combines to create a perfect atmosphere for indoor Yahtzee fun. A rousing game enjoyed in front of the fireplace with visions of sugarplums and Large Straights dancing in your head is hard to beat. And once you factor in the allure of mistletoe and eggnog, Christmas Yahtzee becomes inevitable. But in order to uncover the true origins of the intimate connection between Yahtzee and Christmastime it is necessary to examine the genesis of the holiday itself.
Every good Christian knows that Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Many don’t know, however, that Mr. High-and-Mighty was probably not actually born on December 25th. Most likely, he was born sometime in the spring, like the Easter Bunny. Early Christian missionaries, seeking an easy way to convert the heathen European hordes, struck upon the brilliant concept of slapping their own religious doctrines right on top of existing religious holidays, replacing the so-called false gods with Jesus. They did this with a pagan Roman holiday, Saturnalia, which was celebrated around the winter solstice in late December. Jesus was given a new birthday and the foundations of Christmas had been laid.
Saturnalia was a celebration in the honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture, and quickly became the most popular holiday in ancient Rome. It was described by the contemporary historian Lucian in 150 CE thusly:
“…the serious is barred; no business allowed. Drinking and being drunk, noise and games and dice, appointing of kings and feasting of slaves, singing naked, clapping of tremulous hands, an occasional dunking of corked faces in icy water,–such are the functions over which I preside.”
When Lucian mentions “games and dice” as principle elements of the Saturnalia festivities, he is referring to a form of proto-Yahtzee that was imported from the Roman colonies in north Africa and popularized amongst Rome’s lower classes. Dice and other small gifts were exchanged and a sort of societal role-reversal was played out. Slaves and servants were permitted to play Yahtzee and gamble, while wearing colorful clothes and the hat of a freeman. Their masters would play the subordinate and serve food to their slaves, further adding to the hilarity. The slaves’ thumbing their noses, if only for a week, at the corrupt hierarchical power structures that kept them in chains parallels the core Yahtzee principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity. Not to mention the Yahtzee core principles of debauchery, tomfoolery, and drunken orgies. Symbiotically, Yahtzee and Saturnalia grew more popular throughout the empire and that’s when Jesus took notice.
Many experts today believe that there is a lost book of the Bible written by an unknown author, possibly Mary Magdalene, which portrayed Jesus, early in his career, as a dice-maker rather than a carpenter. With this side of Jesus in mind, it is not far-fetched to picture the prophet tossing around five knuckle-bone dice with his disciples. But until the pope declares the notion of a Yahtzee-loving, hippy Jesus as an infallible dogmatic definition, we at the World Yahtzee Institute cannot in good faith advance such a prospect. But if you’re ever tempted with taking a Full House on the first roll of a game, it’s OK to ask yourself, “What would Jesus do?”
Yahtzee skills aside, Jesus Christ was successfully transplanted onto Saturn and the end of December holiday morphed into the Christmas that we all now know and love. So when you round up the gang this Christmas season for a night of Yahtzee and heathen ritual, just remember that Saturn is the original reason for the season.