Thursday, December 24, 2009

The (real) Reason for the Season

Saturnalia and Santa -- it's no coincidence they resemble one another.

Io, Saturnalia!
The World (Dec. 24, 2009)
“Io, Saturnalia!” That’s how revelers might have greeted each other during the ancient Pagan holiday season. Saturnalia did NOT take place on the sixth planet from the sun. It was celebrated in the imperial city of Rome, the center of celebrations of this winter holiday. When it became the "Holy Roman Empire," it simply changed the name of the season.

The week-long celebration started on the Winter Solstice. And, like modern "Christmas," it was a time to eat, drink, and be merry. Party central was the empire's capital on a boot-shaped continental peninsula that sticks out into the Mediterranean Sea. The city’s squares were crowded with revelers, horses, and chariots.

(Roman Encyclopedia) By the beginning of December, writes Columella, the farmer should have finished his autumn planting. Now, at the time of the winter solstice (December 25th on the Julian calendar), Saturnus, the god of seed and sowing, was honored with a festival.

The Saturnalia was officially celebrated on December 17 (a.d. XVI Kal. Ian.) and, in Cicero's time, lasted seven days, from December 17-23. Augustus limited the holiday to three days so the civil courts would not have to be closed any longer than necessary. And Caligula extended it to five (Suetonius, XVII; Cassius Dio, LIX.6), which Claudius restored after it had been abolished (Dio, LX.25).

Still, everyone seems to have continued to celebrate for a full week, extended, says Macrobius (I.10.24), by celebration of the Sigillaria, so named for the small earthenware figurines that were sold then. More>>

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