Saturnalia synchronized

What do I mean ‘Saturnalia synchronized?’ 
Well, at this time of year the custom of Christmas is loosely based on the ancient festival of Saturnalia. I discovered a great deal about this pagan Roman festival when researching the background for one of the books in the Apostle John Series. So, let’s build from the Roman celebration of Saturnalia and go from there

Roman Saturnalia

Originally celebrated on December 17, Saturnalia was extended first to three and eventually to seven days and ended on December 23.

  • All work and business was suspended.
  • Slaves were given temporary freedom to say and do what they liked
  • Certain moral restrictions were eased.
  • A mock king was chosen (Saturnalicius princeps); the seasonal greeting io Saturnalia was heard everywhere.
  • The cult statue of Saturn himself, traditionally bound at the feet with woolen bands, was untied, presumably to come out and join the fun.

Sounds remarkably like what I remember hearing in school history lessons. The medieval ‘Lord of Misrule,’ so I looked that up too.

Saturnalia, and lord of misrule
Engraving :The Illustrated London News :Scanned by Terry-Lynn Johnson, Lakehead University. This image may be used without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose

In England, the Lord of Misrule – known in Scotland as the Abbot of Unreason was an officer appointed by lot during Christmastide to preside over the Feast of Fools.

The Lord of Misrule was generally a peasant appointed to be in charge of Christmas revelries, which often included drunkenness and wild partying.

Sounds like Saturnalicius princeps revisited.

Saturnalia to Christmas tree

One of the earliest stories relating back to a tree for Christmas is about Saint Boniface. In 722, he encountered some pagans who were about to sacrifice a child at the base of a huge oak tree. He cut down the tree to prevent the sacrifice and a Fir tree grew up at the base of the oak. He then told everyone that this lovely evergreen, with its branches pointing to heaven, was a holy tree – the tree of the Christ child, and a symbol of His promise of eternal life.

Next step… In the 1840s and 50s, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert popularized the Christmas tree in England. Prince Albert decorated a tree and ever since that time, the English, because of their love for their Queen, copied her Christmas customs including the Christmas tree and ornaments.

Next addition to Saturnalia

Over many centuries and through many cultures the fantasy of Santa Claus (in various names) has evolved and become part of the Christmas tradition.

It began with St. Nicholas, a fourth-century Catholic bishop of Myra, (Roman province of Asia Minor, now Turkey) His parents died when Nicholas was a young man, leaving him with a healthy inheritance.

Santa at nativity
Santa Claus was never at the manger

Legend of Saint Nicholas

Determined to devote his inheritance to works of charity, Nicholas discovered a destitute father who had three daughters. It was impossible to find husbands for them because of their poverty.

To save the father from giving his daughters over to human trafficking, Nicholas provided bags of gold for each of the daughters. Using the gold as a dowry, each of the girls were married in due time. This inspiring story resulted in Nicholas being recognized as an example of generosity for all people, young and old.

And on it went...

Devotion to Nicholas spread from the Middle East into Greece and Russia, where he is still recognized as the patron saint.
In time, Nicholas began to be honored also in Europe, and then in England where 400 churches were dedicated in his honor in the later Middle Ages.

Following the Reformation, Protestants abolished the veneration and traditions associated with saints. Only the Dutch Protestants preserved the ancient tradition of a visit from St. Nicholas on Dec. 6. They referred to St. Nicholas as Sinter Klaas.
Newspaper article

'Chinese whispers'

In that game, the phrase at the end is different from the one at the start. Likewise with Saturnalia’s synchronizations.

Saturnalia was a festival honoring the pagan Roman god Saturn. Like many other ‘festivals’ over the years it was ‘Christianized.’ However, there is nothing Christian about Saturnalia, nor any of the additions which were absorbed, or synchronized into the pagan celebration.

More musings,

Susan

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