Temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum, Rome, Italy
© Joe Daniel Price/Getty Image
When in Rome... celebrate Saturnalia
We're looking at the Temple of Saturn, one of the oldest structures of the Forum in Rome. It was here that ancient Romans began their celebrations of Saturnalia, which began on December 17. Both the temple and the festival are dedicated to the agricultural god Saturn, whose reign was associated with a golden age of prosperity and peace. Saturnalia festivities kicked off with a sacrifice at the temple, followed by a public banquet and a week of general merrymaking. Activities included gambling, eating, drinking, and playing music. Businesses and schools closed, and even slaves were free from work and allowed to participate in the merrymaking. Many Saturnalia customs evolved into Christmas traditions, such as gift giving, decorating homes with wreaths, and drinking spiced wine.