The history of Saturnalia began with the dedication of the Temple of Saturn in around 498 BCE, one of the oldest religious sanctuaries to have been built in Rome. The dies natalis (anniversary) of the dedication of the temple was celebrated on December 17, but became such a popular celebration that it was extended to three days, then to an entire week, from December 17 to 23.
The mythical Age of Saturn was an era when crops grew without human toil, and humanity lived in harmony with nature and each other. This was recalled in the Saturnalia celebration with the reversal of normal societal roles: bosses gave bonuses to their employees, masters served meals to slaves and servants, the wealthy paid the rent of the poor, children were permitted to attend theatrical performances and to gamble. Homes and businesses were decorated with garlands and wreaths of evergreens, candles, stars and sparkly, metallic ornaments. The holiday was known for games and public entertainment, colorful clothing and masks, gatherings of friends and family, giving gifts, and acts of charity.
Io Saturnalia! May harmony prevail over the Earth!