Full Version: Roman Celebrations
You're currently viewing a stripped down version of our content. View the full version with proper formatting.
Does anyone know what the closest equivalent to a modern-day Christmas was in pre-christian Roman times, and how they went about celebrating? Was it the the Saturnalia? ... I could be wrong, there were so many holidays!
From the info I know ("Rotten Romans", Terry Deary, il. by Martin Brown.) yes. From 17 December, whith food, presents, and a kind of carnivals.
Yeah, there were something like 3-5 holidays/feast days every month in honor of this god or that, but Saturnalia was the big one. Slaves got to wear their masters' clothes and be uppity, people gave gifts, etc.
Saturnalia was pretty much it - more like a carnival than our understanding of Christmas. Of course, modern Christmas has very little to do with *its* antecedents.

December 25th was also the birthday of Sol Invictus, but that is not an old Roman tradition, Like many solar holidays (in this case, near-coinciding with winter solstice) it was probably originally part of the Mithraic tradition and later integrated into the solar state cult. The calendar of 354 (CIL I, 1, well, some inscription had to be it) mentions 'natalis Invicti' on that day. I'm not sure what celebrations, if any, took place other than prayer.
Quote: Of course, modern Christmas has very little to do with *its* antecedents.

Absolutely! I studied a bit of comparative religion when I was in school, and when I tell peopl that our modern-day Christmas traditions (like the tree, holly, candles, etc.) have more to do with the ancient pagans than christianity, they look at me like I'm nuts. I actually think the Mithras mythology is incredibly interesting -- his story is very simliar to the Jesus story.

Anyway, as I consider myself a non-religious person, I was wondering what the ancient Romans would have done around this time of year ... food, presents, a carnival atmosphere, all sounds good to me. Smile
Being a thorough pagan, I always take great delight in reminding Christians of the origins of Christmas trees...........

They came to England with Queen Victoria's German husband, Prinz Albert and spread in popularity through the English speaking world, being a German custom.....

Tacitus tells us that the Germans had certain sacred groves, at the centre of which would be a Holy tree......they would hang valuables in the branches, as sacrifices - gold and silver, trophies of triumph, enemy weapons, Roman Eagle standards and the like. They would also hang enemy Officers and important captives as sacrifices in the trees too, and food , as a sacrifice for a good harvest. The holy Pine trees in the German forests would look both gaudy and grim.......
Think on this as you trim your tree with tinsel and baubles ( valuables), chocolate soldiers ( human sacrifice) and candy canes( food for the next harvest)...........nothing too christian about a Christmas tree !! :lol: :lol:
Quote:Being a thorough pagan, I always take great delight in reminding Christians of the origins of Christmas trees...........

Tongue )
At the risk of treading dangerous ground - modern religion is *not* to be discussed on the board - I must say that I have found most direct connections between modern feast customs and pagan antiquity to be quite tenuous on examination. Obviously, many of these customs do not have Christian roots (at least I've never read of an Easter Bunny in the NT), but very few of them are anything like direct survivals. Unfortunately, the field is fairly bare of serious researchers and quite full of various believers with shedsful of axes to grind, but a fair bit of respectable work is being done in medieval studies in Germany and Britain regarding this. The degree to which they change over recorded time suggest great changes over the millennium or so before, and that, coupled with our very limited evidence, majkes reconstruction a tentative endeavour.

For the record, I, too, am a pagan. I wish some of my coreligionists would put more research effort into their books, though.
It is depressing that you might find Christians ignorant of the meaning of their symbols - we teach these basics in my primary school to those even nominally Christian, as I learned them decades ago.

However, and back to the Roman-era, I would argue that the easy continuity of celebrations such as the midwinter emphasises their secular nature rather than a sacred one.

As you know, some church fathers specifically advocated taking over established sites and feasts as a deliberate means of 'Christianising' them (whilst others, such as Martin of Braga, were more purist, just as today some denominations of Christianity shun these aspects of tradition).

I would hope that, if Mithraists, Alamani, C1st pagan Romans and C5th Christian Romans shared some common feelings about the turn of the year & expressed them similarly, that would be a cause for more respect & understanding amongst their modern equivalents, rather than less.
Hi, I heard a long time ago that there was a Thracian shrine in a Roman site in Dorset - can anybody tell me exactly where it is - Colchester? Dorchester? It's not mentioned on the excellent 1st Thracian Cohort web page.