Saturnalia is the best-known of several festivals in the Greco-Roman world characterized by role reversals and behavioural license. Slaves were treated to a banquet of the kind usually enjoyed by their masters. Ancient sources suggest that master and slave dined together.
Saturnalian license also permitted slaves to enjoy pretence of disrespect for their masters, and exempted them from punishment. It was a time for free speech. The Augustan poet Horace calls it "December liberty”.
The Sigillaria on December 19 was a day of gift-giving. Because gifts of value would mark social status contrary to the spirit of the season, these were often the pottery or wax figurines called sigillaria made specially for the day, candles, or “gag gifts". Children received toys as gifts.
Gift-giving was not confined to the day of the Sigillaria. In some households, guests and family members received gifts after the feast in which slaves had shared.