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.
- 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
All information from CandleGrove
- 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.
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