With all those gods, it can seem like a never-ending festival worshipping them all. But I will tell you, the ancient Romans found some creative and interesting ways to celebrate them. Some we’ve even stolen today!
The Festival of Flowers. This is the one you just missed. It’s the last few days of April and the first days of May, the peak of spring. In honor of Flora, the flower goddess, the city would be strewn with petals and buds.
On a more cringy note, the prostitutes eventually took over this holiday… quite effectively. So, celebrate in private lest you be judged guilty by association.
Originally a festival for cleansing the city of evil spirits to bring in health and fertility, it became more of a festival just for fertility. The instruments used to cleanse the city were called februa. Lupercalia predates the name February.
If you want to get historical, it likely originates from the Arcadian ritual of Lykaia. Worshippers of the Lycaean god, whom the Greeks call Pan and the Romans called Lupercus, would worship nude, save for a goatskin girdle.
As the centuries wore on, revelers would run through the streets slapping people with goatskin thongs.
I know the last two festivals ended on a dirty note, but that’s not where this one’s going. The goddess worshipped during this month was Fornax… the goddess of ovens! Yes. It was a baking festival. Everyone got around for nine days and baked cornbread.
On the last day, called quirinalia (the feast of fools), everyone from the curia would gather and eat. But most Romans back then didn’t know what curia they belonged to. So everyone just ate.
Bona Dea festival
There were actually two annual festivals to Bona Dea, the good goddess. But not much is known about them. You see, this was a goddess strictly for women. No men allowed. During her festival women were allowed to drink strong wine and offer blood sacrifices; rites usually designated to men.
Because no men were allowed, there isn’t much written about it as men were still the predominate writers. They were even forbidden her true name! It’s speculated that she was the wife, sister, or daughter of the god Faunus, equivalent to the nature-goddess Fauna. Supposedly with the power to prophesize the fates of women.
This is a three-night festival taking place at night and is less of a festival, though everyone does it. On the nights of May 9th, 11th, and 13th, you are to get up and throw beans over your right shoulder and say the incantation, Haec ego mitto; his redimo meque meosque fabis! Translation: I send these; with these beans, I redeem me and mine. This would purify your home of malevolent dead spirits, lemures.
Remember, you need to bang pans and say, “Ghosts of my fathers and ancestors, be gone!” nine times afterwards. Otherwise, you’re just throwing beans around.
Yup, it’s in October. Literally, its name means “the October horse.” It takes place on the Ides (full moon) and is a chariot race with a twist. From the pair of horses that drew the winning chariot, the right one would be slaughtered and burned as a sacrifice.
They cut its head off and chop it to bits. Not exactly the same as trick-or-treating.
Now this is more like a holiday we know! Saturnalia is the predecessor of Christmas. It was a time of revelry. In fact, they usually elected a “King of the Saturnalia” who ordered everyone around and directed the merrymaking. Everyone exchanged gifts and presents, especially slaves and masters. Usually they were gag gifts or small pottery sculptures.
The twist: that night the slaves and masters would exchange places!
But all is back to normal in the morning.