Yesterday marked the beginning of the ancient Roman holiday of Saturnalia.
Today marks the beginning of Saturnalia, an ancient Roman holiday dedicated to the pagan god Saturn. Ever heard of it? No? You might actually be celebrating some part of it and not even know it. Hold that thought.
On December 17, the Romans would go to the temples and unbind the feet of their statues of Saturn (Normally they were adorned with felt shoes) and even move their idols to tables for banquets in honor of the god. Government shut down to some degree. It was forbidden to declare war or sentence criminals during Saturnalia.
In the public, the normally rigid Roman class structure was thrown out of the window. Everyone let down their hair a little bit and spoke their minds – even Roman slaves! During Saturnalia, slaves were allowed to criticize their masters without rebuke. Some scholars say that masters and slaves dined together. Women, normally second class citizens, were allowed to mingle freely with men to some extent.
Saturnalia was celebrated with drinking, gambling, feasting, parties, festivals and games. Costumes were commonplace, and many people wore masks to protect their identity as they participated in the holiday’s normally forbidden pleasures. It was five days (or seven, depending on when in history it was celebrated) of partying that was probably a lot like Mardi Gras. Toward the end of Saturnalia, people gave each other gifts of different sorts. Adults got little gag gifts and small tokens, and children received toys.
Hmm… Late December… time off from work… parties… feasts.. toys for children… this Saturnalia thing is starting to sound awfully familiar, isn’t it?