Even though Jesus was born during the reign of Augustus, first Roman emperor, the empire didn’t celebrate that birth until three centuries later when his birth date was moved to mid-winter to match the birth date of the sun god Mithra. The Romans already had a long tradition of celebrating the winter solstice. This celebration was called the Saturnalia. Here are three days in December, taken from my daybook, Pagan Every Day. (When I wrote this book in 2003, I wrote longer days. The publisher demanded that I reduce every day to 300 words. I edited them all down to 301 words.)
December 17: Saturnalia begins
Saturn, who was conflated with the Greek Titan, Cronus, was an ancient Latin agricultural god whose name may derive from satur, “stuffed,” or sator, “a sower”; in either case he stands for abundance. He was a working god who oversaw viniculture and farming, the king of Italy during the golden age. When Jupiter conquered him, he hid himself (latuit) in the region that came to be called Latium. The Romans said Saturn’s body lay beneath the Capitol in Rome. Because his reign brought prosperity to the city, the state treasury and the standards of the Roman legions were kept in his temple when the army was at home. Saturn’s statue was bound in woolen strips to keep him from leaving Rome.
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