The Real Life ‘Purge’ And Christmas

December 12, 2021

Written by Daniel S. Liuzzi

Over the years you at one point must have heard people say, or post on social media, that they either wonder if or wish that the Purge was or could be real. The 2013 film The Purge gave audiences uncomfortable feelings, or awkward excitement… and spawned four sequels and a television series. The story takes place in a dystopian/utopia society where once a year all crimes are legal (but people seem to REALLY be into the murdering kind), and the films focus on either an individual or groups of individuals trying to survive the night of lawlessness.

In the films the idea behind having a Purge was to give the masses a release resulting in lower crime rates during the rest of the year and the economy thrived from it, spoiler alert, in real life just one purge night would completely destroy a country financially since all emergency services (like fire fighting) would not be in service, a lot of property (businesses especially) would literally go up in smoke but back to the topic at hand, The Purge actually happened historically, just in a way you may be surprised.

Ancient Rome had their own form of the Purge that did not last only 24 hours but SEVEN DAYS! Just like the films, the point of it was to allow all Roman citizens to release steam during this time that included all business owners, court officials, politicians, and military/law enforcement. Because of this, there’s no repercussion. What event occurred that allowed that many days of lawlessness you may be asking, this was the celebration of Saturnalia, a huge Roman festival celebrating the God Saturn, who was the god of many things but most importantly agriculture. Now before I continue, I want to note that Saturnalia has a long and complex history, so I’m leaving a lot out of this article to keep with its tone.

The time the Romans celebrated this was during the winter solstice, where in Roman beliefs, Saturn was getting ready for the farming season, and to ensure a good harvest the Romans pretty much said “LET’S PARTY!”. During Saturnalia, there were feasts, a lot of drinking, and gift-giving, many Romans would hang wreaths outside their homes in celebration.

 

 

Saturnalia by Antoine Callet

 

 

In earlier celebrations, animal and human sacrifices were made before things changed from being more religious in tone to more social, during this period of celebration many things that were frowned upon became commonplace, gambling in public, public drunkenness, people getting frisky, etc. In private settings (especially in wealthy homes) a type of “opposite days” occurred, children were allowed to ignore their parents, slaves would be waited on by their wealthy owners, wealthy homeowners lived as slaves, etc.

Now, this is where the joyful occasions take a darker turn. Since there’s no repercussion, some citizens took their limited freedom to the extreme. Thievery went up since many homes were left vacant for hours, vandalism also increased thanks to being fueled by alcohol, drunken brawls were common, rape was prevalent, and of course, murder occurred. While most of these events were fueled by hours of drinking wine, some of these events were planned. Yes just like in the first Purge film, there were people who wanted for whatever reason to get back at someone waited for the time of lawlessness to occur to get that revenge.

Now, this is where it gets eerily darker and is seen in the Purge films, Roman (government) officials, actually wanted things to get out of hand during these days. One reason was (just like in the film) it was believed that you let people release a lot of steam by either partying or committing crimes would decrease violence in society, this was also done in a poetic way for the ruling officials to look down at the masses and say “Aren’t you glad you have laws and US in charge? Be grateful you live in our society.”

The celebration of Saturnalia changed dramatically once the Roman Empire became Christian. Believe it or not, thanks for Rome’s Purge, we have Christmas, the hanging of wreaths, decorating houses, gift-giving, celebration around the time of the winter solstice. A lot of pagan traditions around that time (Not just Rome’s) of the year were adopted into what’s now Christmas but it was Rome’s Purge that was its foundation.

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