Saturnalia - December 17, 2023

Last Updated on: 25 Nov 2022

What is Saturnalia?

An ancient Roman celebration known as Saturnalia was held in honor of the deity Saturn, associated with abundance, freedom, and luxury.

Saturnalia: All Quick Overview

  • Time/Date: December 17, annually
  • Category: Special Interest 
  • Where it’s Marked: Globally
  • Why it’s Marked: A celebration and holiday in ancient Rome honoring the harvest god Saturn.

History of Saturnalia

During Saturnalia in AD 211, Caracalla planned the homicide of his younger brother Geta by setting up a "peace meeting" that resulted in Geta's demise in his loving embrace.

Saturnalia was chosen specifically for the Catiline conspiracy, which allegedly comprised plots to set senators on fire and kill them to topple the Roman Republic. The senator in charge of the story, Catiline, must have believed that most Romans would be too drunk and preoccupied to realize what he was up to. Cicero was unfortunately vigilant during the end of Saturnalia, which was terrible news for Catiline. When the plan was discovered, Catiline was compelled to leave Rome.

How to Celebrate Saturnalia

Romans assembled on the monastery grounds could watch the sacrificial that signaled the start of an exceptional period of festivity, even though they were not allowed inside. 

Following the offering, there would have been lectisterniums and public banquets, during which food would have been served to a Saturn emblem on a couch. Romans took an early morning bath and offered a neonatal pig to tribute to the residence's divinity. 

Enslaved people had no restrictions on their freedom of speech or dress, including the ability to disobey their owners without fear of repercussions. During that period, excessive drinking and gambling were commonplace and not permitted.

One of the numerous similarities between Saturnalia and advanced Carnevale is that both celebrations involved masks and gift-giving.

Countries that observe Saturnalia

A sacrifice was offered before the Temple of Saturn in the Forum to kick off this ancient Roman holiday. The extraordinary hollow statue of Saturn filled with olive oil was not visible to familiar Romans since, like all pagan temples in Ancient Rome, the sanctuary of the monastery was forbidden to the broader population. 

Interesting Facts about Saturnalia

Among the most famous Roman festivities was the Saturnalia festival. The festival's five noteworthy facts are listed below. 

  • Saturnalia was subsequently expanded to 7 days, starting with three days. 
  • School and commerce were suspended at Saturnalia, and landlords and servants traded places.
  • According to some historians, a significant portion of the event may have involved humanitarian offerings and sacrifices because Saturn's spouse Lua was a deity to whom soldiers offered up enemy weapons as sacrifices.
  • According to the Neoplatonist philosopher Porphyry, the emancipation linked with Saturnalia represents the "freeing of souls into immortality."
  • On a more contentious note, dice use and gambling, traditionally taboo in Ancient Rome, became an integral component of Saturnalia.
  • The intricacies of Romanesque architecture were kept behind locked doors, in contrast to Christian cathedrals, which are accessible to everyone.

Unique Saturnalia Celebration Ideas

Here are some instructions for having a modern Saturnalia.

  • Adopt the holiday's colors. They are gold and green. 
  • Use flora to embellish frames, stairwells, and entrances. 
  • Hang Janus faces, stars, and sun symbols from woody plants if you've got some on your premises. Additionally, potted living plants can be adorned. 
  • Bake pastries in the form of animal patterns, sun, moon, and stars, as well as fertility emblems. 
  • Prepare little Mulsum, wine, and honey beverage, if you are of appropriate drinking age wherein you reside. 
  • “Lo, Saturnalia” is the customary way to welcome people.
  • Offer modest gifts and include a creative letter or a brief humorous poem with them. For some genuine examples from the Roman era, read the poems "Xenia" and "Apophoreta" by the Roman poet Martial. 
  • If you've got a statuette of Saturnus or a picture of one, put it on display and adorn it. 
  • Celebrate liberty and eliminate hierarchy. Consider donning a pileus, a conical felt hat that in ancient times stood for freedom.

Saturnalia Quotes

Saturnalia is a holiday, so you have the benefit of reading and spreading the word about famous quotations about it.

“The healthy being craves an occasional wildness, a jolt from normality, a sharpening of the edge of appetite, his own little festival of Saturnalia, a brief excursion from his way of life. - Robert Morrison MacIver

“Art and religion, carnivals and saturnalia, dancing and listening to oratory - all these have served, in H. G. Wells's phrase, as Doors in the Wall.” - Aldous Huxley

“Was this then Lent, pressing hard on the heels of Saturnalia? Not” - Ford Madox Ford


1. Does anyone still observe Saturnalia?

Although fewer people now identify and conduct Saturnalia, certain Neo-pagan and Wiccan tribes continue to do so because it coincides with multiple other winter solstice celebrations.

2. Did saturnalia change to Christmas at what point?

It's possible that Emperor Domitian shifted Saturnalia's date to December 25 to establish his rule.

3. Did Jesus' family participate in Saturnalia festivities?

It is probable that since Jesus lived during the Roman era, he and his family participated in Saturnalia celebrations.

4. Christians, did they steal Christmas?

Either the pagans sought to use the prominence of Jesus as the Son of God to worship the divinity, or Christians usurped the anniversary from them.

Saturnalia Observances

2021Friday17 DecemberSaturnalia
2022Saturday17 DecemberSaturnalia
2023Sunday17 DecemberSaturnalia
2024Tuesday17 DecemberSaturnalia
2025Wednesday17 DecemberSaturnalia
2026Thursday17 DecemberSaturnalia

We constantly update the dates of holidays that keep changing every year. However, while we revise and change some dates to be accurate, if you find any errors, kindly inform us . That will mean a lot to us.

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