Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Redeeming Holy Days from Pagan Lies: Textual Sources on Saturnalia


A List of Notes and references in researching the relationship of Saturnalia and Christmas. This document may be modified many times as more sources are listed and corrected.

Seneca (ca. 4 BC – AD 65) Letters
Seneca complains that the "whole mob has let itself go in pleasures" (Epistles, XVIII.3)
Columella ( 4 – c 70 AD) De Re Rustica
De Re Rustica, III.14
Just a best day for planting vines, no mention of the festival of Saturnalia.
“There are about forty days of the spring planting, from the Ides of February up to the equinox; and of the autumn planting, from the Ides of October to the Calends of December.”
Petronius (c. 27 – 66 AD) Satyricon
Petronius wrote about a slave who laughed out loud and was asked if it was December yet (Satyricon, LVIII).


Martial (March 1, 40 AD – between 102 and 104 AD) Xenia and Apophoreta
Martial wrote Xenia and Apophoreta for the Saturnalia but the texts don't really help much because they are collections of witty sayings-jokebooks which he apparently hoped to sell during the Saturnalia festival.

Statius (c. 45 – c. 96 AD) Silvae
A description of the Saturnalia that Domitian held including games which opened with sweets, fruit and nuts showered on the crowd and featuring flights of flamingos released over Rome. Shows with fighting dwarves and female gladiators were illuminated, for the first time, into the night. He still could proclaim: 
"For how many years shall this festival abide! Never shall age destroy so holy a day! While the hills of Latium remain and father Tiber, while thy Rome stands and the Capitol thou hast restored to the world, it shall continue" (Silvae, I.6.98ff).

The Poem Itself: Kalendae Decembres:
Pliny the Younger (61 – ca. 112 AD) Letters
In a letter to Gallus, Pliny wrote that he preferred to stay away from Saturnalia in his room so that the servants wouldn't disturb him with their partying and he wouldn't interfere with their enjoyment of the festival. (Epistles, II.17.24).
Suetonius (c. 69 – c. 122 AD) Twelve Caesars
Augustus 75
“1 Festivals and holidays he celebrated lavishly as a rule, but sometimes only in a spirit of fun. On the Saturnalia, and at any other time when he took it into his head, he would now give gifts of clothing or gold and silver; again coins of every device, including old pieces of the kings and foreign money; another time nothing but hair cloth, sponges, pokers and tongs, and other such things under misleading names of double meaning. He used also at a dinner party to put up for auction lottery-tickets for articles of most unequal value, and paintings of which only the back was shown, thus by the caprice of fortune disappointing or filling to the full the expectations of the purchasers, requiring however that all the guests should take part in the bidding and share the loss or gain.”
Caligula 17
“1 He held four consulships, one from the Kalends of July for two months, a second from the Kalends of January for thirty days, a third up to the Ides of January, and the fourth until the seventh day before the Ides of the same month. Of all these only the last two were continuous. The third he assumed at Lugdunum without a colleague, not, as some think, through arrogance or disregard of precedent, but because at that distance from Rome he had been unable to get news of the death of the other consul just before the day of the Kalends. 2 He twice gave the people a largess of three hundred sesterces each, and twice a lavish banquet to the senate and the equestrian order, together with their wives and children. At the former of these he also distributed togas to the men, and to the women and children scarves of red and scarlet. Furthermore, to make a permanent addition to the public gaiety, he added a day to the Saturnalia, and called it Juvenalis.” [Note on Caligula's Juvenalis=>Juvenalia]
Catullus (ca. 84 BC – ca. 54 BC)  
Carmina (XIV) describes it as "the best of days,” but doesn't give any other useful information.

