It was on this date, December 17, that the ancient Roman version of the universal midwinter nature festival which they called Saturnalia began. The week-long festival was named in honor of Saturn, the Roman god of the sowing of the harvest, and in its earliest forms included a death ritual, commemorating winter. The holiday was one of many that Roman slaves enjoyed throughout the year – demonstrating that pagan slaves were treated far better than Christian serfs – and one eagerly anticipated because, for a day, slaves were waited on by their masters.
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Originally published December 2003 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.