Did you know the Romans had their own winter festival? Saturnalia was the most popular Roman holiday of the year, taking place in the middle of winter. It celebrated Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture.

What began as a one-day festival later became a weeklong holiday from 17th-23rd December where people decorated their homes, played games and gave presents. Sound familiar? We asked the team at the Roman Baths how you can bring a Roman touch to your seasonal festivities this year:

1. Decorate your home with greenery

Long before the introduction of Christmas trees, Romans used wreaths and other decorations made from natural sources to bring Saturnalia into their dwellings. 

2. Bring gifts to your loved ones

Saturnalia was the season of gift-giving. Pottery or wax figures known as sigillaria were given, as well as wax taper candles, known as cerei. They marked the returning of lighter days after the winter solstice. The shop at the Roman Baths sells a Roman-inspired scented candle complete with its own terracotta amphora.

Roman Baths decorations in shop

3. Celebrate for seven days

Although the length of Saturnalia varied during the Roman period, most people spent a week not working and instead feasting and having fun. Perhaps they also visited their favourite bath house? The Roman Baths will be open throughout the festive season, except 25 and 26 December.  

The Great Bath at Roman Baths

4. Play games

Popular Roman games included Merels, a board game with counters and Dux which is a little like Draughts. Take a look at the Roman Things to Make and Do on the Roman Baths website for instructions on how to play some of these games.

5. Wear informal clothes

Romans put away their togas and wore everyday clothing known as synthesis. Meet the costumed characters around the Great Bath and see what they will be wearing for Saturnalia.

costumed characters with family

6. Hide coins or small objects around the house

Originally, Romans hid coins in cakes. The person who found the coin became ‘king’ or Saturnalicius princeps “leader of Saturnalia.” As the mock king it was their role to make mischief during the celebrations, just like some modern-day pantomime characters. If you visit the Roman Baths on Saturday 16th December they’ll be running a panto-themed family craft workshop.

Roman coins in shop

7. Indulge in festive food and drink

Sharing food and drink with all the household was key to Saturnalia, especially as it celebrated the god of harvest. The pop-up bar by the Great Bath will be selling hot and cold drinks and the shop will be filled with food-themed decorations perfect for the Christmas table. 

Couple drinking fizz at The Great Bath

8. Pick up some tips from the Romans of Aquae Sulis (Bath)

Costumed characters will be getting ready for Saturnalia at the Roman Baths throughout the festive season. Listen to their stories about how this this winter festival was celebrated two thousand years ago. 

This blog was sponsored by the Roman Baths.

Roman Baths Christmas ad


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