Random Fact: Saturnalia

In the Ancient Roman calendar, December 17 was the first day of Saturnalia, a holiday celebration upon which Christmas was based. It began as a farmers’ festival to mark the end of autumn planting, in honour of Saturn, who was a god of agriculture. Starting as a one-day feast, it expanded to three days, then a whole week, from December 17 to 23.

During Saturnalia, it was customary for slaves and masters to exchange roles, with the slaves relaxing as their masters did the cooking for them. The standard greeting during this period was “Io Saturnalia!”, and there is a theory that Santa Claus’s ‘Ho, ho, ho’ has its origins in this cry of “Io”. The 2nd-century Greek poet Lucian told us that the serious is barred and no business allowed at Saturnalia, but singing naked is encouraged.

The celebration of Christmas on December 25, just after Saturnalia, began in Rome after the conversion of Emperor Constantine in AD312.