Lunar Observer records upcoming dates of interest: holidays, birthdays, best day to cut hair.
This Saturday the 17th marks the start of Saturnalia, the ancient Roman proto-Christmas in honor of the multifaceted god Saturn (generation, dissolution, plenty, wealth, agriculture, periodic renewal, liberation).
Humans of the Northern Hemisphere have no shortage of festivals of light this time of year, and more than a few honor a harvest deity. Why is fairly easy to discern, if you own a window or spend any time outdoors — we want the sun to come back, and we are not averse to bribery.
These rustic affairs usually have a metaphorical "return to glory" aspect as well — but whereas at Christmas you try to be as nice as the Bible says you should be all the time (?) in exchange for treats (????), during Saturnalia you try to hasten a return to the Golden Age (which Saturn ruled) by doing the opposite of the major cultural moves humanity has made since then, as if to cancel them out! So for those who commonly wear hats, hats are forbidden; for those who are contractually hatless, mandatory hats. All to bring back a time free of hierarchy and woe, when hats could be worn and discarded willy nilly. The same mechanism is at play in a number of daily activities, including: do you dress nice at dinner (no, you dress crazy), go about your affairs soberly (no, you get as drunk as a wheelbarrow), and who serves the dinner (the master of the house).
In addition to the backward day aspect of Saturnalia, there's also straight-up partying and other customs as well: statues of Saturn himself, normally bound at the feet with wool, are unbound, filled with oil for some reason, and placed on sofas in the party space. Gifts are given, sure, but according to Martial, token gifts of low intrinsic value inversely measure the high quality of a friendship! In Providence we call those kinds of gifts with inverted value profiles "jums" — lesser gems whose value is implicit rather than explicit — a weird little rock, a tiny toy hand, beach glass, bent coin, cool comb, lighter with design. Saturnalia wraps up on Dec. 23 with the "Dies Natalis Solis Invicti," or "Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun." If you catch me hatless out there, break me off a jum, in honor of the Golden Age before art and private property. I'll be drunk.
Birthdays on the 17th include Everyman Ghostbuster Ernie Hudson, Everyman member of R.E.M. Mike Mills, and Everyman Pope, Pope Francis, the current pope. Events of note include the first sustained flight of a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft, by the Wright brothers in 1903, the first complete performance of Schubert's Unfinished Symphony, in 1865, and the discovery of nuclear fission, in 1938. Beloved poet and Earthly blessing Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī, AKA Rumi, died on this day in 1273.
There's no great day to cut hair this week. It's best to wait until the 29th. The best day to go to the dentist is the 19th.