The ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia

The ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia, which took place in December, was a time of revelry and inversion of social norms. During the festival, slaves and masters would swap places, with slaves being treated to elaborate feasts and given temporary freedom to speak their minds. The festival was also marked by gambling, drinking, and gift-giving, and it was seen as a time of general merriment and enjoyment.

In many ways, the ancient Roman celebration of Saturnalia bears some resemblance to modern New Year’s Eve celebrations, which are often characterized by partying, indulgence, and a sense of letting go and starting anew. However, it’s important to note that the ancient Roman festival had a very different cultural and historical context, and it should not be romanticized or appropriated without understanding its true significance.

New Year in ancient Rome

In ancient Rome, the celebration of the New Year was held on March 1st, and it was a time of purification and renewal. The Romans believed that the start of the New Year was a time to put the past behind them and start fresh, and they would celebrate by making offerings to the gods, engaging in elaborate rituals of purification, and holding feasts and parties.

During the celebration, the Romans also believed that they could communicate with the spirits of the dead, and they would perform rituals to honor their ancestors. The celebration of the New Year in ancient Rome was an important event that was observed by all members of society, and it was a time of great joy and festivity.

Many Christmas traditions…

Many Christmas traditions come from the Roman holiday Saturnalia. During Saturnalia, work and business came to a halt. Schools and courts of law closed, and the normal social patterns were suspended.
People decorated their homes with wreaths and other greenery, and shed their traditional togas in favor of colorful clothes known as synthesis. Even slaves did not have to work during Saturnalia, but were allowed to participate in the festivities; in some cases, they sat at the head of the table while their masters served them.
Instead of working, Romans spent Saturnalia gambling, singing, playing music, feasting, socializing and giving each other gifts. Wax taper candles called cerei were common gifts during Saturnalia, to signify light returning after the solstice.