Saturnalia

Saturnalia was an ancient Roman festival which took place annually on 17 December of the Julian Calender, in honor of the deity Saturn  and was later expanded with festivities through December 23. The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum and a public banquet, followed by private gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival atmosphere that overturned Roman social norms: gambling was permitted, and masters provided table service for their slaves. The poet Catullus called it “the best of days.”In Roman mythology, Saturn was an agricultural deity who reigned over the world in the Golden Age, when humans enjoyed the spontaneous bounty of the earth without labor in a state of social egalitarianism. The revelries of Saturnalia were supposed to reflect the conditions of the lost mythical age, not all of them desirable. The Greek equivalent was the Kronia.

Saturnalia was also a Roman holiday and The Latin writer Macrobius, mentions that Saturnalia is a festival of light leading to the winter solstice, with the abundant presence of candles symbolizing the quest for knowledge and truth. The renewal of light and the coming of the new year was celebrated in the later Roman Empire at the Dies Natalis of Sol Invictus, the “Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun,” on December 25. The popularity of Saturnalia continued into the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, and as the Roman Empire came under Christian rule, some of its customs may have influenced the seasonal celebrations surrounding Christmas and the New Year.

The statue of Saturn normally had its feet bound in wool, which was removed for the holiday as an act of liberation. The official rituals were carried out according to “Greek rite” (ritus graecus). The sacrifice was officiated by a priest Whose head was uncovered; in Roman rite, priests sacrificed capite velato, with head covered by a special fold of the toga. Following the sacrifice the Roman Senate arranged a lectisternium, a ritual of Greek origin that typically involved placing a deity’s image on a sumptuous couch, as if he were present and actively participating in the festivities. A public banquet followed (convivium publicum). The day was supposed to be a holiday from all forms of work. Schools were closed, and exercise regimens were suspended. Courts were not in session, so no justice was administered, and no declaration of war could be made. After the public rituals, observances continued at home On December 18 and 19, which were also holidays from public business, families conducted domestic rituals. They bathed early, and those with means also sacrificed a suckling pig, a traditional offering.

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