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Happy Saturnalia!

Today, December 17, is the first day of the traditional week-long ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia. Saturnalia was a major holiday that involved large amounts of drinking and partying and also role reversal between different social classes. For example, slaves got to play the role of masters and vice versa. Some historians believe that the early Christian Church set Dec. 25 as the date for Christmas in part to have a holiday of its own at the same time as Saturnalia in order to supplant a pagan festival with a Christian one. Here's a short description of Saturnalia from the Encyclopedia Romana:

During the holiday, restrictions were relaxed and the social order inverted. Gambling was allowed in public. Slaves were permitted to use dice and did not have to work. . . Within the family, a Lord of Misrule was chosen. Slaves were treated as equals, allowed to wear their masters' clothing, and be waited on at meal time in remembrance of an earlier golden age thought to have been ushered in by the god. In the Saturnalia, Lucian relates that "During My week the serious is barred; no business allowed. Drinking, noise and games and dice, appointing of kings and feasting of slaves, singing naked, clapping of frenzied hands, an occasional ducking of corked faces in icy water—such are the functions over which I preside."

In the law school world, maybe we could revive Saturnalia by having students and professors switch places for a day. I sure hope that some students might want to do my job this week, so that they can enjoy the process of grading the large pile of exams on my desk:). The "drinking, noise and games and dice" could also be fun. In any event, Happy Saturnalia everyone, especially to all of our Roman readers:).

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Happy Saturnalia!
  2. Happy Festivus!
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
Except for the role reversals, this sounds like law school to me.
12.17.2006 11:00pm
Randy R. (mail):
I think Saturnalia is a much better deal than Christmas. let's got with that.
12.18.2006 12:15am
Oren Elrad (mail):
Marxism for one week out of the year and protocapitalism for the reset sounds like a fairly workable economic policy.

I'm in.
12.18.2006 2:02am
U.Va. 2L (mail):
I sure hope that some students might want to do my job this week, so that they can enjoy the process of grading the large pile of exams on my desk:).

You're already grading exams? Wow. I think most law professors wait until two weeks after grades are "due" to start.
12.18.2006 3:51am
Adam R (mail):
The correct greeting is "io, saturnalia!"
12.18.2006 4:38am
BobNSF (mail):
Almost 2000 years and the War on Saturnalia still simmers just below the surface...
12.18.2006 4:40am
James of England:
I understand and appreciate that you feel that there are genuine issues with Christianity in the world today, and that there may be some concerns regarding Islam. That said, I feel pretty confident that Roman paganism is not a faith that you would prefer. The post-pagan extolling of kindness is a positive that y'all atheists either get a free ride on or actively contribute to. The lack of worship of the state is something that should appeal to libertarians. The lack of sacrifices should appeal to your economist side. The degree to which new roman pagans often feel a tinge of attraction to Il Duce should appear even more distateful to you than to people who have not examined the downsides of populism too closely. The enemy of your enemy != your friend.
12.18.2006 6:55am
Porkchop (mail):

The "drinking, noise and games and dice" could also be fun.

When I was in law school, the best part was the "singing naked, clapping of frenzied hands, an occasional ducking of corked faces in icy water," otherwise known as a pre-finals "study group."

Why would you leave that out of the modern celebration?
12.18.2006 8:20am
Jeek:
The Lord of Misrule was chosen via a 5-4 decision of the Supreme Court, heh heh heh.
12.18.2006 8:21am
David Rostker (mail):
As one of your students, I would more than welcome the opportunity to grade my own exam! Perhaps, I would be given the opportunity to write my own property exam for this evening?
12.18.2006 8:32am
JonC:
Mark Shea recently had a long post explaining why the old chestnut about Christmas being derived from a pagan holiday is, at the very least, misleading, and at most outright false.
12.18.2006 8:51am
Triangle_Man:
So Saturnalia = A week in Vegas?
12.18.2006 11:04am
lucia (mail) (www):
JonC:
Mark Shea's ably refutes "the myth" that Christmas was derived from a Roman festival dedicated to the Sun established by the Emperor Aurelian in 274 AD.

There may be some people who think Christmas was derived from that festival. However, many more think it derived from The Saturnalia, which was dedicated to Saturn, not the Sun. Evidently Augustus Ceaser tried to reduce its scope during his reign. Seneca, Pliny and loads of writers who predate Aurelian by centuries complained about the rowdy Roman crowds.
12.18.2006 12:49pm
Ilya Somin:
That said, I feel pretty confident that Roman paganism is not a faith that you would prefer. The post-pagan extolling of kindness is a positive that y'all atheists either get a free ride on or actively contribute to.

This comment, I think, is an example of taking this post way too seriously.
12.18.2006 3:25pm
Aleks:
Christianity had a lot of fun feasts too. In fact most past cultures featured lots and lots of holidays. The modern world calendar with its paucity of feast days is quite unusual by historical standards, something we owe in part to the Puritans and in part to the Capitalists, neither of whom liked people to have fun, albeit for different reasons.
12.18.2006 8:21pm