As I said, in a recent, circle-locked post, Saturnalia is my favorite of the Publicly-celebrated Winter Bash festivals (or would be, if it were still publicly celebrated). So much so, I made a new icon to celebrate, just now :-)
I first learned about the holiday in high school Latin Class, and, one year, a combined Latin Class party (all the Latin students from fifth to twelfth grade -- 11-18 year-olds) was the one time in my life I got to actually celebrate it in an organized way.
This is what I learned way back in my personal Days of Yore:
Once upon a time, after Saturn was deposed from his kingship of the Gods, he came to Earth, and taught humans all about agriculture: how to plow the earth (pointing out how the wild boars did it, with their tusks... and it was based on that inspiration that humans figured out the plough).
During his reign on Earth, before civilization got too advanced, there were no social classes, and everyone lived as equals, and no one did any more work than was necessary (and since there was a God of Fertility on premises, very little work was needed to get things to grow). This was the Golden Age of Man, and there was peace, and no wars, etc. And then, as people acquired more wealth, they started to stratify into social classes, and develop slavery, and start coveting other clans' lands, and so forth, and they, too, banished Saturn, and began to worship Jove as the supreme god.
But for a week, around the winter solstice, Saturn was welcomed back to the world, and, to make him feel at home, we humans are asked to try our best to act like we did during the Golden Age, when social class is forgotten, and masters serve their slaves at dinner, and people spend more time playing than working, and official government bureaucracy stuff is put on hold... Basically:
"Grandpa is coming to stay for a week! Can we at least try
to be extra nice to each other, to make him feel at home?"
Of course, it's make-believe. The slaves are not really
free... and everything goes back to normal on the 24th, so even when they're given the "liberty" of voicing criticism of their masters, it can only go so far.
And yet, there's an acknowledged value in "acting as if" -- just to practice exercising those thought muscles.
In my high school Latin party, that one year, it started with the Seniors (or at least those who'd been studying Latin for the full seven years) reenacted the liberation of Saturn from bondage: one played the role of the God, himself, in a long yellow, robe/toga, and wearing a fake cotton wool beard. He came in wearing paper chain-and-shackles, which the the student acting as priest tore asunder. Then, "Saturn" gave a speech in Latin all about the values of human equality and peace, and freedom. And then, he went around and handed out (what would have been, in "Roman times") little cakes that were shaped like the god Saturn (only, those being unavailable, our Latin teacher went out and bought a couple dozen Santa-shaped, red-sugar-dusted, butter cookies from a local bakery).
Then, since we were excused from our other afternoon classes, we shared a meal of Italian food, and honey-glazed cakes for dessert, while each of the different aged students put on short skit parodies of Roman mythology.
Then, right before we left to get on our buses home, we sang Christmas carols in Latin.
Anyway, it's always kind of baffled me why Saturnalia
, out of all the old Holy Days, is the one that has become the most demonized as Teh Evol by the Christian Evangelical types, while Lupercalia, was allowed to survive, be sanitized and prettified (That is: transformed into Valentine's Day), and pushed onto schoolchildren as a series of mandatory class activities (though my aide, who has been working for a young school boy at nursery school, kindergarten, and now first grade, tells me that Valentine's Day is no longer pushed in school... which I think is a healthy trend).( Valentine's Day origins (content warning: discussion of animal sacrifice and D/s sex) )
So, on Monday and Tuesday, I was browsing through YouTube to see if I could find anyone reading excerpts from Martial's (Roman Poet) Saturnalia Epigrams (little comic verses about -- or sometimes in the voice of -- different Saturnalia presents). Sadly, I could not. I did, however, come across many Christian Evangelical videos espousing their hatred of the holiday, and by extension, all the jolly, fun, parts of Christmas.
And then it occurred to me (the proverbial light bulb, or considering the context, Saturnalia candle): Lupercalia may have been filled with sex and violence, while Saturnalia at least gave lip service to peace, equality, and freedom. But Lupercalia was turned into lovey-dovey day, and Saturnalia became equated with evil because it :::Drum Roll::: CELEBRATES ANARCHY!!!!
Now, a note on the shadow / dark side of the ancient worship of Saturn: it was acknowledged, in the ancient Roman myths, that while he ruled over the Earth, Saturn did demand human sacrifice as part of his cult, and to be presented with the heads of his victims as offerings. Over the course of several centuries of observing Saturnalia, contemporary Romans came up with varying ways to acknowledge this practice without actually performing it, including making offerings of masks of human faces
or offering and burning candles shaped like people. For modern folks who want to observe Saturnalia, may I suggest offering the heads off a few of your gingerbread people? Just a thought.