Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 399, December 24, 2006

Happy Zagmuk!


Mesopotamian Merriment
by L. Neil Smith

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

'Tis the season to be whiny. Everywhere you go, what you hear, even above the recorded Christmas Muzak in the mall, are social critics of the self-appointed variety, religious crybabies, and assorted other spoilsports, parasites, and sour apples whimpering over just about every aspect of the winter holidays you can possibly think of.

Chief among them are those who bitterly complain that Christ is being foully extracted from Christmas by an evil conspiracy of, er, antichristmasites. These are the same cretins who assert that America was meant to be a Christian country—although most of its Founding Fathers were atheists or agnostics and its primary financier was Jewish.

This is why I've been wishing everyone a Happy Zagmuk this year. The fact is that every human culture in anything resembling the temperate zone has had a period of celebration in the middle of the coldest, darkest months, as if to say, "We're fed up with all of this gloom and snow, and it's time to throw a frigging party and ignore it!"

Emphasis on the frigging.

Each and every one of those cultures has had a different way, of course, of dignifying what is essentially a middle finger in the face of nature. The earliest such I could find was Zagmuk, the ancient Mesopotamian celebration of the triumph of Marduk over the forces of Chaos.

Or whatever. I suspect the Mesopotamians would have decreed a celebration if it had been Chaos that had won in the second, by a knock-out. Nearby cultures picked the idea up and celebrated their own versions.

All this happened about 4000 years ago.

The Romans had a midwinter holiday, Saturnalia, which involved feasting and giving gifts. Later on, the word became a synonym for abandon and debauchery, but the Romans, by and large, were a pretty puritanical bunch, given to grim tales such as that of Lucius Junius Brutus who had his own sons executed because they sold out to the Etruscans, and Mucius Scaevola who burned his own hand off to prove that Romans. . . well, would burn their own hands off given half a chance. Nobody ever needed a festive midwinter holiday worse than they did.

Saturnalia started around the eighth century, B.C.

Hanukkah is interesting. I learned about it when I wrote The Mitzvah with Aaron Zelman. These days a lot is made of the "Festival of Lights" and the miracle that occurred when the Jews retook their Temple from a pack of Hellenized Syrians who had left only enough lamp oil behind for a single day. The oil miraculously burned eight days, instead, and that's what all that ceremony with the Menorah is all about.

There's another Hanukkah story, of a victory of the Maccabees (a nickname, meaning "hammer"—see Charles Martel) over those same Hellenized Syrians, which is how the Jews got their Temple back. Jews argue over which story is more significant, but it's pretty obvious to me. It's equally obvious that they'd find something else to celebrate in the middle of the winter, even if they'd never gotten their Temple back.

Which happened in 165 B.C.

Christmas probably wasn't celebrated, as such, for a couple of hundred years after the presumed birth of Christ. I say "presumed", because the whole story—no room in the inn, born in a manger with animals on the watch, shepherds coming to worship, a star shining overhead—was shoplifted, directly from another religion popular in Rome at the time of the early Christians, worship of the warrior-god Mithras.

Speaking of sticky fingers, holidaywise, the Yule log and the Christmas tree were "borrowed" from the norsemen, who were accustomed to hanging dead male animals and male slaves from a tree to decorate it.


There is a midwinter holiday that has come along more recently than Christmas. I have to confess that, to me, Kwanzaa (Est. 1966) represents one of the lamest, most transparent inventions a con-man ever foisted on any segment of the public. It's basically a holiday for black people who don't want to celebrate the white peoples' holiday. On the other hand it's no lamer than any other excuse for a holiday.

Of all the spoilers and Captains Bringdown, the very worst are those who mutter about the "overcommercialization" of Christmas. Now let me get this straight: the essential message of Christianity is that—from birth, mind you—all human beings are inherently nasty, filthy, dirty, and evil by nature (that is, for doing everything that comes naturally to them as beings) and must be cleansed, somehow, and redeemed.

The Deity—who supposedly designed this nasty, filthy, dirty, evil human nature deliberately and on purpose—now brings a poor, helpless, innocent human child into the world whom He intends, 33 years later, to string up and let die in one of the most horrible ways imaginable, as a sacrificial payment for all of mankind's alleged shortcomings.

Which were in God's specifications to begin with!

It looks like Marduk wasn't quite as triumphant over Chaos as advertised.

As to Original Sin, I say, speak for yourself, Pilgrim. Me, I'd much rather that we go back to calling it Zagmuk again, and let it be a celebration of capitalism triumphant over misery and poverty , than of some old, threadbare, warmed-over myth about the inherent evil of humanity.

So, though it's been said, many times, many ways, Happy Zagmuk to you!

And a Happy New Year!

Four-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith has been called one of the world's foremost authorities on the ethics of self-defense. He is the author of 25 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collected articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at

Ceres, an exciting sequel to Neil's 1993 Ngu family novel Pallas was recently completed and is presently looking for a literary home.

A decensored, e-published version of Neil's 1984 novel, TOM PAINE MARU is available at: Neil is presently working on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on Roswell, Texas, with Rex F. "Baloo" May.

The stunning 185-page full-color graphic-novelized version of The Probability Broach, which features the art of Scott Bieser and was published by BigHead Press has recently won a Special Prometheus Award. It may be had through the publisher, at, or at


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