Nate House’s seasonal insights help shake off the jingle bell blues.
They’re back. Like a flu, a ghost, a zombie. I can smell them in the air, feel their tense presence make drivers, shoppers and even dogs more depressed and aggressive…
The holidays are here, and contrary to the Norman Rockwell visions of holidays we long for, they are often filled with stress and the pressure to conform to the demands of our various traditions. While the lights look pretty and it’s nice to spend more time with the people we love and get new socks, it’s high time we ditch many of these modern holiday rituals and instead look to some of the earliest examples of December celebrations for alternative, less stressful ways to mark the winter season.
Before we had Christmas the ancient Romans celebrated Saturnalia—a festival devoted to the God Saturn that began on December 17th and lasted until the 23rd. During this time, according to David Barnett in The Independent: “Morality and restraint were politely shown the back door, schools were closed, no criminals were punished.” Slaves were served by masters and the rich distributed gifts to the poor. People drank, gambled, and according to Wikipedia, “The Neoplatonist philosopher Porphyry interpreted the freedom associated with Saturnalia as symbolizing the ‘freeing of souls into immortality.’”
As many young people forgo religous affiliation, we could go back to the idea that the end of the year should be celebrated with as much debauchery and pleasure as possible, instead of stressing out about absurd amounts of gifts given to people we love (and some we don’t) under the pretense of religion. Of course, if we abandon traditions like Santa Claus, children across the world will have little reason to be good the rest of the year. However, if we adopt the story of Krampus, the European demon who beats, kidnaps and occasionally eats children who misbehave, problem solved.
According to Jennifer Bilock, writing in The Smithsonian, “Krampus historically comes around December 5th, tagging along with St. Nicholas. He visits houses all night with his saintly pal. While St. Nick is on hand to put candy in the shoes of good kids, and birch twigs in the shoes of the bad, Krampus’ particular specialty is punishing naughty children.”
Or, we could simply reject all the religion, demons and Roman depravity and turn back to nature. The winter solstice occurs on Friday, December 21st at 5:23 p.m. It is the shortest, darkest day of the year and different cultures celebrate it with varying degrees of joy and fear. According to Emily Gaudette,:
Prehistoric peoples watched winter slowly lengthen each night for weeks, which caused a great deal of anxiety. Celebrating the winter solstice was a way to encourage the sun to reverse its course, remember its gift to mankind and slowly become kinder and more plentiful to the earth until spring. For Druids, celebrating the winter solstice is a recognition that things are difficult and a call for hope that everything will soon improve.
This seems like the best, least stressful way to celebrate the holidays. Take these dark days to contemplate the success and failures of the past year and let the increasing light of each following day reveal something new and beautiful.
— N. H.
Editor’s PS: Lift your voice for another ancient way to feel the joy of the season. Communal singing is an evolutionary reward for coming together cooperatively. Give it a try this year….
Thursday, December 20th — Door to door caroling thru the streets of East Falls. After-party upstairs at Cranky Joe’s. All ages, all abilities welcome! Sign up on Facebook for details and to get in on a practice session where we’ll learn a short fun song list we’ll be belting out while Johnny and his buddy from Manayunk strum along in acoustic style.
INTRODUCING…. Jingle Truck! Our good old Chevy pickup. It’s a stage, it’s light source, it’s gonna help us reach more houses with less walking.
**Please note: this is a secular Christmas event — all welcome!**
Know someone who needs some holiday cheer? Email editor@EastFallsLocal.com and we’ll add their address to the list.