Saturnalia or Christ-mass?

The celebration of Saturnalia

MADURA Saturnalia became one of the most popular Roman festivals. It was marked by tomfoolery and reversal of social roles, in which slaves and masters ostensibly switched places, with expectedly humourous results.

Saturnalia was introduced around 217 BC to raise citizen morale after a crushing military defeat.[1] Originally celebrated for a day, on December 17, its popularity saw it grow until it became a week long extravaganza, ending on the 23rd. Efforts to shorten the celebration were unsuccessful. Augustus tried to reduce it to three days, and Caligula to five.

Saturnalia involved the conventional sacrifices, a couch (lectisternium) set out in front of the temple of Saturn and the untying of the ropes that bound the statue of Saturn during the rest of the year. ASaturnalicius princeps was elected master of ceremonies for the proceedings. Besides the public rites there were a series of holidays and customs celebrated privately. The celebrations included a school holiday, the making and giving of small presents (saturnalia et sigillaricia) and a special market (sigillaria). Gambling was allowed for all, even slaves; however, although it was officially condoned only during this period, one should not assume that it was rare or much remarked upon during the rest of the year. It was a time to eat, drink, and be merry. The toga was not worn, but rather the synthesis, i.e. colorful, informal “dinner clothes”; and the pileus (freedman’s hat) was worn by everyone. Slaves were exempt from punishment, and treated their masters with (a pretense of) disrespect. The slaves celebrated a banquet: before, with, or served by the masters. Yet the reversal of the social order was mostly superficial; the banquet, for example, would often be prepared by the slaves, and they would prepare their masters’ dinner as well. It was license within careful boundaries; it reversed the social order without subverting it.[2]

The customary greeting for the occasion is a “Io, Saturnalia!” — Io (pronounced “e-o”) being a Latin interjection related to “ho” (as in “Ho, praise to Saturn”).[citation needed]

Saturnalia’s relation to Christmas

There is no evidence scripturally or secularly that early Christians in the first century commemorated the birth of Jesus Christ. In fact, in keeping with early Jewish law and tradition, it is likely that birthdays were not commemorated at all. According to The World Book Encyclopedia: “early Christians considered the celebration of anyone’s birth to be a pagan custom.” (Vol. 3, page 416) Rather than commemorate his birth, the only command Jesus gave concerned a commemoration of his life of any sort actually had to do only with his death (Luke 22:19). It was not until several hundred years after the death of Jesus Christ that the first instances of the celebration of Christmas begin to appear in the historical record. According to the new Encyclopedia Britannica, some who later claimed to be Christian likely “wished the date to coincide with the pagan Roman festival marking the ‘birthday of the unconquered sun.” The festival was celebrated with similar customs (gift giving, feasting) that are done to celebrate Christmas today. Another argument is that Christmas was set on the feast of Sol Invictus, which was also on December 25.

From Wikipedia

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