[ Winter ]

Origins of Mid-Winter Celebrations
Some Traditions and The Nature Religions
Saturnalia and The Feast of Fools
Bells, Candles, and The Festival of Lights
My Christmas Links Page


Now, at the time of the winter solstice (December 25 in the Julian calendar, December 17th in our modern calender), Saturnus, the god of seed and sowing, was honored with a festival. In the Roman calendar, the Saturnalia was designated a holy day, or holiday, on which religious rites were performed.

Saturn, himself, was identified with Kronos, and sacrificed to according to Greek ritual, with the head uncovered. The Temple of Saturn was dedicated on the Saturnalia, and the woolen bonds which fettered the feet of the ivory cult statue within were loosened on that day to symbolize the liberation of the god.

After sacrifice at the temple, there was a public banquet. There was also a banquet for the god in which its image is placed in attendance, as if a guest. Afterwards, the celebrants shouted "Io, Saturnalia!"

[ Saturnalia ]

[ Cornucopia ]

  During the holiday, restrictions were relaxed and the social order inverted. All restraints of law and morality were set aside. Class distinctions were abolished. The Feast of Fools had begun.

The Saturnalia lasted seven days. Gambling was allowed in public. Masters served their slaves, accepting taunts and insults that would be punished by the lash or death any other time of year. Within the family, a Lord of Misrule was chosen.

The community selected one person to be King of Saturnalia. This mock king directed his subjects to get drunk, dance, carouse and be blatantly lewd and lascivious. At the close of the festival he was expected to cut his own throat on Saturn's true altar and thus restore order.

  [ King of Fools ]

[ Beer Keg ]

  The Saturnalia continued to be celebrated as Brumalia (from "bruma," winter solstice) down to the Christian era, when, its rituals became absorbed in the celebration of Cristes maesse. The Catholic Church ended this bacchanal in the 16th Century as Reformation approached.    
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