Above Photo Credit: Kit Haigh

Display of a feast for the festival of Saturnalia in the Activity Centre at Roman Vindolanda.

Learn about the winter festival celebrated by the Romans and how our celebrations today have been shaped by these ancient gatherings.

One of the most famous, and perhaps the most popular, of the Feriae Statiuae was Saturnalia, the feast now most closely associated with Christmas. Saturnalia was celebrated from 17th to 23rd December in the Julian calendar, and it probably originated as a farmers’ festival to mark the end of the planting season, and grew more elaborate as Rome became more powerful and confident.

On the 23rd December the final day of Saturnalia it was tradition to give gifts, usually small, simple and cheap tokens, which most could afford, so as not to distinguish the rich from the poor. Gifts included combs, candles, purses, small lamps, wax figurines and cheap pottery. These gifts were called sigillaria, and in the days leading up to the festival, the shops would be filled with cheap trinkets sold especially for Satunalia.

In keeping with this tradition we will be giving away small gifts to any visitors we receive on the 23rd December 2022. If you visit that day you may choose a small token to take away with you from our sigillaria.

As part of the Hadrian's Wall 1900 celebrations you can download your own Saturnalia Packs and enjoy Saturnalia at home. Find out more about the packs at the official Hadrian's Wall 1900 website.