Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Traditions of the Servii, Part 1

For these posts, I will be referring to my family as the Servii (given that I have taken the name Sulpicia, daughter of Servius). I will also give my mother the name Servia. I realize that this is incorrect in the practice of Roman naming [1], but it is an easy convention.

There are a multitude of family traditions among the Servii. I thought I would highlight a few of them as they come to mind. We are not religious-- not at all-- so the holiday is more about celebrating our friends and family and the quirky traditions that have evolved.

Christmas Tags
When I was a child, my family wrote normal Christmas tags likes everyone else. Things were from my parents, my grandparents, Santa, etc. Gifts to friends were from the family or individual members of the family. We have a few Jewish friends who come over for Christmas dinner, so my dad started making their gifts "from Santa" as a mild joke. But one Christmas, the tags took a stranger turn.

There was a woman writer, whom I will call Julia, who worked with my father for many years and spent a lot of time with our family. As with many stories or descriptions from my youth, I am not entirely sure whether it has been influenced by stray bits from the passage of time that seem like they have become part of the memory, or whether this is exaggerated, but I will describe her to the best of my ability. As I remember Julia, she was a tall Southern vixen; she was long and thin with a mane of curly hair dyed an artificial red. She wore all black: a black top, skinny black jeans, and high-healed black boots which she accented with a royal attitude, a sharp wit, and a partiality for the more melancholy of philosophers like Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. I always really liked her. For all of her airs, she was very sweet to me, but even from my skewed perspective I could tell she was an eccentric.

On Christmas when I was eight, Julia came over for dinner, as usual. I remember that my father tagged her gift "From Jesus Christ Himself," in order to amuse her. From then on, as I recall, tags got stranger and stranger. Now, most of my gifts come from absurd images such as "Reindeer nose icicles" and "Russian-leg handbag cream." I have, in past years, tried to outdo my father, but I shy away from gross or disturbing thoughts more than he does so I cannot entirely compete. Most of mine make a little to much sense as well, such as my mom is receiving a very large, poorly wrapped gift from "the drunken elves who wrapped it."

Happy holidays, everyone!

  1. In traditional Patrician Roman naming, a male is endowed with three names: a praenoman (which is one of about 20 common names such as Marcus or Gaius), a gentilicium (the name of the gens-- much like a modern last name), and the cognomen which specified the part of the gens. My favorite cognomen is Cicero, which means "chickpea" and was bestowed upon this part of the gens because their noses supposedly resembled chickpeas. Women, even patrician women, only had two names. They had the female version of gentilicium and this was followed by the genitive (and sometimes diminutive) of their father's (and later their husband's) cognomen. For more Roman naming practices, see the wikipedia page on the subject.

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