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From Latin Sāturnālia, a festival of the winter solstice



saturnalia (plural saturnalias)

  1. A period or occasion of general license, in which the passions or vices have riotous indulgence; a period of unrestrained revelry.
    • 1906, Upton Sinclair, The Jungle, Chapter 26
      They lodged men and women on the same floor; and with the night there began a saturnalia of debauchery—scenes such as never before had been witnessed in America.
    • 1922, James Frazer, chapter 14, in The Golden Bough:
      If at the birth of the Latin kings their fathers were really unknown, the fact points either to a general looseness of life in the royal family or to a special relaxation of moral rules on certain occasions, when men and women reverted for a season to the licence of an earlier age. Such Saturnalias are not uncommon at some stages of social evolution.
    • 1922, Rafael Sabatini, Captain Blood: His Odyssy, ch XXVIII
      Yet if he remained, it would simply mean that his own and Hagthorpe's crews would join in the saturnalia and increase the hideousness of events now inevitable.
    • 1961, Joseph Heller, chapter 34, in Catch-22:
      It was a raw, violent, guzzling saturnalia that spilled obstreperously through the woods to the officers' club and spread up into the hills toward the hospital and the antiaircraft-gun emplacements.
    • 2001, Chip Kidd, The Cheese Monkeys:
      We advanced into the main hall, already aroar with a saturnalia of sozzled gestures and gibbering.

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