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Did the Romans invent Christmas?

Every year we see people getting into the spirit of Christmas as soon as December begins. But did you know that around this time of year the Romans customs and traditions were actually not so different from ours?

Back to the time of Caesar, Romans celebrated a mid-winter festival called Saturnalia: it was a time of feasting, present giving, games and entertainment.

On Saturday 13 December, from 11am – 4pm, discover more about this Roman version of Christmas celebrations at the National Roman Legion Museum in Caerleon.

A free murder mystery event, “Christmas Can Be Murder”, will be organised for all visitors. This is the perfect occasion for everyone to experience a different Christmas party whilst learning about the Saturnalia festival. So put your best detective foot forward and work out who is the murder!

As well as chasing after the murderer in the surroundings of a very Roman Christmas time, at 12pm and 3pm visitors will be able to watch traditional Saturnalia gladiator fights, and after the last fight the murderer will be unmasked.

Throughout the day, other traditional Saturnalia activities will be organised such as beeswax candle making, sun decoration workshops and gambling with the soldiers in the barracks. There will also be typical Roman food to taste, such as delicious stuffed dates and spiced wine or other traditional festive food to buy.

It is not just the National Roman Legion Museum that will put on its festive winter outfit on the 13th of December, but the whole town of Caerleon. As the joyful atmosphere will spread out in every streets, Santa will spend some time with all the good girls and boys who visit. Pupils of Charles Williams Primary School will celebrate their Christmas Fayre, and a Farmer’s market gathered in Caerleon Town Hall will display a great range of fresh and festive produce.

Victoria Le Poidevin, Events officer at National Roman Legion Museum, said: “We like to offer our visitors a different experience, so we’re combining some Christmas sparkle and spirit with a murder mystery.’

Saturnalia was a time to give gifts to friends and family just like Christmas; and we have got plenty of festive cheer to keep the whole family amused. So come along with your detective hat and enjoy the festive spirit of the Romans. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year or, as the Romans would say, “Io bona Saturnalia”!

Amgueddfa Cymru operates seven national museums across Wales. These are National Museum Cardiff, St Fagans National History Museum, National Roman Legion Museum, Caerleon, Big Pit National Coal Museum, Blaenafon, National Wool Museum, Dre-fach Felindre, National Slate Museum, Llanberis and the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea.

Admission to all Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum sites is free, thanks to the support of the Welsh Government.


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