Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n.pl. The ancient Roman seven-day festival of Saturn, which began on December 17.
  • n.pl. A celebration marked by unrestrained revelry and often licentiousness; an orgy.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A period or occasion of general license, in which the passions or vices have riotous indulgence; a period of unrestrained revelry.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n.pl. The festival of Saturn, celebrated in December, originally during one day, but afterward during seven days, as a period of unrestrained license and merriment for all classes, extending even to the slaves.
  • n.pl. Hence: A period or occasion of general license, in which the passions or vices have riotous indulgence.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • In Roman antiquity, the festival of Saturn, celebrated in the middle of December as a harvest-home observance. It was a period of feasting and mirthful license and enjoyment for all classes, extending even to the slaves.
  • Hence Any wild or noisy revelry; unconstrained, wild, and licentious reveling.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a wild gathering involving excessive drinking and promiscuity
  • n. an orgiastic festival in ancient Rome in honor of Saturn

Etymologies

Latin Sāturnālia, from neuter pl. of Sāturnālis, Saturnian, from Sāturnus, Saturn; see Saturn.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Latin Sāturnālia, a festival of the winter solstice (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • We have to realize that not everyone observes Christmas as anything other than a "saturnalia" - a pagan festival.

    Archive 2006-12-01

  • What makes his '' short history '' so compelling is how Inglis combines an eye for captivating detail (the actor David Garrick being forced to kneel by a '' jeering audience ''), the illuminating comparison (Sarah Bernhardt versus Lola Montez, Hitler versus Edward VIII), and the synoptic view ( ''A Very Short History of the Feelings' '), with the inspired fulmination:' 'The encouragement of spite, envy, and malice needs very little by way of context; the present treatment of celebrity is a kind of saturnalia, which is to say, a ritualised occasion for the display and indulgence of antisocial feeling.' '

    The Sydney Morning Herald News Headlines

  • After this there came all the bustle of packing and preparation for departure, and a kind of saturnalia prevailed at Hyde Lodge -- a saturnalia which terminated with the breaking-up ball: and who among the crowd of fair young dancers so bright as Charlotte Halliday, dressed in the schoolgirl's festal robes of cloud-like muslin, and with her white throat set off by a black ribbon and a gold locket?

    Birds of Prey

  • The holiday was originally "saturnalia" or "yule" depending on where you lived...

    CNN.com

  • This was always a kind of saturnalia among the domestics, when they considered themselves at liberty, in some measure, to say and do what they pleased, for on this day their master was always observed to unbend and become exceedingly pleasant and jocose, sending the old gray-headed negroes on April-fool's errands for pigeons 'milk; not one of whom but allowed himself to be taken in, and humored his old master's jokes, as became a faithful and well disciplined dependent.

    Knickerbocker's History of New York, Complete

  • The runaway success of 007 demanded that Fleming's saturnalia of sex, genocidal villains and Cold War spycraft be continued by a capable literary ventriloquist.

    You Only Live About 23 Times

  • Enraged by what he sees before him, the saturnalia of the Golden Calf, the drunken cries of This is your God, O Israel, that brought you up out of Egypt!

    The Ten Commandments

  • It is this hero-yearning, and thus hero worship, that we now see in the saturnalia of Barack Obama images and chatter across the globe.

    Stuart Whatley: Obama in the Era of Heroes and Fallen Angels

  • It is possible that the latter fact is connected with the very sound of his name, so close to another famous Russian of the early XX century - Rasputin, who up until these days embodies the mystery of the Russian soul, the tragedy of blind faith, charlatanism, the mystique in the fate of the Russia people, debauchery and saturnalia.

    Putin's Paradox

  • Though this caricature-like effect led to the intended saturnalia among ardent party loyalists -- Joe the Plumber, Tito the Builder, and the rest of the "Village People" -- it had an adverse effect on anyone who was even the least bit skeptical of such an inchoate candidate.

    Stuart Whatley: Advice to Palin: Give the GOP Elephant His Job Back

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