What is Saturnalia? You may have heard of this Roman holiday, but the details are scant and fragmentary from Roman sources. This video explains what we know about Saturnalia and whether or not it influenced the institution of Christmas.
When it comes to festivals, parties, and downright debauchery, no one beats the folks of ancient Rome. Around the time of the winter solstice each year, they celebrated the festival of Saturnalia. As the name implies, this was a holiday in honor of the agricultural god, Saturn. This week-long party typically began around December 17th, so that it would end right around the day of the solstice.
Fertility rituals were performed at the temple of Saturn, including sacrifices. In addition to the large public rites, many private citizens held ceremonies honoring Saturn in their homes. One of the highlights of Saturnalia was the switching of traditional roles, particularly between a master and his slave. Everyone got to wear the red pileus, or freedman's hat, and slaves were free to be as impertinent as they wished to their owners. However, despite the appearance of a reversal of social order, there were actually some fairly strict boundaries. A master might serve his slaves dinner, but the slaves were the ones who prepared it — this kept Roman society in order, but still allowed everyone to have a good time.
Businesses and court proceedings closed up for the entire celebration, and food and drink were everywhere to be had. Elaborate feasts and banquets were held, and it wasn't unusual to exchange small gifts at these parties. A typical Saturnalia gift might be something like a writing tablet or tool, cups and spoons, clothing items, or food. Another popular present was the cerei, a tapered wax candle used in many temples and shrines.
Citizens decked their halls with boughs of greenery, and even hung small tin ornaments on bushes and trees. Bands of naked revelers often roamed the streets, singing and carousing, as a sort of naughty precursor to today's Christmas caroling tradition.
Not everyone was down with these shenanigans, though. Pliny the Younger was a bit of a Scrooge, and said,
In other words, Pliny didn't want to be pestered by merrymaking, and was perfectly happy to indulge himself in the solitude of his country home, away from the debauchery of the city. Saturnalia was considered a holy day — after all, it was held in honor of a major god — and so a number of religious rituals took place during the festivities. According to early legends, Saturn himself was sacrificed, so in some areas, mock sacrifices of the god took place. In some temples, an ivory statue of Saturn was portrayed with linen or woolen bonds around the feet and ankles. During Saturnalia, these bonds were loosened to represent Saturn's liberation. This ritual was typically followed by an elaborate public banquet.
In wealthier Roman households, the Saturnalicius princeps, or “leader of Saturnalia,” was selected from among the slaves. Similar to the custom of the Lord of Misrule in Britain, who appears around the Yule season, this person was responsible for organizing merrymaking and mischief during the celebrations. He was seen as the ruler of chaos, in direct contrast to the normal orderly manner of Roman life. In addition, he was in charge of making offerings to the Penates, who were Roman household gods associated with domestic life.
The traditional greeting at a Saturnalia celebration is, "Io, Saturnalia!" with the "Io" being pronounced as "Yo." So next time someone wishes you a happy holiday, feel free to respond with "Io, Saturnalia!" After all, if you lived in Roman times, Saturn was the reason for the season!
Saturnalia (from the god Saturn) was the name the Romans gave to their holiday marking the Winter Solstice. Over the years, it expanded to a whole week, the 17th through 23rd of December. It also degenerated from mostly tomfoolery, marked chiefly by having masters and slaves switch places, to sometimes debauchery, so that among Christians the (lower case) word "saturnalia" came to mean "orgy".
It was traditional for Romans to exchange gifts during this holiday. These gifts were customarily made of silver, although nearly anything could be given as a gift for the occasion. Several epigrams by the poet Martial survive, seemingly crafted as riddling gift-tags for gifts of food.
The customary greeting for the occasion is "Io, Saturnalia!" &mdash io (pronounced "yo") being a Latin interjection related to "ho" (as in "Ho, praise to Saturn").
It has been postulated that Christians in the fourth century assigned December 25th as Christ's birthday (and thus Christmas) because pagans already observed this day as a holiday. This would sidestep the problem of eliminating an already popular holiday while Christianizing the population. It created other problems because of the coexistence of the two feasts: see Bishop Asterius of Amasea's New Year's sermon in AD 400, discussed at the entry Lord of Misrule. The medieval celebration of the Feast of Fools was another continuation of Saturnalia into the Christian era.
