Our modern feasting and gift-giving December customs are tame affairs compared to the madcap, authority debunking, and outlandish revelry associated with the Feast of Fools, a medieval free-for-all if there ever was one. The good men and women of the Middle Ages took their cue from the Saturnalia celebrations of antiquity, and they celebrated much as the Romans did: servants got a free work pass, nobles were lorded over by their staff, and naïfs were esteemed as wise men.
Sartorial codes were cast aside, and those on the lowest rungs of society attended sumptuous banquets, where their masters waited on them hand and foot. The clergy switched places with the laity, mocking the Church, its doctrines and rites. A young boy might preside over services as bishop or even pope. Piety was scorned. Gambling was permitted. People took to the streets. They ate, drank, and were violently merry; most likely because when the partying ended what was there to look forward to but cold, darkness, and hunger.
Via Michael Cornetto, Laura Brown