The Winter Solstice celebrates the darkest day of winter, and then the birth of a new year, when the worst of the winter is behind us and we can look forward to the start of longer days and extended hours of sunlight.
The natural event of the Winter Solstice, comes and goes only once, each year, and yet, while the masses are mesmorised and distracted by the worldly commercial events, today only a handful of conscious beings are aware of the significance of this natural phenomenon. The Solstice is a time of reversal, a turn around from inner reflection to an outer expression.
The most traditional Solstice celebrations were many centuries ago, in the northern hemisphere, hence celebrated around Christmas. However as Australians, now living in the southern hemisphere, we need to translate these rituals to our own calender. Hence Saturnalia, in Australia, is to be celebrated in June.
Saturnalia was most probably, in a sense, the original Christmas, it was the most popular of the Roman festivals, based on a ‘holy’ day in honour of Saturn, the God of agriculture. In pagen rituals, it was marked by drunken orgies and reversal of roles, in which slaves and masters switched places, much like the ‘Lord of Misrule’ in later Christian celebrations. Saturnalia involved activities as the conventional sacrifices, giving of gifts, multiple group orgies, and gambling.
Saturnalia was traditionally, in a sense a switching of polarity, the raising of unconscious suppressions upward to be celebrated, a purging of the unconscious, in a style of catharsis. As a part of this ritual, slaves were exempt from punishment, and treated their masters with a pretense of disrespect. In the reversal of the social order, the slaves celebrated a banquet, served by the masters. It was license within boundaries for the reversing of the social order without subverting it.
The Saturnalia festival has an astronomical character, referring to the completion of the sun’s yearly course, and the commencement of a new cycle. Saturn, from whom we get the word for the day of the week, Saturday, represented by the sun at its lowest aspect at the winter solstice. The earth is cold, most plants are dead, and it was believed that the sun might also be approaching death. Saturnalia celebrated the sun overcoming the power of winter, with hope of spring when life would be renewed or reborn.