January 30, 2023

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What is Saturnalia, a pagan Roman ritual, the true origin of the Christmas celebration?

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Saturnalia is a Roman holiday designed to welcome winter

The Roman Empire left a legacy to the Western world, among other things, the principles of the legal system in force in dozens of countries, with roots in languages ​​such as Spanish, French or Italian, and even logic with fire. Departments operating in cities operate.

But perhaps there is an element of that tradition that is not well known: the Christmas feast.

One of the main celebrations of Christianity today, marked by glowing trees, Santa Claus, mangers and family gatherings, it is hard to see any traces of Roman culture.

Importantly, for more than five centuries, the Roman Empire was a people who believed in many gods.

But what is the connection between Christmas and ancient Rome as we know it?

The answer to that question is about a specific Roman celebration: the winter solstice in Saturnalia, the Roman Empire.

“Choosing December 25 as the date of Jesus’ birth has nothing to do with the Bible; on the contrary, using the winter solstice to represent Christ’s role as the light of the world is a very conscious and obvious choice,” he told the BBC’s Spanish news service, BBC News Mundo.

“At the same time of the year Saturnalia’s festive and unbridled customs naturally migrated to Christian practice, and in the 4th century Christianity became very important in Roman society.

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During Saturn, a kind of role was reversed: men dressed as women and masters as slaves.


Saturnália is a festival celebrated by the ancient Romans to mark the so-called “rebirth” of this year, marking the winter solstice in the Julian calendar (which has existed in the Roman Empire and Europe for centuries). December 25.

However, the party began eight days earlier, on December 17, when the general rules governing the community were reversed: men dressed as women and masters dressed as servants.

But the similarities with the Christmas we know today began: houses were decorated with greenery, candles were lit and … gifts were exchanged.

“The celebration was held in memory of the god Saturn (hence the name) and has always been characterized by a relaxed social order and festive atmosphere,” historian Margaret Johnson of the University of Newcastle in Australia told the BBC. News world.

Johnson emphasizes that the celebration of Saturn in early winter has a meaning: Saturn is the principal deity of the Romans.

“He’s the god of weather, agriculture, and the supernatural.

As part of the tradition of pleasing the deity and others, gifts were introduced.

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Historians note that Jesus was born in March and April

“As part of the festivities, the Romans exchanged gifts: candles, woolen sandals, hats and socks. And as they did so between families, the slaves enjoyed their leisure time.”

“In the 4th century calendar, the Philocles calendar mentions an Invictus celebration on December 25, which may refer to the ‘undefeated sun’,” says Johnson.

“It is in this document that December 25 is first mentioned as the birth of Jesus,” says the historian.


The truth is, by the end of the Roman era, Christmas was already part of the Roman calendar.

According to historians, this is a step-by-step process associated with the blending or integration of traditions.

By the middle of the first century, Christians had already arrived in Rome and began to shape the society of the empire.

“As Christianity became so entrenched in the Roman world and the old polytheism fell behind, Christians adopted these established rites and made them their own,” Johnson notes.

“It is very plausible that they chose this festival because of its relationship with the resurrection, but this time with the resurrection of Christ, who at the same time entrusted them with the task of redeeming them to eternal life,” he adds.

In the 4th century, everything began to be written: Between 320 and 353, Pope Julius 1 set Christmas as the 25th of December, perhaps as a ploy to convert the Romans.

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Pope Leo I confirmed the birth of Christ on December 25 in the 5th century.

So people began to think that Jesus was born in December. However, in the 15th century the Italian historian Politoro Virgilio began to notice similarities between various pagan rites and the celebration of Christmas.

“Polidoro Virgilio pointed out the connection between the main English tradition of Christmas on ‘The Lord of Misral’ and the equivalent practice that took place during Saturn. Both masters and servants or slaves exchanged shares for a day.” Johnson observes.

Since then, some historians have been searching for the exact date of Jesus to be placed in mid-March or early April.

But the influence is so strong that we continue to celebrate December 25th with gifts, banquets and family gatherings.

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