Religion | Football’s place in yuletide ritual

Among the Padaung in Shan State, similar ritual exists around football matches, writes Pascal Khoo Thwe in his memoir From the Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey. Players’ relatives traveled great distances to support the hometown Phekhon Township football team in regional tournaments, where players sometimes had to sleep “under the stands along with the cockroaches, ants and rats.” If triumphant, the town would welcome the team with a brass band playing “See, the Conquering Hero Comes” from Georg Frideric Handel‘s Judas Maccabaeus. But, as a matter of more mundane existence, football helped mark the Padaung’s festival calendar:

Football games were also great social events, and were accompanied by an enormous amount of drinking, and by dancing. The winning teams were rewarded with a dozen barrels of soap, and a barrel of rice-wine for the celebrations. The town council once made the mistake of handing out only boxes of matches as the prize. In their rage the players burnt the goalposts and nets. (70)

Of his time in seminary, Pascal Khoo Thwe says his father superior encouraged proficiency in football, especially when playing Baptists. “Father Paul wanted us to be priests who were good at football, because that would convince people that God was on our side” (102).

Update

Super Bowl Sunday also creates an opportunity for alternative rituals. The Guatemalan community in Jupiter, Florida, on 3 Feb 08 celebrated the Baile del Venado (Dance of the Deer) to correspond with a festival honoring the Virgin of Candelaria in Jacaltenango, Guatemala. A football game, naturally, complemented the dance (Chrystian Tejedor, “Annual Maya Fiesta in Jupiter Celebrates Guatemalan Heritage,” South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 4 Feb 08).

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