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Saturnalia, held in mid-December, is an ancient Roman pagan festival honoring the agricultural god Saturn. Saturnalia celebrations are the source of many of the traditions we now associate with Christmas. Saturnalia, the most popular holiday on the ancient Roman calendar, derived from older farming-related rituals of midwinter and the winter solstice, especially the practice of offering gifts or sacrifices to the gods during the winter sowing season.
During Saturnalia, work and business came to a halt. Schools and courts of law closed, and the normal social patterns were suspended. People decorated their homes with wreaths and other greenery, and shed their traditional togas in favor of colorful clothes known as synthesis. Even slaves did not have to work during Saturnalia, but were allowed to participate in the festivities; in some cases, they sat at the head of the table while their masters served them.
In many Roman households, a mock king was chosen: the Saturnalicius princeps, or “leader of Saturnalia,” sometimes also called the “Lord of Misrule.” Usually a lowlier member of the household, this figure was responsible for making mischief during the celebrations—insulting guests, wearing crazy clothing, chasing women and girls, etc.
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