Saturnalia: the gift that keeps giving


Photo provided by: Makayla Martindale

On the last week of school before Winter Break, Robert Payne II and the Latin classes hold their annual celebration of Saturnalia. Although COVID-19 has thrown off many events this year, Payne did not allow this holiday festivity to be deterred. For returning Latin students, the age old tradition of dressing in togas, gift-giving, singing, and sharing a Saturnalia feast has been modified, while first year Latin students made the best of their circumstances. This year, the Latin 1 class got to participate in a small gift giveaway, sing festive holiday songs translated to Latin, decorate the classroom, and watch Frosty the Snowman. The continuation of these Latin traditions has helped spread the joy of the holiday season to many around the school.

Makayla Martindale, Staff Reporter

With the upcoming holiday season, Christmas and Hanukkah tend to overtake people’s minds. However, Latin teacher Robert Payne II ensures that ancient traditions are not lost. Payne celebrates Saturnalia with his students to introduce them to ancient Roman culture. 

Saturnalia is an ancient Roman holiday that honors Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture. It is traditionally held between Dec. 17 and Dec. 23, during the Winter Solstice. This holiday includes socializing, playing music, and gift-giving, specifically candles to represent the return of light after the Winter Solstice. Although some have different beliefs, many of these customs were embraced by other Winter holidays.

Saturnalia was the Roman celebration of mid-winter,” Payne said. “It was a time to mark people’s passing through the darkest days of winter and to have hope for the coming of spring. It directly influenced certain aspects of our Christmas-time customs.”

Prior to celebrating Saturnalia, Payne teaches his students ancient Roman culture by incorporating festive Latin songs, togas made of bedsheets, and a gift exchange throughout the festivities.

Togas, room decorating, gift giveaways and, in normal, non-COVID school years, a feast, all serve to directly reflect what the Romans did to celebrate this festival,” Payne said. “It gives them [the students] more of a hands-on experience and taste of the culture. That’s better than any book or lecture can accomplish.

Although there were restrictions on certain Saturnalia activities due to COVID-19 this year, like the loss of the well-known Saturnalia feast, Payne believes it is essential to allow the Latin students to experience the joy that Saturnalia brings.

The number of activities we can engage in has been drastically curtailed due to safety considerations,” Payne said. “But it is a fun activity that is beloved by students, so I figured that some experience of Saturnalia is preferable to no experience of Saturnalia.”

This longtime tradition that has been passed down through the years gives students the opportunity to experience foreign culture in unique ways and enhance their Latin experience, which often prompts many to continue to take the class and learn about Roman customs.

Students who are new to Latin often have heard this activity described by veteran Latin students,” Payne said. “As a result, they become excited to experience Saturnalia for themselves. For many students, the fond memory of the festival years after they have left Latin and LBHS is the most enduring part of Saturnalia.”