Saturn, the old sun God was worshipped by many civilisations under various names. In Roman times they celebrated him in December, usually on the 17th day of the month, with a festival of merry making, gifts and banquets. The celebrations could run for days with offerings and sacrifices in his honour.
Saturn was considered to be the god of agriculture, time and liberty. During this period everybody downed tasks and instead of working decorated their homes with greenery. They would dress themselves in colourful clothes and partied.
Everybody joined in, from slaves to toga wearing officials, it was seen as a time for social activities with dancing and music in the streets and having an entertaining and fun time.
In the Temple to Saturn, the statue of this old god would stand tall over the people. He usually wore a veil and ropes of wool bound his feet which was a symbolisation of how to keep order and stop the chaos that could ensue. During this festival the veil was removed and the ropes cut allowing liberation for the god himself and also for one and all.
The order of society took on a role reversal as carousing, partying and gaiety took precedence. A Lord of Misrule would be chosen, usually a lowly person in status, who would be allowed to do anything they wished during their short reign, much mischief and mayhem ensued as all had to do as the Lord of Misrule commanded. In this role reversal slaves became kings and the elite became the servants.
Saturn, being the god of freedom and liberation, was now released from his bonds and during the festival everybody was regarded as a freeman and donned the hat known as a pileus, the mark of a freeman.
Generosity was another aspect to these celebrations. There was much gift giving to loved ones, fellow workers and the house staff that went along with merry making, frolicking and dance.
Saturnalia was seen as a reminder of the golden age, when all were equal, wealthy, healthy and prosperous. So, enjoy this time of Saturnalia, be free and drink a toast to good old Saturn.
Debbie Elliott’s writings and film work can be found at http://www.debbie-elliott.co.uk