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Returning holidays to pagan roots

Ever wonder what bunnies have to do with the Resurrection? Or what evergreens have to do with Christ's birth? Or what drinking has to do with being Irish?

OK, bad example.

The first two examples reference modern Christian holidays that still retain vestiges of their pagan roots. The last alludes to a latter-day pagan bacchanalia with barely discernible Christian roots.

When the Emperor Constantine converted in the fourth century A.D., he not only redefined Rome as a Christian empire but also began refurbishing age-old holidays to coordinate with his new religion.

Thus what was once an observance of winter solstice became a celebration of Christ's birth, even though many scholars now believe he was born in April. More conveniently, century-old spring fertility rites corresponded perfectly with Easter and its promise of new life.

Which, of course, is why we now have Easter eggs and Easter bunnies. Both are ancient fertility symbols - eggs because they're, well, eggs, and bunnies because they're legendarily prolific.

It occurs to me, however, that Constantine and his scholars might not have mined their former culture deeply enough. Countless other pagan rituals translate well to modern America, creating potential holidays that, if not Christian, at least commemorate our other favorite religions.

For example, April 1 - traditionally, April Fools' Day - would instead be recognized in baseball cities across the nation as "Opening Day," when every fan believes this is the year. As it has for centuries, the holiday would continue to celebrate gullibility.

We could also resurrect the ancient Roman Feast of Diana, the moon goddess, observing it on Dec. 2 - the birthday of one Britney Spears, who has made flashing paparazzi a career move.

I was going to suggest that we recognize another old Roman holiday, the Feast of the Virgins, but I'm afraid it might be canceled due to lack of participation.

We could, however, reinstate the Greek Festival of Athena, usually held in August. In ancient times, as the countryside sweltered in late-summer heat, worshippers sacrificed pigs to the goddess, in hopes of being rewarded with cooler weather.

Our modern version, so that no animals are harmed, could sacrifice pigskins, while we supplicate for the upcoming college football season.

In any case, it's easy to see that the possibilities are endless, so why limit ourselves to just Christmas and Easter? I mean, if we're going to retain pagan symbols as part of our holiday traditions, we might as well go whole hog.

Apologies to Athena.

Rob Jenkins is associate professor of English at Georgia Perimeter College. E-mail him at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.