The New Student's Reference Work/Saturnalia, The
Saturnalia (săt′ŭr-nā′lĭ-ȧ), The, most probably were an old Italian harvest-festival. During the festival slaves sat down to banquets in their master's clothes, while he waited on them at table. Crowds filled the streets, and roamed the city in a peculiar dress; friends sent presents to each other; all business stopped; the courts closed; schoolboys got a holiday; and no war could be begun. The length of the Saturnalia varied at different times in Roman history, but they were usually held on Dec. 17, 18 and 19. The modern Italian carnival seems to be founded on the old pagan Saturnalia.