Io Saturnalia. For the first day of Saturnalia, a reblog of the story of this Roman precursor to Christmas. Happy Holidays!

Roman Footprints

“But you, Saturn, cast off your fetters and come near. You, too, December, tipsy from so much wine, and laughing Good Cheer and wanton Joviality, come and be present.”[1]

In the cold dark days around the winter solstice, when the sun stops traveling away from us and begins its return, we have always chosen to make merry. We have brought light to the darkness by giving gifts, spending time with family and friends, being kind to those less fortunate, and by overindulging. Long before Christmas these traditions began.

December 17 was the festival day of Saturnalia for the ancient Romans. In the early days, when Rome was just a small city-state, they celebrated with a free public banquet followed by a religious ceremony at the temple of Saturn in the forum. Generosity and gift-giving extended even to slaves, as Cato the Elder, in the second century BC, prescribed just…

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