What may not be as well known is that Saturnalia itself was apparently a raucous and somewhat less than Christian affair. From this web page on the Origin of Christmas:
Roman pagans first introduced the holiday of Saturnalia, a week long period of lawlessness celebrated between December 17-25. During this period, Roman courts were closed, and Roman law dictated that no one could be punished for damaging property or injuring people during the weeklong celebration. The festival began when Roman authorities chose “an enemy of the Roman people” to represent the “Lord of Misrule.” Each Roman community selected a victim whom they forced to indulge in food and other physical pleasures throughout the week. At the festival’s conclusion, December 25th, Roman authorities believed they were destroying the forces of darkness by brutally murdering this innocent man or woman.In some way, I suspect some of that spirit of lawlessness lives on in the rush to shop on Black Friday. The "Lord of Misrule" certainly seems to be at work during the holiday shopping season.
That same web site also outlines the pagan origins of some familiar Christmas traditions, such as the Christmas tree, which may have come from the Asheira cult. a tree worshipping pagan sect. Mistletoe is said to be taken from Norse mythology.
To me, none of this detracts from the spirit of or meaning of Christmas. Christmas originally drew from various cultures and various peoples, just as modern life in a variety of nations draws from the various cultures of its immigrants and the various peoples that make up its population. In a sense, then, Christmas is a drawing or bringing together, if you will, of various customs and influences.
In a more local sense, Christmas does the same thing. Many of us will spend the holiday with friends or with family or with a combination of both. I see it as a drawing or bringing together of people who may not always have time for one another or may not always agree with or get along with one another.
Growing up, my family was not overtly religious. Perhaps that is why, to me, Christmas has always been first and foremost about family. It wasn't always pretty; it was sometimes a bit messy, but that's how most families are.
Devout Christians will tell you that Jesus is the "reason for the season." Others will say that God is love. In my mind, I would go one step further and say that love is what Christmas is really all about - love of friends, love of family, and for those who believe, love of God.
This Christmas, I wish you all the gift of love. Give that gift to those around you, and you will be living out the true meaning of Christmas as I see it. Merry Christmas, everyone!