Published November 24, 2007
December is a pivotal month when the sun reverses its course. We honor the reversal and the inversion theme through our customary rituals of December when we put aside our regular routines of work or school to celebrate the December holidays or we bring a tree growing wild in nature indoors to decorate with mementos and tokens. Follow nature's lesson, this season, and carryon this ancient Roman custom of inversion with your family, friends, or community. Identify the roles played by each family member and reverse them for fun, just for a few days around the time of the solstice. Have the children make decisions normally relegated to adults. Switch the household jobs or seating arrangements at the dining room table. Shake things up a bit! Do the unexpected! These small acts recall the spirit of the Saturnalia and are of religious significance, connecting directly with the natural world.
We look forward to this time of joy and anticipate a festive atmosphere when our lives change for just a little bit. Spiritually, we also seek a reconnection with the divine spirit. Gift giving then as now was a popular expression of friendship, love, and harmony. Along with the traditional gifts of candles and dolls, a variety of objects were purchased and exchanged between friends and family. In large families, presents were drawn blindfolded for gift exchange, much like today's "Secret Santa." You can imagine the crowded streets in ancient
Rome, full of men, women, and children rushing from shop to shop, searching for the perfect gift at the jewelers, the perfumers store, the leather shop, or the clothing store. People pushed and crowded into the wine dealers, the grocers, the pastry shops to buy the extra amphora of Falernian wine and the necessary ingredients for those special Saturnalia recipes.
The Rite Of Gift Giving, Small Offerings To Our Loved Ones
As for modern ritual, we already celebrate in December much as the ancient Romans did. The week surrounding the winter solstice is a time for celebration. gift giving, and also religious ritual. The darkest days call for celebration of the return of the light and the magical birth.
The Roman author Martial, who lived in the first century c.r.. published two collections of sayings. Each came out in December, the
Xenia in 83 CE. and the Apophoreta in 85 c.r.. and were meant to be of practical use during the Saturnalia. They were collections of clever two-line messages designed to accompany gifts given at the Saturnalia. Readers could then choose the saying that was most appropriate for their gift. The idea of Christmas cards and modern greeting cards is not new!
Gift Ideas for the Saturnalia Season
- Ivory writing tablet (ideal for those over forty years of age): "If wax tablets are too dim for your failing eyes, Paint this new white ivory tablet with large black letters!"
- Small writing tablets (for love letters or billing clients): "Because we are small, you may think that we are only used to write love letters. You're wrongl We can demand money as well."
- Letter paper: "Whether sent to a slight acquaintance or someone close, this paper will address everyone as 'Dear Friend.'''
- Wooden cashbox: "If you find anything in the bottom of this box, then it will be your present. Is there nothing? Then the box itself is your present."
- Case for writing materials: "So now that you have received this writing case, remember to fill it with pens. I have given you the larger case, you must furnish the lesser items."
- Gold hair pin: "So that your just washed wet hair will not ruin your silk hair bands. Let a gold pin fix and hold up your curly locks."
- Umbrella: "Accept a sunshade to fight off rays of the fierce sun. If there is wind or rain, this will cover you too."
- Bedroom lamp: "I am a lamp, confidante of your sweet bed. Do whatever you wish, I won't tell."
- Hand weights/dumbbells: "Why do your strong arms go to waste on these silly dumbbells? Get outside and dig a vineyard-this is better exercise for men." (49) Baby rattle: "If a baby clings to your neck, weeping, let him shake this noisy rattle with his small hand."
- Toothpaste: "Don't give me to an older person. Give me to a young gir!. l'm not in the habit of polishing false teeth bought at the store."
- Leather breast band/bra: "This small leather skin may not be large enough for your breasts. You may need an entire bull's hide."
- Strainer for snow (a metal colander held over a wine goblet in which a lump of snow was placed and wine strained through to chill it): "Take my advice, only use expensive wine with my snow. Anything cheaper will only stain your napkins."