Lucian of Samosata (AD 120-180)
Lucian has the god Cronos (Saturn) say in his poem, Saturnalia:
“Cro. Of course! ultra vires; these are not mine to give. So do not sulk at being refused; ask Zeus for them; he will be in authority again soon enough. Mine is a limited monarchy, you see. To begin with, it only lasts a week; that over, I am a private person, just a man in the street. Secondly, during my week the serious is barred; no business allowed. Drinking and being drunk, noise and games and dice, appointing of kings and feasting of slaves, singing naked, clapping of tremulous hands, an occasional ducking of corked faces in icy water,--such are the functions over which I preside. But the great things, wealth and gold and such, Zeus distributes as he will.”
ὁρᾷς; οὐ κατ᾽ ἐμὲ τοῦτο ᾔτησας: οὐ γὰρ ἐμὸν διανέμειν τὰ τοιαῦτα. ὥστε μὴ ἄχθου, εἰ ἀτυχήσειας αὐτῶν, ἀλλ᾽ αἴτει παρὰ τοῦ Διός, ὁπόταν εἰς ἐκεῖνον ἡ ἀρχὴ περιέλθῃ μετ᾽ ὀλίγον. ἐγὼ δ᾽ ἐπὶ ῥητοῖς παραλαμβάνω τὴν δυναστείαν: ἑπτὰ μὲν ἡμερῶν ἡ πᾶσα βασιλεία, καὶ ἢν ἐκπρόθεσμος τούτων γένωμαι, ἰδιώτης εὐθύς εἰμι καὶ τοῦ πολλοῦ δήμου εἷς: ἐν αὐταῖς δὲ ταῖς ἑπτὰ σπουδαῖον μὲν οὐδὲν οὐδὲ ἀγοραῖον διοικήσασθαί μοι συγκεχώρηται, πίνειν δὲ καὶ μεθύειν καὶ βοᾶν καὶ παίζειν καὶ κυβεύειν καὶ ἄρχοντας καθιστάναι καὶ τοὺς οἰκέτας εὐωχεῖν καὶ γυμνὸν ᾄδειν καὶ κροτεῖν ὑποτρέμοντα, ἐνίοτε δὲ καὶ ἐς ὕδωρ ψυχρὸν ἐπὶ κεφαλὴν ὠθεῖσθαι ἀσβόλῳ κεχρισμένον τὸ πρόσωπον, ταῦτα ἐφεῖταί μοι ποιεῖν. τὰ μεγάλα δὲ ἐκεῖνα, τὸν πλοῦτον καὶ τὸ χρυσίον, ὁ Ζεὺς διαδίδωσιν οἷς ἂν ἐθέλῃ.

Aulus Gellius (ca. 125 – after 180 AD) Attic Nights
Philosophers celebrating Saturnalia by playing knowledge and philosophy games, a laurel wreath goes to the one who answers rightly. (Attic Nights, XVIII.2).

Laurel wreaths in Greece were given to victors of all kinds of games, from Olympic to the October Invictus games and were not unique to Rome, or Saturnalia. 1 Cor. 9:25 uses the term “wreath” in this same sense, though many English versions translate it “crown.” .

The term Lord of Misrule is applied to this text by Christmas revisionists, though the term actually comes from elsewhere/when. The term “misrule” is found at its earliest in late 14th C England.

Sermon of Asterius (350-410) used as proof of lord of misrule from 400 AD, no evidence

James Fazer (The Golden Bough) re-interpreted this latter concept of the Lord of Misrule into a man who offered himself as a sacrifice. This creates the anachronism based on the false claim that the Lord of Misrule precedes Christ and is the figure from which the death of Christ was stolen.

Cassius Dio (c. 150 – 235 AD)  
Roman History 59.6
Caligula extended Saturnalia to five full days when he came to the throne. Whether the days were kept to five the next or following years is not stated.

Roman History LX.25.8 
“In the case of the Saturnalia he restored the fifth day, which had been designated by Gaius but later abolished.”
We find that Caligula's extension did not remain. Claudius re-enacts the extension to the fifth day.

Roman History LX.19.3
 Aulus Plautius couldn't get his troops to invade Britain. But when a former slave sent by Claudius dressed up as a leader 
“but suddenly shouted with one accord the well-known cry, 'Io Saturnalia' (for at the festival of Saturn the slaves don their masters' dress and old festival), and at once right willingly followed.”

Macrobius (flourished during 5th century AD) Saturnalia
(I.10.24), by celebration of the Sigillaria, so named for the small earthenware figurines that were sold then.

