The Holiday Bacchanalia
We have now come to the end of the season of excess. From Thanksgiving to Christmas we eat too much, we drink too much, we party to excess, we visit, we laugh, we argue, we get in touch with our families for better or worse. We try to be good during the season, we try to be better people. Our lives are magnified during these weeks–we want to be good and live large.
Then comes the new year and the Bacchanalia, the excess that we lived in food and drink and merriment, comes to an end. At least some of us look and say that was fun, but why did I engage in all that excess? Why did I do that?
Our celebrations are not new. They are tied to ancient Rome and the Saturnalia celebrations which occurred around the winter solstice During Saturnalia, there were public banquets and gift giving. Slaves were permitted to be more lax around their masters and they were even treated to feasts. Indeed, the winter solstice has been a source of celebration for many civilizations. This need to engage in some kind of seasonal celebration seems to be part of the human condition.
Recently, I read an excerpt from Frederick Douglass’ memoir about how slave owners treated slaves over the holidays. In sum, slaves were given a vacation for the six days between Christmas and New Years. But there was a catch. Most slave owners encouraged their slaves to drink to excess over the holidays. Douglass theorized that this was a way to quell rebellion. The slave, exhausted from having lived in excess for days, was glad, even grateful, to get back to work.
As I pondered the season between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I wondered if perhaps we too needed this time of excess to fuller appreciate our routine lives. Maybe we need a period of living beyond our normal selves. Then, the new year comes and we look back with enough awareness to think about how we might do better this time. Or maybe we look back and say, I sure am glad to get back to my life. We have a little more appreciation of our normal day.
In retail, January is for white sales and selling organization. They tell us, it is time to get our lives in order. After all that excess, we are perhaps more willing to admit that yes, we could use a little more order around here. Yes, we could use a bit more discipline. It might not last long. But it points us in the right direction and it is a little harder to feel like you need a break, because you just had weeks of celebration.
So grab this post-Bacchanalia haze to do something positive. Before you know it the February doldrums will be here.