SATURNALIA: Winter Solstice in Pagan Rome
by: Ancient Romans
Date: December 17 of every year.
Date: December 23 of every year.
customary greeting for the occasion is a "io, Saturnalia!"
— io (pronounced "yo") being a Latin interjection related to
"ho" (as in "Ho, praise to Saturn").
Timing of Saturnalia
during the course of Roman history.
as feast days for Saturn (December 17) and Ops (December 19).
Julian calendar, Saturnalia on December 17 & 18; Opalia on December 19 &
the empire, extended to a week (December 17-23); longer with other holidays.
Associated holiday festivals
end of sowing season festival (December 15).
Juvenalis, Coming of Age for Young Men (mid-December).
of Sol Invicta, the Unconquered Sun, set in 274 A. D. (December 25).
Winter Solstice on pre-Julian calendar (December 25).
(December 25), Christians move Christ's birthday to this date in 336 A.D.
Day and Beginning of Calendar Year (January 1), set in 153 B.C.; again in 45
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
# 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.
with family and friends
beginning of Solar year
for protection of Winter crops
Legacies of Saturnalia in contemporary holiday
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
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
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,
Hats -- soft hats (pilei) worn at Saturnalia banquets to signify informality.
Dancing in the New Solar Year -- music and dancing.