January 6, 2008

A belated Saturnalia greeting from Sir James George Frazer

I hope everyone had a happy Holiday with their families. I did, and that meant spending some time on airplanes. My favorite thing to do on airplanes is to read difficult books, because once I get on the plane, there's nothing more fun I could possibly do with my time, hence there are no distractions (once I've popped in my earplugs, anyway - never fly without them).

For several months, I've been working on The Golden Bough by Sir James George Frazer (1854-1941), that scandalous defining achievement of civilization in which Frazer very thoroughly and eloquently dissects the entirety of magical and superstitious practices across all cultures and eras of human existence. As it happened, on the night of December 24th I got to a passage about the origins of Christmas. It's not hard to see why the book ignited such a controversy (which Frazer tried to defuse by censoring it himself - a new abridgment restores the offending material).

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