Macrobius, (I.10.2). The original day now was given over to the Opalia, honoring Macrobius (I.10.20),
Macrobius (I.10.18), the celebrants shouted Io, Saturnalia at a riotous feast in the temple.
The following is from Tom Schmidt's post, no longer available at, but available in the internet arcive:   

The Origins of Saturnalia and Christmas Posted on :
I was inspired to look at an English translation of Macrobius’s Saturnalia after reading Roger Pearse’s post that mentioned that Macrobius claimed that an infant was presented on the winter solstice as a representation of the Sun.  Saturnalia was a Roman feast which occurred in middle or late December, and many have tried to draw ties between this feast and the institution of the date of Christmas.

The Saturnalia by Macrobius (wrote early 5th century) is really a dinner conversation by several interlocutors that is set during the festival Saturnalia. The lengthy dialogue covers all manner of Roman culture and the festival of Saturnalia is only one of the many, many topics. The translation I used is the one by Percival Vaughn Davies published in 1969 by Columbia University press. Loeb just came out with the only other translation; it uses a superior text and I assume has better editors. The Davies translation does not even include quotation marks!

In this work there are some very good, but lengthy quotes about the origins of Saturnalia and its customs and dates, so I will publish it all in two or three blog posts.

We begin in Saturnalia 1.7.18 which discusses the origins of the festival:
[18]…The laws of religion, he said, allow me to disclose the origin of the festival of the Saturnalia so far as the account of its origin is a matter of mythology or is made known to all by the physicists…
In the omitted section Macrobius discusses, through an interlocutor, how Saturn and Janus coreigned in Italy.
[24] It was during their reign that Saturn suddenly disappeared, and Janus then devised means to add to his honors. First he gave the name Saturnia to all the land which acknowledged his rule; and then he built an altar, instituting rites as to a god and calling these rites the Saturnalia—a fact which goes to show how very much older the festival is than the city of Rome. And it was because Saturn had improved the conditions of life that, by order of Janus, religious honors were paid to him, as his effigy indicates, which received the additional attribute of a sickle, the symbol of harvest.
[25] Saturn is credited with the invention of the art of grafting, with the cultivation of fruit trees, and with instructing men in everything that belongs to the fertilizing of the fields. Furthermore, at Cyrene his worshipers, when they offer sacrifice to him, crown themselves with fresh figs and present each other with cakes, for they hold that he discovered honey and fruits. Moreover, at Rome men call him “Sterculius,” as having been the first to fertilize the fields with dung (stercus). [26] His reign is said to have been a time of great happiness, both on account of the universal plenty that then prevailed and because as yet there was no division into bond and free—as one may gather from the complete license enjoyed by slaves at the Saturnalia.
Then Macrobius adds a second tradition about the origins of the festival:
[27] Another tradition accounts for the Saturnalia as follows. Hercules is said to have left men behind him in Italy, either (as certain authorities hold) because he was angry with them for neglecting to watch over his herds or (as some suppose), deliberately, to protect his altar and temple from attacks. Harassed by brigands, these men occupied a high hill and called themselves Saturnians, from the name which the hill too used previously to bear, and, conscious of the protection afforded to them by the name of Saturn and by the awe which the god inspired, they are said to have instituted the Saturnalia, to the end that the very observance of the festival thus proclaimed might bring the uncouth minds of their neighbors to show a greater respect for the worship of the god.
Macrobius then adds a third account:
[28] I am aware too of the account given by Varro of the origin of the Saturnalia. The Pelasgians, he says, when they were driven from their homes, made for various lands, but most of them flocked to Dodona and, doubtful where to settle, consulted the oracle. They received this reply: “Go ye in search of the land of the Sicels and the Aborigines, a land, sacred to Saturn, even Cotyle, where floateth an island. Mingle with these people and then send a tenth to Phoebus and offer heads to Hades and a man to the Father.”8 Such was the response which they received, and after many wanderings they came to Latium, where in the lake of Cutilia they found a floating9 island, [29] for there was a large expanse of turf—perhaps solidified mud or perhaps an accumulation of marsh land with brushwood and trees forming a luxuriant wood—and it was drifting through the water by the movement of the waves in such a way as to win credence even for the tale of Delos, the island which, for all its lofty hills and wide plains, used to journey through the seas from place to place. [30] The discovery of this marvel showed the Pelasgians that here was the home foretold for them. And, after having driven out the Sicilian inhabitants, they took possession of the land, dedicating a tenth of the spoil to Apollo, in accordance with the response given by the oracle, and raising a little shrine to Dis and an altar to Saturn, whose festival they named the Saturnalia.
