December, as we know it, is dominated by a handful of holidays: Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Years' Eve.
For the Romans, the week beginning Dec. 17 was a very different holiday -- Saturnalia. According to history.com, Saturnalia celebrated Saturn, the Roman God of agriculture.
The holiday likely had its roots in even earlier agricultural rituals, in which sacrifices were offered to the Gods in the wintertime, to celebrate a (hopefully) good harvest.
The Romans went wild during Saturnalia -- businesses and schools closed their doors and people celebrated with gambling, partying and music. All people -- Roman slaves included -- were allowed to take part in the festivities.
It was a "merry" holiday -- Roman poet Catullus described Saturnalia as "the best of times."
Houses were decorated with wreaths, and people wore colorful garments known as "synthesis." People exchanged gifts, feasted and chose a "king" of the household, often by hiding a coin or another object in a small cake and making the finder the king. This king was in charge of merrymaking and pranks.
Does any of this sound familiar? Many Saturnalia customs drifted into the rest of Europe between the second century B.C. and the fourth century A.D. and became re-branded as Christmas traditions when Christianity became dominant.
Indeed, the Bible makes no mention of what time of year Jesus was born. Early Christian leaders decided it would be best to allow people to keep celebrating Saturnalia-style in December, and make Jesus into the reason for the season.