Happy Saturnalia or what many translate as “Merry Christmas!
Saturnalia was a topsy-turvy celebration or holiday of feasting, drinking, singing in the street naked, clapping hands, gambling in public, making noise and ended in a potential murder or sacrifice. The week long feast of the Roman culture held a theme of “all things that are serious are barred.” This was the season that Roman residents expressed a week long period of increased “lawlessness” celebrated between December 17-25. The activities may surprise you. For instance, during this week the courts were closed and the beginning of the festival was signified by Roman authorities selecting “an enemy of the Roman people.” The designated ‘enemy of the Roman people’ was called the “Lord of Misrule.” Each state or community would select a person to be the “Lord of Misrule,” for their region. This person was forced by each community to indulge in food and other physical pleasures throughout the week. The festival would conclude on December 25th. Roman authorities chose the “Lord of Misrule,” who was normally an innocent man or woman designated to be brutally murdered, as a means of destroying the forces of darkness through sacrifice.
The Greek historian and poet, Lucian, describes the festivities with human sacrifice, wide spread intoxication; going from house to house while singing naked; rape; other sexual license; and consuming human-shaped biscuits. In the 4th century CE Christianity decided to import the Saturnalia festival to increase the pagan masses (congregations). Christian leaders succeeded in converting sizable numbers of pagans by promising them that they could continue to celebrate the Saturnalia as Christians.
Herein, we have the birth of what so many generations of families recognize as Christmas. Here is the problem, there was nothing innately Christian about this pagan festival. Yet, the Christian leaders successfully converted many pagans on promising that they would not miss out on their week long celebration of Saturnalia. The Christian leaders of the 4th century decided to remedy this by naming Saturnalia’s last day as Jesus’ birthday!? The institution of this idea was NOT well received; however, by refining the practices of Saturnalia they sought to keep happy the Christians and the Pagans (compromise). The massive observance (high turnout in the churches) of the anniversary of the Savior’s birth (as it was labeled due to increased attendance) caused the church to agree to allow the holiday to be celebrated more or less the way it had always been(with the debauchery) . Hence, the earliest Christmas holidays were celebrated by drinking, sexual indulgence, singing naked in the streets (a precursor of modern caroling), etc.
The Reverend Increase Mather (interesting name for the preacher, huh?) of Boston observed in 1687 that “the Christians who first observed the Nativity on December 25; did not do so thinking that Christ was born in that Month, but because the Heathens’ Saturnalia was at that time celebrated in Rome, they were willing to have those Pagan Holidays metamorphosed into Christian ones.” Because of the celebrations known pagan origin deriving out of Saturnalia, Christmas was banned by the Puritans and its observance was illegal in Massachusetts between 1659 and 1681. However, Christmas was and still is celebrated by most Christians.
Why do you celebrate this day again?
Loving you enough to tell the truth