Today I have the author Stephanie Dray here doing a guest post for her upcoming novel, Lily of the Nile. I told you all recently about the Cleopatra Literary Contest for Young Women that is put together by her. I think this is a fantastic opportunity for young women and encourage you to check it out. Plus there's a great prize!
She's on tour now and you can find her blog schedule here. Now let's get on one with things! Let's welcome Stephanie! *Big Round of Applause*
Roman Holiday Traditions
It’s Christmas time. All the stores are decorated with candles, ribbon and pine boughs. Everyone is shopping for the perfect gift for their friends and loved ones. We’re drawing up dinner menus of all our favorite foods for our Christmas feast. We all try to be nicer to each other and decorate our trees. There’s a jovial spirit in the air and we’re not surprised to see anyone wearing a red Santa cap this time of year.
It might surprise you to know that it’s been this way for thousands of years, long before the birth of Christ. If, for example, you were to visit ancient Rome during the month of December, you might be shocked at how familiar everything would be.
This time of year, the Romans celebrated a holiday known as . To prepare for this festival, the Romans decorated with wreaths of evergreen and winter berries. They made garlands to drape over their doorways and they lit expensive wax candles in their windows. No doubt, this helped to make Rome a little bit more cheerful in the biting cold of December, but it also kept everyone’s spirits up for all the shopping.
You see, part of the Saturnalia involved giving gifts to your friends, family members, neighbors, and all those who had done you a good turn during the year. For example, some physicians were paid by the community and weren’t allowed to accept private payment, but they could accept a very generous Saturnalia gift instead! Bribing officials was illegal, but what harm could there be in making a big fat Saturnalia present to a Senator? Heck, Romans even gave Saturnalia gifts to their slaves and served them dinner one night during the celebration.
This role-reversal with the slaves was part of the Saturnalia’s celebration of liberty. In honor of liberty and freedom, during the Saturnalia the ancient Romans would wear a pointy little cap known as a pileus, which looked a lot like a Santa hat, but without the cotton ball tassel on the end. What’s more, school children and workers were given time off from work for the Saturnalia. Celebrants drank spiced wine and ate special little pastries, not unlike our . And while the Romans didn’t cut down trees and drag them inside, they did decorate trees outside with little pastries that passing children and beggars could snatch down and enjoy.
My debut novel, Lily of the Nile, is based on the real life story of Cleopatra’s daughter, Selene, who was taken prisoner by the Romans after the death of her parents and brought up in the household of emperor Augustus. It’s there that she would have experienced her first Saturnalia and the customs were probably more foreign to her, a princess of Egypt, than they would be to us. In my book, Selene comes to love the festive season of Saturnalia and uses what she learns about the Romans to help protect her brothers and her goddess. It’s one of my favorite parts of the book and I hope you’ll enjoy it too.