In ancient Rome the days that went from the 17th to the 23rd of December were dedicated to the god Saturn, and the festivity called Saturnalia was characterized, amongst other things, by role reversals and behavioral license.
Saturnalia's symbolical nature was to reestablish for a brief time of the year the mythical Golden Age -the reign of Saturn- where all men were equal and were free of encumbering social norms. That is why they included orgies, great banquets and occasions in which people met and socialized, played games and even gambled -something normally prohibited or at least frowned upon.
They were the most joyful and merry festivity of the year, a salutation to the dying winter sun and a call for the new year's sun to bring renewal and life. So merry and hearty they were that subsequently not even the Church managed to eradicate the idea that these days were to be a time for uninhibited, licentious joy.
Our ancient deities were never just good or evil: they had a double nature, because they represented the duplicity of our own nature, what Nietzsche called the Apollinian and the Dionysian. The very purpose of religion (from latin "relego", which is also the root of "relegate") was to enclose and contain the human madness. Saturn is a god of plenty of harvest, but he is also herald of the end of the seasons' cycle, of death and renewal, and was often represented with a scythe.
Contrarily, by removing the dark side entirely from the religious sphere, christianity presented itself like a very reassuring religion, but one that has no place or explanation for evil or suffering. So much that Augustine of Hippo went as far as saying that "evil is the absence of good". As if one could really call things like Auschwitz a mere "absence of good". It also leads to the rejection and inability to accept death that pervades the modern western society.
Saturnalia was a festival linked to the winter solstice and the renewal of light. The coming of the new year was celebrated in the later Roman Empire at the Dies Natalis of Sol Invictus, the "Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun," on December 25.
The Sigillaria on December 23 was a day of gift-giving.
Romans of citizen status normally went about bare-headed, but for the Saturnalia donned the pilleus, the conical felt cap that was the usual mark of a freedman. Slaves, who ordinarily were not entitled to wear the pilleus, wore it as well, so that everyone was "pilleated" without distinction. It was the time of the year where social hierarchy didn't matter, all were equals and celebrated in merriment the end of the year and greeting each other with the customary salute: "io Saturnalia!"
This comes one day late but anyways... I thought I'd include my most frequent characters in this greeting card. Meet again Vanessa, the Ivory Lioness and, in the background, Envoy.
Enjoy and io Saturnalia!