It's that time of year again, mes amis, a time to celebrate and give gifts and all of that good stuff. Presents under the tree, satsumas (or clementines) in the stockings, a nice goose or tofurkey roast for Boxing Day and a glass or two of good port... the traditional things. And, of course, no Christmas would be complete without re-reading 'The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle' (the only Sherlock Holmes story set at Christmastide), and at least one of Dickens' Christmas books or stories - those are my traditions, anyway.
It's not only Christmas time, of course. It's also Saturnalia, as the citizens of Nova Roma will know. It was thinking of the Feast of Saturn which has led me to open my copy of the Oxford Classical Dictionary ( Wiki | listing on Amazon ) for the first time in a very long time indeed. Originally a single day festival falling on 17 December, Saturnalia was eventually expanded to a week, although there were always spoilers attempting to cut that time back to three or five days (Augustus and Caligula being two of them). Although its origins are shrouded in some uncertainty, Saturnalia was meant commemorate the end of fall planting under the auspices of the Roman god Saturn, who in this incarnation was a god of the sowing of fields. A "Lord of Misrule" (saturnalicius princeps) was elected to sit outside the Temple of Saturn on the Capitoline in Rome. The holiday featured the exchange of gifts (sigillaria), banquets, and the reversal of master and slave roles (Rome, like every major state of this time, held a large population of slaves). It was a time intended for merriment and good-natured japery. In short, it sounds like it would have been a fun time.
This custom of feasting and gift-giving at the end of December has been thought to be the the inspiration for the eventual take-over, by the upstart Christian movement, of the 25th of December as their high holy day (the Nativity), although that didn't officially happen until the 4th century CE. The date of 25 December specifically was previously the feast day of the Sol Invictus ("unconquered sun") cult, a Roman Imperial successor (or addition) to the revels of Saturnalia. Many of the other customs (greenery, lights, charity) belong to the Roman New Year, which originally fell on 1st March, until the calendar reforms under Julius Caesar in the first century BCE moved the day to 1st January. Knowing this, those of us who fall in the non-theist category could be forgiven for looking on the whole modern Christmas celebration somewhat cynically, if simply from an historical perspective. At such a great historical remove from the Roman era, it is easier for people not to understand the history that they may or may not understand as well as they think.
Never minding what you celebrate at this time of year, though: be certain to consider those less fortunate than yourself. Personally, I haven't exactly had a stellar year (the second half has been better than the first, though), but in difficult times, it's more important, rather than less, to remember others less fortunate than ourselves, and to be heartily grateful for what we do have (which I am). At least, that's what my humanist's moral compass and atheist's ethical system tell me. Scroll back to my potato days entry for suggestions of possible donation sites, or give some tinned food to a local food pantry. Find a charity that supports causes in which you can believe, and help them out. It's usually pretty simple.
And once you've done that? Make a little merry, as much as you can.