Saturnalia Festival
14th December 2011
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Take part in fun, hands-on activities; try on a colourful costume and even make a 'pileus' or freedman's hat.

Saturnalia is an ancient Roman festival or celebration held in honour of Saturn, the youngest of the Titans, father of the major gods of the Greeks and Romans.

Saturnalia was introduced around 217BC to raise citizen morale after a crushing military defeat at the hands of the Carthaginians. Originally celebrated for only a day, on December 17th, its popularity saw it grow until it became a week long extravanganza, ending on the 23rd.

The celebrations included a school holiday, the making and giving of small presents and a special market. Gambling was allowed for all, even slaves.

The 'pileus' was worn by everyone. Slaves were exempt from punishment, and treated their masters with (a pretence of) disrespect. The slaves celebrated a banquet: before, with, or served by the masters. Yet the reversal of the social order was mostly superficial; the banquet, for example, would often be prepared by the slaves, and they would prepare their master's dinner as well. It reversed the social order without subverting it.

The customary greeting for the occasion is a "Io, Saturnalia!"

- Io (pronounced "e-o") being a Latin interjection related to "ho" (as in "Ho, praise to Saturn!").

A number of scholars view this festival as the origin of later Christmas celebrations, or at least contributing to them.

So whip out your toga and get on down to the Roman Museum to see a few of the traditions, rites, food and costumes from this most ancient of winter festivities!

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