[31] For many years they thought to propitiate Dis with human heads and Saturn with the sacrifice of men, since the oracle had bidden them: “Offer heads to Hades and a man (xa) to the Father.” But later, the story goes, Hercules, returning through Italy with the herds of Geryon, persuaded their descendants to replace these unholy sacrifices with others of good omen, by offering to Dis little masks cleverly fashioned to represent the human face, instead of human heads, and by honoring the altars of Saturn with lighted candles instead of with the blood of a man; for the word (porta means “lights” as well as “a man.” [32] This is the origin of the custom of sending round wax tapers during the Saturnalia, although others think that the practice is derived simply from the fact that it was in the reign of Saturn that we made our way, as though to the light, from a rude and gloomy existence to a knowledge of the liberal arts. [33] I should add, however, that I have found it written that, since many through greed made the Saturnalia an excuse to solicit and demand gifts from their clients, a practice which bore heavily on those of more slender means, one Publicius, a tribune, proposed to the people that no one should send anything but wax tapers to one richer than himself.
Here another interlocutor interrupts and talks about different traditions that were added at a later time:
[34] I find, Praetextatus, interposed Albinus Caecina, a substituted sacrifice, such as that which you have just mentioned, made in later times at the rites of the Compitalia, when games used to be held at crossroads throughout the city, that is to say, on the restoration of these games by Tarquinius Superbus, in honor of the Lares and of Mania, in accordance with an oracle of Apollo. For that oracle ordained that offering should be made “for heads with heads,” [35] and for some time the ritual required the sacrifice of boys to the goddess Mania, the mother of the Lares, to insure the safety of the family. But after the expulsion of Tarquinius, Junius Brutus, as consul, determined to change the nature of the sacrificial rite. By his order heads of garlic arid poppies were used at the rite, so that the oracle was obeyed, in so far as it had prescribed “heads,” and a criminal and unholy sacrifice was discarded.10 It also became the practice to avert any peril that threatened a particular family by hanging up woolen11 images before the door of the house. As for the games themselves, they were customarily called “Compitalia” from the crossroads (compita) at which they were held. But I interrupted you. Pray go on.
Then Macrobius’s main interlocutor for this section continues with his conclusion:
[36] You have referred, said Praetextatus, to a parallel instance of a change for the better in the ritual of a sacrifice. The point is well taken and well timed. But from the reasons adduced touching the origin of the Saturnalia it appears that the festival is of greater antiquity than the city of Rome, for in fact Lucius Accius” in his Annals says that its regular observance began in Greece before the foundation of Rome. [37] Here are the lines:
In most of Greece, and above all at Athens, men celebrate in honor of Saturn a festival which they always call the festival of Cronos. The day is kept a holiday, and in country and in town all usually hold joyful feasts, at which each man waits on his own slaves. And so it is with us. Thus from Greece that custom has been handed down, and slaves dine with their masters at that time.
So, lots of traditions about the origin of the festival of Saturnalia, but none of them seem to have to do with the birth of anyone.-----

This next is from Tom Schmidt's post no longer available at, but available at the Internet archive


The dates of Saturnalia (and Sigillaria!) and Christmas

Yesterday we looked at Macrobius’s account of the origin of the Festival of Saturnalia to see if it’s origins influenced Christmas, as some claim.  Macrobius gave several different stories and none of them seem to have anything to do with the birth of anyone. Now Saturnalia occurred in the month of December, but did it occur on December 25, or as the Romans would say Eight days before the Kalends of January?

