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
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
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!"
||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.