Floralia


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Floralia

Type of Holiday: Ancient
Date of Observation: April 28-May 3
Where Celebrated: Rome, Italy
Symbols and Customs: Beans, Hares or Goats
Related Holidays: May Day

ORIGINS

Floralia was part of ancient Roman religion, which scholars date back to the sixth century B . C . E . Roman religion dominated Rome and influenced territories in its empire until Emperor Constantine's conversion to Christianity in the third century C . E .

Ancient Roman religion was heavily influenced by the older Greek religion. Roman festivals therefore had much in common with those of the ancient Greeks. Not only were their gods and goddesses mostly the same as those in the Greek pantheon (though the Romans renamed them), but their religious festivals were observed with similar activities: ritual sacrifice, theatrical performances, games, and feasts.

An ancient Roman festival held in honor of Flora, the goddess of flowers and gardens, the Floralia was instituted in 238 B . C . E . It was originally a movable feast whose date depended on the conditions of the crops and flowers in any particular year at the end of April and beginning of May. In 173 B . C . E ., after severe storms had brought disaster to the cornfields and vineyards, the Roman Senate made it an annual festival extending for six days-from April 28, the anniversary of the founding of Flora's temple, through May 3.

The events of the festival included games, dances, and theatrical performances. From the very beginning, the Floralia was characterized by wild and often indecent behavior. Prostitutes claimed it as their feast day, and courtesans are said to have performed mimes and dances in the nude. The obscene nature of the festivities was probably due to their roots in early pagan fertility rites designed to promote the earth's fruitfulness. But when the festival was introduced into Rome, it became a good excuse for excessive drinking and carrying on.

The Floralia, which originally featured small statues of Flora that children would decorate with flowers, is believed to have been the precedent for the Christian MAY DAY celebrations and their dolls or images of the Virgin Mary.

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Beans

The temple dedicated to Flora was located on the lower slope of the Aventine, one of the seven hills of Rome, near the arena known as the Circus Maximus. Beans, lupines, and vetches were often scattered among the crowd that gathered there for the festival. It was a common practice at the time to throw all kinds of grain, including rice, peas, and beans, as part of the marriage rite and at the birth of children. Because legumes yield so many seeds, beans were a popular symbol of fertility and wealth. Given the fact that the Floralia was observed in April, the custom of throwing beans is probably a very ancient one rooted in beliefs about the fertility of the earth and of humans.

Hares or Goats

Hares and goats, which had a reputation for being very fertile animals, were let loose in the Circus Maximus during the celebration of the Floralia. The hare (or rabbit, which is not distinguished from it in terms of symbolism) was known for multiplying rapidly, making it a popular symbol of fertility and sexuality. Since Flora was the patroness of gardens and fields, not of forests and wild animals, the hare and the goat were appropriate symbols of fertility in a domestic setting.

FURTHER READING

Biedermann, Hans. Dictionary of Symbolism: Cultural Icons and the Meanings Behind Them. New York: Meridian Books, 1994. Fowler, W. Warde. The Roman Festivals of the Period of the Republic. New York: Macmillan Co., 1925. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Scullard, H. H. Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981.

Floralia

April 27-May 3
An ancient Roman festival held in honor of Flora, the goddess of flowers and gardens, the Floralia was instituted in 238 b.c.e. It was originally a movable feast whose date depended on the condition of the crops and flowers in any particular year at the end of April and beginning of May.
In 173 b.c.e., after severe storms had proved disastrous for the cornfields and vineyards, the Roman Senate made it an annual festival extending for six days—from April 27, the anniversary of the founding of Flora's temple, through May 3. Traditionally, the first person to lay a wreath or garland on the temple's statue of Flora was destined to have good fortune in the months that followed.
From the beginning, the Floralia was characterized by wild and licentious behavior on the part of the celebrants. The games, dances, and dramatic productions involved in the celebration were usually lewd, and courtesans are said to have performed mimes in the nude. The obscene nature of the festivities was undoubtedly due to their origins in earlier pagan fertility rites designed to promote the earth's fruitfulness. But when the festival was introduced into Rome, it became a good excuse for excessive drinking and carrying on.
The Floralia, which originally featured small statues of Flora that children would decorate with flowers, is believed to have been the precedent for Christian-oriented May Day celebrations, which often included dolls or images of the Virgin Mary.
SOURCES:
AmerBkDays-2000, pp. 247, 333, 334
ClassDict-1984, p. 244
DictRomRel-1996, p. 81
FestRom-1981, p. 110
OxYear-1999, p. 176
SeasFeast-1961, p. 169
(c)
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