Unlike our modern calendar which aligns with the travels of the earth around the sun, the Roman calendar originally had ten months, beginning in March, that followed the moon phases. We still retain months as a structure for our calendar and have kept some of the names of the Roman months, hence why October, November, and December (the 8th, 9th and 10th Roman months) do not fit for our 10th, 11th, and 12th months.
The original Roman calendar began in March and ended in December, leaving 61 days of Winter season unaccounted for. This was later amended by adding January and February, but this left 10 days remaining. These days were ‘days out of time,’ and traditionally, Romans treated these as days that did not count in any sense. During those days the normal rules were suspended; slaves were allowed to give orders to their masters, and were allowed access to public spaces that were usually denied them. The social order was upended; everyone had a ‘holiday’ from their normal lives and their usual identities. One wonders whether, by allowing a controlled amount of social anarchy, the Roman elite was preventing the foment of dissent and general social unrest.
We have no legacy of this practice remaining in our culture, yet we know it is good for us to step out of our lives. We typically do this by taking holidays or breaks, often travelling to warmer countries to bathe our vitamin D deprived bodies in sunshine. If we are fortunate we might also do that during our Winter months.
This year we are having to sit out our Winter, with little opportunity to go anywhere, as we are ‘in lockdown’ once again. So, what about fully going with the experience and upturning the expectation that we will continue to do as much as usual? What about suspending routine, halting the obligations, letting our bodies fully rest (we naturally sleep more in Winter anyway), letting go of imperatives, nourishing ourselves with thick soups and weighty seasonal vegetables, rather than trying to eat out-of -season cucumber and lettuce?
Deep rest of our bodies, coupled with nutrition, and a mind that is given time to wander and to wonder, are gifts to ourselves. Our immune systems are boosted by sleep and the absence of stress; and our minds are refreshed when we allow them to take a new and exciting journey in imagination.
Many of us instinctively do rest at this time of year, particularly between Christmas and New Year. This year, fallow time has been extended for all, whether we want it or not. Some people find the darkness and cold of Winter very difficult to bear, so this additionally restricted period must be quite tortuous. They will hopefully have developed strategies to ease the passing of this time.
For the rest of us, it can be a gift of time to go inward, to rest and reflect and await Spring, when our energies and those of the earth naturally lift.