Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sigillaria and Saturnalia

During the time of Saturnalia, December 17-23, people gifted one another with sigillaria (singular sigillarium), earthenware or waxen figurines of human figures. 

This giving of gifts at this time of the year is likely preserved in the Christian Christmas customs. 

The practice is described by Macrobius in Saturnalia 1.11:
Ex illo traditum ut cerei Saturnalibus missitarentur, et sigilla arte fictili fingerentur ac venalia pararentur quae homines pro se atque suis piaculum pro Dite Saturno facerent. 
Wherefore, it is handed down that waxen articles were sent back and forth for Saturnalia, and seals were formed from earthenware skill and other purchasable articles were prepared which people, for themselves and their own, would make as a sacrifice for the god Saturn.

It was suggested even in ancient times that the sigillaria were a substitution of an earlier practice of human sacrifice. Macrobius describes Evangelus as countering that, the sigillaria were only a toy (lusum) for children.

Enjoy the rest of your Saturnalia!