Concerned Ancient Roman Traditionalists Insist: "Put the Saturn Back in Saturnalia"
CAPITOLINE, ROME -- (CNN -- Centurion News Network) -- Different Roman groups are at odds over how to celebrate Saturnalia.
Green garlands abound on the doorways of homes and buildings. Banquets and invitations are in the air. A festive atmosphere has settled all over Rome as citizens greet each other with calls of "Io, Saturnalia!" But as the city heads into the December holiday season -- with December 17 as the starting date for Saturnalia celebrations -- it is becoming apparent that not every Roman sees this day with the same perspective.
While holiday shoppers throng Trajan's Market, the up-scale Forum Shops, and other mercantile meccas in the metroplex, groups of Roman traditionalists are voicing their concern over what they perceive is the over-commercialization and rampant consumerism of the holiday.
CNN interviewed one such group, Saturnalian Celebrants Reminding Others of Olden Golden Ethics (S.C.R.O.O.G.E.), as it gathered peacefully at the city's largest Temple of Saturn, in the heart of the downtown district. Instead of wearing festive garments, members of S.C.R.O.O.G.E. wore somber colors as they distributed pamphlets entitled "Placate the Gods, Impious Citizen!" or "The Real Meaning of Saturnalia."
S.C.R.O.O.G.E. leader Virginia Vestal explained. "In the holiday rush of shopping, parties, presents, orgies, and fancy clothes, Romans have forgotten about the gods entirely. Look across the street there -- the Trajan's Market mall is packed out. But who's here at the Temple of Saturn? Almost nobody."
When CNN asked Vestal what she made of recent accusations that S.C.R.O.O.G.E. was a killjoy, she denied that that was the goal of the organization. "We're not moral or religious watchdogs. We're only concerned citizens. We only want to remind our fellow Romans of our shared traditions. Please, don't forget our proud and ancient heritage. Let's put the Saturn back in Saturnalia and remember the real reason for the season."
In recent days, S.C.R.O.O.G.E. has placed full-page ads in the Acta Diurna and other city papers reading "It's Just Not _____________alia Without Saturn."
The group has drawn criticism from some merchants' associations. CNN also spoke with Festus Falstaff, spokesman for the Efficacious Merchants Preparing for Terrifically Overwhelming Revenue (E.M.P.T.O.R.).
"A little caveat, please," said Festus. "We merchants are simply going about our business trying to make a denarius or two like good businesspeople. S.C.R.O.O.G.E. is bad for business. Plus, hello, have they ever heard of the separation of temple and empire? They better watch it before their name becomes a watchword for holiday gloom.
"Let me tell you, gloom is bad for the economy. All good and patriotic Romans should go out and shop to strengthen our economy! Here, come on in and check out E.M.P.T.O.R.'s bargains -- buy 1 toga, get 1 half off!"
Saturnalia lasts from December 17-23.