the following is taken from Saturnalia Book 1.10.1-23 and I give the entire chapter, but I will bold the most important parts. This is taken from the Davies translation (1969).
[ 1 ] But to return to our account of the Saturnalia. It was held to an offense against religion to begin a war at the time of the Saturnalia, and to punish a criminal during the days of the festival called for an act of atonement. [2] Our ancestors restricted the Saturnalia to a single day, the fourteenth before the Kalends of January, but, after Gaius Caesar had added two days to December, the day on which the festival was held became the sixteenth before the Kalends of January, with the result that, since the exact day was not commonly known—some observing the addition which Caesar had made to the calendar and others following the old usage —the festival came to be regarded as lasting for more days than one.
And yet in fact among the men of old time there were some who supposed that the Saturnalia lasted for seven days
(if one may use the word “suppose” of something which has the support of competent authorities); [3] for Novius, that excellent writer of Atellan plays, says: “Long awaited they come, the seven days of the Saturnalia” [Ribbeck, II, 328]; and Mummius too, who, after Novius and Pomponius, restored the long-neglected Atellan to favor, says: “Of the many excellent institutions of our ancestors this is the best—that they made the seven days of the Saturnalia begin when the weather is coldest” [Ribbeck, II, 332].
[4] Mallius, however, says that the men who, as I have already related, had found protection in the name of Saturn and in the awe which he inspired, ordained a three-day festival in honor of the god, calling it the Saturnalia, and that it was on the authority of this belief that Augustus, in his laws for the administration of justice, ordered the three days to be kept as rest days.
[5] Masurius and others believed that the Saturnalia were held on one day, the fourteenth day before the Kalends of January, and their opinion is corroborated by Fenestella when he says that the virgin Aemilia was condemned on the fifteenth day before the Kalends of January; for, had that day been a day on which the festival of the Saturnalia was being celebrated, she could not by any means have been called on to plead, [6] and he adds that “the day was the day which preceded the Saturnalia,” and then goes on to say that “on the day after that, namely, the thirteenth day before the Kalends of January, the virgin Licinia was to plead,” thereby making it clear that the thirteenth day too was not a festival.
[ 7 ] On the twelfth day before the Kalends of January there is a rest day in honor of the goddess Angeronia, to whom the pontiffs offer sacrifice in the chapel of Volupia. According to Verrius Flac-cus, this goddess is called Angeronia because, duly propitiated, she banishes anxiety (angores) and mental distress. [8] Masurius adds that an image of this goddess, with the mouth bound up and sealed,1 is placed on the altar of Volupia, because all who conceal their pain and care find, thanks to their endurance, great joy (voluptas) at last. [9] According to Julius Modestus, however, sacrifices are offered to Angeronia because, pursuant to the fulfillment of a vow, she delivered the Roman people from the disease known as the quinsy (angina).
[10] The eleventh day before the Kalends of January is a rest day in honor of the Lares, for whom the praetor Aemilius Regillus in the war against Antiochus solemnly promised to provide a temple in the Campus Martius.
[11] The tenth day before the Kalends is a rest day in honor of Jupiter, called the Larentinalia. I should like to say something of this day, and here are the beliefs generally held about it.
[12] In the reign of Ancus, they say, a sacristan of the temple of Hercules, having nothing to do during the rest day challenged the god to a game of dice, throwing for both players himself, and the stake for which they played was a dinner and the company of a courtesan. [13] Hercules won, and so the sacristan shut up Acca Larentia in the temple (she was the most notable courtesan of the time) and the dinner with her. Next day the woman let it be known that the god as a reward for her favors had bidden her take advantage of the first opportunity that came to her on her way home. [ 14] It so happened that, after she had left the temple, one Carutius, captivated by her beauty, accosted her, and in compliance with his wishes she married him. On her husband’s death all his estate came into her hands, and, when she died, she named the Roman people her heir. [15] Ancus therefore had her buried in the Velabrum, the most frequented part of the city, and a yearly rite was instituted in her honor, at which sacrifice was offered by a priest to her departed spirit—the rest day being dedicated to Jupiter because it was believed of old that souls are given by him and are given back to him again after death. [16] Cato, however, says that Larentia, enriched by the profits of her profession, left lands known as the Turacian, Semurian, Lintirian, and Solinian lands to the Roman people after her death and was therefore deemed worthy of a splendid tomb and the honor of an annual service of remembrance. [17] But Macer, in the first Book of his Histories, maintains that Acca Larentia was the wife of Faustulus and the nurse of Romulus and Remus and that in the reign of Romulus she married a weajthy Etruscan named Carutius, succeeded to her husband’s wealth as his heir, and afterward left it to her foster child Romulus, who dutifully appointed a memorial service and a festival in her honor.
[18] One can infer, then, from all that has been said, that the Saturnalia lasted but one day and was held only on the fourteenth day before the Kalends of January; it was on this day alone that the shout of “Io Saturnalia” would be raised, in the temple of Saturn, at a riotous feast. Now, however, during the celebration of the Saturnalia, this day is allotted to the festival of the Opalia, although the day was first assigned to Saturn and Ops in common.
[19] Men believed that the goddess Ops was the wife of Saturn and that both the Saturnalia and the jOpalia are held in this month of December because the produce of the fields and orchards are thought to be the discovery of these two deities, who, when men have gathered in the fruits of the earth, are worshiped therefore as the givers of a more civilized life. [20] Some too are of the opinion that Saturn and Ops represent heaven and earth, the name Saturn being derived from the word for growth from seed (satus), since such growth is the gift of heaven, and the name Ops being identified with earth, either because it is by her bounty (ops) that life is nourished or because the name comes from the toil (opus) which is needed to bring forth the fruits of trees and fields. [21] When men make prayer to Ops they sit and are careful to touch the earth, signifying thereby that the earth is the very mother of mortals and is to be approached as such.
[22] Philochorus says that Cecrops was the first to build, in Attica, an altar to Saturn and Ops, worshiping these deities as Jupiter and Earth, and to ordain that, when crops and fruits had been garnered, the head of a household everywhere should eat thereof in company with the slaves with whom he had borne the toil of cultivating the land, for it was well pleasing to the god that honor should be paid to the slaves in consideration of their labor. And that is why we follow the practice of a foreign land and offer sacrifice to Saturn with the head uncovered.
[23] I think that we have now given abundant proof that the festival of the Saturnalia used to be celebrated on only one day, the fourteenth before the Kalends of January, but that it was afterward prolonged to last three days: first, in consequence of the days which Caesar added to the month of December, and then in pursuance of an edict of Augustus which prescribed a series of three rest days for the Saturnalia. The festival therefore begins on the sixteenth day before the Kalends of January and ends on the fourteenth, which used to be the only day of its celebration.5 [24] However, the addition of the feast of the Sigillaria has extended the time of general excitement and religious rejoicing to seven days.
Macrobius does an excellent job summarizing authorities that were available to him, most of which I think have been lost. His conclusion is quite clear, Saturnalia originally was one day and occurred on the 14th day before the Kalends January, but when Caesar altered the calendar it was extended to three days and started on the 16th, later a new Festival of Sigillaria extended the celebrations to complete seven days, meaning that the Festival ended on either the 10th or ninth day before the Kalends of January depending on how we count. Of course neither of these days fall on the eighth day before the Kalends of January, that is December 25.