Seneca the younger wrote about Rome during Saturnalia around AD 50:
It is now the month of December, when the greatest part of the city is in a bustle. Loose reins are given to public dissipation everywhere you may hear the sound of great preparations, as if there were some real difference between the days devoted to Saturn and those for transacting business. Were you here, I would willingly confer with you as to the plan of our conduct whether we should eve in our usual way, or, to avoid singularity, both take a better supper and throw off the toga. &mdash From Epistulae morales ad Lucilium
What is the origin of Christmas?
Christmas is a popular December holiday celebrated by large numbers of people all around the world. Christmas (or “the Mass of Christ”) has long been known as the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, and the celebration first began to be observed in the early fourth century. However, some traditions associated with Christmas actually began as a part of pagan culture these were “Christianized” and given new meaning by the church.
The exact date of Jesus’ birth is unknown, as the Bible does not give specifics as to the dates of either His birth or conception. But in the second century AD, a Roman Christian historian named Sextus Julius Africanus calculated Jesus’ birthdate to be December 25 (nine months after Jesus was conceived, according to Africanus). In spite of the assumptions made in Africanus’s line of thinking, the date of December 25 was widely accepted.
At the time of Christ, Roman culture already celebrated a holiday in December: Saturnalia honored the god Saturn and was celebrated from December 17 to about December 24. Later, the Romans began celebrating Sol Invictus or the “Unconquered Sun,” associated with the winter solstice and observed on December 25. When Rome eventually instituted Christianity as the state religion in the fourth century, the Roman church converted Saturnalia and Sol Invictus to a Christian holiday, the Feast of the Nativity, in order to commemorate Jesus’ birth, thus providing a spiritually positive alternative to a pagan celebration. The sinful customs and debauchery associated with Saturnalia were “cleaned up,” and some of the customs were absorbed into the celebration of Christmas. Christians have “redeemed” December 25 and have celebrated it as the birth of Christ ever since the fourth century.
The origin and history of the Christmas tree: from paganism to modern ubiquity
In the 1840s and 1850s Queen Victoria and Prince Albert popularised a new way of celebrating Christmas. This engraving from 1840 shows the two monarchs surrounded by children and gifts around a Christmas tree. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
For many, it’s unthinkable to celebrate Christmas without a beautiful evergreen fir in the living room decorated with sparkling ornaments and wrapped presents. Like most Christmas traditions, including the celebration of Christmas itself, the origin of the Christmas tree can be traced to pagan traditions. In fact, were it not for Queen Victoria, the most powerful monarch of her time, decorated fir trees might have remained an obscure custom that only a couple of Germanic and Slavic countries practiced. Here’s a brief rundown of the Christmas tree’s intriguing history.
Pagan origins of the Christmas treeAncient Egyptians used to decorate the temples dedicated to Ra, the god of the sun, with green palm during the Winter Solstice. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Long before Christianity appeared, people in the Northern Hemisphere used evergreen plants to decorate their homes, particularly the doors, to celebrate the Winter Solstice. On December 21 or December 22, the day is the shortest and the night the longest. Traditionally, this time of the year is seen as the return in strength of the sun god who had been weakened during winter — and the evergreen plants served as a reminder that the god would glow again and summer was to be expected.
The solstice was celebrated by the Egyptians who filled their homes with green palm rushes in honor of the god Ra, who had the head of a hawk and wore the sun as a crown. In Northern Europe, the Celts decorated their druid temples with evergreen boughs which signified everlasting life. Further up north, the Vikings thought evergreens were the plants of Balder, the god of light and peace. The ancient Romans marked the Winter Solstice with a feast called Saturnalia thrown in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture, and, like the Celts, decorated their homes and temples with evergreen boughs.
It’s worth mentioning at this point that Saturnalia was the most important celebration in Roman life. It was a week-long lawless celebration held between 17 and 25 December in which no one could be prosecuted for injuring or killing people, raping, theft — anything usually against the law really. But although a lot of people blew off steam by taking advantage of the lawlessness, Saturnalia could also be a time for kindness. During Saturnalia, many Romans practiced merrymaking and exchange of presents.
