As winter is just around the corner, its almost time for the holiday season! Come learn all about the ancient Roman winter holiday Saturnalia and get into the holiday seasonal spirit.

History for Kids: The Roman Holiday Saturnalia Image of ancient roman ruins in the city Rome-Kids Activities Blog.
Learn all about saturnalia!

Kids who love history, Ancient Rome, or like to learn about other holidays and cultures will love reading this article! You can read this at home or in the class room, either way your kids will find Saturnalia to be quite the interesting holiday!


History for Kids: The Roman Holiday Saturnalia image of marble Roman sculpture of bearded man lounging while holding a cornucopia-Kids Activities blog.

Saturnalia was a Roman festival that occurred between December 17th to December 25th every year. The Romans would celebrate the harvest and honored the Roman god, Saturn. During this festival the Romans would engage of all sorts of merriment and festivities.

The ancient Romans loved their festivals, and Saturnalia was one of the biggest of each year!

The Roman God Saturn

During Saturnalia the Romans would celebrate and worship Saturn, who was the Roman god of the harvest and agriculture. The festival Saturnalia was named after Saturn’s Latin name, Saturnus. Not a lot is known about Saturn, but he is likely connected to the Greek god, Kronos as they have similar myths and history.

Saturn is usually depicted as a man, usually older, wearing some sort of gray cloak and usually carrying a cane or sickle. He was honored by the Romans during Saturnalia at the temple of Saturn for bringing them a harvest.

For most of the year until Saturnalia, a statue of Saturn would either be entirely bound or have his feet bound in wool. On the day of the festival, the bindings would be removed or loosened by a Roman priest and mark the beginning of festivities.

Celebrating the Harvest

Saturnalia was one of the longest running and most popular Roman festivals. According to the Roman author Livy, the festival may have begun in the 5th century BCE, but there’s some evidence that it may have begun much earlier.

In early Roman history, Saturnalia was a simple, one day long harvest festival. It occurred when people would collect the final harvest of the year and celebrate their bounty. The Romans would clean themselves and dress in their finest clothes to attend the Temple of Saturn where they would worship the god. All forms of work would be stopped for the day, letting people enjoy the holiday.

Bigger and better!

As Rome grew, so did the size of the celebration. Around the 3rd century CE, some Greek practices and traditions were brought to Rome, which were followed by several reforms. Saturnalia would be given a specific day that it was celebrated on, December 17th, and was expanded to be celebrated for a whole week.

Days before the festival, people would begin to prepare for the festival. Many preparations had to be made, as the festival was nearly a week long and rural Romans would be flocking to the major cities to celebrate.

In the morning on the first day, the festival began with a parade feating the Roman priest of Saturn and many bulls that would be sacrificed to the Roman Gods. A dazzling feast would be held and the festivities would begin!

All traditional Roman roles and social norms would be loosened as the Romans began to party. Roman slaves were treated as equals and sometimes they, along with some children were given the position as “princeps” by their families for the festival, allowing for them to lead celebration. Salves were mostly exempt from punishment and were served by their masters.

For the remaining six days of the festival, wild partying would ensure. The Romans did not work or attend to any civil duties during Saturnalia, as it was a time for celebration and fun! The Roman Forums were packed with people as partying, eating, and gambling would occur.

Everyone in Rome partied, including emperors, writers, and senators!

Saturnalia video

Celebrating Saturnalia with Cato’s Globi by Tasting History with Max Miller

Here is a fun and educational cooking video by Tasting History with Max Miller featuring an ancient Roman desert that may have been eaten during Saturnalia! I have not tried to make this dish myself, but if you do let us know what you think!



Donald L Wasson. “Saturn.” World History Encyclopedia., November 17, 2023. Last modified November 17, 2023. Accessed November 19, 2023.

Mark Cartwright. “Saturnalia.” World History Encyclopedia., November 17, 2023. Last modified November 17, 2023. Accessed November 19, 2023. 

Max Miller. “Celebrating Saturnalia with Cato’s Globi.” YouTube. YouTube, December 15, 2020. Last modified December 15, 2020. Accessed November 30, 2023. 

“Saturnalia: The Jolliest Ancient Roman Festival!” YouTube. YouTube, December 15, 2020. Last modified December 15, 2020. Accessed November 19, 2023.–bsV7Wv8. 

Zoe Ortiz. “Religion in the Empire.” HIST 4004.00: The Roman Empire, (class lecture, University of North Texas, TX, Fall 2023).

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