The Busy Romans Needed a Mid-Winter Break Too … and it Lasted for 24 days
How then should we view the Brumalia? Was it still essentially “pagan”, or had it become safely Christianised or secularised? I think that any attempt to neatly categorise these festivals, let alone their participants, is destined to fail. For some people, the religious elements will have loomed larger, while for others they will have been almost entirely irrelevant, as also happens with Christmas today.
The Brumalia could be celebrated in a variety of ways and have a multitude of meanings to different people throughout the empire, even if all of them saw themselves as Christians. Rather than arguing that Justinian or others who enjoyed the Brumalia were “less Christian” than its opponents, we might instead treat it as a vivid illustration of the fluidity and malleability of notions of culture and identity.
We cannot ever discover the true meaning of Brumalia, but we can be sure that it brought people together to commemorate being halfway out of the dark.
Top image: ‘Festa di Pales, o L'estate’ by Joseph-Benoît Suvée ( public domain )
The article ‘ The Busy Romans Needed a Mid-Winter Break Too … and it Lasted for 24 days’ by Richard Flower was originally published on The Conversation and has been republished under a Creative Commons license.