Sounds familiar? In the early days of Christianity, the birth of Jesus was set at the last day of Saturnalia by the first Christian Romans in power to approach pagans, even though scholars assert Jesus was born nine months later. It was a clever political ploy, some say, which in time transformed Saturnalia from a frat party marathon into a meek celebration of the birth of Christ.
While a lot of ancient cultures used evergreens around Christmas time, historical records suggest that the Christmas tree tradition was started in the 16th century by Germans who decorated fir trees inside their homes. In some Christian cults, Adam and Eve were considered saints, and people celebrated them during Christmas Eve.
During the 16th century, the late Middle Ages, it was not rare to see huge plays being performed in open-air during Adam and Eve day, which told the story of creation. As part of the performance, the Garden of Eden was symbolized by a “paradise tree” hung with fruit. The clergy banned these practices from the public life, considering them acts of heathenry. So, some collected evergreen branches or trees and brought them to their homes, in secret.
These evergreens were initially called ‘paradise trees’ and were often accompanied by wooden pyramids made of branches held together by rope. On these pyramids, some families would fasten and light candles, one for each family member. These were the precursors of modern Christmas tree lights and ornaments, along with edibles such as gingerbread and gold covered apples.
Some say the first to light a candle atop a Christmas tree was Martin Luther. Legend has it, late one evening around Christmas time, Luther was walking home through the woods when he was struck by the innocent beauty of starlight shining through fir trees. Wanting to share this experience with his family, Martin Luther cut down a fir tree and took it home. He placed a small candle on the branches to symbolize the Christmas sky.
What’s certain is that by 1605, Christmas trees were a thing as, in that year, historical records suggest the inhabitants of Strasburg ‘set up fir trees in the parlours … and hang thereon roses cut out of many-coloured paper, apples, wafers, gold-foil, sweets, etc.’
During these early days of the Christmas tree, many statesmen and members of the clergy condemned their use as a celebration of Christ. Lutheran minister Johann von Dannhauer, for instance, complained that the symbol distracted people from the true evergreen tree, Jesus Christ. The English Puritans condemned a number of customs associated with Christmas, such as the use of the Yule log, holly and mistletoe. Oliver Cromwell, the influential 17th-century British politician, preached against the “the heathen traditions” of Christmas carols, decorated trees, and any joyful expression that desecrated “that sacred event.”
The modern Christmas Tree
It wasn’t until the time of Queen Victoria that celebrating Christmas by bearing gifts around a fir tree became a worldwide custom. In 1846, Queen Victoria and her German husband Albert were sketched in the Illustrated London News standing with their children around a Christmas tree at Windsor Castle. German immigrants had brought the custom of Christmas trees to Britain with them in the early 1800s but the practice didn’t catch on with the locals. After Queen Victoria, an extremely popular monarch, started celebrating Christmas with fir trees and presents hung on the branches as a favor to her husband, the layfolk immediately followed suit.
Across the ocean, in the 19th century, Christmas trees weren’t at all popular, though Dutch and German settlers introduced them. Americans were less susceptible to the Queen’s influence. However, it was American civic leaders, artists, and authors who played on the image of a happy middle-class family exchanging gifts around a tree in an effort to replace Christmas customs that were seen as decadent, like wassailing. This family-centered image was further amplified by a very popular poem written by Clement Moore in 1822 known as the “Twas the Night Before Christmas”. The same poem conjured the modern picture of Santa Claus.
It took a long time before the Christmas tree became an integral part of American life during this faithful night. President Franklin Pierce (1804-1869) arranged to have the first Christmas tree in the White House, during the mid-1850s. President Calvin Coolidge (1885-1933) started the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on the White House lawn in 1923.
Though traditionally not all Christian cultures adorned their homes with evergreens and presents, the influence exerted by the West and rising consumerism has turned the Christmas tree into a ubiquitous symbol. In fact, many people of other faiths have adopted the Christmas tree (See Japan for instance).
Christmas: Origin, History, & Traditions
The definition of the word "holiday" reveals a religious element of which many people are unaware.
