Saturnalia begins on Friday this week. Much like with Mardi Gras, this holiday is not particularly my thing. But I do relish the breakdown of order. All the more so since I’m not overly fond of most order these days.
The David and David tome that everybody is reading right now (The Dawn of Everything) made a point early in the book that I keep returning to. When discussing whether humans favor cooperation or competition, the authors said that there is ample evidence that we’re opportunists, we favor whatever works in the moment for satisfying our desires. But what seems to be a constant, at least since we began recording our lives a few thousand years ago, is that none of us likes to be told what to do.
Though I have to say that this might be a stronger female trait than male. I know plenty of men who are perfectly happy to take orders from superiors. I personally do not know one women who doesn’t get pissed off when you try to tell her what to do. Many of the women I know will put in effort to do the opposite rather than follow commands. Now, I may know a skewed sample of ornery women with my Irish roots and Western upbringing, but history and literature feature more women like the ones I’ve lived with than those who follow dictates willingly and without much question. I’m thinking this is the true reason men have been soldiers.
In any case, Saturnalia is when order breaks down. Intentionally. There’s cross dressing and reversed hierarchies, or just no dressing and no hierarchies… There are boy bishops and lords of misrule. Slaves become masters and women get to sit down and be served. Schools close, magistrates go home, and courts of law hear no cases. There is feasting and drinking and merriment. There are taboos against many kinds of work. And no commands are followed.
If you’re a Hobbesian sort of mentality who believes that humans need coercion to behave their damned selves, note this: in spite of all this chaos, actual crime — against other humans and against property — has historically been low if not nonexistent during the midwinter revels. Things get broken, of course, and misplaced. There are complaints about noise from fussy folks like Pliny. And probably more than a few people decide that they would rather not return to the daily order. Wives and servants and field hands have been known to wander off at this time of year, taking advantage of the confusion. But there is not wholesale thievery. Nobody goes on a killing spree. People don’t maliciously injure each other or destroy things. In fact, there is quite a bit of care shown to our fellow beings. It would seem that we are quite capable of getting along with each other and lending a helping hand even in the midst of a week long bender.
I’m never good at following rules. Nor at making them. I’m a merry anarchist all the year round. I am the very type of that opportunistic person who does what works and expects others to do the same. Rules just get in the way. I follow exactly one. Do no harm. (Yes, it’s a doozy…) So Saturnalia doesn’t mean that much to me. But I still toast the days of misrule and disorder. And I give free rein to my crotchety unwillingness to do what I should be doing. Especially if the should is determined by someone other than me…
So here’s permission granted to do what you will. I would say harm none, except statistics seem to show that you probably won’t cause any harm anyway. In fact, you’ll probably be kinder and more caring when the rules break down than when you are forced to follow them.
Does make one wonder why we ever do, doesn’t it…
And to set the mood, here is a carol for Saturnalia from the Ashmolean Latin Inscriptions Project.
for 15 December 2021
You can respond in the comments below or make a Twitter post to the Wednesday Word. Either way, begin your response with #midwinter. Your response can be anything made from words. I love poetry, but anything can be poetic and you needn’t even be limited to poetics. An observation, a story, a thought. Might even be an image — however, I am not a visual person, so it has to work harder to convey meaning. In the spirit of word prompts, it’s best if you use the word; but I’m not even a stickler about that. Especially if you can convey the meaning without ever touching the word.
If responding in Twitter, you are limited to the forms of Twitter. I would prefer that there be no threads because that is difficult. So if you have something long, post it in the comments below. That said, please don’t go too long. Keep it under 2000 words. I’m not going to count, but I’m also not promising to read a novel. Unless it’s really good!
If I receive something particularly impressive, I’ll post it next week. If not, well, that’s fine too. I know you all are busy. But if you’ve read this far, then I’ve made you think about… midwinter.
Midwinter in My World
I didn’t write poetry this week. I made pretty. Which is my one superpower. So here is an image poem on Midwinter. It helps to have music. Here is what I was playing while slathering festivity on a hapless fir tree.
©Elizabeth Anker 2021