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Saturnalia and the Beginning of Christmas

Mission idea

Many people do not stop and think about where the early Christians came up with the idea and date for the most popular holiday the world has ever known, allow me to help answer some questions.

Possible Origin of the holiday

At some point during the thriving Roman Empire days, winter came, and crops perished a lot of the farming community had very little to celebrate and be of a merrier nature and would cause havoc and chaos in order to get their feelings and frets out. The Romans turned to the God of Agriculture and Time, Saturn (Heaven), as well as his Wife Opalia (Earth) to help guide them.

This was all due to the winter solstice that overtook them and in longing for a celebration or feast, one was begun. The early Romans would offer sacrifices to Saturn to help him speed time and break free and allow the light and harvest to return. This sacrifice was done with a pig mainly as reference to his wife for balance.

Period of the Solstice and Festivities

This celebration became the largest of all Roman Holidays. Its growth is more widely known as more Roman historians and poets wrote about it. The original celebration from what is known began around the 17th of December as Saturn’s day for festivities and Opalia’s day was closer to the 21st or 22ND. Later these two days would be combined for a week-long celebration.

During this week of rabble rousing and massive festiveness, there came a decree from Saturn himself stating that no seriousness would be allowed or tolerated. In such, slaves sat at the head of the table while their masters served them plates of food and drink. Men and woman would change the role of who chases who, as well as a lot of nakedness and shouting in the street.

Life on the Street that Day

The freed slaves wore a special hat or cap to show their freedom, which was worn by everyone on this festive day, which included the aristocracy who too wore bright colored thrown together outfits instead of their noble regal togas. This outfit was called the ‘synthesis’, which meant ‘to be put together’. They would wear garments that were haphazardly put together instead of their more sensible attire.

People would feast in their homes, and there were known public feast at the Temple of Saturn, shouting, “Io Saturnalia!” often and to everyone, the way we say Merry Christmas to each other or even a Happy New Year as we shout at the top of our lungs at Midnight.

A small statue of Saturn would be very visible at such feasts, showing that the god was there and being quite merry with them. At the Temple of Saturn, priest, and vestals, who made sure the gods legs were bound with rope and wood, removed them during the week of the celebration so that the god could bring back the light.


Working during Saturnalia

During Saturnalia, everything from schools to employment, Law offices, straight to the senate and those in charge. Everything was shut down during the festivities and not allowed to resume until Saturnalia was over with.

Instead of working, they spent Saturnalia gambling, singing, playing music, feasting, socializing, and giving each other gifts.

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Household Practice and Mock King

People decorated their homes with wreaths and other greenery.

Wax candles were common gifts during Saturnalia.

On the last day of Saturnalia celebrations, known as the Sigillaria, many Romans gave their friends and loved one’s small terracotta figurines. Could have been done as a memory or tribute to those who had fallen or to a past idea of human sacrifice which scholars say may have taken place long before they were writing down their practices.

In many Roman households, a mock king was chosen. They were normally the problem child or the child that they hated or not wanted, i.e., a bastard child. They were then responsible for poking fun at everyone or making themselves better at other people’s expense, like insulting guests, or chasing after women or girls who they wish to be involved with, those that were considered untouchable or out of their league as we say now, but this was due to status and privilege not because a girl or woman did not find the man attractive.

The idea was that this person ruled over this madness instead of the normal everyday order of a head of house, this Mock King was put there to give him a sense of something fun and merry, also could be looked at as a weird form of punishment. Giving him something that he’ll never have freely by the family’s rules or makeup.


How Saturnalia Led to Christmas

The Christian holiday of Christmas has its roots dug deep in this festive holiday for Saturn, from the time of year all the way to the general date and time where Christmas presently sits. As well as the dawning of reefs on doors, the gathering and feasting with family and friends, including everything possible, all the way to the structure of Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward Men. This idea all came from Saturnalia to convert the merriment behavior into a more somber one devoted to prayer and love. Even later as presents were issued to children in Christian families, they got the idea from the gift giving from this Roman Holiday.

We say that during Christmas today the whole world shuts down, the same thing happened during the Saturnalia.

The church settled on the 25th of December as their day to celebrate the birth of Christ, some scholars say he was born in the spring, they say this because of the sheep and the way the shepherds are clothed in the Bible, once they settled on this day the early Christians begun to merge Saturnalia with this new holiday of theirs to try to convince Romans to convert to Christianity and see their holiday was just as good as theirs.

To where the Romans celebrated wildly, the early Christians did not. They wanted their day to be all about prayer and somber in nature, but their attempts to ban Saturnalia were not successful at first. Eventually the world would know a new shift and Saturnalia would be merged as the Christian religion grew to heights that rivaled the size of the Empire.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 William L Truax III

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