As hard as it may be to believe when it’s full dark at 4:30 in the afternoon, our short winter days are just about to start getting longer again.
December 21, the shortest day of the year, is here.
Saturnalia & bacchanalia
It’s probably not an accident that Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanzaa happen during the Saturnalia, an ancient Roman festival celebrated December 17-23 to honor Saturn, the god of agriculture, liberation and time.
In the olden days, the rite was celebrated at the Temple of Saturn in the forum of Rome with a sacrifice, a public banquet and a private gift-giving party.
One of the biggest deals in the Roman calendar, the Saturnalia set Roman society on its ear.
A general air of carnivale pervaded.
Dancing robustly (buck-ass naked) in public was routine. Gambling was permitted, and masters waited table for their slaves.
Saturnalia, Romans claimed, re-captured the Golden Age when people lived in perfect balance with nature and men enjoyed “spontaneous” bounty from the Earth without laboring for it.
The poet Catullus spoke for most Romans when he called Saturnalia “the best of days.”
Saturnalia is celebrated in the manner of other bacchanalia, mystic festivals dedicated to Bacchus, the god of wine.
And, in short, bacchanalia or bacchanal describes any form of wild, drunken revelry.
The Holly King
More recently Viking, Celtic and Druidic rites have contributed to our much tamer versions of the Saturnalia.
In Viking lore and iconography, the Oak King, god of spring, summer and fall, is replaced by the Holly King, who rules during the winter.
Celts and Druids alike still mark the solstice with festivals held at Stonehenge, an ancient stone calendar built between 3,000 BC and 2,000 BC about eight miles north of Salisbury, England.
What most of the rites ancient and modern have in common is celebration of the bounty of the harvest and gratitude for enough food to get locals through the long, dark, cold winters.
Common rites practiced in other countries include Wren Day in Wales, Yule in Germany and Junkanoo in the Bahamas.
Burning the Clocks
A very modern festival is Burning the Clocks, founded in 1993 by arts initiative Same Sky and, held in Brighton, England.
The festival icon is the clock, which represents the passing of time.
Townsfolk build lanterns from withies (stripped branches of willow trees) and white tissue paper.
Local bands lead a lighted procession of people in costumes featuring clockfaces from the center of town down to the seashore for fireworks and a bonfire built from the paper lanterns.
Unlike most other bacchanals, Burning the Clocks is fun for the whole family.
Festival organizers seek to celebrate place and home and delight in the change of seasons in ways that can be enjoyed regardless of faith or credo.
Clothed. With their kids around.
It’s what the season’s all about – and what evergreens like fir trees and holly and ivy represent.
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OFFICIAL BIO: K Truitt is a second-generation, native Floridian born in Jacksonville. Truitt worked in public higher education for 25 years and knows newspaper publishing, printing and graphic design. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org