Christmas


Should you participate in the Season without believing in the Reason? Epictetus provides a simple, good-humored answer:

When children come to us clapping their hands and saying, "Today's the Saturnalia, rejoice," do we reply to them, "There's nothing to rejoice at in that"? Of course not, we clap in return. Well then, you should do the same --- when you're unable to maker someone change his views, recognize that he is a child, and clap as he does. Or if you don't care to act in such a way, you only have to keep quiet. (Discourses, 1.29.31-32)

The Saturnalia was by far the most popular holiday in ancient Rome. The poet Catullus (Poems, 14.15) called it the optimus dierum (the best of days). It lasted from three to seven days (it kept getting longer as the years went by). In the end, the celebration occurred during the period December 17-25. Climaxing on December 25, the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun), the festival, in honor of the god Saturn, included customs that should be familiar to us all: intoxication (egg nog), going from house to house singing (caroling), sexual license (Christmas office parties), eating human-shaped cookies (gingerbread men), and exchanging inexpensive gifts (secret Santa gift exchanges). Children received toys as gifts.

Although the Stoic attitude to much of this excess was negative, still Epictetus (Discourses 1.25.1-8) urges his students not to be that guy --- the one who spoils the game --- by being a party pooper during the Saturnalia. So don't be the one to spoil the game. Drink the eggnog, decorate the tree. Exchange presents without guilt. And a very Stoic Christmas to you all! (by John Knighton. http://newstoa.info/spip.php?page=article&id_article=146).



Colby Glass, MLIS