As the year comes to a close I would be remiss not to give a nod to the Roman festival of Saturnalia. Saturn was associated with the Golden Age in very ancient pre-Roman Italy, and his temple was the oldest in the Roman Forum, and is still today one of its most prominent monuments. It was also a major state treasury, and Roman generals marched past it up the street known as the clivus Capitolinus during triumphal processions. Saturn’s statue was equally old; his image was made of wood, filled with oil, and reportedly wielded a scythe, with his feet bound by woolen filets. His festival started on December 17, and included the exchange of gifts, the wearing of lose fitting garments and felt caps, revelry and carnival, role reversals in which masters waited on slaves, and the presence of lights.
The holiday may have been associated with the winter solstice, and in the late Roman empire became associated loosely with the birthday of the god Sol Invictus, Sun the Unconquerable on December 25, as the Romans looked forward to the end of their cold, wet Mediterranean winter and the return of the sun’s warmth in spring and summer. It is probably no coincidence that Saturnalia, Christmas, Hannukkah, and Sol’s dies natalis are so conjoined: all celebrate light, and the return of light in the depths of winter. The presence of candles at the Saturnalia; the lighting of the menorah; the lights that adorn trees and houses; the return to lengthening days after the year’s shortest day.
This is perhaps one of the darkest Christmases Lori and I have spent. We have had a constant mix, these past few weeks, of sleet, rain, drizzle, fog, gloom, and sloppy snow; couple that with being at a latitude no longer parallel with Rome but with northern Maine, as northwest Oregon is, and you have a recipe for short, dark days. The light comes at around 8:00 am and departs by 4:30. Light is a brief visitor here right now – indeed, as brief now as it was long and lingering in June. The season is marked by mud, muck, and mist, redeemed by the beautiful emerald green grass fields, evergreens, mild weather that’s enticing the buds on trees already and eliciting lush vegetation, and snow capped vistas to the west.
The longer days that are about to come will allow us to escape the season of Saturnalia. But our day to day chores will not. We are daily in thrall to our animals. None can write their names; none can scribble a math equation; none has ever read a single word. Intellectually we are their superiors in every way. Yet we are their Helots; we serve them and do service to them even on holidays. Christmas does not stop egg collection; it does not give a break from feeding and watering; it does not give a break from tending or cleaning. We may exact a daily tribute of eggs and milk, and occasionally launch a revolt that produces meat, but on a much more regular basis, we are merely the staff. And our animals are the diurnal Master of Ceremonies, even as we start the long march towards summer’s longest day.
Our Kakhi Campbells have a bit of wanderlust, and yesterday we had to take measures to convince them that it was not in their best interest to slip out from under the chicken wire and eat our over-wintering cabbages and onions.
They might look like ostriches in this pic, but Campbells are great foragers and save on feed as a result.
Tomorrow or the day after we will be moving our meat chickens out of the barn and onto pasture.
Marguerite is our queen doe (we suspect), and certainly our most vocal and curious one!
We traded some local organic oats for eggs – the hens love the oats; Sulyeman, the big red-headed Barred Rock Plymouth on the right, always calls his girls when there are treats on hand.
The girls gossip at the water cooler as Sulyeman keeps a close eye on them!