Wednesday, 17 December 2008

17 December - Saturnalia

17 December is the date on which the Roman festival of Saturnalia began, and Saturnalia is, of course, one of the ancient pagan festivals that influenced the development of our own modern Christmas.
As its name might suggest, Saturnalia was held in honour of Saturn, the Roman god of of agriculture and the harvest, and specifically commemorated the dedication of his temple. In time the festival came to last a whole week.
What made Saturnalia stand out from many other religious festivals was the way in which it was marked by tomfoolery and a reversal of conventional social roles, in which slaves and masters ostensibly switched places. This particular aspect of Saturnalia lives on today most obviously in the modern pantomime.
You can find out more about the traditions of Saturnalia (as well as those of Christmas itself) in What is Myrrh Anyway?

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