By the year 400 Christianity had become the legal religion of the Roman empire and pagan observances had been banned. But Church leaders were worried that Christian celebration of Christmas might be tainted by lingering pagan affection for old holidays such as the Kalends of January or Saturnalia. Here is an expert of a sermon from Asterius of Amasea on the proper way to spend time and money in late December:
Give to the crippled beggar, and not to the dissolute musician. Give to the widow instead of the harlot; instead of to the woman of the street, to her who is piously secluded. Lavish your gifts upon the holy virgins singing psalms unto God, and hold the shameless psaltery in abhorrence, which by its music catches the licentious before it is seen. Satisfy the orphan, pay the poor man’s debt, and you shall have a glory that is eternal. You empty a multitude of purses for shameful pastime, and ribald laughter, not knowing how many poor men’s tears you are giving, from whom your wealth has been gathered; how many have been imprisoned, how many beaten, how many have come near death by the halter, to furnish what dancers to-day receive.
These warnings continued through the centuries. In North Africa in 404 Saint Augustine preached a three-hour sermon against the revels of the New Year and their connections to paganism. He pleaded with his listeners: “When [the pagans] give gifts; do you give alms. They are called away by songs of license; you, by the discourses of the Scriptures. They run to the theatre; you, to the church. They become intoxicated; do you fast.”23 The bishop of Ravenna, Petrus Chrysologus, complained in the 440s that the leading citizens of that imperial capital paraded during the Kalends through the city’s hippodrome, dressed as Roman planetary gods.