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It's the holiday season, and this year we've had a slew of -themed questions:

For the record, these all also have the tag.

I don't mean to sound like Scrooge, but are all of these questions on-topic? So far, the three that have been answered appear to have roots based at least partly in mythology. But with an initial look at a question, it doesn't seem at all obvious that there is such a connection.

Are questions about holiday traditions - and perhaps traditions in general - on-topic on Mythology Stack Exchange?

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  • Yes they are on topic. I think mythology (and certainly folklore) isn't just limited to stories: it can include rituals, ceremonies, and certainly holidays. As I understand it, that is established site policy. I downvoted this question because I think we're approaching a point where we're writing more questions on the meta site and the main site. These questions are all just endless variations on the same theme. Let's all take a break from these scope discussions and focus on increasing activity on the main site. – user62 Dec 14 '16 at 18:42
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    @Hamlet We have had three scope discussions in as many months, and only one other meta post. Besides that, though, I feel that these are questions about culture, not mythology or folklore. There's a difference. – HDE 226868 Dec 14 '16 at 18:44
  • OK then, how would you define "mythology", how would you define "folklore", and how would you define "culture"? – user62 Dec 14 '16 at 19:38
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    @Hamlet I would go with the definition given here that I think we all agree upon, but I don't think that that covers the cases above. – HDE 226868 Dec 14 '16 at 19:44
  • first of all, it's debatable whether that answer represents something we all agree on: it has a lot of upvotes, but it was asked during the private beta, when the people participating were a lot different then they are today. But more importantly, that answer doesn't actually define mythology or folklore and it certainly doesn't give any useful guidelines for determining whether a question is about mythology or "culture". So again, what is the distinction between a question about culture and a question about mythology? – user62 Dec 14 '16 at 21:23
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    @Hamlet Please see the help center for the most explicit definition of mythology the site has, I believe. I'm not sure how the above questions fall into those categories. I'm not going to attempt to define culture, which is far larger and often ambiguous. The point is, though, that the questions at hand do not meet our criteria for mythology. – HDE 226868 Dec 14 '16 at 21:28
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I think the issue with our questions is more one of quality, than one of topicality.

As you've already noted, possible mythological roots have been pointed out: e.g the story of Persephone in my pomegranate question, the story of Baldur in the mistletoe one. I don't disagree that these connections may not be obvious by reading the questions alone, but that could be said for quite a few of our other questions (Hamlet identified some in their answer). The questions did eventually lead us to what most of us would agree falls within the realms of folklore & mythology, and I'd hope this alone should qualify them as on topic.

That said, we can't ignore that our questions generally don't show any prior research, or that all their answers are little more than copy-pasta. Yet, almost all well received fairly positively. I'm probably a bit stricter than most with my votes, but I think it's obvious that the overly positive reception to these questions and answers has more to do with their timeliness & "fun" factor than with their actual quality.

We could start a discussion about definitions, and we could perhaps come up with a good enough reason to declare the specific category of questions as off topic. That, however, wouldn't do much to solve the underlying quality problem or shield us against a similarly "fun" category of questions. I think it would benefit the site more in the long rung if we took this opportunity to re-examine our voting culture rather than our topicality guidelines.

Or, perhaps, I'm just a grinch. ;)


Further reading: The Trouble With Popularity

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I don't think it's a good idea to change our name yet. Looking at our statistics, we're pitiful. Our traffic isn't great, and it doesn't look like it's going to explode any time soon. Old "accepted" answers that are flatly wrote are still accepted, and extremely poor answers still comprise a large portion of total answers. I think before anything changes officially, we need to see if this is the form we want it in. Is adding folklore alone enough? What really holds it together? Why is religion specifically excluded? What about the culture that surrounds myths? History that surrounds myths?

Now that Mythology has been live for almost a year, it seems best to me that something more than a simple renaming needs to be done, and maybe that something would like another renaming in the future, which, if I understand Pops correctly, would be impossible after this one. Shouldn't we then wait and try things out until something good starts happening?

C. M. Weimer's answer about the site scope.

Even though no one on this site has successfully defined mythology, we've been about much more than mythology (however you define it) for quite some time. We have questions about religious events, we have questions about board games, and we have questions about religious attire.

These questions about Christmas seem to be positively received; for three out of four questions, no one has voted to close them and only one person has downvoted them. That would seem to indicate that a large portion of our userbase finds them helpful and/or ontopic. (It's also possible that the votes are coming from people who don't participate on the site, but I would like to think if that happened to a low quality question people who do participate on our site would downvote and vote to close).

Given the fact that, no matter how you define mythology (which we've never really done in a conclusive manner), our site scope definitely extends beyond it, I don't think it makes sense to close these questions for not being "mythology" when a large portion of our site seems to think that they are on-topic.

We have two options here. We can (1) spend some time rethinking our scope, our site's name, and our site's purpose, and attempt to come up with a clear definition to the question of our scope. Or (2) we can push that conversation to a later day, but in that case it doesn't make sense to close questions for not being about "mythology" when we can't even explain what "mythology" is.

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  • I don't think this addresses my question, but rather a larger issue that may need discussing. – HDE 226868 Dec 14 '16 at 21:58
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    @HDE226868 the answer to your specific question is let's hold off on closing these questions until we address the "larger issue" – user62 Dec 14 '16 at 22:39
  • And if we choose to close these questions because they aren't about "mythology", then we need a clear definition of what is or isn't mythology. It's not fair to people who ask questions to close them without giving a clear reason. – user62 Dec 14 '16 at 22:47
  • Perhaps I'm missing something, @Hamlet, but I can honestly see no reason why these questions have anything to do with mythology. Waving them off to be part of a larger discussion without giving a reason why they should be part of such a discussion is not productive. – HDE 226868 Dec 14 '16 at 22:49

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