It may not have been Christmas exactly, but the ancient Roman Saturnalia (17th-23rd. December) was certainly an opportunity for feasting and gift-giving. Over the years, this time of merry-making, sacrifices and gift-giving expanded to a week and the poet Catullus - who knew a thing or two about parties - called it 'the best of days'.
In many ways this ancient festival was rather like Christmas:
Schools were on holiday.
Gambling was allowed.
Shopping at special markets was encouraged.
Holiday clothes were worn - the informal, colourful 'dining clothes' instead of the plain, bulky toga.
Presents were given - parrots, wax candles, dice, combs, perfumes, little pottery dolls.
Feasting was indulged, with Saturn himself in charge as Lord of Misrule.
People wished each other a merry Saturnalia with the evocation, 'io Saturnalia!' ('Yo Saturnalia!')
My ancient Roman historical romance Flavia's Secret has its climax and ending during the Saturnalia - have you entered my competition yet, by the way? If not, see my previous post for details.
The Pompeiian partygoers in the picture come from the BBC's Ancient Rome pages.