And to make all things complete, does the Festival of Sigillaria have anything to do with Christmas?  Not really:
I must now deal briefly with the Sigillaria, for I would not have you think that I spoke of a matter calling for a smile rather than reverence.
[47] Epicadus relates that Hercules after killing Geryon drove his herds in triumph through Italy and from a bridge (now known as the Sublician Bridge), which had been built for the occasion, cast into the river a number of human figures equal to the number of the comrades he had chanced to lose on his journey, his object being to ensure that these figures might be carried by the current to the sea and so, as it were, to restore to their ancestral homes the bodies of the dead.8 This is said to have been the origin of the practice, which has persisted, of including the making of such figures in a religious rite. [48] In my opinion, however, a truer account of the origin of this practice is that which, I remember, I recently recalled,” namely, that, when the Pelasgians learned, by a happier interpretation of the words, that “heads” meant heads of clay not heads of living men and came to understand that φωτος meant “of a light” as well as “of a man,” they began to kindle wax tapers in honor of Saturn, in preference to their former ritual, and to carry little masks to the chapel of Dis, which adjoins the altar of Saturn, instead of human heads. [49] Thence arose the traditional custom of sending round wax tapers at the Saturnalia and of making and selling little figures of clay for men to offer to Saturn, on behalf of Dis, as an act of propitiation for themselves and their families. [50] So it is that the regular use of such articles of trade begins at the Saturnalia and lasts for seven days. These days, in consequence, are only rest days (feriatos), not all of them are festivals. For we have shown that the day in the middle, namely the thirteenth day before the Kalends of January,10 was a day for legal business; and this has been attested by other statements made by those who have given a fuller account of the arrangement of the year, months, and days, and of the regulation of the calendar by Gaius Caesar.-Saturnalia 1.11.46-50
One wonders why people made such claims about the Festival of Saturnalia when it clearly has nothing to do with Christmas.

