There’s nothing constant in the world,
All ebb and flow, and every shape that’s born
Bears in its womb the seeds of change. – Ovid, Metamorphoses (XV, 177-8)
The holiday season just isn’t like it used to be any more; in fact, I’m rather beginning to dread it. When I was a little girl I looked forward to it with great anticipation; I suppose all children do. The food, the presents, the shows, the excitement, the new clothes, the break from routine, the visits from relatives…by the beginning of December I’m sure I was quite insufferable, counting down to the Big Day. But now it always seems so disappointing.
I guess part of it is just that I’m not a child any more, and therefore unable to see things uncritically as children do. And certainly, the world has changed in the past twenty years; we are not as innocent as we once were, and things are getting so commercial. I know that probably sounds like hypocrisy coming from one who sells that which other women give away, but there’s a time and place for everything; just as there are times when I won’t work and men I won’t trade with, so I think an ethical merchant should not view the holidays solely as a means of enrichment. Obviously, I’m not against business, and clearly food and gifts and decorations and everything else aren’t going to drop out of Heaven. But isn’t there a difference between making money from what is supposed to be a religious holiday, and replacing the true meaning with a purely economic one?
Maybe that’s what’s bothering me; things are changing as things are wont to do, and I simply haven’t adjusted yet. That will never work; I have to get myself out of this way of thinking before I end up like my grandmother, trapped in a world she barely recognizes. She goes on and on about all the immigrants, and how their foreign ways have ruined what used to be a god-fearing country, and how all of our troubles derive from losing our traditional morality. At this time of year she’s especially insufferable; why, just yesterday she was complaining that nobody even calls the holiday by its proper name any more. “Sol Invictus!” she said; “Who’s that supposed to be? Some combination upstart god! When I was a girl the holiday was called Saturnalia, and it went on for a week, not one day as it is now! We knew what was right then, and even though we still had barbarians bringing in their outlandish gods from all over the Empire nobody was confusing them with the true gods of Rome. But now what do we have? A Greek emperor ordering Romans to worship the Jewish god! It’s madness, the world turned upside-down!” Mother and I tried to explain to her that the Emperor had done no such thing, and everyone was free to worship whatever gods they chose, but it was no use; she just kept mumbling about “keeping Saturn in Saturnalia.”
Perhaps Granny has done me a favor by showing me how not to think. After all, I enjoyed the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti of my youth just as much as Granny enjoyed her Saturnalia, and even if my grandchildren turn Christian will they not enjoy the festival as well, even if it has some new name and a new rationale? Though I can no longer embrace the holiday as a child I can embrace it in another way, accepting the change rather than fighting it. Perhaps the specific reason for the season isn’t actually important, as long as there is one; maybe it’s the celebration itself that actually matters, rather than any single reason any given group of people try to impose upon it. And if I can only keep that in mind, maybe I’ll enjoy my holiday this year after all.