The Roman year included many festive occasions. In today's world it is customary to wish merry Christmas, happy Easter, and other such things. Did the Romans do the same during their own festivals, celebrations or vacations? If they did, how did they do that? I would like to see examples from ancient literature.

Notice that I am not asking how to wish a merry Christmas in Latin. I know how to do that, but I am not sure how the ancient Romans would have done that. This question is similar to the one about wishing a good birthday.

2 Answers 2


They did to a certain extent. I'm not aware of general holiday greetings, but at least for Saturnalia, they used the phrase Io, Saturnalia! Compare Martial 11.2.5:

Clamant ecce mei 'Io Saturnialia' versus
et licet et sub te praeside, Nerva, libet.

For Brumalia, they would greet each other with vives annos,1 although it's uncertain how early this greeting was used, since record of its use is from late antiquity.

  • Thanks! These are good examples, just in the spirit I was after.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Dec 1, 2016 at 19:38
  • And apparently 15th March was not greeted with "Cavete Idibus Martiis," but with the sacrifice of a sheep followed by picnics and revelry in honour of Anna Perenna. No need for a Greeting, just bring a bottle.
    – Hugh
    Dec 2, 2016 at 16:45

According to H.H. Scullard (Festivals & Ceremonies of the Roman Republic (Thames & Hudson, 1981), there were at the end of the Republic 66 official festival or ceremonial occasions, occupying 136 days in all; the practical extent to which these were observed is doubtful. This did not include such special occasions as triumphs, ovations and funeral games. In all the wealth of detailed information that Scullard gives, there is nothing much about the behaviour of anyone but the celebrants. Other eminent authorities, including W. Warde Fowler, Social Life at Rome in the Age of Cicero and J.P.V.D. Balsdon, Life & Leisure in Ancient Rome are full of detail on all aspects of the actual activities but, willing as they are to quote oral sentiments in conversation, they notice no kind of greeting.

There are known greetings, usually beginning with the exclamation Io!, and the normal greeting salve! may well have sufficed for much of the time, but, with something like a third of the year devoted to these occasions, it's hard to believe that many were exciting enough to warrant an especially enthusiastic greeting. The near-complete absence from dictionaries of exhortations to enjoy something appears to back this up.

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