Holiday: "a religious festival [a] holy day." (Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary)
Christmas is a religious holiday. Despite all the commercial trappings of the modern celebration, Christmas remains, at heart, a religious festival. It is a time when a deity is remembered and honored.
Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas time. They exchange gifts in honor of the "greatest gift ever given." They say: "Jesus is the Reason for the Season!!" and speak of putting the Christ back into Christmas.
The problem is, Yahushua the Saviour was never "in" Christmas to begin with! While Scripture does not supply the Saviour's birth date, most scholars agree that He was born in the fall, not December 25!
To discover the god being honored at Christmas, it is necessary to trace its pagan origins. Celebrations on December 25 began shortly after the flood with the birth of Tammuz as the reincarnation of Nimrod. Today's Christmas traditions come directly from ancient Babylon and pagan Rome.
The Romans were not alone in worshipping this evil god. Worship of Saturn was prevalent in the ancient world. Even the Israelites worshipped Saturn when in rebellion against heaven. The god Israel most frequently worshipped when in apostasy, was the god Saturn, (referred to in the Bible as Chiun, Molech, or Remphan.) Even the Israelites offered their children in sacrifice to this vile, blood-thirsty god.
"Saturn had become the champion of African paganism [as well] . . . indeed as Baal-Hammon in Phoenician Carthage, he was the object of child sacrifice . . . . Although a fertility god, Saturn-Baal . . . was nonetheless ruthless in the sacrifices he exacted." (Quodvultdeus of Carthage, translation and commentaries, Thomas Macy Finn, pp. 14 & 115.)
Although the Romans quit offering human sacrifice early on, blood was still spilled by the gladiators during the Saturnalia celebrations in December. Saturnalia was a religious celebration and all understood that the blood shed by gladiators was a sacrificial offering to Saturn.
"The gladiatorial shows were sacred [to Saturn]." (Johann D. Fuss, Roman Antiquities, p. 359)
"The amphitheatre claims its gladiators for itself, when at the end of December they propitiate with their blood the sickle-bearing Son of Heaven [Saturn]." (Ausonius, Eclog, i. p. 156)
"The gladiators fought on the Saturnalia, and . . . they did so for the purpose of appeasing and propitiating Saturn." (Justus Lipsius, tom. ii. Saturnalia Sermonum Libri Duo, Qui De Gladiatoribus, lib. i. cap. 5)
"The principle on which these [gladiatorial] shows were conducted was . . . [that] they were celebrated as propitiatory sacrifices . . . when such multitudes of men were 'Butchered to make a Roman holiday.' When it is remembered that Saturn himself was cut in pieces, it is easy to see how the idea would arise of offering a welcome sacrifice to him by setting men to cut one another in pieces on his birthday, by way of propitiating his favor." (Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons, p. 153)
Despite the violence and bloodshed, Saturnalia was a time of feasting and merry making. The various ancient celebrations honoring this most blood-thirsty god have come down to today as the much-beloved Christmas traditions celebrated the world over.
- the Twelve Days of Christmas
- treats left out in the evening
- Christmas trees decorated with lights (originally candles made from the fat of the burned bodies of child sacrifice victims)
- Christmas trees hung with balls (anciently decapitated heads of sacrificial victims)
- parties with noise-makers
- gift exchanges
- kissing under the mistletoe
- holly berries (the food of the gods)
- evergreen boughs
- caroling from house to house (originally done by naked singers engaging in licentious behavior)
- "Advent" candles
- Christmas cards
- . . . and many more.
Saturn, the evil, child-sacrifice demanding old man, appears in modern society in two more guises. Every December, Saturn, the god of time, reemerges as "Old Father Time." Baby New Year is a symbol of the child-victim.
A chilling representation of Father Time with Baby New Year can be found in this illustration from the 19th century (below). Father Time, (Saturn, as the god of time), is standing in front of a large clock, holding his scythe. The old years are passing away as full-grown bodies wrapped in burial shrouds. The New Year is coming in as a young child. While the picture is quite dark, light from the fire is lighting the little boy while on either side are swirls of smoke. The new years still to come are portrayed as children ready to be sacrificed. Victims of child sacrifice were always heavily veiled so that their parents would not recognize when their child was burned. All the grotesque elements of this hideous god are contained in this picture.