This next is Tom Schimdt's third post of sources on the issue available only at the Internet arcive

Christmas, the Winter Solstice, and the birth of the Sun 
 Posted on  
Two days ago we talked about the origins of Saturnalia and yesterday we talked about the date on which it was celebrated, in both cases there seems to be no relation between Saturnalia and Christmas.

Far more interesting, however, is the correlation between Christmas and the birth of the Sun, we resume reading Macrobius’s Saturnalia Book 1.18.2, where the conversation attempts to define which God is exactly the God of the Sun, or the Sun God:
[2 ] You must bear in mind, replied Vettius, that the company of poets in their stories about the gods usually borrow the elements of these stories from the secret places of philosophy; certainly it is not empty superstition but divine reason that makes them relate almost all the gods—at any rate the celestial gods—to the sun.
Correlating all God’s to the Sun isn’t really that helpful, but as we will see he’s not kidding, this begins the same chapter section 7:
[7] I first maintained that Apollo is to be identified with the sun, and I afterward explained that Liber Pater is himself Apollo; and so there can be no doubt but that the sun and Liber Pater are to be regarded as manifestations of the same deity. Nevertheless the point shall be established distinctly by yet clearer proofs. [8] In the performance of sacred rites a mysterious rule of religion ordains that the sun shall be called Apollo when it is in the upper hemisphere, that is to say, by day, and be held to be Dionysus, or Liber Pater, when it is in the lower hemisphere, that is to say, at night. [9] Likewise, statues of Liber Pater represent him sometimes as a child and sometimes as a young man; again, as a man with a beard and also as an old man, as for example the statue of the god which the Greeks call Bassareus and Briseus, and that which in Campania the Neapolitans worship under the name Hebon. [10] These differences in age have reference to the sun, for at the winter solstice the sun would seem to be a little child, like that which the Egyptians bring forth from a shrine on an appointed day, since the day is then at its shortest and the god is accordingly shown as a tiny infant.” Afterward, however, as the days go on and lengthen, the sun at the spring equinox acquires strength in a way comparable to growth to adolescence, and so the god is given the appearance of a young man. Subsequently, he is represented in full maturity, with a beard, at the summer solstice, when the sun’s growth is completed. After that, the days shorten, as though with the approach of his old age—hence the fourth of the figures by which the god is portrayed.
So as it turns out, in Egypt in the 4/5th centuries the sun god, whoever that may be, was portrayed as an infant on the Solstice.   Whether this predates December 25 the date as given by Hippolytus in 202-211AD remains unclear.
Macrobius continues to identify other gods with the sun  as well as the 12 signs of the Zodiac in  Saturnalia 1.21.12:
This is their sign for Osiris, and by it they indicate that this god is the sun, which with royal power looks down upon the world from on high. And indeed in ancient usage the sun is called the eye of Jupiter.
[13] Among the Egyptians Apollo (and he is the sun) is called Horus —whence the name “hours” (horae) has been given to 24 divisions which make up a day and a night and to the  four seasons [ὥραι] which together complete the cycle of the year [14] It has also been a practice of the Egyptians, when they wish to dedicate a statue of the sun under its own name, to represent it with the head shaved except on the right side, where the hair is allowed to remain. The hair that is kept shows that the sun In never hidden from the world of nature, and the retention of the roots after the locks have been sure indicates that it is an essential property of the song even when it is invisible to us, to reappear like those locks. [15] This same attribute of a half-shorn head is also a symbol of the time when the light is reduced and when the sun, as though shorn of its growth and with a mere stubble, so to speak, remaining, comes to the shortest day (which the men of old called the winter solstice, using the word bruma for winter, from the shortness of the day, as though to say “short day.” But when the sun rises again from its narrow retreat, it reaches out to the summer hemisphere, growing in strength as though by a process of birth, and it is believed to have come then into its own realm. [ 16] That is why, among the signs of the zodiac, the Egyptians have dedicated an animal, the lion, in that part of the heavens where in its yearly course the sun’s powerful heat is hottest. And the Sign of the Lion there they call “The House of the Sun,” because a lion seems to derive its essential qualities from the natural properties of the sun. [17] For, in the first place, the lion by its energy and ardor surpasses other animals as the sun surpasses the rest of the stars. And then, just as a lion’s strength is in its breast and in the font part of its body, but its hinder limbs are weaker, so the might of the sun grows more powerful from the first part of the day up to noon or from the first part of the year, that is from the spring, ro summer; but afterward the sun grows weaker, as it declines to its setting (which would seem to be the hinder part of the day) or to the winter (the hinder part of the year). And the lion, too, always gazes with open fiery eyes, just as the sun regards the earth with the continuous and unwearied gaze of its open fiery eye.
[18] Again, not only the Lion, but every one of the signs of the zodiac as well, may properly be related to natural attributes of the sun. To begin with the Ram: the affinity here is well marked, for throughout the six winter months a ram…
So in the fourth and fifth centuries many gods were associated with the Sun and in Egypt the Sun was shown as an infant on the winter solstice, (December 25 was thought of as the winter solstice even though it may not have actually fallen on that date specifically).  “Bruma” or “Brumalia” is another name for the winter solstice, Roger Pearse has an excellent blog post here and here about this and its relationship to Christmas.

