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Saturnalia
Winter Solstice in Pagan Rome

by Selena Fox

This was first published for a workshop at 1993 Circle Sanctuary Community Yule Festival.

Timing of Saturnalia

  • varied during the course of Roman history.
  • began as feast days for Saturn (December 17) and Ops (December 19).
  • with Julian calendar, Saturnalia on December 17 & 18; Opalia on December 19 & 20.
  • during the empire, extended to a week (December 17-23); longer with other holidays.

Associated holiday festivals
  • Consualia, end of sowing season festival (December 15).
  • Dies Juvenalis, Coming of Age for Young Men (mid-December).
  • Feast of Sol Invicta, the Unconquered Sun, set in 274 A. D. (December 25).
  • Brumalia, Winter Solstice on pre-Julian calendar (December 25).
  • Christmas (December 25), Christians move Christ's birthday to this date in 336 A.D.
  • Janus Day and Beginning of Calendar Year (January 1), set in 153 B.C.; again in 45 B.C.
  • Compitalia, blessing of the fields rural festival (January 3-5).

Deities honored around Winter Solsticetime
  • Saturn - God of Agriculture; merged with the Greek Cronos.
  • Ops - Goddes of Plenty; Mother Earth; partner to Saturn and Consus.
  • Sol Invicta - Sun God; connected with the Persian Mithra, honored by Roman soldiers.
  • Consus - God of Storebin of Harvested Grain.
  • Juventas - Goddess of Young Manhood; related to Greek Hebe of Youthful Beauty.
  • Janus - God of Beginnings and Gates; Solar God of Daybreak; Creator God.

Celebrations included
  • merry-making
  • rest and relaxation
  • connections with family and friends
  • celebrating beginning of Solar year
  • prayers for protection of Winter crops
  • honoring Deities

Legacies of Saturnalia in contemporary holiday celebrations
  • Religious Rituals -- joining in spiritual community to honor the Divine.
  • Honored Figures -- Santa and Father Time -- Saturn; Holy Mother -- Ops.
  • Sacred Flames -- candles lit and new fires kindled to represent new Solar year.
  • Greens -- Holly given with gifts, homes decorated with wreaths and garlands.
  • Time Off from Work -- government, schools, businesses closed; multiple days off.
  • Peace -- dispensing of punishments suspended and courts closed; wars ceased.
  • Relaxing with Family and Friends -- renewing bonds, sharing celebration.
  • Gift Giving -- dolls to children, candles to friends; fruit symbols representing increase.
  • Feasting -- sharing food with family and friends; on-going eating and drinking.
  • Helping Less Fortunate -- class distinctions suspended; food for all; masters waiting on servants.
  • Exhuberant Play -- masquerades, gaming, gambling, mock king, jokes, partying, letting loose.
  • Paper Hats -- soft hats (pilei) worn at Saturnalia banquets to signify informality.
  • Dancing in the New Solar Year -- music and dancing.
All information from CandleGrove



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