In the movie The Life of Brian (1979), Reg, played by John Cleese, asks fellow members of the People’s Front of Judea:
… apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health; what have the Romans ever done for us?
“Brought peace” is the answer he receives.
In hindsight, Christmas could be added to the list.
When we think of the Romans, gift-giving, carol-singing and celebrating the birth of Christ don’t immediately present themselves. Waging wars, general oppression and a never-ending desire to rule the world are more likely to spring to mind.
But various Christmas traditions come from ancient pagan festivities, including the Roman celebration of the Saturnalia.