But turning back to the idea that the sun was born on the winter solstice and its influence on Christmas; is there any evidence that the birth of the Sun was celebrated on the winter solstice before 202-211 AD (when Hippolytus first marked the birth of Jesus as December 25)?

Not that I can find, the closest is an inscription dated to 275 AD in Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae by Hermann Dessau 1969 (I have not checked this, I read it in “Toward the Origins of Christmas” by Susan Roll).  The inscription apparently marks Emperor Aurelian’s attempts to subordinate all God’s under Sol (the Sun) and declares December 25 as the birth of this god.

I really would like to get a hold of a copy of this inscription (e-mail me or leave a comment if you have access), but for now it is obvious that this decree was issued more than 50 years after Hippolytus wrote, and that the reason for first establishing the birth of Jesus on December 25 was not because of this decree.  Indeed, the real reason December 25 was chosen has to do with the date of the Passover, which you can read about here.

----- Thus far Tom C. Schmidt's posts on Saturnalia.

Church Fathers:

Tertullian: (c. 160 – c. 225 AD) Carthage Africa
Apology 42
We sail with you, and fight with you, and till the ground with you; and in like manner we unite with you in your traffickings—even in the various arts we make public property of our works for your benefit. How it is we seem useless in your ordinary business, living with you and by you as we do, I am not able to understand. But if I do not frequent your religious ceremonies, I am still on the sacred day a man. I do not at the Saturnalia bathe myself at dawn, that I may not lose both day and night; yet I bathe at a decent and healthful hour, which preserves me both in heat and blood. I can be rigid and pallid like you after ablution when I am dead. I do not recline in public at the feast of Bacchus, after the manner of the beast-fighters at their final banquet. Yet of your resources I partake, wherever I may chance to eat.
Chapter X.—Of Schoolmasters and Their Difficulties.
Chapter XIV.—Of Blasphemy. One of St. Paul’s Sayings.
Chrysostom, (347–407) Constantinople.

Gregory of Nyassa, (c. 335 – c. 395) Asia Minor
Letter to Eusebius writes some on the relation of Christmas to Solstice.

Leo the Great, (c. 391 or 400 – 10 November 461) Rome 
Sermon 27
The Golden Bough, by Sir James G. Frazer

Chapter 58. Human Scapegoats in Classical Antiquity
  1. The Roman Saturnalia