Sunday, December 19, 2010


Harvest time in ancient Italy belonged to the god of reaping, whom the Romans called Saturn. A symbol curved like his sickle represents the planet.  Right after the Solstice, the Sun will move into Capricorn, the sign ruled by Saturn, who is also known as old man time.

The 25th of December hasn't always been Christmas Day. The origin of the celebration of this day seems to be very ancient, but its most direct affiliation comes from, among others, the Romans, who celebrated, for a long time, the god Saturn, the god of agriculture and plenty.   In pagan Rome, the celebration of the Saturnalia (Winter Solstice) began on December 17th and continued until the 24th. It was one of Rome's oldest holidays which recalled the golden days.  And, for one day of Saturnalia, the Romans celebrated the birth of the Sun. Saturnalia centered on giving thanks for the fruits of the earth, for plentiful crops, and praying for the same in the coming year.

Saturnalia also marked the beginning of winter and the start of the new year. It was a joyful time with much merrymaking and the exchanging of gifts in honor of Father Sun and Mother Earth. Crowds of people flocked to Rome in various forms of masquerade, and practical jokes were played on each other. People decorated their homes with lights and evergreen branches and berries. Wars stopped, and people wished each other good
During the holiday, restrictions were relaxed and the social order was inverted. Gambling was allowed in public, and slaves did not have to work. Instead of the toga, less formal dinner clothes were permitted. Within the family, a Lord of Misrule was chosen. Slaves were treated as equals, allowed to wear their masters' clothing as well as be waited on at meal time in remembrance of an earlier golden age thought to have been ushered in by the god. 

Ornaments in the outdoor trees included sun symbols and stars.  Food was
also a primary decoration.  Gilded cakes in a variety of shapes were quite popular, and children and birds vied for the privilege of gathering the treats from the trees.  The commonest shapes were fertility symbols, suns and moons and stars, baby shapes, and herd animal shapes.  People, too, were  likely to be ornamented as the trees.  The wearing greenery and jewelry of a sacred nature was  common, and although the emphasis was on Saturn, Sol Invictus, the Sun, got his fair share of the revelry as well. 

The Christians did not believe in the Roman gods, but they wanted to keep some part of the Saturnalia celebration, so they gave it a new name--Christmas and celebrated it the day after Saturnalia on December 25th. But although the name of the honored deity may have changed, most of the ancient rituals such as gift giving and the decoration of trees survives to this day.
For modern Saturnalia, those golden glass ball ornaments are ideal, as are gold sun faces, gold stars, and gilded anythings. Gilding nuts and pine cones and nestling them among the swags and wreaths of greenery would be a lovely way of acknowledging the ancient roots of this ceremony.


  1. I thought Saturnalia was one big sex orgy or am I thinking of something else? Those darn Romans had so many festivals!

  2. Imagine it was all lovely in the eyes of the beholders back then, but I'm grateful I live in an era that gives me a chance to live to see many Christmas'. ;0)

    Of course what you don't know...don't hurt you.