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Saturnalia Skit & More

See this neat animated Saturnalia card done by a student!

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Mr. Matt Webb's Dormouse Day 2002

at Queen Anne School, for the middle school Latin classes:

I. Warm-Up:
*Sing a Christmas song in Latin.
*Sing Judy Hallett's rendition of Aufer Me Ad Arenam (note the reference to dormice - glires)  

II. Read the Dormouse Poem by Godfrey Bullard  

III. 6th Graders will make Peanut Butter Ball Dormice  (hint - you need a LOT of confectioners' sugar or the peanut butter "mice" will flatten quickly, plus they will be greasy to the touch - when you roll the balls you should not get grease on your hands - if you do, you need more sugar - you can also cheat by adding flour)

7th/8th Graders will make Chocolate Dormice
We will have read a snippet of the Cena Trimalchionis (featuring dormice, of course) in my 7th/8th grade class before Dormouse Day 2002, so that will round it out!

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Recovered Saturnalia pages from

Thanks to David Meadows and the webarchive we can still enjoy material from Janet Burn's (now defunct).


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 Original Maryland JCL Skit

The following materials were used at a Maryland JCL Saturnalia celebration. The officers wrote the informative skit which explains all about Saturnalia. Then each student receives a special worksheet about Saturnalia, the answers to which were gleaned from the information in the skit. Special Saturnalia cakes which were made using an authentic (I am told!) Roman recipe were also passed out.--Matt Webb

Io Saturnalia

by Deborah Carter (Teacher), Brian Ballantine, and Ryan Tuccinardi of Linganore High School in Frederick, Maryland. 

Dramatis Personae:

Narrator (who is allowed to hold a script)
Wily Slave
Other Slave, also somewhat wily
Various non-speaking members of familia 

Scene: outside the domus.  Wily Slave is pacing and trying to figure out a way to make Saturnalia come earlier. 

Narrator:  Here we are outside the domus of a wealthy Roman citizen.  It is the 17th day before the Kalends of January -- or December 16, to you -- and the festival of Saturnalia begins tomorrow, on December 17.  This most joyous of holidays, in honor of the god Saturn, lasted anywhere form three to seven days.  One of the traditions during Saturnalia was for masters to free their slaves -- temporarily, of course.  As our play begins, one slave is waiting eagerly for his moment of freedom. 

W.S. (addressing audience):  Here we are on the 17th day before the kalends of January, already several days into the holiday season, and I don't think I can wait another moment for my pilleum -- the cap of freedom that my master will give me to wear during the Saturnalia.  I wonder if there is any way to speed up this sundial here, to trick him into giving me my pilleum a day early?  (He walks around the imaginary sundial, contemplating.) 

(Other Slave enters.) 

O.S.:  Io Saturnalia, friend! 

W.S.:  Not yet, friend.  We'll have to wait another day to use that greeting, unless I can think of a way to hurry time along.  Just think -- tomorrow when we wake up, the master and his family will be serving our breakfast instead of the other way around! 

O.S.:  Yes, but the best part about Saturnalia is being allowed to gamble openly and in public.  I am going to win enough money to buy my freedom permanently! 

W.S.:  You are a dreamer.  All you ever do is lose money when you gamble, whether it's in public or in secret.  No, the best part about Saturnalia is being chosen The Saturnalicius Princeps, the Master of the Saturnalia in the household.  That lucky person gets to order everyone else around for seven days!  

O.S.:  Now who is the dreamer?  The Saturnalicius Princeps will be a member of the master's family, and you know it.  

W.S.:  Do you have all your gifts prepared for the last day? 

O.S.:  Not yet, but with the money I win at gambling, I'll be able to buy the most wonderful dolls for all the children, and the most beautiful candles. 

W.S.:  Well, I suppose we should get back to work, since the Saturnalia hasn't started yet.  (They exit.) 

Narrator:  Now it has finally arrived.  Although almost the entire month of December was spent in celebrating some holiday or another, it was the Saturnalia that everyone looked forward to.  There was no school during this time, no business.  No one had to work at all.  Oh, the other celebrations were very nice, especially the solstice festival for Sol Invictus -- the unconquered sun -- and the Kalends of January, or New Year, in honor of Janus.  But Saturnalia was the one called "the best of days" by the great poet Catullus. 

Enter all three characters, the master holding two paper hats. 

Master:  Io Saturnalia! 

Slaves:  Io Saturnalia, domine. 

Master:  Today I am not your dominus, your master.  Today we are all equal!  Here are your pillea.  Wear them in good health.  (He gives each slave a cap to wear.) 

W.S.:  At last!  And where is my breakfast?  

(Good-natured chuckles all around.) 

Master:  Very soon my family will be bringing out the traditional Saturnalia cake for everyone!  My wife and daughter are picking up our loaves from the baker right now.  They got off to a late start, since they spent so much time decorating the house.  There is laurel and cypress everywhere! 

O.S.:  How soon will the formal sacrifice begin?  (aside, to W.S.:)  The sooner the ritual is over and the holiday has officially begun, the sooner I can start earning my freedom money! 

Master:  Right after breakfast, we will all head over to the Temple of Saturn and watch as the priests ceremoniously untie and remove the woolen bonds around the feet of Saturn's statue, symbolizing freedom for everyone.  And tonight, the banquet, where everyone will dress informally and have riotous fun!  Look, here comes the rest of my familia with the Saturnalia cake.  Let  me be the first to serve you, gentlemen! 


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1.  Saturnalia was in honor of which god? 

2.  What two other deities were honored at about the same time as the Saturnalia, one at the winter solstice and one at the new year? 

3.  When was the traditional starting date for Saturnalia? 

4.  What was the traditional Saturnalia greeting? 

5.  What was the significance of the caps worn by slaves at Saturnalia? 

6.  What plants were traditionally used for decoration?

7.  What activity was permitted in public only during the Saturnalia, but forbidden at all other times? 

8.  What was ceremoniously done to the statue in Saturn's temple during Saturnalia?

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Recipe for Saturnalia Cake

1 pinch baking soda
2 packages dry yeast
3/8 cup warm water
1/2 cup lukewarm milk (scalded and cooled)
1/3 cup honey
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup soft lard (Crisco....)
4 & 1/2 or 5 cups white flour
1 cup diced fruits and raisins
1 tablespoon anise seed
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 tablespoon water
1 egg white 

Dissolve yeast in warm water by sprinkling on top of the water.  With a wooden spoon, stir in the honey and 2 & 1/2 cups flour.  Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.  Stir in milk, salt, 2 eggs, lard and baking soda.  Beat until smooth.  Mix in fruits, raisins, and nuts, and enough remaining flour to make dough easy to handle. 

Turn dough onto lightly floured board; knead until smooth and elastic (about 5 minutes).  Place in greased bowl; turn greased side up.  Cover; let rise in warm place until double. 

Punch down dough; divide in half.  Shape each half into round, slightly flat loaf.  Place loaves in opposite corners of baking sheet.  Cut a cross 1/2 inch deep on top of each loaf.  Let rise until double (about 1 hour). 

Heat oven to 325.  Blend egg white and 1 tablespoon water; brush on loaves.  

Bake 35-45 minutes.  

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Last update December 1, 2002. This site was re-created August 1998 by Ginny Lindzey, Webmistress, Texas Classical Association. All text and graphics are copyrighted. Original photo of arch by Roger Robison. To report problems and to get permission to reprint articles, please contact Ginny at