A brief overview of Saturnalia and Christmas. The rise of Saturnalia, and the things Romans did for that occasion. Finally, a brief list on how Saturnalia relates to our Christmas celebration.
Hello, this is Abel, speaking from Beijing, China. Welcome to my podcast.
The Tale of Rome, Episode 21 — Saturnalia and Christmas.
Since humans left the warm lands of Africa — somewhere between 200,000 and 50,000 years ago, one of their greatest foes has always been winter.
In winter, food disappears.
Cold brings sickness and death.
Days get shorter.
Animals perish, and the vast majority of trees lose their green.
Since before humans began to celebrate the midpoint of that season of distress and scarcity, which we know as the Winter Solstice, civilizations always tried to create celebrations around that day, and around that very night — the longest night of the year.
And so, today we are going to talk about two of the festivities that are set around this Winter Solstice.
The streets of Rome were generally dark and quite dangerous at night after sunset, because Rome never used a lighting system, financed by the city itself.
But during these festivities, huge candles and oil torches were put on all the major streets of Rome, at intervals of 20 meters each, and that was something that even the Romans who hated the celebration itself, were always going to enjoy for a night or two.
Everyone could walk at night in Rome, and the Romans did it with so much enthusiasm, that in Rome there were jokes and metaphors such as “happier than Saturn himself,” or “Why are so happy? Is it Saturnalia yet?”
Today there is a debate if that phrase was pronounced as “IO Saturnalia” or “YO Saturnalia”, but nonetheless, people used it so often, that some Romans were already sick and tired of hearing it, especially when every drunkard gave you the same greeting.
We also have to mention the dinner that followed.