Saturn also emerges in modern society as the Grim Reaper, gathering in his bleak harvest of souls. Very few in modern society have recognized that Father Christmas, the Grim Reaper and Old Father Time are none other than this most loathsome of all the gods. However, an ancient would immediately recognize them all as being none other than Saturn. The emblems which identified Saturn are the same which identify Old Father Time and the Grim Reaper: scythes and something to mark the passage of time.
There are many excuses given by sincere people today for clinging to pagan holidays honoring Saturn:
- "Christmas is a wonderful time for spending with family. We are so busy throughout the year this is really our only chance to get together."
- "Christmas is a great time to witness! People are more open at this time of year so I use it as an opportunity to share."
- "Christmas is the only holiday that really focuses on Jesus!"
- "I know that Jesus was not really born then. I am not deceived. Besides, I am not worshipping any pagan gods, so it is alright for me!"
The pagans were ignorant of Yahuwah, the Creator. They worshipped demon gods because they did not know any better. The same cannot be said of Christians today.
"The times of this ignorance . . . [Yahuwah] winked at but now commandeth all men every where to repent." (Acts 17:30, KJV)
To know that Christmas is a pagan holiday, to know that the modern rituals are identical to the ancient pagan rites that honored Saturn, and yet to claim exemption from sin because one knows, is extremely inconsistent.
Christmas is truly a holiday: a religious festival. By honoring the evil god, Saturn, DIShonor is given to Yahuwah, the Creator of Heaven and Earth.
The Saviour Himself stated a divine principle when He said:
"No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve . . . [Yahuwah] and mammon." (Matthew 6:24)
Saturn, more than any other false god, had attributes most similar to Satan himself. Christmas is his religious festival. Participation in Christmas celebrations gives honor to this evil, satanic deity.
The words of a loving Father to backsliding Israel resound with force for Christians today:
"Surely as a wife treacherously departeth from her husband, so have ye dealt treacherously with Me, O house of Israel, saith . . . [Yahuwah.] . . . for they have perverted their way, and they have forgotten . . . [Yahuwah their Covenant Keeper]. Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings." (Jeremiah 3:20-22)
Participation in pagan traditions dishonors the Creator. Return to your loving Redeemer.
"For what accord has Christ with Belial [evil]? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of . . . [Yahuwah] with idols? . . . Come out from among them and be separate, says . . . [Yahuwah]. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you." (2 Corinthians 6:15-17)
Come out from among them! Do not touch what is unclean!!
Into the Darkest Moment of a Dark Year Comes the Saturnalia, a Time for Drinking, Swearing, Gambling, and the Circle of LifeImage from 'The Roman Festival of Saturnalia' by Severino Baraldi
Christmas is nearly upon us, and for those observing this means smaller if not cancelled family gatherings. In this long and draining year, why not find consolation in the spirit of the Saturnalia as a well-deserved break from 2020?
“December liberty,” as Roman poet Horace called it, the best of days! The Saturnalia used to be a beloved ancient Roman pagan festival, which was held right before the winter solstice, from 17 to 23 December in the old Julian calendar. It was a time of unlicensed celebration referring to a golden age without morality and rules. It praised life, and the mysteries surrounding the sun’s disappearance from our lives. It promoted role reversals, free speech, and libationary merriment of Dionysian proportions involving drinking, swearing and gambling, with banquets and food sacrificed to deities.
It even marked a truce period no wars could be declared during the Saturnalia (but occasional murders occurred taking advantage of the distractions). On 19 December, gifts would be exchanged. Green garlands would decorate homes. People nominated a “King of the Saturnalia” (though please excuse me while I modernise tradition and nominate myself Queen in my living room to oversee the ceremonies alone).
In a year of prolonged lockdowns, it’s easy to lose track of temporality altogether. Wasn’t March just yesterday, and a hundred years ago at the same time? Seasons and ancient rites anchor us. They give significance to time, and how we relate to it. Myths provide the enchantment and touch of magic that have so often been missing this year. I always turn to them when I feel a deep void.
