How Pagan Holiday Traditions Live On Today

The history behind Kronia, Saturnalia, and Lupercalia.

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Kronia / Saturnalia / Christmas

The Greek festival of , held in summer, celebrated the mythical utopia known as ‘The Golden Age’ when Cronus ruled Earth.

The Greeks celebrated Kronia by recreating aspects of the . Owners released their slaves from household chores, invited them to sup at their table, and played dice and other games of chance.

The Romans, who derived much of their culture from the Greeks, adopted and modified the festival. They called the holiday ‘ ’, after the Roman god, Saturn.

Instead of celebrating during harvest time, the Romans observed Saturnalia during the winter solstice week in December.

For the stoic Romans, the festival was a time to let one’s hair down. Gambling — typically frowned upon — was encouraged.

They also took the Greek traditions a step further. Not only were slaves freed from their duties, but a role reversal also took place in which slave masters would cook and serve meals to their slaves.

In addition, Romans were fond of giving gifts. Most were small wax figurines known as , that depicted a Roman god or mythical figure.

There are also accounts of Romans appointing a ‘ ’.

This person, selected by lot, would serve as ‘King of Saturnalia’. His every command, however ridiculous, had to be followed.

By the fourth century, Christianity was on the rise, and Roman pagan traditions were on the wane.

decreed that Christ’s birthday should be celebrated on December 25, which coincided with Saturnalia.

Over the centuries, Saturnalia faded away, but some of its traditions — like gift-giving at the winter solstice — continue to this day.


Ever had the urge to strip naked, don a loincloth and run through the streets striking people with a furry thong? If so — seek help.

But if you were an ancient Roman, that’s just how you partied on . The festival took place annually on February 13–15, and it’s how the month of February got its name (the Latin name was ‘dies Februatus’).

Young noblemen (Luperci) sacrificed goats and a dog, then ran through the streets with the animals’ hides. If they encountered women of childbearing age, they would playfully smack them with the hides — thus passing on a fertility blessing from the gods.

After the fall of Rome, Lupercalia faded into obscurity.

However, St. Valentine’s Day shares some traditions with that strange festival.

Celebrated on February 14 — like Lupercalia — Valentine’s Day is, essentially, a fertility festival. Young people, in particular, are encouraged to make romantic advances with springtime only weeks away.

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