- The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn, and a public banquet, followed by private gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival atmosphere that overturned Roman social norms: gambling was permitted, and masters provided table service for their slaves. The poet Catullus called it "the best of days".]
- In Roman mythology, Saturn was an agricultural deity who was said to have reigned over the world in the Golden Age, when humans enjoyed the spontaneous bounty of the earth without labor in a state of innocence. The revelries of Saturnalia were supposed to reflect the conditions of the lost mythical age.
- Saturnalia is a festival of light leading to the winter solstice, with the abundant presence of candles symbolizing the quest for knowledge and truth
- The statue of Saturn at his main temple normally had its feet bound in wool, which was removed for the holiday as an act of liberation. The deity's image was then placed on a sumptuous couch, as if he were present and actively participating in the festivities. A public banquet followed.
- The day was supposed to be a holiday from all forms of work. Schools were closed, and exercise regimens were suspended. Courts closed, so no declaration of war could be made.
- After the public rituals, observances continued at home.
- The phrase io Saturnalia was the characteristic shout or salutation of the festival
- Saturnalia was characterized by role reversals and behavioral license. Slaves were treated to a banquet of the kind usually enjoyed by their masters. And slaves could disrespect their masters without the threat of a punishment.