Before Christmas was celebrated, people were finding time to celebrate in Europe during the winter holiday before the birth of Jesus Christ ever even occurred!
The Winter Solstice has always been a time to celebrate and rejoice; it is celebrated on December 21 in the northern hemisphere and it was after the Winter Solstice that the worst part of the year was behind them.
It was at that point during the year that the days began to get longer, giving the people more time to spend outside on their crops and tending to their animals.
In Scandinavia during the Winter Solstice, men and their sons used to go in to the woods to cut a tree down. After the tree had been felled, a nicely sized log was cut out of it, and the men would carry the log back to the home. This log was dubbed a Yule Log, and the Yule log was burned in the fireplace. The entire time the Yule log burned, the family would feast.
Often times the Yule log might burn for a whole twelve days! Of course, as the Yule log burned it sent sparks out of the hearth and as the sparks flew out of the fire place, the family would count the sparks and each spark stood for a farm animal (a cow, a goat, a pig, etc) that would be born on their property that year. It is important to note that farm animals were signs of wealth back then.
Saturnalia is a celebration of the Winter Solstice that occurred in ancient pagan Rome. Saturnalia was celebrated in honor of the god of agriculture, who was named Saturn. During the time of Saturnalia, the entire Roman empire is in a state of social disarray. Servants and peasants spend time with and celebrate the holiday with people of higher classes, which was a rarity back then.
The Saturnalia festival in itself can last as long as an entire week in Rome. During that time, people rejoiced all over the country of Rome. The phrase ‘eat, drink, and be merry’ was played out to its fullest. Shops and businesses are closed during the Festival of fullest. Shops and businesses are closed during the Festival of Saturnalia. Following the first week of Saturnalia, the festival itself usually ends, but the Saturnalia period itself does not end.
In addition to Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture, the Romans also worshipped an infant type god named Methra, who was carved out of a rock. On Mithra’s birthday, people also rejoiced, just as they did during Saturnalia. The day of this rock god’s birthday was one of the most sacred days of the year for the Roman people. It was a time for celebration and togetherness, and for family.