Clearly, religious rites and ceremonies had to be held either according to specific events or at regular intervals through time. This meant that a calendar had to be compiled so that the festivities might be clearly laid out and kept to.
Some of these religious feasts were relatively austere, such as in the case of the “Lemures” (a mix of All Saints and Hallowe’en) whilst others like the Saturnalia were more like a carnival when people could let loose.
Atonement and passage of purification through the gates of Rome
As an example of the sort of religious rites held by the Romans we have the Tigillum Sororium (the sorority beam or beam of the sisters). This was a gate situated in the oldest quarters of Rome built into the ancient Servian walls and later transformed into the Porta Capena gate.
The two pillars represented Janus Curiatius and Juno Sororia. These were the god Janus of the Curia signifying the entry of young men into the Curia and the goddess Juno in event of girls entering into womanhood. These rites of passage such as youth to adulthood were held there because the gate also represented “in” and “out” (of the city) as well as homeland vs foreign enemy. As a result triumphal marches would also pass through this gate as passage through it into the city was a sort of atonement from the horrors of war.
Outside the Porta Capena gate we also have the font of “aqua Mercuri” (Mercury’s water) which could be used by the merchants to purify themselves and their wares as they entered the city.
These feasts were held on the 17th December and lasted a full six days. The event seems to date back to the times of king Tullus Hostilius who was the first to make these solemn votive offerings and feasts in honour of Saturn.
The Saturnalia was a proper feast in every sense. Everybody stopped work, there was a general exchanging of gifts of various sorts and loosening of general rules. For example it was licit to gamble only during the Saturnalia and at no other time (although this law was respected to different degrees in different epochs of ancient Rome).