Today is December 17, the first day of Saturnalia, an ancient Roman holiday that has become an annual tradition here at the Volokh Conspiracy. The Encyclopedia Romana describes the holiday as follows:
During the holiday, restrictions were relaxed and the social order inverted. Gambling was allowed in public. Slaves were permitted to use dice and did not have to work. . . Within the family, a Lord of Misrule was chosen. Slaves were treated as equals, allowed to wear their masters’ clothing, and be waited on at meal time in remembrance of an earlier golden age thought to have been ushered in by the god. In the Saturnalia, Lucian relates that “During My week the serious is barred; no business allowed. Drinking, noise and games and dice, appointing of kings and feasting of slaves, singing naked, clapping of frenzied hands, an occasional ducking of corked faces in icy water—such are the functions over which I preside.”
In an earlier Saturnalia post, I explored the implications of this festival for law school exam grading:
Sadly, Saturnalia usually falls right around the time when I have to grade large piles of exams. In the spirit of inverting the social order, I have…. suggested that the responsibility for grading these exams should be transferred to the students. Unruly student commenters on Saturnalia posts from previous years sometimes objected on the grounds that I didn’t propose that I should be the one to take the exam. That, however, was because exams occur before Saturnalia begins. Blame the academic calendar, not me (or perhaps blame those nefarious ancient Roman academics who made sure that Saturnalia only begins after the semester is over). However, I’m actually willing to make that exchange. I’m happy to take the exam if I can get out of doing the grading. After all, I’m the one who wrote the questions, so I’m pretty sure I know all the answers.
Happy Saturnalia to all our friends, Romans, and countrymen out there!