Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Saturnalia and Christmas

Saturn is the Roman Chronos, an early Titan in the history of the evolution of the gods and man, the son of the Earth and Sky. He defeats his siblings and, in fear of a prophesy that he will be overthrown by a son, eats his children. One child, Zeus, is hidden by his mother and grows to rescue his siblings and overthrow his father.

Saturn is the original fertility symbol in mythology, preceding Persephone in chronology and hierarchy. He does not quite fit the popular notion of a historical evolutionary progression away from female fertility goddesses to the more combative male deities. As the second layer of the gods, supplanted by Zeus and his siblings, he is much less active but had a significant old mythological following.

Saturnalia originated as a farmer's festival to mark the end of the autumn planting season  (satus means sowing). It started as a two day celebration but grew longer and later; it was seven days around the winter solstice in the third century A.D., when numerous archaeological sites demonstrate that the cult of Saturn still survived. The poet Lucian of Samosata (AD 120-180) has the god Cronos (Saturn) say in his poem, Saturnalia:
During my week the serious is barred: no business is allowed. Drinking and being drunk, noise and games of dice, appointing of kings and feasting of slaves, singing naked, occasional dunking of corked faces in icy water--such are the functions over which I preside. 
A public holiday with gifts, masters and slaves swapping clothes, the strange election of a temporary house "monarch." A time for feasting, goodwill, generosity to the poor, the exchange of gifts and the decoration of trees.
By that time, with Christianity well established, it is difficult to determine which gave and took. 


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