We’ve heard of—and for some directly experienced—seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which explains how the sun’s brief retreat impacts our mood and energy levels. The winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, also invites an exploration of obscurity. In archaic times, it was a critical passage of symbolic and cultural value. It embodied a threshold between death and rebirth. The low-rising sun casts long shadows. Winter light seems crispier, cruder and demands greater truth.
The sun, an allegory of cosmic fire, the essence of vitality, returns to our existence after the Saturnalia. Longer and warmer days bring seeds to germinate and buds to bloom and blossom. “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?” asked Percy Shelley. If we think of time and history in cyclical terms like the ancients did and many Eastern cultures still do, the Saturnalia and winter solstice celebrate the eternal return of life. After death, comes rebirth, and once reborn the world will grow, decline and die once more.
Porphyry of Tyre, a Phoenician philosopher from the 3 rd century, summarized it best when he linked the Saturnalia to an emancipation towards immortality. If our soul and being routinely die, then they never really perish (think how we go to sleep and wake up every day). Taming what we lose, or gain, in this death and rebirth process is the object of ritualistic conjurations. We bury 2020, before accepting the regeneration offered by 2021 and the sun’s victory over night. Professor, historian and philosopher Mircea Eliade referred to this phenomenon as a repetition of Cosmos winning over Chaos in mythological cosmogonies.
Who is this Saturn then who lent his name to the Saturnalia? Saturn, or Chronos in Greek, was originally said to have ruled over fellow Titans, the primordial divinities, before his son Zeus and his Olympian gang overthrew him and others. He’s also Father Time, or the personification of time, and the two identities have been commonly merged. There are many stories about Chronos: as a child eater (time devouring all life and aspirations, and the reason why Zeus gets rid of him), as the producer of Chaos, and the force that turns the wheels of the zodiac—i.e. time which has a past, a present and a future.
Saturn became a god of seed and sowing, a revered patriarch and father of Jupiter in the Roman Pantheon. The Romans had a talent for what we would today call cultural appropriation, incorporating Greek or Near Eastern cults to create their own syncretic practice. He’s represented as an old man with a sickle, a figure embracing seasons and aging, the incarnation of a slow metamorphosis. The sickle is a promise of reward (plentiful harvests), which also carries hurt (a potential weapon, reaper). This darkness may explain why Saturn-Chronos is associated with the underworld. It’s a “chthonic” god belonging to an era before civilization constrained men with societal codes and rigidities. During the Saturnalia, they break free of restrictions, provided that order (Cosmos) be restored at the end of the festival.
There’s nothing more appropriate to reflect on in a pandemic year of grief which has forced us to reconsider fragility, finitude and time. During these shorter days and longer nights, as we may or may not put up a Christmas tree in our homes, we can think of ancient rites and mythology as a guiding light amid uncertainties.
We can indulge in an epicurean week of physically-distanced transcendence, of fun and liberation, observing the present becoming our past and warmer days of abundance inching closer.
While our connection to land and agricultural harvests is less vivid in the city where I live, reviving the memory of happier days—real or imaginary—and letting go of the quotidian weight aren’t. Sometimes that’s the only comfort which we can afford, and ultimately cherish. My Saturnalia crown awaits nearby.
History of Christmas Tree
One of the most prominent symbols during Christmas time is the, Tree. The Romans hung fertility symbols on trees to worship Bacchus, the Greek Dionysus.
The Caucasian European worshiped the evergreen tree as they were amazed by its ability to stay green during the winter. They decorated their houses with anything green that they could find.
Origin of Christmas Lights Pagan – Yule Log
Lights were of great significance to the European as they worshiped the warmth and light that fire brought to Europe during their often foggy and inclimate weather.
The burning of the Yule log was a reminent celebration of Musa teaching the caveman how to heat his cave in 2,000 B.C.
During the Puritain prohibition lights were placed in the window of homes to let the Catholic Priest know that the yultide was being celebrated in that home.
History of Santa Clause (Satan’s Cause)
The name Santa Clause is derived form the Dutch name “Sinter Klaas” the dutch name for St. Nicholas, a 4th Century bishop of Asia Minor.
German Mythology contest that Santa or Satan first appeared as a hairy imp named Pelz Nichol.
In Holland, The name “old Nick” was terminology for “the devil” .
