The Romans are often bagged on as being the Borg of the ancient world: assimilating barbarian cultures left and right, stealing the style and grace of the Greeks, tossing the odd Christian to lions. Yet, you must admit they did know how to PARTY, especially during those barren winter months.
In antiquity, the feast of Saturn or “Saturnalia” was celebrated from about December 17th through the 23rd. It was a winter solstice festival in honor of the merry old god of the seed and its sowing, and if he was cranky, the blighting of crops. His fertile wife, Ops, goddess of plenty, was also celebrated around this time. Janus (the two faced fella who gives his name to next month) supposedly started the tradition in remembrance of the Golden Age of Saturn's rule. You know, way, way, way back in mythic times, when everyone was equal and free and the "man" wasn't around to keep us down.
This high spirited festival engendered many of our own holiday traditions such as extravagant feasting, kissing under the mistletoe, lighting candles, wearing silly hats, exchanging gifts and the odd orgy. Woo Hoo!, who needs Christmas?
So this week, why not celebrate the really ancient traditions or at least add a Roman twist to your festivities? Instead of the usual Christmas dealee, I am having some friends over tomorrow for a Saturnalia party. We will feast on decadent finger foods (the ancients didn't believe in forks), drink copious amounts of vino and spirits, and don wreaths or the traditional Saturnalia Phrygian cap, which looks a hell of a lot like a Santa hat. We'll also try our hands at a bit of friendly gambling, as the Roman's encouraged games of chance during Saturnalia time. The odd orgy part? Well, perhaps I'll screen Fellini's Satyricon instead of White Christmas. Then again, my friends are pretty darn odd. Wink!
Photo of Couture painting by Wallyg via flickr