The Roman festival of Saturnalia, in honor of the deity Saturn, was celebrated on December 17th and ran until approximately December 23rd. Opening celebrations began with a sacrifice at Saturn's Temple and a banquet for the public, followed by private gift-giving, lots of parties and a generally festive mood. One interesting fact is role-reversal where the master of the house became the servant for part of the day.
The New Year celebration, Dies Natalis Sol Invictus, took place on December 25th and marked the birthday of the sun.
Celebrating in the Roman way continued well into the 4th century and as Christianity spread through the empire many of the traditions and customs of the Romans helped shape our current Christmas and New Year celebrations as we know them today.
Here's wishing you a very happy holiday season. Please share some of your customs or traditions with us in the comments section.