One of my favorite times of the year from the perspective of being a teacher is the holidays. There is something that is just magical between the time Thanksgiving ends and the holiday break begins in December. Even though I teach high school students, they are still children at heart and get very excited to celebrate a holiday.
When I started teaching I wanted my classroom to reflect the magical atmosphere at this time of year but I also wanted my decorations to fit into a lesson and teach something to the students. Since I teach Latin classes, the most logical lesson for the students would be to teach them about the holiday that the Romans celebrated, called Saturnalia, and point out the similarities between this ancient holiday and our own.
The Romans celebrated Saturnalia around December 17th and original it was only a day or two in length. But as the popularity of this holiday grew, it was eventually extended to last for 7 full days. Saturnalia was meant to honor the agricultural god Saturn to whom the Romans prayed for a successful growing season. They chose December because it was the end of the fall harvest season and they could honor the god and thank him for a successful harvest and ask him to bring them a season rich in bounty for the next year.
The Romans would give each other gifts during Saturnalia, much like we do during the holiday season. Some of the popular gifts that Romans would give, according to the author Martial, were writing tablets, dice, a hat, perfume, books or other items of clothing. This list is very similar to the types of gifts we give nowadays for Christmas.
The Romans also liked to decorate their homes with garlands and candles to celebrate Saturnalia. They would usually gather at their festively decorated homes and have a big feast, with all the trimmings. The idea behind Saturnalia was to spend the holiday with friends and family which is what we usually do around this time of year.
So if you stop by my Latin classroom between the end of the Thanksgiving and the beginning of Christmas you will see lots and lots of lights, garlands and Saturnalia signs and cards. You will also see a little exchange of gifts for Saturnalia. The students are a little more merry, a little more happy to be in school, and a little more willing to learn some Latin.
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and Io Saturnalia!
Thanks for sharing, Melissa! Visit Melissa at her blog!