Happy Saturnalia! 5 Songs for the Original Holidays

Categories: Miles-tones

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Why do we celebrate the birth of Christ in December? There's no solid date on the actual birth date of Jesus, but you have to pick a day. Why that one?

Well, a lot of it has to do with the festival of Saturnalia, which begins today. Saturnalia was one of the most widespread holidays in the Roman empire, and was dedicated to the Zeus' (Jupiter) dad Cronos (Saturn). Cronos was a harvest god who ate his kids before they could try and topple him, but was also responsible for a Golden Age of social equality and easy living that was totally not made up or anything.

Anyway, Saturnalia was supposed to be about remembering this period of goodness, and also featured a lot of the things we do for Christmas now that have little to do with the savior, like lights and widespread gift-giving. When Rome went Christian, many of the Saturnalian festivities were tacked onto their new holiday dedicated to Christ in order to sort of sneak-convert the remaining pagan worshippers. These pagan trappings are actually why a lot of Christians resisted the holiday for a long time.

My point is that Jesus isn't the reason for the season, just a reason. A good one, surely, but just one of many. Let's all take a minute to remember the old gods. This playlist is dedicated to you!

The Gutter Twins, "God's Children"
Two of underground rock's best front men, Greg Dulli and Mark Lanegan, got together to form Gutter Twins. Their album Saturnalia appropriately began recording on Christmas Day 2003, but the album wouldn't see the final light of day until five years later. It's a dark little record, but then again Saturn was kind of a dark guy. "God's Children" seemed like the perfect selection to mix old worship with new.


Meat Loaf, "In the Land of the Pig, the Butcher is King"
Although I've portrayed the festival of Saturnalia in a very bright light, this was a Roman festival and you know what that means. At the Temple of Saturn, a priest would offer a sacrifice of a suckling pig to the god in order to gain his favor. It was a pretty standard thing back then, but it still seems somewhat barbarous to modern ears. Meat Loaf's "In the Land of the Pig, the Butcher is King" from Bat Out of Hell III sums up my feelings on the matter.

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3 comments
Texans48
Texans48

Hey Cool Article Though Jef... I find from various sources that it was Constantine I (the great) that named christmas day as christmas day because the December celebrations were so popular at the time, it would seem that many cultures celebrated something around the Winter Solstice... LOL. In regard to my previous comment the Greeks did well but their bitter rivalry amongst themselves is how Rome ended them. Of course rome being so Syncretic as their culture allowed made it easy to assimilate everything greek to become everything roman. But Going to the modern day, Democracies don't really exist, only Republics with Democratic Elections... blah Blah Right? Thanks for the article though, cool enough

Texans48
Texans48

Why are you mentioning Greece at ALL?!?!? ROME Crushed Greece and went on to be the greatest civilization known to man... The Roman Gods are Way different than the Greek Gods, they're the name of your planets, The Earth should be called Terra (Terrestial), the Moon Luna (Lunar) and the Sun SOL (Solar). Not to mention our very form of government comes from Rome (Republic), our constitution, roman cement is still superior (especially under salt water), the Domes of our capital buildings are roman and so much more!!! HOW DARE YOU MENTION GREEK ANYTHING when speaking about Rome!!!! Not to mention the LATIN Language is the master language of over 30 Modern Languages and the Latin Alphabet is our Own English Alphabet... But Thanks for the Mention

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