Io Saturnalia!

Happy Christmas!

Or, as it should more properly be said, Io Saturnalia!

Because Christmas is a pagan Roman festival in honour of the god Saturn.  The Io is pronounced Yo, making ancient Romans sound somewhat like rappers.  Saturnalia was appropriated by early Christians for the birth of Jesus, because there wasn't the slightest hope of getting people to give up their beloved Saturnalia.

Saturnalia was the Time of Misrule.  All normal order disappeared.  Masters were expected to serve their own slaves.  Saturnalia began on what we'd call 17th December and carried on for a week or more of non-stop partying.  Several Roman emperors tried to limit the time of Saturnalia, but everyone ignored them.

The official last day of Saturnalia was our 23rd December, called Sigillaria, when people gave each other gifts.

Does this sound familiar?  Christmas/Saturnalia is such an ancient festival that no one has the faintest clue when it first began.  When you gather round on Christmas Day with your friends and family and exchange gifts and happiness, you'll be carrying on a human tradition that's been going for thousands of years.

Keep up the good work.

Io Saturnalia!


Sarah W said...

Io Saturnalia, Gary!

And a Happy New Year on whichever calendar system suits you best!

Darrell B. Nelson said...

Just a thought on Saturnalia.
The Roman custom had people running naked through the streets in celebration. The Roman's might have expanded farther north if they modified that one part of the celebration.

Colin Smith said...

Sorry, Gary, but my historical sensibilities are bristling! First, "Christmas" is not a pagan Roman festival. Io Saturnalia, or the festival of Natalis Solis Invicti, was most certainly a pagan Roman festival. But, as I'm sure you appreciate, that festival and Christmas are very different celebrations, apart from the fact they share the same date.

On subject of the date, there is no clear historical reason as to why the church adopted the date of this pagan festival to celebrate the birth of Christ, though a couple of reasons can be suggested. It certainly wasn't to attract people to Christmas Eve services. There was no love between the church and pagan Rome. If anything, the church wanted to establish an opposing festival. Perhaps the fact that Natalis Solis Invicti celebrated the birth of the "Invincible Sun" (i.e., the Sun god), and the Messiah is spoken of in the Old Testament as the "Sun of Righteousness" who shall rise "with healing in his wings" (Malachi 4:2) proved an irresistible juxtaposition? Maybe the fact that Constantine was a Sun god worshiper prior to his conversion gave impetus to the institution of Christmas? Perhaps also, the theological debates of the fourth and fifth century over the nature of Christ fueled the desire to celebrate his incarnation as well as his resurrection ("Easter" having been well-established on the church calendar for a few centuries by this point).

Anyway, I just wanted to make clear that, at least from the viewpoint of church history, Christmas is not a pagan festival, but was possibly established a) to affirm key doctrines that were hot topics at the time; and b) to provide an Christian alternative to the popular Roman feast.

And whichever you celebrate, I hope yours is a very merry one. :)

Sean Wright said...


I suppose it depends on what one means by Christmas. Quite obviously the the celebration of the birth of Christ named Christmas is of Christian origin.

The trappings - the gift giving, the Christmas tree, Santa Claus have pre Christian roots.

Buzz Malone said...

Damn your pen, sir! You should know that Christmas is no laughing matter, and certainly should never be contrasted to some pagan ritual! Everyone knows that Christmas isn't about the Romans anyways. It's about enriching modern capitalists and increasing the national GDP and protecting the rights of civil authorities to place manger scenes in public parks. Roman, indeed!

Colin Smith said...

@Sean Actually, it's probably more accurate to say that the traditions of giving gifts and decorating trees exist outside of Christianity, and perhaps pre-date. However, this does not mean one stole from the other since the reasons behind the traditions differ. As for Santa, he's most certainly Christian, derived from the fourth century bishop Nikolaos of Myra, whose generosity was legendary.