After the protestant reformation the name St. Nicholas was replaced by the name Christ Kindl or Christ Kindli meaning Christ Kind in parts of Germany and Switzerland. From this name Kris Kringle, a fat elf or hairy imp, was created as the symbol for the one bearing gift during the time of Christmas.
The modern image of Santa/Satan was created in 1822 by American minister and poet Clement C. Moore in his famous poem “T’was the Night Before Christmas.” This poem described a sled pulled by reindeers and Santa’s fur trimmed suit.
The Truth About Christmas During Slavery
In 1882 Frederick Douglas relates speaks on his experience as a slave during Chistmas time. He speaks on the use of Christmas as a tool to pacify the slave. Frederick Douglas states:
“We were induced to drink, I among the rest, and when the holidays were over we all staggered up from our filth and wallowing, took a long breath and went away to our various fields of work, feeling upon the whole, rather glad to go from that which our masters had artfully deceived us into the belief was freedom, back again to the arms of slavery. It was not what we had taken it to be, nor what it would have been, had it not been abused by us. It was about as well to be a slave to master, as to be a slave to whiskey and rum. When the slave was drunk the slaveholder had no fear that he would escape to the North. It was the sober, thoughtful slave who was dangerous and needed the vigillance of his master to keep him a slave.”
Roman Time and Saturnalia
Before we get into the texts discussing timing, it is important to understand how Romans referenced time. Unlike modern times, whereby we number every day, the Romans divided a month into three parts: the first of a month, known as the Kalends, the middle or Ides of a month (as in "Beware the Ides of March" from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar), and the space in between them known as the Nones. Other dates were referenced as before these three points, so the 25th of December would be eight days before the Kalends of January.1
When studying the ancient reference to Saturnalia, a primary source we have is written by the Roman Macrobius , who lived in the fifth century. His work Saturnalia provides much of the details of the origin stories of the celebration as well as its customs. Ancient texts scholar T.C. Schmidt highlighted this passage from Saturnalia Book 1, chapter 10 giving the dates of the celebration:
Our ancestors restricted the Saturnalia to a single day, the fourteenth before the Kalends of January, but, after Gaius Caesar had added two days to December, the day on which the festival was held became the sixteenth before the Kalends of January, with the result that, since the exact day was not commonly known—some observing the addition which Caesar had made to the calendar and others following the old usage —the festival came to be regarded as lasting for more days than one.
And yet in fact among the men of old time there were some who supposed that the Saturnalia lasted for seven days…
[But] one can infer, then, from all that has been said, that the Saturnalia lasted but one day and was held only on the fourteenth day before the Kalends of January it was on this day alone that the shout of "Io Saturnalia" would be raised, in the temple of Saturn, at a riotous feast. Now, however, during the celebration of the Saturnalia, this day is allotted to the festival of the Opalia, although the day was first assigned to Saturn and Ops in common.2
Just deformable enough
Credit: by-studio / Adobe Stock
What makes conventional metal so strong is not just its atoms but the interactions between the atoms and the ways in which they slide against each other. The sliding allows for a small amount of elastoplastic deformation when pressure is applied, endowing metals with just enough malleability not to break, crack, or shatter.
Co-author Florian Raible of Max Perutz Labs surmises, "The construction principle that has made bristle worm jaws so successful apparently originated about 500 million years ago."
Raible explains, "The metal ions are incorporated directly into the protein chains and then ensure that different protein chains are held together." This leads to the creation of three-dimensional shapes the bristle worm can pack together into a structure that's just malleable enough to withstand a significant amount of force.
"It is precisely this combination," says the study's lead author Luis Zelaya-Lainez, "of high strength and deformability that is normally characteristic of metals.
So the bristle worm jaw is both metal-like and yet not. As Zelaya-Lainez puts it, "Here we are dealing with a completely different material, but interestingly, the metal atoms still provide strength and deformability there, just like in a piece of metal."
Observing the creation of a metal-like material from biological processes is a bit of a surprise and may suggest new approaches to materials development. "Biology could serve as inspiration here," says Hellmich, "for completely new kinds of materials. Perhaps it is even possible to produce high-performance materials in a biological way — much more efficiently and environmentally friendly than we manage today."