Monday, December 20, 2010

'Tis the Season, According to the Romans


"Darling, your fig cakes are divine. Now what did you get me?"       


In ancient Rome, winter break meant schools closed, law courts adjourned and everybody celebrated by decorating trees, visiting friends, exchanging small gifts, and feasting.

Sound familiar?

They weren’t celebrating Christmas, though, which wasn’t officially acknowledged as a Christian holiday until the 4th century CE. Instead, they enjoyed the awesome holiday known as Saturnalia.

Saturnalia was such a popular winter festival it grew from a single day ceremony (usually December 17) to a full eight days of partying.

And just to remind ourselves that the more things change, the more they stay the same, even the ancient Romans fretted about a holiday culture overrun by excess. Check out what Seneca, the 1st century CE stoic philosopher, wrote to a friend about staying centered during the holidays:

“…perhaps this is the very season when we should be keeping the soul under strict control, making it unique in abstaining from pleasure just when the crowd are all on pleasure bent…Remaining dry and sober takes a good deal more strength of will when everyone about one is puking drunk.”

Replace “is puking drunk” with “has overextended credit” and it looks as if Seneca had our number more than two thousand years ago.

Merry Saturnalia! Happy Christmas!

4 comments:

Elizabeth O. Dulemba said...

OMG - This is Awesome! Vicky- you are a master blogger! :) e

Narukami said...

Io Saturnalia!

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Thanks, e! Io Saturnalia, indeed, David!

Amalia T. Dillin said...

I don't know how I missed this post originally but it is awesome.