Boss for the Day
November 17, 2011 3:54 PM   Subscribe

A day of the year when traditional power structures were reversed ?

Sorry this is a pretty weak description. Question is essentially about European culture.

I've got this idea that I've read of a day of the year when in medieval times (possibly earlier) it was accepted that those in power (Clergy/Aristocracy etc) would in some way allow the hoi-polloi to pretend they were the powerful ones.

I don't mean this in any practical sense ("local baker declares war") but it was accepted that there was a sort of institutional mickey-taking of those in power - possibly to the extent that those in power would undertake some demeaning task.

There might have been a christian saints day hung around this day but maybe not.

It puts me in mind of the British Army tradition (maybe not universal) I have read of where the officers serve the men their food on (I think) Christmas day. That's the type of thing I mean but applied to society at large.

Does any of this sound familiar to anyone ?
posted by southof40 to Society & Culture (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Carnival!
posted by zvs at 3:57 PM on November 17, 2011


I think that this is what Romans did during Saturnalia.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturnalia
posted by Tchad at 3:57 PM on November 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


The Medieval Feast of Fools also fits the bill.
posted by jedicus at 3:58 PM on November 17, 2011


Compare also the Feast of Fools.
posted by gimonca at 3:58 PM on November 17, 2011


"In medieval and Tudor England[citation needed], the Twelfth Night marked the end of a winter festival that started on All Hallows Eve — now more commonly known as Halloween. The Lord of Misrule symbolizes the world turning upside down. On this day the King and all those who were high would become the peasants and vice versa." Wiki
posted by stray at 3:59 PM on November 17, 2011


Chiming in with Tchad about Saturnalia, when slaves were supposed to be served by their masters. There's a Pliny the Younger letter on the subject where he's hiding in his study while the slaves all get drunk and party.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 4:00 PM on November 17, 2011


Oops, proper link: Wikipedia
posted by stray at 4:02 PM on November 17, 2011


Twelfth Night?

"In medieval and Tudor England[citation needed], the Twelfth Night marked the end of a winter festival that started on All Hallows Eve — now more commonly known as Halloween. The Lord of Misrule symbolizes the world turning upside down. On this day the King and all those who were high would become the peasants and vice versa. At the beginning of the Twelfth Night festival, a cake that contained a bean was eaten. The person who found the bean would rule the feast. Midnight signaled the end of his rule and the world would return to normal. The common theme was that the normal order of things was reversed. This Lord of Misrule tradition date back to pre-Christian European festivals such as the Celtic festival of Samhain and the Ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia.[4]"
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:04 PM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you're interested in the topic, Dancing in the Streets by Barbara Ehrenreich goes into quite a bit of detail on the various (European) customs of celebration and power inversion.
posted by restless_nomad at 4:14 PM on November 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Mardi Gras is another holiday associated with overturning social conventions (part of the general "let loose before Lent" aspect of the holiday). Mardi Gras is sort of the same concept as Carnival.
posted by Wretch729 at 4:31 PM on November 17, 2011


In academic circles, "Carnival" is the short-hand for this, as zns said. This is because Bhaktin used the Feast of Fools (and similar holidays) to develop his idea of the "carnivalesque," the inversion of social mores. This is most prominent in his work Rabelais and his World.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 4:50 PM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are you thinking Boxing Day? There is an episode of M.A.S.H. where they all traded places for Boxing Day.
posted by TooFewShoes at 6:19 PM on November 17, 2011


Twelfth night.
posted by elizeh at 7:27 PM on November 17, 2011


It puts me in mind of the British Army tradition (maybe not universal) I have read of where the officers serve the men their food on (I think) Christmas day.

FWIW Canadian Army as well, and youngest member of the regiment gets to be honourary colonel for the day.
posted by furtive at 8:43 PM on November 17, 2011


Yes, read Dancing in the Streets. It is wonderful.
posted by librarina at 9:35 PM on November 17, 2011


Great set of answers. So much more of this type of thing than I had imagined.

Thanks to all of you and I have reserved 'Dancing in the Streets' from the library.
posted by southof40 at 2:49 AM on November 20, 2011


« Older Can someone with a knowledge of music theory help...   |   What books were the most useful to you during... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.